I think most, if not all, authors have something of themselves in their books: in the writing, in the voice of the text. We can’t help it; the words emerge from who and what we are, where we come from and where we are in our lives.
There’s always something of me in my books. I don’t just mean in the writing, my voice, all authors write in our own voices, we can’t help it But, often, in my work, I write scenes that reflect situations I have lived through and what I have seen. By “reflect”, I mean they may not be the ‘real’ situations, but they always colour the lives of my characters and what happens to them. My own emotions are threaded through in how they react, how they feel. I always say to my students, if they can’t relate to the way their characters feel, neither will their reader. That’s something I really believe.
I’m not sure when the stories I wrote turned into family sagas. Or even if that’s what they always were. I’ve often said that as a child I wrote to escape, and that’s the truth. It was a means of blocking out the arguments, the violence, the humiliations. And the feelings that I was never good enough: not pretty enough, not clever enough, not useful enough. Not enough.
So my stories were always of a girl who triumphed; who was always helping others; always saving whatever it (or whoever) needed saving. This sometimes tipped over into real life and resulted in varying degrees of unforeseen consequences: I found stray dogs and took them home, and then had to return them to their owners, if asked where a place was, I gave directions (regardless of whether I actually knew or not), believing I could possibly be right. And I once spent a whole two pounds on biscuits for my grandmother who’d actually sent me to buy brisket ( a joint of meat). She was an Impatient woman, slightly deaf, and hated repeating herself – so I didn’t ask her to explain what she meant – and guessed. She was slightly cross and my mother had to pay back the money – though she made sure the biscuits came home with us.
Our home life was isolated. Not in the physical sense, we lived on a large new estate of houses, but in an emotional way. No one came to the house unless they were friends of my father. Friends that came and went with startling rapidity. It would usually be a man that he’d become friendly with at his work or at one of the many and varied activities he joined and left. The man would then bring his wife with him. At first it was as if the couple were never away and then, just as suddenly, they were gone; something had been said or done that Dad hadn’t liked and we never saw them again.
It was the same with any of our relatives– until they didn’t bother coming around anymore.
My friends were not allowed inside the house and, because both parents were out at work all day, it was expected that I stayed home so they would know where I was. I rebelled against this at the age of eleven when I was given a dog for my birthday. She and I roamed for hours around the countryside then. But I always made sure I was home before my father came back from work.
I’ve been with Honno for over ten years now and had five books published with them. Because it is known to be a Welsh press it is sometimes assumed that all its authors will be Welsh as well. So that, often, when I’ve appeared at events, people are surprised to hear my broad Northern English accent. The supposition is false; Honno’s aim as an inspiring, feminist, Welsh press, is to provide opportunities for women writers. The only proviso is that they are either Welsh, are living in Wales or have a connection to the country – which actually covers a great many writers.I love their strapline -. “Great Women, Great Writing, Great Stories.” So it always gives me a thrill when the manuscript I’ve been toiling over for months (or years!) is accepted by them.
My latest book is The Memory, published 19th March 2020: https://bit.ly/3b2xRSn
‘I wait by the bed. I move into her line of vision and it’s as though we’re watching one another, my mother and me; two women – trapped.’
Today has been a long time coming. Irene sits at her mother’s side waiting for the right moment, for the point at which she will know she is doing the right thing by Rose. Rose was Irene’s little sister, an unwanted embarrassment to their mother Lilian but a treasure to Irene. Rose died thirty years ago, when she was eight, and nobody has talked about the circumstances of her death since. But Irene knows what she saw. Over the course of 24 hours their moving and tragic story is revealed – a story of love and duty, betrayal and loss – as Irene rediscovers the past and finds hope for the future.
The following is something I wrote a while back. It was the Prologue of one of the books that’s stayed hidden in the drawer...
I hear the heavy footsteps on the stairs. I imagine him, hand grasping the banister as he hauls himself up, two steps at a time, his face red, angry.The scream is rolling around in my head. I wait for the sharp crack of the floorboard on the landing outside our bedroom door – just before the door is thumped open. He speaks, his voice harsh.
‘You… and you … downstairs.’
We hurry, but our feet get tangled in the sheets. Don’t look at him – that makes him angry.
‘ And take that look of your face or I’ll knock it off’
My legs wobble. I clutch hold of my sister’s hand as we scramble down the stairs into the living room where Mum sits on the edge of the settee. She doesn’t move, doesn’t look at us. We know not to say anything.
Mostly we don’t know what has caused the rows. Then Dad says it’s us and, sometimes, we can remember things that have made him cross, so we know he’s right and we’re sorry.
Sorry that Mum gets hurt because of us.
He paces the room, slamming a clenched hand into the palm of the other and hitting the wall with his fist.
Once he made a hole in the kitchen door.
We sit either side of Mum, not touching, not speaking, not together. If we seem to be together; three parts of a whole, it makes him angrier. If we are separate, quiet, still, he stops shouting and we get back to bed sooner.
The scream is rolling around in my head…
To buy the books: https://www.honno.co.uk/authors/b/judith-barrow/