Judith waited for me in a department store while I waited for her in Cardiff Library. Would the meeting take place? Neither of us had thought to share our phone numbers prior to the meeting.
Judith emerged from the lift, in Cardiff Library, wearing a silk purple top that was co-ordinated with her fabulous lilac hair. I warmed to her instantly! Her beaming smile lit up her face and I knew she’d make me laugh. She travelled from Pembrokeshire to take part in a panel on agents, traditional and Indie publishing and agents at the Crime Cymru event, and her huge canvas bag bulged with goodies for the day ahead. I was lucky to grab some time with her.
Judith: At last, I thought you’d got lost in your handbag. I waited in the department store and realised I had no contact details. After I finished my mint tea, I asked three strange women if they were Jessie. They thought I was mad.
Judith’s Yorkshire accent and mischievous blue eyes instantly made me giggle. Great to meet someone who spoke the same lingo.
Jessie: I’m so sorry but I thought you’ be able to read my mind. Couldn’t you hear me calling you in my dulcet tones across the streets of Cardiff? Don’t ask me why I didn’t send you my mobile number and confirm the meeting. I also approached a couple of potential Judiths but the real Judith is much better. So pleased, I found a representative of Honno Press and she had your number.
We laughed and grabbed some coffee from a coffee station in Cardiff Library. The staff set up a couple of chairs for us to conduct the chat. Having spilt the coffee all over my hand, we settled down to chat about Judith.
Jessie: Judith, tell me what a Yorkshire lass is doing in Pembrokeshire.
Judith: We went on holiday to Pembrokeshire, loved it and never returned to Saddleworth. We bought a half-built house and renovated it.
Jessie: Do you miss Yorkshire?
Judith: Pembrokeshire was a great place for our kids to grow up. I miss Yorkshire stone, craggy landscape and the meandering moors. I love our house, in Pembrokeshire, but I always expected I’d live in a stone cottage in my old age. As you can hear, even after forty years in Wales my accent hasn’t changed – I’m still a Yorkshire lass. People say they can hear my voice in their heads when they read my books. Lucky them!
Jessie: Obviously, people love your voice as you have written eight books. How did the writing start?
Judith: Well, I hope they do. As for the writing, I’d written since I was a child but never done anything much about it. Then I went to night school with my daughter. I finished A Level English and went on to gain a degree through the Open University. Whilst studying for the degree, I had breast cancer, and this made me see life differently. I decided to follow my dream to become a writer. Initially, I had an agent but she wanted me to write as an author of Mills and Boon so I parted company with her.
Jessie: That’s ridiculous; your books are not of that genre. The books are historical fiction with engaging stories of the Howarth family. The books have complex plots and characters.
Judith: I write people driven, gritty dramas and wasn’t prepared to adapt my writing. Eventually, I got a contract with Honno Press – an independent publisher in Wales- and found their approach personal and supportive. My first book ‘Pattern of Shadows’
Jessie: What’s Pattern of Shadows about?
Judith: It’s the story of a nursing sister, Mary Howarth, and her family, during World War Two and is set around a POW camp located in a disused cotton mill in a Lancashire town. When I was a child my mother was a winder in a cotton mill and I would go there to wait for her to finish work; I remember the smell of the grease and cotton, the sound of the loud machinery and the colours of the threads and bales of material. Pattern of Shadows was meant to be a standalone book, but the characters wanted me to carry on with their lives. Eventually, it developed into a family saga trilogy. My recent book, the prequel, is A Hundred Tiny Threads. The two main characters, Winifred and Bill, are the parents of the protagonist in the trilogy, Mary Howarth. They wanted me to explain their, how they had become what they are in the trilogy. I was happy to; I think, as we get older, we are made by our life experiences.
Jessie: I’m reading One Hundred Tiny Threads. I’m about a third of the way through. It’s a great read. The opening is engrossing with Winifred waking up to another day in the shop. The characters are so real, and I love getting inside their heads. I’m shouting at them all the time. The way you thread the characters’ attitudes towards women is brilliant. I’m fascinated by the Suffragettes in Leeds. For some reason, I always imagined the movement to be concentrated in London.
Judith: Researching the Suffragettes opened up my eyes. I wanted to tell their story through the voices of the characters and show how women, in the society at that time, were ready for the change. Stories draw people into to the political background of the era, and life was certainly a challenge then. People say my books are dark. Have you got to the gory bits?
Jessie: Well, there has been a murder.
Judith: No, I’m thinking of scene after that – you wait. Bill’s a bastard but it’s his background. I don’t know why Winifred married him.
Jessie: Oh no, what was Winifred thinking of? I’m furious with her, as I haven’t read the terrible news yet. I’m intrigued as to why she didn’t marry the love of her life and scared for her.
Judith: oh ‘eck, hope I haven’t I haven’t spoiled it for you, Jessie. But, you must understand Bill had a terrible life as a child with his father. And then he was a soldier in the horrendous First World Wars. He was also one of the Black and Tans when he returned from the Front. He’s a bastard but didn’t have it easy. As I said, our lives shape us.
Jessie: I agree and people interest me too.
Judith: Yes, well your novel, You Can’t Go It Alone, is also character driven and could become a family saga. I can see it now. I want to know more about Luke and Rosa and their parents.
Jessie: I plan to do that, and you have inspired me to complete historical research. I would have to look carefully into the eras the generations were born into. Thanks for your advice.
Judith: No problem, I teach creative writing in Pembrokeshire, so I just can’t help myself (some would say it’s interfering!!). Writing is like looking at the world through the eyes of a child and I love it. I watch folk walk past my window, at home. It’s hilarious how people walk. I can’t stop people watching and passing it on through my books. I never stop watching and am always so busy.
Jessie: I notice you also organise Narberth Book Fair.
Judith: Yes, I organise it with a friend, author, Thorne Moore. It started in Tenby, but we had to move because we outgrew the venue with so many writers wanting to take part. I think it’s so important to attend these events; to get out there and meet the readers.
Jessie: What advice would you give to fledgling writers?
Judith: Get a professional editor and be prepared for a slog. The first draft of the book is the best bit. I always cry when I get my editor’s comments.
Jessie: Tell me, what have you got in your handbag today?
Judith handed me a copy of Pattern of Shadows and a book entitled Secrets; an anthology of short stories of the minor characters in the trilogy. She proceeded to let me in on the secret life of her handbag. She had some very colourful reading glasses, pens, more pens, bookmarks, a spare blouse, her mobile and an agenda.
Judith: As you can see I do love a bit of colour. I try to be organised and I absolutely love writing. I want you to place these books in your handbag and let the Howarth family keep you company. You’ll love some of the family and dislike some of the other – but that’s life!
Judith is fabulous fun, and I had a blast meeting with her. Meeting face to face is so much better than communicating on line. I delighted in her humour, straight-talking and infectious sense of fun. Judith is a natural storyteller, and this translates in her animated dialogue. She told me she is ‘living each day’. She thrives on her writing and engagement with authors. Her generosity was evident in her willingness to share the benefit of her experience.
Judith Barrow, originally from Saddleworth, near Oldham, and on the wrong side of the Pennines but still in Yorkshire, has lived in Pembrokeshire, Wales, for forty years.
She has an MA in Creative Writing with the University of Wales Trinity St David’s College, Carmarthen, a BA (Hons) in Literature with the Open University and a Diploma in Drama from Swansea University. She has had short stories, plays, reviews and articles, published throughout the British Isles and has won several poetry competitions. She has completed three children’s books.
She is also a Creative Writing tutor for Pembrokeshire County Council.
Amazon link to her books:
Winifred is a determined young woman eager for new experiences, for a life beyond the grocer’s shop counter ruled over by her domineering mother. When her friend Honora – an Irish girl, with the freedom to do as she pleases – drags Winifred along to a suffragette rally, she realises that there is more to life than the shop and her parents’ humdrum lives of work and grumbling. Bill Howarth’s troubled childhood echoes through his early adult life and the scars linger, affecting his work, his relationships and his health. The only light in his life comes from a chance meeting with Winifred, the daughter of a Lancashire grocer. The girl he determines to make his wife. Meeting Honora’s intelligent and silver-tongued medical student brother turns Winifred’s heart upside down and she finds herself suddenly pregnant. Bill Howarth reappears on the scene offering her a way out.