How time flies – Rosie Amber’s Book Review Team has now been up and running for six years! During that time we have done our best to spread the word about novels, novellas, short stories and non-fiction from self-published authors and independent publishers – to showcase talent found outside the mainstream publishing world.
Each month we are inundated with review requests from authors and publishers alike. Every book that I accept is passed on to my team of twenty readers, which is made up of book bloggers, writers, editors, creative writing tutors and people who just love reading. Most gain just one or two reviews, but once in a while a gem comes along that piques the interest of several team members, and receives highly favourable reviews across the board.
Welcome to Part One of #RBRT Gold: seven extra-special books that were…
Welcome to the series where authors in the Cafe and Bookstore an extract from their most recent book. If you are in the Cafe, and would like to participate you can find all the details here:Share an Extract
Today bestselling author of the Howarth Family Saga, Judith Barrow shares an extract from her compelling family drama The Memory. A book that I can highly recommend.
About the book
Mother and daughter tied together by shame and secrecy, love and hate.
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.
Qurban’s wife, Masooma, had taken their two daughters to Pakistan to visit her parents, who had not yet seen their grandchildren. She was expected to return with Jon when he came to collect me. In the evenings I sometimes joined Qurban in his room where we talked late into the night catching up on news.
Qurban had spent much of his life in Karachi and was eager for news of friends there, and to reminisce about his days at the leprosy training centre and hospital. Although I had known Qurban quite well during his student days he had never talked much about his early childhood in Afghanistan. During one of our late night sessions he told the story of the horrors of those days when, at the age of about seven he contracted leprosy.
He had known of the disease as his paternal uncle had leprosy. In…
I am delighted to have the amazing Sally Cronin as my guest today as she tells us about her adventurous life as a child traveller.
Travels as a ChildCape Town, South Africa – 1963-1965 – Sally Cronin
My father was a Royal Naval officer, and by the time I was ten years old, I had quite a few adventures under my belt. When I was 18 months old my father was posted to Sri Lanka (Ceylon at that time) for two years to a place where my early memories were formed. In early 1959, when I was six-years-old, we moved to Malta for two years, flying via Rome airport, where my two-year-old brother escaped and was recaptured running across the tarmac under a plane.
But the biggest adventure would be in early 1963 when we left for Cape Town, South Africa, so my father could take up his shore-based…
Well, best laid plans and all that! For one reason and another we were unable to walk around the Bosherston Lily Ponds, as I had planned and mentioned in January. http://bit.ly/39PXzZ8. So here’s what we did instead… We joined a group of walkers, led by Sam, a Pembrokeshire Coast National Park representative. We walked through the oak woodlands at Little Milford; now, thanks to the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, going back to its natural state after much commercial devastation in the last century; a refuge for wildlife.
Due to Lock-down it was the last walk with Sam and the group we took part in.
But, lately, we’ve been asked by Sam to take part in a walking project across West Wales in partnership with the National Exercise Referral Scheme is setting a challenge of virtually walking the world. So will be joining in with thisfor West Wales
A Sign of Spring on its way; a lovely spread of snowdrops
The Cleddau waterway is seen through the ancient woodland.
We followed the network of footpath’s network through oak, hazel, birch and holly trees.
Yes, that’s how muddy it was. No wonder one of the walkers called Sam, “mud-seeking”. She only laughed as we splodged our way through.
The tide was well out; the salt marsh, tidal creeks and mudflats glistened in the brightness of the white sky.
We saw the remains of lime kilns and former coal workings, slowly giving way to nature.
A gushing stream, swollen from all the recent rain, making its way down to the Cleddau.Just as we arrived back at the mini-bus, it began to rain.First time in weeks Husband and I had stayed dry on a walk.
The woodland itself is believed to date back to at least the 11th century, with locals throughout the ages making the most of the deciduous trees. The Normans took timber and firewood, and oak was routinely coppiced here until the 1920s.Coal played an active part in the area too. In its heyday, the bordering village of Hook had a number of small pits extracting anthracite – the last closed in 1959.Little Milford became a commercial site during this period, with large swathes of the woodland felled and replanted with conifers.The land and several dwellings were then gifted to the National Trust in 1975 by Mr Harcourt Roberts, the descendant of the estate-owning family who experimented with profitable forestry.We’ve been managing the conifers and caring for the woodland ever since. In 2012 we harvested most of the conifers and replanted the cleared areas with a mix of broadleaved trees.Little Milford Farmhouse and Little Milford Lodge are now cared for as National Trust holiday cottages and provide a tranquil holiday retreat in a beautiful estuary and woodland setting.
Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority also run a Walkability Project::http://bit.ly/2Pgdb0q The Walkability Project helps people of all abilities who live in Pembrokeshire to enjoy the spectacular countryside and coast around them.
And I have a website where I normally post my views on books and connect with other authors.Writings and Reviewings: https://judithbarrow.blogspot.com/ Please feel free to visit anytime.
My latest book, The Memory, was released on March 19, 2020
And, to my shame, I’d completely missed this, and now can’t resist adding this wonderful review from the Culture section of… NATION●CYMRU:@NationCymru:A news service by the people of Wales, for the people of Wales
After a sprawling, four-volume Howarth family saga set in Lancashire and Ireland this latest novel by Pembrokeshire writer Judith Barrow has a much tighter focus, being essentially the life of one woman, Irene. She is a woman tested to the very limits and beyond as she weaves her way past breaking point after breaking point.
Her exceedingly well-loved sister Rose dies in very suspicious circumstances and the finger of blame for her demise points firmly at Irene’s mother Lil, an increasingly needy, fully-paid-up-member-of-the-awkward-squad. But life has a habit of conspiring against Irene and she finds herself having to care for mother.
Which means Irene’s builder husband Sam can’t live in the same house, especially when his estranged mother – who abandoned him many moons ago – moves in too, in the meanest twist of fate. As with any tragedy the ratchet turns and turns on Irene, intensifying the pain of her caring, carer existence. Every hour is a test. She spends her days tending to her mother even though she has ample reason to hate her. She watches her mother in bed, wondering if a photograph of a family trip to Morecambe she is looking at has triggered memories of the occasion:
“Or is she seeing something else? A memory? That memory? I’m hoping that of all the recollections that linger, if any do linger in that blankness that has been her mind for so long, it’s that one. The one that makes hate battle with pity and reluctant love. If nothing else, I hope she remembers that.”
Irene, meanwhile, is sustained by very different memories and spectral glimpses of her dead sister Rose, an affectionate young girl with Downs’ Syndrome who seems to haunt the family home even thirty years after her mysterious death, thus making it impossible for Irene to leave. Irene does manage to break free for a brief while for after a long wait, a council house for her and Sam rewards them with a new home brim-full of hope and an intention to start a family.
But in a life crammed to the gills with disappointment, the young couple find they are infertile and despite the advances of HRT their local GP won’t prescribe such expensive fertility treatment. Irene’s life seems like a thick Littlewoods catalogue of such thwartings.
Irene’s life is told in a series of flashbacks to the 60s and early 70s, with a soundtrack of Billy J. Kramer and Rod Stewart in a time of romantic meals washed down with Mateus Rosé wine and people tottering around on platform soles. This wash of memories is interspersed by brief, highly intense glimpses of Irene’s present life of sufferance over the span of twenty-five hours when the heating fails and she is forced to clean her incontinent mother by joining her in a cold shower.
Hour by hour we feel the wearing, wearying, spirit-breaking nature of the daily grind. Fortuitously, Judith Barrow has put us very much on Irene’s side, batting for her, and it comes as enormous relief when life finally picks up for her and this turns into an ultimately redemptive novel.
The cover blurb suggests this is a book about a ‘Mother and daughter tied together by shame and secrecy; love and hate’ and it’s all that and more and I won’t spoil the tightly wrought and finely controlled plot by revealing the biggest secret of all but will say the reveal is very deftly handled.
The writing throughout The Memory is clear, uncluttered and unadorned and it’s interesting to see how Barrow manages to flesh out Irene’s life without slathering on the psychology but rather by sticking to the story.
You put the book down having got to know a woman who melds steel with sensitivity and find yourself wishing her well, as a better future unrolls deservedly before her and the long, long suffering is finally over.
The Memory by Judith Barrow is published by Honno and can be bought here.
I received Under Your Skin from the author as a member of Rosie Amber’s Review Team #RBRT, in return for an honest review..
I gaveUnder Your Skin3.5* out of 5*
When Kyle’s wife Hannah goes missing, the whole town is out in force to try to find her. One person knows where she is. One person is keeping a secret.
Detective Inspector Simon Peters and Detective Kerry Lawlor have been brought in to investigate the case, but Hannah has left no traces and Kyle has no clues.
Local Belfast resident Julia Matthews joins the #FindHannah campaign and becomes friendly with Kyle, sympathising with his tragedy. As Julia becomes more involved in the case than she bargained for, she begins to uncover more secrets than the Police ever could.
Julia was only trying to help, but has she become drawn into a web of mystery that she can’t escape?
I wasn’t sure how to review this book. On the whole I liked Rose McClelland’s writing style, but I couldn’t decide what genre Under Your Skin is. This doesn’t bother me normally, many books cross genres but, for me, there were some elements that didn’t feel quite right in this story about one of the most destructive and distressing trait in any relationship. And, so, for the first time, before I wrote this, I checked to see what other reviewers thought.
Under Your Skin has been well received; most of the comments have concentrated on how well the issue of domestic violence is at the forefront of the story; it’s the main theme. And I agree, how a person can gain control over another in a carefully planned and invidious way is excellently written through the characters of Kyle and Hannah. With both the internal and spoken dialogue the reader learns how the husband thinks and acts. I admired the author’s in-depth approach to that.
Kyle Greer, the antagonist, is multi-layered. Told in the third person point of view the narrator initially depicts him as a pleasant easy-going man, concerned about his missing wife. But slowly a different personality emerges. The underlying sinister side to Kyle becomes more obvious, his actions more violent. The author has written a good portrayal of a husband who controls, who is an abuser, a cruel manipulator.
The same careful representation has been given to his wife, Hannah. This character is written in first person point of view. At first, the reader is led to believe that she has been kidnapped. She says, “Even if I tried to batter on the tiny window… no one would hear”. To begin with, because of the dialogue, I believed her to an unreliable narrator, ostensibly because of her fear, depression and mental instability. But as the story progresses, and she reveals how she has become a victim of Kyle’s bullying, I understood why she was characterised in that way. The stages of the relationship between them is shown in past tense, through flashbacks: from the time when she first met him to the present time and to the present situation. Each memory exposes her degradation brought on by Kyle’s jealousy, possessiveness and moods; her ability to excuse his behaviour, to turn off her emotions in an attempt to save her sanity. And too proud to admit she’d made a mistake marrying him. It made difficult reading and I empathised with her.
But, for me, the other characters vary, some being more rounded, even though they all occupy equal importance in the book and I felt those characters detracted from the strong theme that occupies the central story.
I found the portrayed relationship between Kerry Lawlor and DCI Simon Peters unrealistic and unnecessary. The inferred, lightly romantic, attraction between them, especially on the part of Kerry Lawlor, felt forced and It all sort of petered out in the end, anyway. A straightforward colleagues’ relationship would have been enough for me. Though I admit I enjoyed the twists and turn in the police investigations, from the searching for her as missing person to the suspicions about Hanna’s husband Kyle
The representation of Kate and her husband, Guy is shown through her point of view and the relationship between them, showing all the difficulties of a working wife and a stay at home writer husband is okay, though I did wonder how they fitted in and when that was shown towards the end I felt a little sceptical that this was realistic,(perhaps this was because of the first chapter with Hannah and the dialogue there )– I’m not sure.
The story line between Julia and Kyle is stronger. I thought it was included to show how easily a certain type of woman can be taken in by a certain type of man. But she plays a more important part than that. Yet I also felt there was little depth to her character, considering what she apparently has been through and is still struggling with; her portrayal and her actions didn’t ring true.
And though, overall, the dialogue quite clearly differentiates the characters, I have to say that, occasionally, the speech attributed to some didn’t give them any depth, and even detracted from how they were portrayed. And, more than that, there were dialogue tags that clash with the actual dialogue; an example being, “piped up”when the dialogue showed quite a different mood that “piped up”represented.This happened in quite a lot in places and I found it irritating. I’m a great believer that dialogue should show the emotion, the way it is spoken, and that” said” is enough most of the time.
The story is set in Belfast and, through some of the descriptions, there was a good sense of place.
Despite my latterly reservation I think it isa good plot, covering an important issue; and is a theme sensitively written by Rose McClelland.
Loved the cover by the way.
All reviews are subjective; mine is no different, so I think I should leave it to other readers to decide if Under Your Skin is for them. As I said at the beginning it’s a book that has been well received and admired.
Sally has, yet again, included me in her cafe updates, the first for this week with her recent reviews for authors on the shelves post. Many thank, Sally, thrilled to be included with Lucinda and Mike. Must check out their books. xx
Realms of Relationships – Empaths and Spiritual Communication through Energy
Welcome to the June edition of the Realms of Relationships. Today, I’m writing off course about a different kind of communication – through energy. Perhaps it’s these crazy times we’re all living in, but for people who are Highly Sensitive Persons, also known as HSPs, and for those of us who are empaths with similar traits, I’ve found these last few months, and in particular these last few weeks of world-wide protests for justice, weighing me down with a heavier than usual load to carry, emotionally.
For us sensitives, we are uber sensitive to the energies emitted when the hurt in the world becomes insurmountable. For empaths and HSPs, we don’t necessarily have to be directly in front of one person to pick up energies. We can also take in the collective. And I can tell you, absorbing…
Why Honno was a question I wanted to ask each of the following Honno authors when I started the interviews with them over the last few months.
I mean, I knew why I liked being published by Honno:
Honno is my kind of publisher; small, independent, and led by strong women who know what kind of books they want to publish and don’t accept anything but the best that an author can produce. So the editing is hard, but fair, and leads to many discussions – and a few compromises on both sides. Because it is known to be a Welsh press it is sometimes assumed that all its authors will be Welsh as well. So, 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.
I’ve had experience of having an agent, of being asked to conform to the commercial market; to fit in. And it wasn’t for me. As a creative writing tutor, I’ve spent the last couple of decades encouraging students to “write in their own voices”. So when the agent told me I needed to conform if I wanted to be published by one of the big publishing companies, I knew it wasn’t for me. This, after she’d placed me with a commercial editor who, not only wanted me to write in a different way, but also wanted me to write in a different genre.”The talent and skill as a writer is there but you need to be open to change.”, was the advice.
I took it; I changed from being a client with an agent ( who had, after all, accepted me on the strength of my first book) to seeking other outlets for my work.
I was lucky, I found Honno.
But, enough about me.
But, enough about me.
Honno’s mission is to publish Welsh women writers – for the purposes of submission to Honno this means that you must be a woman born in Wales or resident in Wales at the time of submission. Honno also publishes titles of exceptional interest to women within Wales from writers who may not meet the first two criteria i.e. that they are female and that they are of Welsh birth or residence.
I started each of the interviews with the statement:”My greatest support has come from the group of authors published by Honno. We’ve met up in real life on many occasions…”
That being said, the question all the Honno authors were glad to answer was: “What do you like most about being published by Honno, an indie press rather than one of the big publishing houses?”
To learn more about the authors and their books, please click on their names
“It’s a small press, which means it’s personal. Maybe famous sportsmen or ex-cabinet ministers can be lauded (promoted) to the skies by big publishers, but most of their less famous authors tend to be lost in a very impersonal ocean, with very little one-to-one attention. They are names on a spreadsheet. With Honno, you know the team and they know you. You feel far more valued, even if the big bucks aren’t there.
And there’s the fact that Honno is a Women’s Press, run by women, publishing women (as well as being Welsh, of course). It’s not an anti-man thing, but I grew up in the era of the rising tide of women’s lib, when women didn’t just sit around arguing their case but took really positive actions to prove themselves, such as setting up publishing companies like Virago. Unlike others, Honno is still going strong and flying the flag.”.
“The intimacy. The sense of being part of a family. Honno’s reputation as an independent press publishing writing exclusively by women appealed to my feminist heart from the start. And it felt like the right fit for my debut, with its connection to The Mabinogion and the legend of Blodeuwedd.
A small press may not have the financial resources available to bigger, mainstream houses; they do tend to have a broad vision. They’re less bureaucratic, more collaborative and if they believe in a project enough, will invest time, expertise and energy in it. This has certainly proved to be the case for me with Honno.”
“It feels like being part of a close-knit family. The small but dedicated and talented Honno team are accessible and supportive at all stages of the process, and it’s been lovely to become friends with so many of the other Honno authors. We’re a wonderful community, and although we’re scattered all over Wales and beyond, it’s particularly lovely when we get to meet up in person.“
“When I was writing ‘Not Thomas’ I knew exactly where I wanted to send it when I’d finished, and that was to Honno. I’d long admired their work and I loved the fact that they’re a female-only press and have a committee of women who decide what to publish. Added to that was my huge respect for Caroline Oakley, a Honno editor who had worked closely in a previous role for a number of years with (the aforementioned) Ian Rankin. I was absolutely delighted when I heard from Caroline that Honno were going to publish ‘Not Thomas’ and my whole experience of being part of the Honno family has been fantastic. All the staff and other authors are extremely supportive and go out of their way to make everyone welcome. I’m constantly recommending Honno to my female friends who are writers. It may be a small indie press but it commands huge respect and publishes wonderful books.”
“Ilove the team spirit which goes with being a Honno author. The other authors are so supportive of each other, and you really feel part of the gang. You get to know everyone who makes Honno work, and feel part of the enterprise, in a way which would surely be very difficult in a larger organisation. I was, and continue to be, overwhelmed at the generosity of everyone involved. It feels like a real joint-venture, which is a pleasure to be a part of.”
“I think with Honno, my forthcoming novel has found the perfect home with the UK’s longest-standing independent press that champions Welsh women and Welsh writing. I am proud that I now find myself among a list of authors I so admire.“
“First, the fact that I am published by a women’s press is a major achievement. I grew into my own identity reading books by Honno and other women’s presses, and I felt that there must be something really special about authors who are published by smaller presses who can’t afford to take a gamble in the way in a bigger publishing house could. I am in awe of my fellow Honno authors, and I really do feel honoured to be in their company. It is so great to have a good relationship with my editor, and the community of Honno authors is so supportive and helpful. It is a huge plus to not have to have an agent to get your work read. I could paper my wall with rejection slips and after a while it just wears you down. Then there’s that personal experience of being nurtured by an editor who really knows her stuff and is invested in making sure your work is the best it can be.
I think with Honno, the authors are all excellent, and that kind of sets a standard. It makes me strive to be better, to be worthy of the association. And it’s a feminist press, so what’s not to like?“
“I’m eternally grateful that I had the experience of being published by Honno before finding an agent and having a two-book deal with Orion. Having been through the process in the slightly less pressurised atmosphere of Honno, and learning the different stages of the editing process, gave me the confidence to feel I knew what I was doing – and even more importantly know that I had done it three times before so could do it again! That experience has been utterly invaluable. Honno also gave me time to develop as a writer and become more certain of who I was as an author.”
“The community of writers and the friendship that has come out of being published by Honno. Having the confidence that I’ll be taken seriously with the next book (though as with big publishing houses there’s no guarantee a book will be taken on). And going to the seaside whenever I go to talk to my editor.”
“The informality and camaraderie of an indie publisher suits me and my way of working. I’ve been a Honno author for fifteen years and everyone I’ve worked with there has been approachable, supportive, flexible and available. I’m extremely blessed to have Caroline Oakley as my editor. She ‘gets’ what I’m trying to achieve and nudges me, firmly but sympathetically, in the right direction. I couldn’t bear to hand ‘my babies’ over to people whom I didn’t know, trust and consider to be friends.”
“My association with Honno began with their anthology, Luminous and Forlorn, which included my short story, Lovey Dovey Cats Eyes. I like that they are real people, who treat their authors as real people, rather than as a means to an end. They respect your wishes, offer sound advice and editing and pull out all the stops to provide a really good quality product you can be proud of.“
“Being published by Honno is like going home. The first publisher of my fiction was The Women’s Press, where writers experienced warm support and a shared outlook on the politics of gender. At Honno there is a sense of solidarity such as one rarely finds in larger and more impersonal firms. Caroline’s editing skills are second to none and I have been grateful for her experience and insight.“
Submitting your work
Honno is always interested in receiving unsolicited manuscripts but currently does not intend to publish poetry, works for children, novellas or short story collections by a single author. Honno does publish full length works of fiction and non-fiction for adults (manuscripts of between 60,000 and 120,000 words).
Honno is open to all genres of fiction and is particularly interested in increasing the number of literary fiction, crime/thriller, commercial women’s fiction, science fiction and fantasy titles it publishes. Honno is also building a list of non-fiction works to include biography (untold tales of remarkable Welsh women, places and industries), memoir, nature and travel writing. For a good idea of the types of work Honno is interested in study the Books pages on this site and the Editor’s blog posts.
However, whatever kind of work you are submitting, please ensure that you meet Honno’s criteria (see ‘Submission guidelines’ below) BEFORE doing so.
Honno is keen to publish work that shows all sides of life in Wales, but will consider stories not set within Wales. Honno is a feminist publisher and that influences the kinds of work selected for publication.
During the Coronavirus crisis we are happy to take submissions by email. Please attach your covering letter and submission and email it to email@example.com with ‘submission – your name ‘ as the subject line.
It’s 1969 and free-spirited artist Elin Morgan has left Wales for a sun-drenched Greek island. As she makes new friends and enjoys the laidback lifestyle, she writes all about it in her diary. But Elin’s carefree summer of love doesn’t last long, and her island experience ultimately leaves her with a shocking secret … Twenty-two years later, Elin’s daughter Alexandra has inherited the diary and is reeling from its revelations. The discovery compels Alexandra to make her own journey to the same island, following in her mother’s footsteps. Once there, she sets about uncovering what really happened to Elin in that summer of ’69.
I looked forward to reading this debut novel by Jan Baynham for quite a while and I wasn’t disappointed. The author has an easy writing style that I really like, I love the story, which has a brilliant dramatic opening and, unusual for me, I read the book in one fairly long session.
Her Mother’s Secret is set against the background of the Greek island of Péfka during completely different eras; 1969 and 2011 .These two time frames are linked by the two main characters, Alexandra and her mother, Elin and are connected through time, by the diary that Alexandra has found after her mother’s death.
I don’t like giving spoilers in my reviews; I try to explain what I like about a book.
Both Elin and Alexandra are complex and well-rounded characters, and very much of their time. And, although they are never together in any scenes in the novel, the love they had for each other is threaded throughout Her Mother’s Secret. But there is one big difference in the two; Elin Morgan is following her dreams by becoming an art student at a summer painting school, run by a famous artist, on Péfka. Alexandra, still grieving, is on the islandseeking answers to the disclosures in her mother’s diary
And the author has ensured that the reader becomes engrossed in these characters by intertwining their stories with a cast of believable minor characters and the detailed and redolent descriptions of the Greek island, the harbour, the art school The portrayal of all the settings give an evocative sense of place.
The book moves at a good pace with a number of twists and turns that sometimes took me by surprise and sometimes gave me a feeling of ‘Ah-ha!; my suspicions, picked up through the foreshadowing the author has slipped into the story, coming to fruition is always satisfying to a reader.
There are many themes running through Her Mother’s Secret: of love, relationships, mystery, crime, secrets and friendships, all woven to give a good balance of romance with a believable darker side of life.
All in all, Her Mother’s Secret is a novel I would recommend to any reader who enjoys a story that is grounded in the Romance genre but reveals itself to be so much more.
About the author:
After retiring from a career in teaching and advisory education, Jan joined a small writing group in a local library where she wrote her first piece of fiction. From then on, she was hooked!
She soon went on to take a writing course at the local university and began to submit stories for publication to a wider audience. In October 2019, her first collection of short stories, ‘Smashing the Mask and Other Stories’ was published.
Following a novel writing course, Jan began to write her first full length novel. She loves being able to explore characters in greater depth and delve into their stories. She writes about family secrets and the bond between mothers and daughters. Partly set in the last year of the 60s, ‘Her Mother’s Secret’, takes you to sun-drenched Greece, her favourite holiday destination.
Originally from mid-Wales, Jan lives in Cardiff with her husband.
There are over 150 authors in the Cafe and Bookstore and I wanted to keep it to key pieces of information such as buying links, recent review, website and covers. However, I know that readers also like to know more about the background of authors.
In this series during June and July I will share the bios of all the authors in the cafe in a random selection. I hope that this will introduce you to the authors in more depth and encourage you to check out their books and follow them on their blog and Twitter.
Meet John W. Howell
John began his writing as a full-time occupation after an extensive business career. His specialty is thriller fiction novels, but John also writes poetry and short stories. His first book, My GRL, introduces the exciting adventures of the book’s central character, John J. Cannon. The second Cannon novel, His…
My greatest support has come from the group of authors published by Honno. We have a Facebook group where we can chat and ask for help, information and generally boost moral when it’s needed. And we’ve met up in real life on many occasions. About three years ago I shared interviews with some of them. Since then there have been other women writers who have become Honno authors. So this is the new set of interviews and today I am withStevie Davies. Although new to Honno with this genre, Stevie is a prolific writer of many genres, on many platforms, as you will see when you check out her website
Welcome, Stevie, please tell us a little about yourself.
I live in Mumbles, Swansea, 10 doors down from where my parents once lived. I am a feminist, cyclist, sea-swimmer, music-lover, mother of 3 and grandmother of 4. I’m a long-time member of CND. I stood for Cheadle Council in the 1990s as a Green Party candidate. I didn’t win.
I taught English Literature at Manchester University, leaving to concentrate on writing fiction, before coming home to Swansea University in 2001 as Royal Literary Fund Fellow and then Professor of Creative Writing. I’m a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and a Fellow of the Welsh Academy. The Party Wall will be my fifteenth work of fiction. I’ve published 14 books of non-fiction. Euan Thorneycroft of A.M. Heath is my agent.
When did you start writing?
I started writing stories at the age of 5 or 6, which was more or less the age when my feminism kicked in: I saw the way the world was organised along gender lines and felt compelled to argue with it. My Morriston-born father was an Air Force sergeant so we were constantly on the move. My home from home was always the public lending library, from Oystermouth to Cornwall; from Kinloss to Hildesheim in Germany. My earliest works included an illustrated tale set in the Second World War, in which a group of Nazis gunned down everyone in sight, including one another – at which point the story found its natural terminus.
What genre do you write in and why?
I like to experiment. Writing is a process of exploration and discovery: it’s boring to repeat yourself. In non-fiction, I’ve written biography (Emily Brontë, Henry Vaughan), literary criticism (Shakespeare, Milton, Donne, Virginia Woolf), popular history (17th century). In fiction: historical fiction, novella, short story. In The Party Wall, I’ve tried a slow-burning psychological thriller, domestic noir. For me the most powerful form of realism is tragicomedy because it represents a spectrum of experience and response.
How important is location in your novels?
Super-important, and especially location set in a historical period – from 20th century Yorkshire (Four Dreamers and Emily), Shrewsbury (The Web of Belonging), 17th century Cheshire and Wales (Impassioned Clay), Northern Germany pre- and postwar (The Element of Water), South Wales (Kith & Kin, The Eyrie, The Party Wall), 1940s Egypt (Into Suez), 19th century Gloucestershire (Awakening), Manchester (Equivocator).
When I came to write novels, I found that the varied landscapes of my childhood had given me different settings, enabling me to ponder history in a very personal way. From my early childhood in Egypt came Into Suez; from the lakeside Forces boarding school in Northern Germany, where I had been profoundly homesick, came The Element of Water, when I discovered that in 1945 High Admiral Doenitz had been named as Hitler’s successor, in those same buildings. Such coincidences enable us to focus the great wheel of history from the small arc of an individual’s destiny.
In The Party Wall, interior space is the central motif and the way people’s lives connect and are separated by the walls of home. I’ve lived all my life alongside party walls – overhearing the coming and going of neighbours, snatches of chat, arguments, muffled laughter. If you stop to think about it, how strange it is that we live our lives side by side, a few metres apart, hidden but throwing out unconscious clues. How little we know one another’s inmost hearts. I’ve sometimes imagined all the walls of a terrace turning to glass – we’d all be revealed in our most private (and embarrassing) postures and activities. Perhaps a novel functions like those glass partitions, revealing what is intimately concealed. In its double narration, oscillating between male and female narrators in adjoining terraced houses, The Party Wall tracks the convergence of a traumatised outsider and a free but broken spirit.
Who is your favourite (non Honno) author?
I read voraciously and my tastes are catholic – forever changing and broadening, often according to the joyous principle of serendipity, so I can’t give you a favourite. Since 1981, I’ve kept a Commonplace Book as people used to do in the past, noting the title of every book I read, with comments and quotations. Here are the openings of the first notebook and of the current one.
Where do you write?
At the dining room table and at a desk in the loft. With coffee. Up to and including the writing of The Eyrie, the first draft of every novel was handwritten. I redraft drastically many times and find it just as fascinating to revise as to create an original draft. You learn so much from your mistakes – and I think I have been a decent teacher of writing precisely because I have, over the years, committed every technical mistake in the book. You can’t beat a life rich in examined mistakes.
Who is your favourite character in your books?
It’s a mistake to keep looking back and ogling one’s earlier works. Probably the historical radical women I studied for Unbridled Spirits: Women of the English Revolution, 1642-1660 (Elizabeth Lilburne, Katherine Chidley, Anna Trapnel, Margaret Fell , Mary Fisher etc), have been the greatest inspiration. The characters of radical Quakers Hannah and Isabel in my novel, Impassioned Clay, are based on this research. Then come the complex, never-say-die rebels of my later novels: ‘Red Dora’, veteran of the Spanish Civil War, in The Eyrie; Ailsa Roberts, the adventurous spirit in Into Suez; Hannah Pentecost in Awakening; Quinta and Tertia in the Roman Britain of the title story of Arrest Me, For I Have Run Away.
What was your favourite bit of research?
Research might involve travel, a reading odyssey, and/or the learning or relearning of a language: for The Element of Water I read widely in German history, relearned German at the Goethe Institut and travelled to Lűbeck in Schleswig-Holstein. To research Into Suez, I made two unforgettable trips along the Suez Canal with my daughter Grace and corresponded with veterans of the Suez War.
What do you like most about being published by Honno, an indie press rather than one of the big publishing houses.
Being published by Honno is like going home. The first publisher of my fiction was The Women’s Press, where writers experienced warm support and a shared outlook on the politics of gender. At Honno (as also in other Welsh presses like Parthian, who have been wonderful supporters of my work) there is a sense of solidarity such as one rarely finds in larger and more impersonal firms. Caroline’s editing skills are second to none and I have been grateful for her experience and insight.
Welcome, Jackie, please tell us a little about yourself
Raised in smoky, post-war Walthamstow, mostly in brick terraces, prefabs and flats, I have always loved escaping to fresh air and trees and, as soon as I could, moved to Essex. Now, in retirement, my husband, Peter, and I can watch ducklings and moorhens on Buckhurst Hill’s village pond, from our front windows, I couldn’t be happier. To cap it all we have the freedom of Epping Forest just a few hundred yards down the road. Perfect. In spring and summer I spend half my time working an allotment with a friend; in autumn and winter and on rainy days, I cosy up indoors to do my writing. In between times, I paint, I run a Creative Writing group and Bookclub for the local U3A, and attend other art-based groups, a Scrabble Group and indulge in hilarious Parlour games with my friends. Before lockdown, I helped out at a Memory Cafe for people with Dementia. I consider myself blessed in my son and daughter, my daughter-in-law and in my four grandchildren who spice up our lives and keep us on our toes.
When did you start writing?
I have always loved make-believe. As a child I spent too much time daydreaming or immersed in a book for my own good, or so they told me. I loved play-acting, adored cinema and theatre and knew I would write stories eventually. But teaching put paid to that idea. It was only when I could see an end in sight, in the early 1990s, that I actually swapped my pottery kiln for a word processor and began writing short stories. Honno took one for an anthology they were compiling, and the rest – you’ve guessed it – is history.
What genre do you write in and why? I’d written five novels before I decided, as an experiment, to have a go at crime, mainly because I thought I would reach a wider audience. I didn’t read crime myself, only seen police procedurals on TV which I found ‘samey’ and, for the most part, predictable. What did attract me, though, was historical research: the Victorian era and early policing. How did they solve crimes before fingerprinting and DNA? If I could combine all that with art, I’d be happy. So I invented a police artist named Archie Price, born in Wales but painting and working in Walthamstow, a town I know very well.
How important is location in your novels?
I have set many of my books in old Walthamstow, as I grew up there. I knew my way around the streets, the market, the shops, schools,the park, the railway station. I knew the Palace theatre watched pantomime and music hall there. I even danced the Highland Fling on its stage when our ballet class put on a show. I knew the journey to and from London, by train and bus, and all the stops along the way. I knew the walk down to the river, the marshes, the pubs and bridges. Loving a place, it’s easy to set a story there, imagine your protagonists walking around, inhabiting the place, having adventures.The place, and the time, of course, have such an influence on who they are and the way they think, react.
Jackie’s painting of the Buckhurst Hill village pond outside her front window.
In all my books I need to have been to the places I write about, so that I can look around, recognise, touch, taste the air, get the atmosphere, put myself there and, through me, my characters.
Who is your favourite (non Honno) author? Before she wrote Handmaid’s Tale I would have said Margaret Atwood. Now, I have to return to my first love, Thomas Hardy. My daughter is named Tamsin after his heroine in Return of the Native. My favourite live author Is Maggie Farrell. No one can break your heart as she can
. Where do you write? Anywhere in the house where I can find a quiet spot. Now that I have discovered I can write in Word on my iPad in bed and have it appear on my laptop downstairs, the world is my oyster.
Who is your favourite character in your books? Archie Price – my ideal man – flawed but well meaning and kind. Julia Margaret Cameron made a photograph of an enigmatic and mysterious man she called Iago. Those are his looks. He is not Shakespeare’s Iago, however. He does not have a disloyal bone in his body. He is rather like my husband, in fact.
What was your favourite bit of research? Any forensic Art – how an artist can build up the likeness of a villain from a witness’s description. How a face can be made for a skull, as in pmy latest novel Shades of Deception.But I also love researching the suffragettes for my current work in progress.
What do you like most about being published by Honno, an indie press rather than one of the big publishing houses?
My association with Honno began with their anthology, Luminous and Forlorn, which included my short story, Lovey Dovey Cats Eyes. I like that they are real people, who treat their authors as real people, rather than as a means to an end. They respect your wishes, offer sound advice and editing and pull out all the stops to provide a really good quality product you can be proud of.
My greatest support has come from the group of authors published by Honno. We have a Facebook group where we can chat and ask for help, information and generally boost moral when it’s needed. And we’ve met up in real life on many occasions. About three years ago I shared interviews with some of them. Since then there have been other women writers who have become Honno authors. So this is the new set of interviews and today I am withJo Verity.
Welcome,. Jo.Please tell us a little about yourself.
I live in North Cardiff with my husband of 53 years. We have two daughters – one lives in Bristol, one lives in London – and four grandchildren. Before retirement I worked as a medical graphic artist at the Dental Hospital in Cardiff. (I drew teeth!)
To date, I have had six novels published by Honno Welsh Women’s Press – the first in 2005, the most recent in 2018. I also write short stories, many of which have been published or broadcast.
When did you start writing?
I began writing in 1999. I was scheduled to spend a week in Budapest with an American friend but at the last minute Ruth pulled out. I was furious with her for letting me down. An avid reader all my life, I’d never written anything before but, for some reason, I decided to get it off my chest by writing a short story about an egocentric American sculptress who got her comeuppance. Within days I was hooked. Obsessed in fact. After about six months of short story writing, I began working on a novel – naively assuming that this was the natural progression. (I’ve since discovered they are very different animals.)
What genre do you write in and why?
Those first short stories were about ordinary people, everyday life and set firmly in the ‘now’. When I decided to have a stab at a novel, I stuck with that. I’ve always been drawn to ‘quiet’ novels in which characters face the same dilemmas most of us do. They give us a chance to rehearse how we might react were we in the same position. To examine our own attitudes, prejudices and weakness.
Genre? Amazon classifies my books as ‘contemporary urban fiction’ or ‘contemporary familyfiction’. I’m not sure whether that’s a genre or simply what’s left after you eliminate crime, fantasy, sci-fi, historical etc.
Who is your favourite (non Honno) author?
Anne Tyler. She has the knack of making the ordinary seem extraordinary. Her characters, flawed and unsure of themselves, linger around long after you’ve put the book down. I’ve just finished her latest novel (number 23!) – ‘Redhead by the Side of the Road’. Once again, in her quiet, ruthless way, she hits every nail squarely on the head.
May I cheat and choose another? Elizabeth Strout. Strout covers the same territory but is perhaps a little tougher on her characters. If you haven’t read her, I suggest you start with ‘Olive Kitteridge’.
Where do you write?
I’ve concocted a writing cave at one end of the spare bedroom where I sit surrounded by writing paraphernalia – printer, scrap paper, pens, pin up board, etc. I work on a PC with a large screen. I find laptops uncomfortable to use – not good for posture or eyesight. When I’m away from my desk, I write by hand in a notebook. (It has to be a Pukka Pad and a black PaperMate Flexigrip. It is a well-known fact that all writers are stationery geeks.) I transfer what I’ve written to my machine as soon as I can, using this as an editing opportunity. And I’m rigorous about backing up my work.
Who is your favourite character in your books?
Mmm. That’s like asking a mother which child she most loves. I couldn’t possibly choose between my various protagonists.
Secondary characters can be more broad-brush and quirkier than those taking centre stagealthough they mustn’t be ‘cartoonish’. I have a soft spot for the eccentric old codgers Mrs Channing and Mr Zeal who appeared briefly, yet to great effect, in ‘Sweets from Morocco’. Children and teenagers are delightful to ‘work with’. They ask awkward questions, stir things up and make a nuisance of themselves. They are fun to write about and a useful way of eliciting information and forcing grownups to address tricky issues.
What was your favourite bit of research?
My stories are set in the ‘now’. I make them up as I go along. Consequently any research I do is on a ‘need to know’ basis. A character might recall what was in the charts when their first child was born or what the weather was like one particular Christmas. Small details evoke memories in the reader and make a fictitious character ‘real’. A quick Google and I have the song title or weather report. (Get it wrong, and a helpful reader will soon let me know!)
Having said that, I did send Gil Thomas (from ‘Left and Leaving’) back to his home in Coffs Harbour, New South Wales. Thanks to Google Maps, I could ‘virtually’ wander around the town and surrounding area which gave me confidence to describe it. https://www.coffsharbour.nsw.gov.au gave me the local lowdown – right down to shops, café’s, train and bus services. Several globe-trotting acquaintances remarked that they didn’t know I’d been to Australia – so I think I got away with it.
What do you like most about being published by Honno, an indie press rather than one of the big publishing houses?
The informality and camaraderie of an indie publisher suits me and my way of working. I’ve been a Honno author for fifteen years and everyone I’ve worked with there has been approachable, supportive, flexible and available. I’m extremely blessed to have Caroline Oakley as my editor. She ‘gets’ what I’m trying to achieve and nudges me, firmly but sympathetically, in the right direction. I couldn’t bear to hand ‘my babies’ over to people whom I didn’t know, trust and consider to be friends.