Smorgasbord Cafe and Bookstore – Meet the Authors – #Thrillers John W. Howell, #FamilySaga Judith Barrow, #ContemporaryIrish Mary Crowley

Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

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…

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Honno: “Great Women, Great Writing, Great Stories.” Today with Stevie Davies #TuesdayBookBlog #Honno

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 with Stevie 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.

Find Stevie at her website: http://www.steviedavies.com/

Honno: “Great Women, Great Writing, Great Stories.” Today with Jacqueline Jacques #FridayReads #Honno

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
.

The Illusion of Innocence (Archie Price Mystery) by [Jacqueline Jacques]

The Illusion of Innocence (Archie Price Mystery): https://amzn.to/2B606Co

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.

Links to Jackie:

Honno: https://bit.ly/2ysM2C9

Amazon.co.uk:https://amzn.to/2Twe2Mz

Honno: “Great Women, Great Writing, Great Stories.” Today with JO VERITY #TuesdayBookBlog #Honno

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 with Jo 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!)

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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.)  

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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 family fiction’. I’m not sure whether that’s a genre or simply what’s left after you eliminate crime, fantasy, sci-fi, historical etc.

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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 stage although 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.

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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.


Links to Jo:
Honno:https://www.honno.co.uk/authors/v/jo-verity/
Amazon.co.uk: https://amzn.to/2XiFmPm

Honno: “Great Women, Great Writing, Great Stories.” Today with Hilary Shepherd #WeekendReads #Honno

Text Box:

Please tell us a little about yourself.

I live in the middle of Wales in a house that was derelict when we bought it 10 years ago. I’ve spent my life farming and then building – the last 20 years making oak windows and stairs and things.

When did you start writing?

When I was still farming and the children were half grown up, my husband was away working in India for a month and it was the busiest time of the farming year, pre-lambing. I was very run down and developed a boil on my leg which made tractor driving (and everything else) excruciating. Writing was what I started doing to take my mind off the pain and after years of hating whatever I wrote it suddenly started working for me. I’ve been spending far too much time on it ever since.

What genre do you write in and why?

I never know what to think about genre, especially as applied to my own work, but my most recent book, ‘Albi’, happened to be a historical novel. Mostly I write contemporary fiction about ordinary people leading quiet lives, wherever that may be and whatever genre that is.

How important is location in your novels?

Very. Having lived in the Sudan and in Ghana and spent several months in India –  and now owning a house in Spain – I’ve had a lot of pleasure writing about other places. When the protagonist is an outsider, as Anne is in ‘In A Foreign Country’, that was fairly straightforward because I could show Ghana through her eyes. With ‘Albi’ it was much more challenging: the main character has lived all his short life in a Spanish village and sees the landscape differently as a result.

Who is your favourite (non Honno) author?

Has to be George Eliot, and the ending of ‘Middlemarch’ about the world going not so ill for you or I because of those ordinary people lying in their forgotten tombs…

Where do you write?

At my cramped desk in the study I share with my husband Nick. I get the window to the front with the pied flycatchers in the ash tree, he gets the window to the back and the green woodpeckers on the grassy bank. Mostly we don’t annoy one another too much.

Who is your favourite character in your books?

Albi. He’s so real to me that when I’m in our village in Spain I can feel him everywhere. That’s been an unexpected delight and I hope he’s still there when we at last get back after covid.

 

What was your favourite bit of research?

The hours I’ve spent in our Spanish house, which is full of the implements and utensils they were using 80 years ago (we possess three wooden ploughs), and listening and feeling for all those things that would have been the same in the 1930s. It’s a world that has changed a lot in the 20 years we’ve known the village, as the older generation quietly fades away, but the sheep bells still sound all round the village and the shepherds can still be heard calling them the same as they always did.

What do you like most about being published by Honno, an indie press rather than one of the big publishing houses.

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.

And thank you Judith, fellow author, for all the support!

Hilary’s links:

https://www.honno.co.uk/authors/s/hilary-shepherd/

Amazon.co.uk: https://amzn.to/2Xm3ccX ( Albi)

Amazon.co.uk: https://amzn.to/3gdM5CY (In a Foreign Country )

FaceBook: https://www.facebook.com/hilary.shepherd.77

Whose House is This? #Honno #ThrowbackThursday

I wrote Whose House is This? in answer to a call for submissions from Honno for short stories for their anthology, Coming up Roses . The story is that of a mother and daughter and the changes in their garden throughout the seasons running parallel to the changes in the mother’s illness; her dementia. Because time and a mother’s dementia has hidden a memory for many years in my latest book, The Memory, much in the same way that memories disappear in Whose House is This?, I was given permission from the publishers to reproduce the story here.

Coming up Roses: A collection of garden stories from Wales

Edited by Caroline Oakley
“Sad, tense, funny, bizarre but best of all, original plots and a huge variety of themes show how creative writers can transform fruit and veg, flower borders and potting sheds to delve into our deepest fears and unrequited longings but also bring on the growth of new possibilities with each passing season.” Western Mail. http://bit.ly/2GlXuQ4

Whose House is This? by Judith Barrow
I’ve given up trying to persuade Mum to stay indoors, so here we both are, huddled in a shed no bigger than a telephone box, our breath, white vapour, mingling in the coldest December day this year.I’ve wrapped her up as best I can: coat, blankets, woolly hat and gloves. The gloves are the most important; she will insist on trying to touch the shears and secateurs. I’ve cleaned, sharpened and oiled them and the shine of the blades fascinates her.
‘Just let me hold them,’ she says for the tenth time after I’ve put them safely out of her reach.
‘Not today, you’ll get oil on your coat.’ Her hat has fallen over one eye and she tilts her head upwards and glares crossly at me. I straighten it. ‘I think we’ve done enough in here for today.’ Ignoring the loud sigh that balloons her cheeks I add, ‘Let’s go in for a drink.’
Hands under her armpits, I haul her to her feet. The blankets drop to the floor. I kick them to one side; I’ll pick them up later. We shuffle out of the door.
‘Mind the step. And watch the ice on the path.’
‘I can manage, I’m not a baby.’
‘I know.’ Even so, I hold one hand under her elbow and my other arm around her shoulders. She seems so tiny.
‘How about we have a whiskey and hot water to warm us?’ We pick up pace towards the back door. Just before we go in, she stops.
‘Whose house is this?’
‘It’s ours, Mum; we’ve been here thirty years.’
But she won‘t go in. Stubbornly she holds on to the frame with stiff arms.
‘This isn’t our door, our door is blue.’
‘No, we had double glazing last summer. This is our new back door.’
She doesn’t speak. I wait, my hands on her waist. She turns, her arms dropping to her sides; the many layers she wears means that they are at an angle from her body as though she is gesturing in surprise. She looks around the garden.‘Whose house is this?’‘Ours.’I wait. It’s best too keep quiet when she’s in one of these moods.The birds are making short work of the seeds and bread we scattered earlier. The squirrel stares at us, still as a statue, hanging from the peanut holder.
‘I don’t like winter,’ she says. And then in one of her sudden changes of subject, ‘Do you remember your granddad’s allotment?’And, in a flash, I’m there. It’s a memory long forgotten. I don’t know why or where I’ve conjured it up from. Perhaps it’s the clouds, bruised with threatening rain or hail, just like that day so long ago, or it’s the blackbird scuttling around on the lawn. Anyway, there I am, after all this time.

Seven years old, sitting on the outside lavatory, picking the whitewash off the wall and watching the blackbird following my grandfather as he digs in his allotment, which is on the other side of the low wall of our yard. He’s turning the soil over one last time before winter sets in. I’ve left the door open. If it’s closed the darkness smothers me and I’m afraid; there would be only a thin line of light at the bottom of the door where the wind whistles through and causes goose-bumps on my legs.
Heavy drops begin to fall to the ground, turning into muddy water on the clay soil. My grandfather pushes the peak of his cap off his forehead, squints up at the sky, and takes a tab end of cigarette from behind his ear. He rolls the flattened tip between forefinger and thumb but his hands are wet and the paper quickly becomes saturated. The strands of tobacco fall out. He swears softly, unaware I am there, and takes a small yellow tin from his trouser pocket. Balancing his spade against his leg, he carefully taps the remains of the cigarette into the box.
I lean forward and tear a square of newspaper off the loop of string hanging from the back of the door, use it, and stand to pull up my knickers. The rain slants down in a sudden rush, hitting the flags in the yard with loud slaps. Granddad has disappeared into his shed. I shiver, thread the belt of my navy gabardine coat through the buckle and tighten it. Lowering the wooden lid of the lavatory, I sit on it, waiting for the rain to stop so that I can make a run for the house.
After a few minutes it turns into a drizzle and, as I hesitate, my grandfather reappears to stand in the doorway of the shed. He glances to his left and I follow his gaze. I can hear the muffled clucking of the hens in their shelter in the run at the far side of his allotment. Granddad drags on the gold chain across his chest until he is holding his fob watch in his hands. His lips move with a low breathy whistle… It‘s a Long Way to Tipperary.If I go now he will see me and know I have been watching him. He hates being watched. A small dour man in poor health, we have lived with him since Grandma died, three years ago. Resentful of his need for my mother, he speaks as little as possible and spends much of his time in his allotment.
He slips the watch back into the pocket in his padded brown waistcoat and begins the laborious process of rolling another cigarette. This always fascinates me and I watch until he finally crouches down to strike a match along the brick that he keeps by the shed door just for that purpose. Cupping his hands he shelters the flame and sucks vigorously. The paper flares for a second and then the tobacco glows red. Slouching against the door-frame Granddad lifts his chin and, making faces like a fish gulping, blows smoke rings upwards. We both watch as each circle floats away, expanding outwards until it is only a wisp of white against the glowering sky.
Finally he pushes himself upright and strides towards the hen house, flicking the stump of cigarette into the air. It scatters sparks as it arcs away. I stop swinging my legs, uncross my ankles and peep around the door frame. The gate of the hen run is made from chicken wire, stretched over thin pieces of wood. He lifts it on its hinges and squeezes through. He stands still for a minute. The hens become quiet. He bends down, disappearing below the yard wall. There is a sudden commotion and when he stands up he is holding a hen by its legs. I turn my head sideways to look at it. It’s Ethel; I recognise her by the black patch of feathers on her wing that contrasts with the auburn ones. She is squawking and flapping frantically.
Somehow I know what is going to happen. I open my mouth to shout but no sound comes out. I begin to run towards Grandad. With a quick twist he snaps her neck before I reach the gate.
‘Yes,’ I say to Mum. ‘Yes, I remember Granddad’s allotment.’Mum and I are vegetarians. I have been for as long as I can remember; Mum, since I started doing the cooking ten years ago.

Today we are planning to plant shallot and onion sets into the vegetable patch and to transfer the small tomato plants, I’ve grown from seed, into Gro-Bags, in the greenhouse.It’s cool for the beginning of May. The pale sun struggles through a skein of lemon clouds and a chilly breeze causes the line of Leylandii in next door’s garden to shiver constantly but in the shelter of our fence it’s pleasant and, in the greenhouse, quite warm. Mum is sitting, muffled up as usual, in her chair, just outside the doorway.
‘Warm enough?’
She doesn’t answer and, when I kneel down at her side, I see she is asleep; gentle snores bubbling her lips. I tuck her hands under the blanket and take the opportunity to carry the Gro-Bags from the shed to the greenhouse. The rattle of the wheelbarrow doesn’t wake her and I manage to get most of the tomato plants transferred before she starts to move restlessly, muttering to herself. Standing up I wipe my hands on my trousers and then kneel next to her, waiting for her to open her eyes. She gets frightened if she can’t see me at once.
‘Tea?’
‘Whose house is this?’
‘Tea?’ I ask again and she nods, touching my cheek.
We sit on the bench outside the back door, holding hands, waiting for the kettle to boil.‘I’ll have to have a wash before I make the tea.’ But she won’t let go of my fingers. I hear the kettle switch off. ‘Just let me make the tea. I’m only in the kitchen.’
But as soon as I disappear she cries out.
‘Joyce…Joyce? Whose house is this? Joyce?’
‘Won’t be a minute. Watch the birds. And just look at the Clematis; that plant, next to you in the tub. It’s never had so many flowers on it. Isn’t it pretty?’ I keep talking but she still calls my name. Hurriedly I brew, put two cups, a jug of milk, a packet of digestives and the teapot on the tray. The ’phone rings,‘No, thanks I don’t need double glazing, nor a conservatory.’ But the woman is persistent and keeps talking, so in the end I put the receiver down on her. ‘Coming now Mum.’ There is no answer. I look out of the window but can’t see her.
‘Mum?’
She’s not there. I hurry to the greenhouse, then the shed. A quick look around the garden proves fruitless. She’s nowhere to be seen. The gate’s swinging open.
I run down the lane. There isn’t a footpath and I hope there are no boy racers trying the twists and turn of our narrow road today. The scent of the bluebells mixes with that of the wild garlic; the vivid blue diminished by the prolific cowslip.
And there she is. I can hardly believe it; she is walking quite quickly in her pink fluffy slippers. Her white hair flows down her back and from the way she’s waving her arms around I can tell she’s upset, even before I hear her crying. There’s a wet patch on the back of her skirt so that the material clings to her skinny buttocks.
‘Mum.’ She doesn’t hear me. My breath is shallow; I’m not as young as I was. I catch up with her, careful not to touch or frighten her. ‘Mum?’
She stops and looks at me, sobbing; tears and snot mingle.
‘Lost,’ she says, ‘lost.’
‘No, you’re not lost. I’m here now. Come on, let’s go home.’ She won’t move. She prods me in the chest.
‘No,’ she says, ‘no. Joyce, Joyce…lost…again. Always getting lost.’
‘No, I’m here, Mum. See, I’m here. It’s me, Joyce,’ she hesitates, shaking her head. I say again, ‘Your daughter, Joyce. I’m here.’
She pushes me away, flapping her hands at me.
‘Not Joyce. Joyce…little. My little girl…lost. Frightened…without me…ends in tears.’
And I know what she means. When I was young, I would slip away from her in town; eager to explore but, inevitably, I would finish up being frightened by the freedom I had gained. Scared and alone and surrounded by strangers.
‘Oh, that Joyce,’ I say, ‘that Joyce. She’s back at the house, she came back.’
She stares at me suspiciously. ‘Came back? Never gets back…can’t get back.’ Looking into her eyes, the blue faded by years, I see a flicker of comprehension as she repeats, ‘…can never get back.’
I hold out my hand to her. Through the thin material of her cotton gloves, her fingers feel cold. And even though I know I am lying, I say firmly. ‘It’s never too late to go back, Mum. Now, let’s go home for that cup of tea.’
On the drive the cherry blossom floats its flowers down on us.
‘It’s a wedding.’ She laughs. And catches a petal.

The rain pounds heavily on the porch roof and when I open the door it gusts in with me. Mum, sitting in the wheelchair lent to us by Social Services, shouts, ‘Shut.’ She shouts a lot these days. She hates being inside but weeks of dull, grey days and rain have stopped us from going outside and, for some inexplicable reason, being in the greenhouse now frightens her, so things in there have been neglected. The garden has suffered, too. The grass on the lawn is inches long. It never dries out enough to be mown. The flower beds are a flattened slimy mess and the riot of colour that was spring has degenerated under one of the worst summers I can remember.
Sometimes I feel that there is a scream waiting to burst from my mouth; one, which if I let it escape, will never stop.
‘What a day,’ I say, not expecting an answer. I straighten the blanket over her knees but she throws it off and punches my arm. Yet another bruise to add to the others.
‘Whose house…this?’
She’s wearing the purple satin evening gloves she once wore to a mayor’s ball she went to with Dad. She found them a few days ago, in a charity bag I’d put in the hall for the church jumble sale.
‘Mine,’ she’d shouted, triumphantly. She refuses to take them off.
‘Biscuit,’ she yells now, ‘tea and biscuit.’
‘In a minute, Mum.’ I speak sharper than I meant to but I’m tired. Last night’s full moon had lit up the fuchsia outside her bedroom and the strong breeze that’s been blowing all week had whipped the branches around. The shadows had frightened her and kept her awake. I’m going to cut the bloody thing down.
‘It’s that fuck you thingy,’ she’d cried, ‘it’s getting in.’
‘Fuchsia, Mum,’ I’m sure she knows what she’s saying. Long ago, a family friend, a Polish woman, had visited and admired the shrubs in the garden, ‘especially the fuckyas’ she’d enunciated carefully. Dad had left the room but we heard his guffaws as he went down the hall and it had become a family joke.
‘Fuck you,’ Mum says, obstinately.
Like I say, sometimes I swear she knows what she’s saying.
I bring in the last of the tomatoes. It’s been a poor year. They are tiny and green. I could throw them away but old habits die hard.
‘I’ll make chutney out of these.’
She doesn’t answer; she’s lost in her own world.
I was never a cook. Mum had insisted on trying to teach me, years ago but had failed.‘You’ll need to attract a man somehow,’ she’d said, ‘with your looks you’ll have to find something that will make them want to stay.’ Lately, the more I think about it, the more I realise how spiteful she was when I was younger. I should have left her years ago.
It’s too late now. I look through the kitchen window; there are some panes missing in the greenhouse. They were blown out in a gale, a few weeks ago and I haven’t bothered doing anything about it. I’m waiting for another storm; hopefully one that will flatten the bloody thing.
I put Mum in the lounge, in front of the television.
‘Not our house,’ she mumbles.I ignore her.
Alan Titchmarsh is telling her it’s time to tidy the garden before the long winter months. He’s always so damn cheerful.
I’m not going to bother with the garden next year, it’s more trouble than it’s worth. I brew the tea and pour Mum’s into the beaker with the spout. I make myself a sandwich, take a bite and throw it in the bin. I’m not hungry. I mash a banana for her. I don’t rush; she’s no sense of day or night anymore and wants to eat all the time. She’s put on a lot of weight. I’ve lost two stones and I am so tired. I haven’t been sleeping much and when I do I have nightmares. I wish Mum hadn’t reminded me about Granddad and Ethel. She’d laughed, all those years ago, when I told her what he’d done. Said not to be so soft.It’s starting to rain again.

Last night I killed my mother.I could say I didn’t want her to go in a home.Or the thought of winter depresses me.But, to be truthful, I’d had enough. I couldn’t carry on.It would have been easier to smother her. But it seemed right, somehow.It was so easy; just one quick twist.She never liked winter anyway.

Links to The Memory: Honno Amazon.co.uk – paperbackAmazon.co.uk – Kindle

My Review of Season of Second Chances by Aimee Alexander #TuesdayBookBlog #RBRT

Season of Second Chances: an uplifting novel of moving away and starting over by [Aimee Alexander]

I gave Season of Second Chances 4* out of 5*,

I was given a copy of Season of Second Chances, as a member of Rosie Amber’s reviewing team.

Book Description:

Grace Sullivan flees Dublin with her two teenage children, returning to the sleepy West Cork village where she grew up. No one in Killrowan knows what Grace is running from – or that she’s even running. She’d like to keep it that way.

Taking over from her father, Des, as the village doctor offers a very real chance for Grace to begin again. But will she and the children adapt to life in a small rural community? Can she live up to the doctor her father was? And will she find the inner strength to face the past when it comes calling?

Season of Second Chances is Grace’s story. It’s also the story of a community that chooses the title “Young Doctor Sullivan” for her before she even arrives. It’s the story of Des, who served the villagers all his life and now feels a failure for developing Parkinson’s disease. And it’s the story of struggling teens, an intimidating receptionist, a handsome American novelist escaping his past, and a dog called Benji who needs a fresh start of his own.

My Review:

I haven’t read anything from Aimee Alexander before but, as I love any story about the machinations and intricacies of families, when I saw Season of Second Chances on the #RBRT reading list,  I decided to choose this book. It’s described as a novel about, ‘family, love and learning to be kind to yourself…A heart-warming story of friendship, love and finding the inner strength to face a future that may bring back the past.’

In a way it’s a predictable plot. But it’s so well written I don’t think that matters too much. And with a thoroughly rounded protagonist in Grace Sullivan, it’s easy to believe in her; to start cheering for her straight away in her secret quest to escape her life with an abusive husband. She is desperate to find her roots again in the  village of Killrowan, in West Cork; where she grew up with her parents. But, having been away for years, and taking her father’s place in the GP practice following his retirement, she is initially treated with suspicion by most of his patients. So she is lucky to rediscover the support of two old friends.

In addition to the antipathy of some of the villagers she has two teenage children who have problems of their own; Jack, who utterly resents the move, and her daughter, Holly, who, though glad to have escaped from their father, is emotionally damaged. But both are protective of their mother.

I also liked the parallel plot of the change in Des, Grace’s father. Having retired and in poor health, her return with her family brings him out of his chosen isolation and gives him hope for the future.

 I try not to give too much information about story-lines so I’ll leave it there.

Both the main characters and the minor supporting ones are well drawn, with dialogue that immediately identifies them and I could easily picture each one as they took their part in the story.

The settings are brilliantly described and give a good sense of place. I especially liked the sense of peace that is shown through Grace when she is by the sea. There are excellent descriptions here.

 There is also a lovely, almost cameo piece, of a dog, Benji, coming into their lives.

Of necessity, in a story of domestic abuse, there are themes of cruelty, fear, lies, self-hatred and loneliness. But in Season of Second Chances, there is also hope, friendship and love. These are all well balanced throughout the book.

 As I’ve said, it is a predictable plot in many ways but I loved the author’s style of writing. And, tantalisingly, there are also a couple of loose ends. These left me to suspect that there would be a sequel to Season of Second Chances.As, indee, the author states in the end notes.

I would recommend Season of Second Chances to any reader who enjoys a good story in which to escape.

Honoured to be included in a Post Written by Thorne Moore (Alongside Jane Austen No Less!!)

Thorny matters

Home, Hearth and Murder – domestic drama

Back in 1816, Jane Austen (yes, I always try to bring her into anything if I can) commiserated with her nephew when he reported that he had lost 2 whole chapters of his own tentative novel. She hadn’t stolen them, she promised. “What should I do with your strong, manly, spirited Sketches, full of Variety & Glow? — How could I possibly join them on to the little bit (two Inches wide) of Ivory on which I work with so fine a Brush, as produces little effect after much labour?”

Being Jane Austen, she was, of course, being ironic, suggesting that her own writing was on such a slight and insignificant scale. Sir Walter Scott recognised that her work was fair more powerful than a little bit of ivory would allow. “The big bow-wow strain I can do myself like any now going; but the exquisite touch, which renders ordinary commonplace things and characters interesting, from the truth of the description and the sentiment, is denied to me.”

And yet critics have dared to complain that Austen’s novels are too limited, confined to “three or four families in a country village,” when all around her, the social upheaval of the industrial revolution, the French Terror, the Napoleonic wars were playing out. She knew well enough what great dramas were happening out there. A cousin’s husband was guillotined, an aunt was hauled off to prison, two brothers were serving in the navy, and yet she chose to concentrate on a small group of people interacting on a tiny stage as if the outside world didn’t exist. But what Jane Austen appreciated was that there is just as much emotional and psychological drama to be found in closed families as on wide battlefields.

I write about crime. My genre has been defined as Domestic Noir and it always focuses on the dark dynamics at work within a family, a neighbourhood, a close circle of friends. Does that mean it lacks the drama of a crime novel set, say, among Columbian drug barons, or the Mafia, or human traffickers or crooked financiers in the city? It probably lacks the extreme gore of a hard-boiled thriller. I work on the assumption that lashing out wildly and causing a loved one’s death with a misplaced blow is just as tragic and dramatic as a gruesome plot involving a victim’s head being chewed off by a bear.

Domestic drama might lack the fast pace of mainstream crime fiction too. It tends to be a matter of a slow burn, rising gradually to a rolling boil, scalding oil and an all-consuming blaze. That’s what I like, because it is what goes on in families – and with isolating lock-down, even more so. You don’t have to look to the scheming world of international crime or the grimy nastiness of the underworld to discover every facet of human emotion – thundering passion, consuming rage, seething jealousy, love, hope, disappointment, despair, joy, triumph, resentment, remorse. They are all there, simmering behind lace curtains.

Judith Barrow’s latest book, The Memory, proves the point exactly. Following the story of Irene from young girl greeting the birth of her beloved Downs Syndrome sister to aging carer of a mother with dementia, it is an exquisite study of how family ties and stresses stir up every possible joy and anguish from deep protective love to long-nursed hatred, with sheer bloody exhaustion nudging inexorably towards a fatal brink.

Read it and tell me a domestic drama can’t shake the reader as much as a shoot-out in bank vaults or torture in a cellar.

The Memory by Judith Barrow

www.thornemoore.co.uk

Honno: “Great Women, Great Writing, Great Stories.” Today with Juliet Greenwood #FridayReads #BookLaunch

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 with friend, Juliet Greenwood.

Please tell us a little about yourself.

I live in a traditional cottage in Snowdonia, in North Wales. I’ve had three novels published by Honno (Eden’s Garden, We That are Left and The White Camellia). Last year I was taken on by Orion, in a two-book deal, with the first, The Ferryman’s Daughter, published yesterday; the fourteenth May 2020.

When did you start writing?

Almost as soon as I started to read! I loved books and stories from an early age, so I was writing my own as soon as I could.

What genre do you write in and why?

I write historical fiction, mainly based around the time of WW1. I find that period fascinating because it was a time of so much change, particularly for women. It was when many women were breaking the boundaries of social expectations to be the angel of the hearth, taking up education and the professions and starting to live independent lives. I also find it fascinating because you can see where negative and dismissive attitudes to women originate. At the same time, the women themselves faced battles we can still recognise today – things like equal pay for equal work, being taken seriously and being heard in the first place.

I think the main thing for me is that history, having been mainly written by men in the past, has tended to overlook both the reality of women’s lives, and also just how much so many women achieved despite all the constraints (and certain men taking credit for their work!). I feel it is important to know our own history, because that is a large part of what forms our view of ourselves. I so wish I’d known as a teenager that women climbed mountains, were daring rescuers behind enemy lines in WW1 and led the fight for so many of the rights we – both men and women – take for granted, including the vote.

Who is your favourite (non Honno) author?

I’m going to cheat. It’s a mix of Barbara Bradford Taylor’s A Woman of Substance and Rosamund Pilcher’s The Shell Seekers. I love both of them.

Where do you write?

I have an office in the ‘crog loft’, a tiny room in my cottage that’s under the eaves and would have been where the children slept in Victorian times. One of the previous inhabitants put in a window, so I have a view over my garden, and over towards Anglesey and the sea. The sunsets are magnificent from up there!

Who is your favourite character in your books?

It’s always the one I’m working on at the moment! I love Hester, the heroine of The Ferryman’s Daughter for her sheer determination to get through and never give up – and because she’s nobody’s fool and takes no flim-flammery (as her Welsh grandmother calls it) from any young man up to no good. I love her mixture of being forthright and resourceful, while also being fiercely determined to be fair and protect her younger brother and sister at all costs. She has plenty of self-doubt and soul searching, but she always picks herself up and gets on with it and wins through.

What was your favourite bit of research?

I loved visiting St Ives, where The Ferryman’s Daughter is set, especially as I was able to visit my favourite places along the Cornish coast. I also have a bit of research for my next book for Orion, which I haven’t been able to do so far because of the lockdown, which is a day’s course in being a blacksmith. My great-grandmother was a nail maker, so I’m very excited to follow in her footsteps, if only briefly. I was ashamed to realise it had never occurred to me that there have been plenty of female blacksmiths, and not only during the world wars! (But that’s another story…)

How have you found it different being published by Orion after an indie press like Honno?

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 – especially when my first book, The Ferryman’s Daughter, was moved forward a whole year, meaning it was a bit of a mad dash to get the various stages of editing done, while also hitting the deadline for book two. 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 authors with from the left Editor Caroline Oakley, Juliet, Carol Lovekin, Judith Barrow, Alison Layland, Janet Thomas (former editor of Honno, now Honno committee member), Thorne Moore, Hilary Shepherd, Jan Newton.

Honno also gave me time to develop as a writer and become more certain of who I was as an author. When I began working with Orion, I found I was very aware of where I could compromise while still remaining the essential me, while being clear with myself (and so being clear with others) where I didn’t feel comfortable. Everyone at both Honno and Orion have been wonderful and supportive, and have always made me feel valued and that my opinions would be heard.

The last few years have been quite a rollercoaster, and this business is definitely not for the fainthearted. But whether your publisher is large or small, nothing beats that feeling when a book finally comes together, and then goes out into the world to take on a life of its own. I wouldn’t have missed either experience for the world!

A little more about Juliet

An image posted by the author.

Juliet has always been a bookworm and a storyteller, writing her first novel (a sweeping historical epic) at the age of ten. She is fascinated both by her Celtic heritage and the history of the women in her family, with her great-grandmother having supported her family by nail making in Lye, in the Black Country, near Birmingham in the UK, and her grandmother by working as a cook in a large country house. She lives in a traditional quarryman’s cottage between the mountains and the sea in beautiful Snowdonia, in Wales in the UK, and is to be found dog walking in all weathers, always with a camera to hand

Social media links:

Juliet’s Blog: https://julietgreenwoodauthor.wordpress.com/

Facebook:  AuthorJulietGreenwoodhttps://www.facebook.com/authorjulietgreenwood

Twitter            @julietgreenwood   https://twitter.com/julietgreenwood

Instagram:     JulietGreenwood   https://www.instagram.com/julietgreenwood/

Honno:           https://www.honno.co.uk/authors/g/juliet-greenwood/

The Ferryman’s Daughter:

UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B083N19BTF/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

US: https://www.amazon.com/Ferrymans-Daughter-gripping-saga-tragedy-ebook/dp/B083N19BTF/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=The+ferryman%27s+daughter&qid=1587988452&s=digital-text&sr=1-1

MY Review of Wasteland (Operation Galton Book 2) by Terry Tyler #TuesdayBookBlog

Book Description:

“Those who escape ‘the system’ are left to survive outside society.  The fortunate find places in off-grid communities; the others disappear into the wasteland.”

The year: 2061. In the new UK megacities, the government watches every move you make.  Speech is no longer free—an ‘offensive’ word reaching the wrong ear means a social demerit and a hefty fine.  One too many demerits?  Job loss and eviction, with free transport to your nearest community for the homeless: the Hope Villages. 

Rae Farrer is the ultimate megacity girl – tech-loving, hard-working, law-abiding and content – until a shocking discovery about her birth forces her to question every aspect of life in UK Megacity 12.

On the other side of the supposedly safe megacity walls, a few wastelanders suspect that their freedom cannot last forever...

Wasteland is the stand-alone sequel to ‘Hope’, the concluding book in the two-part Operation Galton series, and Terry Tyler’s twenty-first publication.

My Review:

Brilliant plot that twists and turns, rounded, multi-layered characters, great dialogue, settings with an evocative sense of place. What else would a reader expect from Terry Tyler?.Ah yes, an excellent writing style. And it’s all here in Wasteland.

 Once upon a time I wouldn’t have read any dystopian novel but, because I have long been an admirer of her work, when I heard Terry Tyler had published a book of this the genre I thought I would give it a go. This is my review from the first of Project Renova Book One; Tipping Point: http://bit.ly/2um9Fcq

 The setting of Wasteland, Terry’s latest book; which one could easily think it eerily suggestive of the future for how we are living at the moment ( well I thought so), is the year 2061 in the UK. The country is divided into megacities,ruled by the Nutricorp organisation and a government headed by a corrupt ( yet also manipulated) female Prime Minister. This is the second book of “Operation Galton”. When I reviewed Hope, the first book of this series, I wrote, “The people in power, whether in business or politics, influence and control the everyday life of the public; through lies and machinations… the depiction of authority and dominance in this future life is blatant in the control over the masses”. In Wasteland there is no subtlety, and the people know it; they are ruled by threats and fear. Yet they are compliant: some because, having been brought up in Hope villages; in government run programmes; in the absence of their biological parents, they know no different life. Others because it is easier to accept the limitations of freedom in return for the sophistication of modern technology, the availability of cosmetic surgery and access to social media.

The protagonist, Rae, is one of these young people. But when she discovers the history of her family, and that they may still be alive even though they, like others, chose to live in the wastelands; to be free, she knows she has to try and find them.

She escapes the confines of the megacity she lives in and faces the truth of the wastelanders’ lives: of ruined villages and towns, of hunger and danger. But she also finds kindness; through the organisation of food banks and the compassionate help of small communities living off the land.

But does she find her family? And is the Nutricorp organisation and Government content to leave the Wastelanders alone?

I’ll leave it at that. Suffice it to say, this latest book of Terry Tyler doesn’t disappoint and I can thoroughly recommend Wasteland to any reader who enjoys the genre… in fact, to any reader who wants to try this author’s work

Honno: “Great Women, Great Writing, Great Stories.” Today with Alys Einon #MondayBlogs

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 first of a new set of interviews and today I am with author, Alys Einon

Please tell us a little about yourself.

Well, I’m in my late 40s, and live in Swansea, which is a beautiful place to live and work. I am an academic, working in the fields of reproductive health, gender, sexuality and motherhood. I live with my wife and stepson, three dogs and one cat, in a tumbly-down old townhouse with a garden I attempt to grow things in. I have a grown-up son who lives nearby, and another married stepson who also lives nearby. I am a bit of a workaholic, but I love being out and about in nature, and there’s plenty of that near me, including beaches, woods and parks. I am an avid reader, and I am also a very spiritual person. I like to be active, and even now, during the pandemic, I am keeping active by doing Five Rhythms Dancing and practising my karate and kickboxing.

When did you start writing?

I was seven years old when I started writing, the youngest of a family of six living in a council house with very little money. I loved reading, and read and re-read everything we had in the house. One day I was reading the back of an Enid Blyton novel, and saw an author’s note, and I thought, I want to do that! So I started writing stories. I got laughed at by my siblings, but it didn’t stop me. Then when I was eleven I saw a film about Anne Frank, and I started keeping a diary in a little notebook (I still have that notebook). And I’ve kept a diary ever since.

I think I suffered a lot from the weight of other people’s scorn growing up. My parents dismissed writing as a career, telling me I would have to have a proper career. I was clever in school, so they fixated on me doing something important that would make them look good. I went along with that, but in my heart of hearts, being able to craft and tell a good story was all I longed for. I had one teacher at school who encouraged me, but she was a realist and knew how hard it was out in the world. Other than that, I just had to believe in myself.

As an adult, I experienced a sudden tragedy at the age of 20, which changed my life forever. I found my vocation as a midwife. But I still carried on writing, and began collecting rejection slips! It was worth it, in the end, as now I am published by Honno.

What genre do you write in and why?

Literary fiction is how I am loosely located. I have written in other genres, particularly speculative fiction, but never anything good enough to be published. What I am interested in is the tiny details of women’s lives. I write about women and their lives because that’s what I am interested in, and because there are so many stories still not told. I grew up seeing too much of history, too many narratives, that didn’t represent the world of women that I came to inhabit. So that’s what I write about. That and some of the challenges that beset us, because we are women in world that still doesn’t see us or value our central role in keeping the world turning.

How important is location in your novels?

Very important. I feel it is important to evoke a sense of place, and in particular, place, for me, reflects something integral to the plot. In Inshallah, Amanda’s connection to her home and to Wales, and the relocation to Saudi Arabia, are central to the plot and to understanding her as a character. Both places are powerfully symbolic, as countries connecting to her perception of her sense of self, and of belonging. She feels trapped in Wales, in a life with no meaning, but to which she ‘belongs’, and then moves to what is to her an alien culture, having to learn the language, but fuelled by the sense of meaning afforded by her conversion to Islam. This place, and its customs and rules, is a core element of her story, right up to her attempts to escape.

Inshallah

In Ash, the sense of place is linked to houses. Houses play a key role, homes, places of residence – how potent and how powerful a symbol these are in our lives and imaginations! The relationship with different houses, the description of these, their association with different periods of time and identity for both Amanda and Ash, are core to the narrative. I often dream about houses, and I know that in dream interpretation these are meant to represent the self, so I feel as if they grew in that symbolic representation of self in the novel.

Ash

Who is your favourite (non Honno) author?

That is impossible to answer, because I love so many authors dearly. I would say… Scarlett Thomas, closely followed by Anne McCaffery, closely followed by Starhawk, closely followed by Margaret Attwood, closely followed by Marion Zimmer Bradley, then Tolkien, Charlotte Bronte…. My favourite book has always been The Lord of the Rings, and it always will be, but I have too many favourites really to focus on only one author…

Where do you write?

Usually I like to be out and about writing, either in my local café, Crumbs, which does an excellent vegan breakfast for a treat on Saturday mornings, and where the staff are used to me scribbling away and demanding tea every half and hour, or out in my camper van at the beach or elsewhere. I have a big van that has comfy seats, a bed, and a cooker and cupboards, so I can go anywhere, really, and always have access to a cup of tea when I want one! I usually listen to music while I am writing, something that evokes the kind of mood I am working with. I find the urge to write in odd places – I can be inspired by someone walking past, or the way evening sunlight hits a calm sea, or a scent on the breeze. So writing in different places helps with that. I always carry my diary with me just in case I have to jot something down, wherever I am. But because I have a ‘day job’, I often have to make the decision to go and write somewhere, rather than simply following the urge. This is why I often go out – because it focuses my mind on writing for a period of time, and I am less likely to be distracted, and more likely to be productive.

 I type up and edit in my study at home, which is on the first floor and overlooks the garden. It’s a lovely space, full of books and beautiful things I have collected over the years. It is rich with colour and texture, and smells of home-made incense and essential oils. I have a big old schoolteacher’s desk which is in the bay window, and it is littered with books and papers and pens and notebooks.  Right now, because of the pandemic, this is pretty much where I do all my writing and my day job. I sit on a chair that has been in my family since before I was born, and I have a CD player to my right, and an Ipod dock to my left, so I can listen to whatever takes my fancy.

Who is your favourite character in your books?

Hmmm that’s a tricky one. I would say, Ash, the main character in Ash, mainly because she is so honest. Brutally so. Yes, she’s an annoying, self-obsessed teenager at times, but she sees the world in black and white, and although she has a lot of growing up to do, she is generally honest with herself. I also love Amanda’s twin sons, Ash’s brothers, who seem to be a foil for both Ash and Amanda’s limitations.

The thing with characters, I have found, is that once I have a general idea of who they are, they seem to take off and become something more. I don’t always feel like I am in control of that. It was hard, deciding to write Ash from a first person perspective, because I am not a mixed race young woman living in today’s society! I could only bring what I could into that character, read up about the experience of mixed-race children in the UK, and try to represent the racism she experiences as plainly as possible. I can’t claim to understand such a perspective, but I do know a lot about being a young woman, feeling alienated, and the experience of negative body image, which are all important parts of her story.

What was your favourite bit of research

Ah, now that’s a good question. I would have to say, my favourite bit of research was researching Islam and Saudi Arabian culture. I knew nothing about it, really, before I started writing Inshallah, but I knew I wanted to write about faith, and about that feeling that there is something bigger that may be guiding our steps through life. But I also wanted to become more educated on something that I had only ever seen through the very biased lens of media representation. So I read the Qu’ran, in translation, and read books about Islam, so that I could gain some basic understanding – as much as Amanda would have had, anyway. And I explored a lot of women’s sites relating to Saudi Arabian life, especially cooking! I experimented with many of the commonly made dishes, to find out what they were like, and I even dressed in hijab to experience the sensory feelings that Amanda would have experienced when she first put on the headscarf/veil.

As a writer, I knew I could only ever write about this subject as an outsider, – which is what Amanda was – but I found myself developing a great respect for a faith that puts so much emphasis on charity and community. And it really got me to think about the world differently.

People say, ‘write what you know’ but not everyone does that. Of course we write from our own perspective, but there are things to learn, always, and new ways to see the world. A good book should take the reader out of their comfort zone, but do so in such a way that they are carried along effortlessly. I hope I have achieved that.

What do you like most about being published by Honno, an indie press rather than one of the big publishing houses.

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?

Links too Alys

@AlysEinion (Twitter)

Facebook: Alys Einionhttps://www.facebook.com/AlysEinion/

Links to her books:

Honno: https://bit.ly/2W9TxH2

Amazon: https://amzn.to/35BO1Ae

Honno: “Great Women, Great Writing, Great Stories.” Today with Jane Fraser Talking about her Journey into Writing and her Debut Book with Honno

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 a new set of interviews and today I’m really pleased to introduce a new author to Honno, Jane Fraser, and to showcase her book: Advent.

Please tell us a little about yourself:

I live, work and write, in Llangennith, a small village in the north-west corner of the Gower peninsula, south Wales, in a house facing the sea which bears the full brunt of the south-westerly wind. By day, I’m co-director of NB:Design, a branding, digital and photographic agency, which my husband Philip (a designer and photographer) and I have been running together since 2000 from our studio on the third floor here at Channel View. The ‘day job’ sees me do all the marketing, the new business, share strategic thinking, write commercial copy for projects for clients in a variety of sectors, across Wales and beyond. When I’m not doing the day job, I try to be a writer and a good grandmother to my three granddaughters, Meg, 11, Flo, 9, and Alice, 5, whom l’m lucky to have living relatively near me at Oxwich, on the south side of the Gower peninsula.

When did you start writing?

I’m not a ‘young’ writer in the numerical sense of the word, but I consider myself ‘young’ in terms of appearing as a published author. My debut collection of short fiction, The South Westerlies was published by SALT, the UK’s foremost independent publisher of literary fiction, in June 2019. I will be forever grateful to them for giving emerging writers of any age a voice, and championing the short story.

I didn’t always want to be a writer, even though, looking back, I was always writing. As a child, I was an earnest diary-keeper which I kept under lock and key. I wrote the odd story at school and wrote little plays to perform with my friends. My mother always told me I had ‘an over-active imagination’ (which I don’t know was a criticism or a compliment); but I didn’t choose writing as a career or even have the ‘itch’ to write as I grew up and grew older.

I dropped out of University first time around, married too early, had two beautiful children, returned to college and became a teacher. Then my marriage failed and I worked for a book publisher as a sales person and then a manager before meeting lovely husband number two and starting our business in 2000.

It was around this time that I felt the urge to be ‘creative’: there was something in me that was unfulfilled and ‘stuck’ and begging to be set free. I wanted to express myself; but I didn’t know how. I started a once-a-week art class and failed miserably. I learned the piano where I fared better; but was no Llyr Williams. I also started writing outside the day job: poor poetry and autobiographical snapshots and what I thought were short stories. Just as the childhood diary had been under lock and key, this ‘literary output’ was hidden away in a cupboard in the attic. But it kept calling me. I loved the process of thought finding itself in words on the page. It was almost magical.

This went on for almost a decade, when, as if by magic, I was searching online for a creative writing class where I could up my skills and I came across the MA in Creative Writing at Swansea University, founded by the late poet and psychogeographer, and much-missed Nigel Jenkins, and the wonderful, novelist and academic Stevie Davies, and now fellow HONNO author, both who were to prove instrumental in my writerly journey.

I completed the MA, part time, in three years (2010-2013) and it was a wonderful experience, opening my eyes to a range of genres I had not encountered, or tried working in, and also giving me the tool kit to make me a hopefully better writer. I gained a distinction and also the motivation to continue study and gain my PhD in Creative Writing in early 2017, under the supervision of firstly, Nigel Jenkins, and then the wonderful, Fflur Dafydd.

Even though I have skirted around the ‘how old are you?’ issue, I am proud to say that I have just turned 66. As I write my responses to the questions posed for this in this interview, we, in Wales, are in our sixth week of lockdown as a response to the Covid-19 pandemic, and my birthday was on the first day of the lockdown. A day to be remembered and marked with a birthday card my husband designed me based on the lyrics of ‘take your kicks on Route 66’. Now imaginary kicks and an imaginary journey for me and millions of others.

What genre do you write in and why?

In terms of genre, I discovered during the MA that I wasn’t a poet, but loved the haibun genre which allowed me to combine prose and haiku. I was pleased to win two major international competitions around 2014 and I still am drawn to the form. I was comfortable with creative non-fiction, but I did enough of that in the day job. It was the short story genre that really set me alight thanks to the expert teaching and enthusiasm of Jon Gower who opened up the possibility of this genre to me. It’s a wonderful vehicle to glimpse a whole life lived in a few thousand words, to illuminate rather than develop character, and to use dense language that aims not to waste words. I love the genre for what it doesn’t say rather than what it does. As the wonderful Welsh writer, Cynan Jones, says: “the short story is about what it leaves behind”. As a writer who was, and remains, time-poor, I found that I could draft a short story in one sitting by getting, and staying, in the ‘zone’ without losing voice or narrative impetus. I simply love the short story.

Writing long fiction (my forthcoming novel Advent) I found such a different challenge: to keep my concentration over a long period of time, more characters, complicated plot lines, and the issues of time shifts and duration, and the organisation of a whole lot more of words. Its shape is altogether different: whereas I find the short story drills down and works towards the closing of a >, like an arrow in flight, the novel, I feel, starts small and grows big, opening up to a < if you get my gist. And then there was the new issue of research, especially as I’d chosen to write historical fiction and set it in 1904-1905.

How important is location in your novels?

Whether I write long or short fiction, location and setting is central to my process. It’s my starting point. This is not true, I know, for many authors, who can do desk-top research to write location. But for me, I have to create a sense of place based on personal experience. I have to know my patch, my ‘cynefin’ my ‘milltir sgwar’. I usually do this ‘on the hoof’ walking my way into writing. I really feel it enables me to have a rapport with my environment, what Durrell called “an identity with the ground”. For me at least, there seems to be a link between walking and creativity.

Here in Gower, I can feel the pulse of the place where I feel most creatively nourished and I try to translate these feelings I imbue through the senses on to the page so that I try to transport my hypothetical reader to a place that feels real and authentic. I’d go further and say, that in The South Westerlies, and Advent, both works set in Gower, place is not a cosmetic backdrop but an affecting agent in the lives of my characters and the actions they take in story. My characters are ‘functions of place’: some rooted, some desperate to escape. Gower is home to me and where I feel I belong and so to date, I have used by relationship with it to feed my fiction. I would say that both my works to date are ‘made’ rather than merely ‘set’ in Gower.

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My current work in progress is another novel, this time contemporary, and set in south-west London. It’s a location where my daughter lived for ten years and where I spent a lot of time pounding its pavements, so I can re-cast my physical experience of its streets and sights and smells and use it in fiction. I hope the end result will reveal a narrative that is made in London not just set there in the same way as I have done for my home patch of Gower.

Who is your favourite (non Honno) author?

It is said that to be a good writer you have to be first and foremost a reader. I have read most of my life: childhood days delving into Enid Blyton to the Legends of Greece and Rome; late teenage years loving Flaubert and Zola; then on to other ‘dead’ authors who I still read – Lawrence, Orwell, Greene and of course, all the Brontes with their expertise to plot place on the page.

Lately, I’ve been reading Elizabeth Strout (a very ‘knowing’ writer, my mother would say) for her complete understanding of the human condition and its frailties at all ages; I’ve loved Anna Burns for her unique voice and ability to meld the tragic with the comic; I devour Anne Enright. In fact, I’m smitten with Irish writing, old and new, that wonder of being able to use the English language in such a distinctive way. Where to start? John Mcgahern, Edna O’Brien, Billy O’Callaghan, Danielle McLaughlin, and my hero, the fabulous Claire Keegan. Whether it’s a novel, novella or short story, I’m drawn to these writers who are all about suggestion rather than statement, about rising tension rather than high drama, about creating a sense of place. I’m in awe of them all. They are my inspiration.

Where do you write?

I know some writers have their go-to places to write and their rituals to get them going. I’m not in this category. I write when time allows, so where I go to write is anywhere out of the studio where I work. Even though it has views to die for, I have to disconnect from ‘work’ me and ‘writing’ me so have to physically distance myself from the top floor. Usually I go to the conservatory, semi-horizontal on the sofa, my lap top on my stomach; or sit up in bed writing after I’ve had a glass of wine or two. Sometimes, I’ll write on the train if I need to go to London to see my lovely agent, Gaia Banks, of Sheil Land Associates. IF we manage a holiday, I write well wherever we are, and sometimes the distance from my home patch allows me to see it more clearly. I’m not a writer who rises at 4 o’clock for my craft and neither am I a night owl. I just write when I can, where I can. The only foible I have in my writing ‘process’, is that there has to be no noise whatsoever, no distraction, no nothing. On this topic of ‘process’ I’m not a planner or a plotter either (should I say this?). I really go where the story takes me though I often have an end image in sight. I find the whole process mysterious and that’s why I love it.

Who is your favourite character in your books?

The characters I have created for my books to date have been many and varied – especially for the short story collection; young and old, male and female, insiders and outsiders. However, in Advent, my favourite character has to be Ellen Thomas: young, feisty and flawed, determined and full of desire, headstrong and heartbroken. Manipulative too. She is loosely based on my great aunt who left a Gower farm in 1899 to sail alone to America for a new life with just £10 in her purse and a sponsor at her destination. I saw a photograph of her: the set of her jaw, the focus in her eyes; and I had to write an imaginary version of her life. Ellen Thomas has many selves. I think that’s true of us all. She might even have some of the traits of my younger self in her, or perhaps elements of a life not lived; but I’m not going to be drawn on that one. My agent kindly said this: “Advent has, in Ellen Thomas, one of the best central characters I have read in a while. Can’t wait for this novel to be out in the world.”Gaia Banks Literary Agent Sheil Land Associates

What was your favourite bit of research?

There were many highlights in the research for Advent, mostly the walking: tracing the disused railway line through north Gower which used to serve the coal industry on the north side of the peninsula between Gowerton, Penclawdd and Llanmorlais; walking the streets of Loughor and getting a feel for Moriah Chapel where Evan Roberts, the Welsh Religious Revivalist used to preach. Then there were the photographs to be rifled through, the ships’ manifests to be scanned, and the conversations with my ninety-year-old mother about her memories of ‘Mount Pleasant’, the Gower farm Ellen Thomas was born, and to which she returns for the duration of the novel.

But let’s not forget the research challenges too. What I found most difficult was how information was passed between characters, and how long it took. Sometimes I just wanted to write: I picked up my mobile and told them the news. Or, Text me the time you plan to arrive. Instead I had to revert to the telegram or snail mail and write at a different pace and deal with the time lag that this involved. The sheer time practicalities. Hard. Hats off to Hilary Mantel!

What do you like most about being published by Honno, an indie press rather than one of the big publishing houses?

I think with HONNO, my forthcoming novel, Advent, 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. In fact, I am the first author with a surname beginning with F! The F category previously stated ‘no authors found’.

Advent, was due to be published in autumn 2020, but due to the current Covid-19 pandemic, HONNO, with insight and foresight, will now publish it on 21 01 21. It’s a great decision. I like the numbers! And I will support HONNO and its authors in any way I can as we navigate our way through this crisis.

So, although it’s quite a while until the advent of Advent, but I hope the wait will be worth it and readers will connect with the time, the place and the characters. Advent is not just about the religious sense of the word, but the wider sense, with a lower case a. It’s about forthcoming events of all sorts: religious, seasonal, farming, romantic and so much more. I look forward to being a published HONNO author and I know, as an independent press, and a group of supportive fellow women authors, HONNO will be with me, holding my hand, every step of the way.

Thanks to HONNO author, Judith Barrow, for inviting me to tell my story.

If you want to find out more about me and get latest news, reviews and events, you can visit www.janefraserwriter.com or follow me on Twitter @jfraserwriter

Honno: “Great Women, Great Writing, Great Stories.” Today with Jan Newton #TuesdayBookBlog

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 first of a new set of interviews and today I am with the lovely Jan Newton

Please tell us a little about yourself

Where to start? Well, I spent my first eleven years in Manchester, where I developed a distinctive accent and sense of humour. Along with my sister, I also developed a huge love of horses, which came from our Dad. He grew up in Salford, and used to wait every morning to be able to go and talk to the milkman’s horse when the milkman was on his rounds. We were lucky enough to move to a smallholding in Mellor, a small village between Marple in Cheshire, and New Mills in Derbyshire and increase our horse and pony collection to four.

I spent every spare moment on the back of a pony, exploring the hills and moorlands and used to get into terrible trouble for climbing out of the bedroom window armed only with a piece of baler twine, to go and ride before school. The baler twine made a makeshift bridle. Not quite as good as the real thing for directional purposes, but much easier to hide.

I still have a horse – this one has been with me for 25 years, and we don’t go exploring these days, but there isn’t a better listener than a horse. These days I explore the breath-taking scenery of deepest mid Wales on foot, with a Labrador and a barmy collie.

When did you start writing?

I loved reading before I could walk (according to my mother). My grandma encouraged me to read her large print Agatha Christies and westerns, which she got from Marple Library. I loved Agatha, but never took to the westerns. I galloped through the readers at primary school by year three, and my teacher suggested I should write my own stories and let the others catch up.

One afternoon she suggested we should all write a little story about space. Her brother, of whom she was very proud, worked at Jodrell Bank on the huge telescope, and I think she really wanted tales of star systems and the space race. What she got from me was the story of Fred, a little green one-legged spaceman, with an aerial in his head, who landed (fortuitously) during the summer holidays, in my garden in Middleton. Our adventures coursed through six Lancashire Education Committee exercise books, before Mrs Richardson gently suggested we might need a conclusion. I still find it hard to finish a story.

I didn’t write for many years (too many to admit to), until, ten years ago, I was looking for two courses to finish my second Open University degree. A friend said she was doing Creative Writing, so I signed up too, and that was it. From the first page of the course book I was completely hooked. I went on to do the third level course, and then to Swansea University to be a (very) mature student on the Creative Writing MA. It was an amazing experience, with fantastic tutors and some gifted fellow students, and I’ve been writing ‘properly’ ever since.

What genre do you write in and why?

I began my writing career with short stories, and they are still my favourite thing to do. I won several short story prizes, which persuaded me to keep going, and made me think that perhaps I might be able to sustain the writing and produce a novel – something which I had dreamed of since I was that child, reading to Grandma. My two novels are crime – police procedurals – set in rural mid Wales, but the crime genre was almost accidental.

I’d had what I thought was a marvellous idea for a novel, which I took to a wonderful course at Tŷ Newydd in Llanystumdwy. There, I was very gently told that my plot would never have worked. I had two options. I could either go home and re-think the existing novel, or I could choose one character who I couldn’t bear to be parted from, and write the beginning of a completely different novel, which included that character. Fortunately, I chose the latter option. Strangely, the character I couldn’t leave was a fairly minor one in the original novel – a police sergeant from Manchester, by the name of Julie Kite.

That evening (and into the small hours) I wrote the first two chapters of Remember No More, my first crime novel, which was published by Honno in 2017. This was followed in 2019 with Rather to be Pitied, which follows Julie Kite’s story as she settles into her new life as a detective sergeant in mid Wales.

How important is location in your novels?

Location is always the first thing to be decided for me, whether I’m writing short stories, novels or indulging in nature writing, which I love. I’m particularly lucky to live where I do, with its amazing scenery, a huge sense of history and its wonderful people – all fantastic prompts for any sort of writing. Even as a child I would spend hours with Ordnance Survey maps, plotting rides and marvelling at how contours translated into actual hills and mountains and how those tiny pictorial trees – spiky or rounded – were actual woods and forests on the ground.

For me, location is almost a character in its own right. The psychogeography of both urban and rural environments is fascinating – and guides the actions of the people who live there. I find it hard to imagine characters fully if I haven’t imagined where they are in the world and where they feel at home.

Who is your favourite (non Honno) author?

I have so many favourite authors. If I had to narrow it down, then the honours have to be shared between Alan Bennett and Kathleen Jamie.

I love Bennett, because he manages to tread that shaky tightrope between humour (though subtle, not the more on-trend custard-pie type humour) and real pathos. His writing shows a true understanding of the human condition and the complicated ways in which we interact with each other. His use of language and his eye for detail are forensic. I could read his diaries over and over, and see gems each time which had passed me by before.  Talking Heads, the two series of monologues written in the 1980s and 1990s, are a masterclass in subtle understatement.

Kathleen Jamie is a Scottish poet and essayist. Her essays are just amazing. I can’t decide which of her three books – Sightlines, Findings or the latest one Surfacing – is my favourite, but one essay, Skylines, in particular sticks in my mind, where she describes Edinburgh, with its collection of weather vanes and clocks. She has such a unique way of looking at things, a different, sometimes surprising, angle which draws you in.

Where do you write?

I have a rather lovely shed in the garden. It takes me away from the barking dog (rescue Labrador who thinks it’s his job to alert me to a quad bike four miles away) and the ‘are you disturbable?’ requests from him indoors. It has a wonderful view over the Epynt and across to Abergwesyn, and unless I keep the door shut, it’s often invaded by a small and very nosy goat. But, and maybe this is a throwback from my Open University days, when I could revise while walking round Tesco, I can really write anywhere. I’m a PhD level eavesdropper and people-watcher, and I’m always jotting down snippets of mannerism and wonderful snatches of conversation. Writing’s brilliant. It gives you a licence to be absolutely nosy. One short story came from watching the woman at the next table in a restaurant in Aberystwyth. It makes you more tolerant of others’ foibles, if you can use them to your advantage.

Who is your favourite character in your books?

I do like Julie Kite, with her keenness and determination, but I have to say I’m probably a lot more like the pathologist, Kay Greenhalgh. My first degree was in chemistry and geology, and the non-nonsense, not-suffering-fools outlook of Dr Greenhalgh really appeals to me.

What was your favourite bit of research?

My favourite bit of research was undertaken long before I even thought of writing Remember No More. The Epynt, or Epynt Mountain as it’s called locally, lies between Garth and Brecon. It was home to a whole community of Welsh-speaking farmers and their families, until it was commandeered by the MOD in 1940 and the families were removed.

I was working as a teaching assistant in the Welsh Unit of Builth Wells Primary School, and we, along with two other schools, were invited to an open day, where the army and some of those who had lived there as children talked to the schools about how life used to be and what had happened to the people who had lived there.

It was a memorable day, and in the afternoon, all the children met for a farewell on the grass outside the tiny visitors’ centre. As they stood in the sunshine, someone suggested singing Mae Hen Wlad fy Nhadau. It was glorious, a huge gaggle of primary school children singing their hearts out, where Welsh speaking families had lived before. At that moment, the army, in its wisdom, decided to start shelling practice on the other side of the hill. The irony of the moment made it clear to me that the story of the Epynt, and the way its families were treated, deserved a wider audience.

What do you like about being published by Honno rather than a large publishing house?

I love 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.

Links to Jan:

Facebook: https://bit.ly/2VXtpir

Twitter: https://bit.ly/3f9pU09

Website: https://jannewton.wordpress.com/

Amazon.co.uk: https://amzn.to/2Ytptrx

Honno Author Page: https://bit.ly/2KU6vST

Smorgasbord Reblog – Q & A with D.G. Kaye Features Judith Barrow – The Memory

With m,any thanks to Sally for this lovely share with Debby

Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

A wonderful interview in this week’s Q & A with D.G. Kaye​ and her guest Judith Anne Barrow​ talking about her childhood and teen years, desire to become a journalist and finally achieving her dream of writing with the publication of her successful family saga novels. Including The Memory, her most recent, which I can highly recommend. Head over and enjoy their chat.

D.G, Kaye Book Promotions

Q & A with D.G. Kaye Features Judith Barrow – The Memory

Welcome to the first of May’s Q and A author features, today I’m excited to have friend and author Judith Barrow over to share some of herself, her writing and her powerful new book, which I can’t wait to sink my eyes into – The Memory. Judith writes historical fiction and family sagas, like her Howarth family books series, and has taken a different approach with her newest book. As a writer who…

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Honno: “Great Women, Great Writing, Great Stories.” Today with Wendy White #FridayReads #Honno

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 first of a new set of interviews and today I am with the lovely Wendy White, author of both adult and children’s’ book

Please tell us a little about yourself.

I was born in Llanelli on the south west coast of Wales and still live in Carmarthenshire now. My favourite bands at ten years old were The Osmonds and Bay City Rollers, so from that you might be able to deduce my age (I like to think my musical taste has improved a lot since then). Sara Gethin is the name I chose for myself when my first novel, ‘Not Thomas’, was published, and I’m often asked why I opted for a pen name. It was for a very practical reason ‒ alongside writing for adults, I write children’s books using my everyday name of Wendy White. While my writing for children is light and humorous, ‘Not Thomas’ is a dark story of child neglect, and so having separate names helps to differentiate between the two types of book. Plus, having a nom de plume finally satisfies my childhood ambition!

When did you start writing?

I started writing late. I was ambling along, being a teacher, mother and child-minder, until some major events shocked me into taking the path I’d longed for since I was a child. In 2001, after 9/11, I decided to sign up for a ‘writing for children’ course, figuring the one thing I’d die wishing I had done would be to have written a book. I sent out a story to a publisher a couple of years later. The editor said they liked my style and if I made some changes they’d consider publishing it. Instead of being encouraged by that reply, I put the story aside and forgot about it. Then, a few years later, my lovely sister passed away very suddenly, and through the fog of grief I could very clearly hear her urging me to push for my dreams as life is short. The following year I reworked the story and sent it again to the publisher who, thankfully, this time accepted it. That became ‘Welsh Cakes and Custard’, the first of my children’s books, and was published in 2013.  

What genre do you write in and why?

Ah, genre is such a difficult thing, especially when books don’t fit neatly into one category. What I can say is that I tend to write for or about children, so ‘Not Thomas’, is about a neglected five-year-old called Tomos who narrates his own story. I guess if someone enjoys reading Cathy Glass books, which are about real-life children in difficult situations, then they might find ‘Not Thomas’ interesting too. But my novel is fiction and not autobiographical. It sometimes gets compared to ‘Room’ by Emma Donoghue, as it has a very young narrator. I suppose I write about children because I enjoy seeing the world from their point of view, and I strongly suspect I’ve never properly grown up.

How important is location in your novels?

Not Thomas’ was set in my home area of Carmarthenshire ‒ using places where I grew up or worked ‒ and I could visualise the streets and parks I was writing about. The novel I’m working on at the moment is set in Connemara, Ireland, somewhere I’ve holidayed many times. Having personal experience of the locations my novels are set in has been extremely important to me. I’m not the most descriptive writer, yet being able to imagine Tomos turning a certain corner as he runs away from bullies, or imagining Claire and Emmet charging over a particular hill in their escape from school has certainly helped to get those scenes onto paper. My novel set in Ireland features industrial schools, and my chosen setting reflects the fact that one of the most notorious of these institutions was in Connemara, so setting is very important for me in that way too.   

Who is your favourite (non Honno) author?

I have a real love of Irish writers, probably because Ireland has been my favourite place to visit for the last twenty or so years. My son went to university in Dublin, stayed after he graduated and has lived there for almost ten years now, so my visits have become even more frequent. Among my best-loved Irish writers are Emma Donoghue, Roddy Doyle, Sebastian Barry, John Boyne and newcomer, Sally Rooney. As for non-Irish writers, I’m a huge fan of Ian Rankin’s Rebus series, of Alice Munro’s short stories and Donna Tartt’s (very long) novels.  

Where do you write?

In winter, at the kitchen table, near the radiator, kettle and biscuit tin. Once the weather improves, I move my laptop out to the little shed I have in the garden. Its window once had a distant view of Carmarthen Bay, but now it mostly looks out onto some new houses. (I do appreciate that the town was short of housing, but if only they could have built them slightly to the right!)

Who is your favourite character in your books?

That would have to be five-year-old Tomos from ‘Not Thomas’. I always joke he’s the third child in our family, along with my daughter and son. It took me over 13 years to write that novel, so my own children were growing up and all the while Tomos stayed five. He’s an amalgamation of the neglected children I knew when I worked as a primary school teacher in a very deprived area. I hope, through him, I’ve given those children a voice and portrayed what it’s like to be so young and not properly cared for. It’s a terrifying situation for a child to be in.

What was your favourite bit of research?

I’ve spent years researching the latest novel I’m working on about children brought up in an industrial school in 1960s Ireland. Reading first-hand accounts really brings home the cruelty of life in those places. The book I return to again and again is an account by Peter Tyrrell of his time as a boy in Letterfrack Industrial School. ‘Founded on Fear’ was created after his death from letters he wrote and the details are harrowing, so it’s hard to say that it’s my ‘favourite’ bit of research, but the book is certainly compelling. Peter campaigned as an adult to put a stop to the abuse that went on in these institutions but sadly, at that time, his accounts weren’t believed by the people who could make a difference. In despair, he ended his life by setting fire to himself on Hampstead Heath in 1967. His body would never have been identified had a corner of a postcard with a Dublin address on it not been salvaged from his jacket. The postcard was to a TD (the Irish equivalent of an MP) who was supporting him with his campaign. Peter Tyrrell’s whole story is very sad, and he’s never far from my thoughts as I write about Claire and Emmet, the children in my work in progress.    

  What do you like most about being published by Honno, an indie press

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.

Thanks for being with us today, Wendy..

Thank you so much for your questions, Judith ‒ happy writing!

Links to Wendy’s page on Honno:

https://www.honno.co.uk/authors/g/sara-gethin/

Sara Gethin Social Media Links:

Website & Blog: saragethin.com

Facebook: @SaraGethinWriter

Twitter: @SGethinWriter

Instagram: www.instagram.com/saragethinwriter