Introducing Jan Baynham, Author of Her Mother’s Secret and a worthy Romantic Novelists’ Association contender for the Joan Hessayon Award. #WritersLife #WriterWednesday

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I am so pleased to be talking with Jan Baynham on my blog today. Having known Jan for some years and seen her writing going from strength to strength I was thrilled to hear that she is one of the contenders for the Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA) 2020 prestigious Joan Hessayon Award for new writers, the award for all the authors whose debut novels have been accepted for publication after passing through the Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers’ Scheme.Before I knew this I’d read, loved, and reviewed her book. This is my review: Her Mother’s Secret.

Her Mother's Secret: The Summer of '69 by [Jan Baynham]

I began by asking Jan what was the inspiration behind Her Mother’s Secret. This is her reply:

I have always been intrigued by family secrets and the fact that these sometimes do not come to light until after a person has died. I read of someone who was sorting through her mother’s things after her death and found a diary. In there, the young woman learned about a part of her mother’s life she knew nothing about. The ‘what ifs?’ started in my head. At the time, I’d been reading a novel where the rustling in the trees sounded like whispers and inanimate statues took on the form of ghosts of the people they represented. Perhaps the whispering could show the presence of a past family member. Always fascinated by the bond between mothers and daughters, this was basis for Her Mother’s Secret. Very often, the close relationship between mothers and daughters means that they would know things about each other no one else would. I wanted to explore how my character, Alexandra, would feel when she found out about her mother, Elin’s secret life. How could her mother have kept this from her? How would she feel? I needed Elin to have been able to keep her secret from everyone, even her own mother, until she died. Did Elin have a conscience when she left her diary to Alexandra?

I decided that Elin would be an artist, having just finished art college. She travels to Greece to further her painting skills and while there, something happens that she never mentions again. I chose a setting where the colours would be more vibrant and intense perhaps than in her home country of Wales. Having visited many times and being struck by the wonderful palette of colours seen in every landscape, Greece was my obvious inspiration. Elin’s daughter, Alexandra, arrives on Péfka, a small island off the Peloponnese in Southern Greece, to follow in her mother’s footsteps to find out what happened there twenty-two years earlier. Péfka is purely fictional and is not based on one particular place; it’s an amalgam of areas I’ve visited – a beach or street here, a taverna or workshop there where I’ve met characters when getting out into Greek villages. Every holiday has inspired me with contributions to create characters and settings that are hopefully authentic showing the climate, the vivid colours of the sea and the flowers as well as the warmth of its people.

Her Mother’s Secret was published in April this year by Ruby Fiction. I’m grateful to the Romantic Novelists’ Association for the role its New Writers’ Scheme played in helping me realise my dream of becoming a published author. The novel was critiqued on two occasions by experienced scheme readers. The first time, I’d submitted a partially written manuscript that was followed by the full manuscript the next year. The helpful and incredibly positive advice I received on both occasions was invaluable and gave me the motivation to submit my novel to publishers. Having ‘graduated’ from being unpublished to published via the scheme, I am eligible to be a proud contender for the 2020 Joan Hessayon Award along with twenty other debut novelists.

Blurb for Her Mother’s Secret:: A secret left behind in the summer of ’69

It’s 1969 and free-spirited artist Elin Morgan has left Wales for a sun-drenched Greek island. As she makes new friends and enjoys the laidback lifestyle, she writes all about it in her diary. But Elin’s carefree summer of love doesn’t last long, and her island experience ultimately leaves her with a shocking secret …

Twenty-two years later, Elin’s daughter Alexandra has inherited the diary and is reeling from its revelations. The discovery compels Alexandra to make her own journey to the same island, following in her mother’s footsteps. Once there, she sets about uncovering what really happened to Elin in that summer of ’69.

About the author:

After retiring from a career in teaching and advisory education, Jan joined a small writing group in a local library where she wrote her first piece of fiction. From then on, she was hooked! She soon went on to take a writing class at the local university and began to submit short stories for publication to a wider audience. Her stories and flash fiction pieces have been longlisted and short listed in competitions and several appear in anthologies both online and in print. In October 2019, her first collection of stories was published.  Her stories started getting longer and longer so that, following a novel writing course, she began to write her first full length novel. She loves being able to explore her characters in more depth and delve further into their stories. She writes about family secrets and the bond between mothers and daughters. Set in the last year of the ‘60s, Her Mother’s Secret takes you to sun-drenched Greece, her favourite holiday destination.

Originally from mid-Wales, Jan lives in Cardiff with her husband. She values the friendship and support from other RNA members and regularly attends conferences, workshops, talks and get togethers. She is co-organiser of Cariad, her local RNA Chapter.

‘Her Mother’s Secret’ is available on from Amazon:

You may find out more about Jan here:

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

Facebook: Jan Baynham Writer  https://www.facebook.com/JanBayLit/

Blog: https://janbaynham.blogspot.com/      

And more exciting news: Well, two pieces of exciting news, really…

Jan is on the Not the Booker long list https://bit.ly/31nyGBo

And…   

Jan’s second book,Her Sister’s Secret: The Summer of ’66, is now available to pre-order: https://amzn.to/3k5xjzU   

  Another wonderful sixties saga from the author of Her Mother’s Secret.

How far would you travel to find the truth?
It’s the 1960s and Jennifer Howells is a young woman with the world at her feet, just on the cusp of leaving her Welsh village for an exciting life in the city.
Then the contents of an inconspicuous brown envelope turn Jennifer’s world upside down. The discovery leaves her spiralling, unsure who she is. Overnight, Miss Goody Two Shoes is replaced by a mini-skirted wild child who lives for parties and rock’n’roll.
But Jennifer’s experience with the excesses of sixties’ culture leaves her no closer to her true identity. She soon realises she’ll have to travel further – first to Cardiff, then across the ocean to Sicily – if she wants to find out who she really is …

The Covenant and the low heat of technology: Bookish words by Thorne Moore #MondayBlogs

Interesting post here from Thorne Moore, whose new novel, The Covenant, is coming out in August, and is set in West Wales in the late nineteenth/early twentieth century. Set a novel in that period in a city, in London or Manchester, and it wouldn’t be difficult to paint a period that everyone with any knowledge of history would recognise.

My characters would be flag-waving for the Empire and possibly their sons would be out there, carrying our trade and accompanying our adventurers around the world, whether the indigenous people wanted us or not. They might be soldiers embroiled in Afghanistan (plus ça change) or crushing rebellions in China and fighting wars in South Africa and the trenches of Europe. They could be participating in administrations that were starving millions in India, or they could be at home working in the clamour of industry, in cotton mills or ironworks, in banks and shops.

Motorised vehicles were appearing and my characters would travelling around on bicycles or in omnibuses. They would be totally at home with the railways that could carry them to every corner of the land. If they were very daring and very rich, they might even be taking to the air. They would have gas lighting in their houses or, if grand enough, might be installing electricity (although my mother, living in Cardiff in the 1920s and early 30s, still had gas lights in the living rooms and candles upstairs). Their world would have been quite recognisable to the reader, industrialised, confident, profiteering and surging forward.

But a novel set in rural West Wales is going to lack most of those markers that would help a reader place it in time. It’s an area that, until recently, has existed in an alternative time zone out of kilter with the rest of the world. It wasn’t surging anywhere. Even when I moved to the area in the early 1980s, I felt I was slipping into somewhere still marooned in the 1950s, if not earlier. Researching for my first novel, A Time For Silence, set in the 1930s and 40s, I read newspaper articles on the introduction of electricity in the 1950s – and that was just in the towns. Official reports had noted the poor housing, hygiene and malnutrition prevalent in rural Wales at the start of the twentieth century and it was still being blamed for the high level of TB in 1939. A diet of potatoes and tea was not uncommon.

In the 1980s we were told about an old lady, in living memory, who used to live a few doors away in what must have been a traditional long house, with cows occupying one half of the building. Each morning the cows would come in, through her front door and hall,  politely tilting their heads so their horns wouldn’t disturb the pictures on the walls, as they made their way into the milking parlour. 

The gentry of the area would not have been troubled by primitive housing or malnutrition and they probably had homes in London as well as their country estates. They would have been au fait with everything fashionable, modern and advanced, but ordinary people, who had never moved far beyond their own parishes, were still living in a world only a very small shuffle removed from the world of their ancestors one or two hundred years before.

West Wales was not totally isolated in world terms. Ships were sailing to America from ports like Cardigan, Newquay and Aberystwyth in the 19th century, but inland the area lagged behind. Railways had been threading through the country, expanding horizons spectacularly since 1825, but branches only extended into North Pembrokeshire towards the end of the century – to Cardigan in 1886, and Fishguard in 1906.

the Cardi Bach

Motor cars began to appear in the 1890s – the first one was driven on British roads in 1895. By 1900, when Prince Bertie acquired one, there were still only a few hundred in Britain. Very few would have made their way to West Wales, especially to isolated villages where roads were still mud tracks.

In the big world, agriculture was becoming ever more mechanised, with mowers, reapers and binders, seed drills, steam engines and, finally in the 20th century, tractors. But these were not for the small-scale farmers with a few acres.


In The Covenant, a relatively wealthy farmer acquires a tractor in the course of the Great War, but the Owens, with their 24 acres, 1 rood and 8 perches, continue to rely on sickles and scythes. Partly poverty and partly an obstinate but pious determination to labour as Adam had done.

By 1919, the wealthy farmer has the luxury of a Ford Model T, but the Owens are still using a horse and trap or taking a daring ride on the charabanc from the nearest market town.

Newspapers were in circulation and, like every other community in Britain, from the largest city to the smallest hamlet, my characters feel the impact of the Great War, the shared patriotism and the private grief. But it is their little patch of land that really matters to them, not the fate of the Empire. It’s their minister’s decision to become a missionary that really opens up their horizons and that’s a matter of the next world, not this one.

The Covenant

published by Honno Press August 20th 2020

available for pre-order now

www.thornemoore.co.uk

Chatting About How to Review (Well my Way of Reviewing!) and Celebrating 6 Years Of Rosie’s #Bookreview Team. #RBRT. #MondayBlogs #Readers

“It’s your review; to write as you want”. I carried  this advice from Rosie Amber (#RBRT) around in my head as I struggled to find a way to put into words what I thought about the first book I’d read and was about to review for her team. I’d never reviewed a book before – or anything, come to think of it

Rosie Amber’s Review Team #RBRT

As a creative writing tutor, I was used to reading essays, stories, poems – but this was different. Five tries later and I decided to break up the parts of the book into sections, as I do for my work: characters, dialogue, settings, points of view, plot etc. A moment of eureka; I didn’t need to tell the story of the book, I could say what I thought were the strong points and what didn’t work for me, because I know any review is subjective, and what I might like or not be so keen on, someone else will always have different thoughts. Writing it that way I could then recommend it to readers who like a book that had a good plot, is character led, told in a certain tense, and so on – or for readers who like particular genres.

One thing I do like with being on the #RBRT team is that if I really can’t get to grips with a book, I’m not expected to finish it; I’ll let Rosie know and that’s the end of the matter. And I don’t give below three stars; I don’t think it’s fair to any writer who has worked hard to produce a book but has probably not used either an editor or a proof-reader. It happens and I always think it’s a shame if the plot/idea is good.

“It’s your review; to write as you want”; something I would say to anyone thinking of joining #RBRT, with the one proviso (which goes unsaid but should be kept in mind) use constructive criticism and be kind. And enjoy the reading. Rosie is approached by many authors of all kinds of genres, eager for the team to review. Their books are put on a list and we can choose the ones we think we might like. I’ve had the chance to read some wonderfully written books of all genres … for free. Although I don’t always manage to review as often as I’d like for Rosie’s Book Review Team, due to other commitments,  I’ve loved being a member since I day  I joined and I’ve made some brilliant and supportive on-line friends in the team.

And Rosie is always there for advice and to steer the ship. What more can one ask?

http://amzn.to/2klIJzN

A time for Celebration for Readers: Goldstone Books Shop Reopens! #Goldstonebooks #MondayBlogs

Book lovers in West Wales celebrate! This week, bookshops are beginning the careful process of re-opening as part of a phased exit from the coronavirus lockdown.

And Goldstone Books of Carmarthen, West Wales is one of them

It’s been a long and challenging time for bookshops, who have been forced to come up with imaginative new ways to sell their books and keep loyal customers happy customers during this time

But, as long as they meet guidelines to protect staff and shoppers, they can now open their doors. And, in preparation, Goldstone Books have been working on plans to enable social distancing measures – from reduced opening hours to limits on how many customers can enter at once, amongst other safety measures.

In times of crisis, we have to think of new ways to look out for each other, and the book community is no exception. If you’re looking to stock up on reading material, then look no further than this popular bookshop with friendly staff.

“You can’t beat a good book and a warm cuppa”.

I interviewed one of the staff at Goldstone to ask them how things have been during these difficult months

How did you adapt your services in lockdown?

The shop closed but the online business continued including selling new stock usually only available from the shop.

Did you need to find different ways to connect with prospective customers?

We maintained online and social media presence and offered online book clubs

Have you found that your usual customers have stayed with you?

Yes, we have very loyal customers

How difficult was it  to change your live events into online events and in what way have you  adapted?

Book clubs on line as zoom events. But we made the decision not to try to duplicate this with readings and other events for now.

Please tell us how people can buy books from you?

The shop is now open!

Message from Goldstons:

Thank you to our lovely customers who have supported us this week as we reopened. It has been wonderful to connect with you again and we look forward to seeing you in the future. “

Find Goldstone Bookshop, Carmarthen

https://www.facebook.com/Goldstonebooks/

My Review of Her Mother’s Secret: The Summer of ’69 by Jan Baynham #TuesdayBookBlog

Her Mother's Secret: The Summer of '69 by [Jan Baynham]

Book Description:

It’s 1969 and free-spirited artist Elin Morgan has left Wales for a sun-drenched Greek island. As she makes new friends and enjoys the laidback lifestyle, she writes all about it in her diary. But Elin’s carefree summer of love doesn’t last long, and her island experience ultimately leaves her with a shocking secret …
Twenty-two years later, Elin’s daughter Alexandra has inherited the diary and is reeling from its revelations. The discovery compels Alexandra to make her own journey to the same island, following in her mother’s footsteps. Once there, she sets about uncovering what really happened to Elin in that summer of ’69.

My Review:

I looked forward to reading this debut novel by Jan Baynham for quite a while and I wasn’t disappointed. The author has an easy writing style that I really like, I love the story, which has a brilliant dramatic opening and, unusual for me, I read the book in one fairly long session.

Her Mother’s Secret is set against the background of the Greek island of Péfka during completely different eras; 1969 and 2011 .These two time frames are linked by the two main characters,  Alexandra and her mother, Elin and are connected through time, by the diary that Alexandra has found after her mother’s death.

 I don’t like giving spoilers in my reviews; I try to explain what I like about a book.

Both Elin and  Alexandra are complex and well-rounded characters, and very much of their time. And, although they are never together in any scenes in the novel, the love they had for each other is threaded throughout Her Mother’s Secret.  But there is one big difference in the two; Elin Morgan is following her dreams by becoming an art student at a summer painting school, run by a famous artist, on Péfka. Alexandra, still grieving, is on the island seeking answers to the disclosures in her mother’s diary

 And the author has ensured that the reader becomes engrossed in these characters by intertwining their stories with a cast of believable minor characters and the detailed and redolent descriptions of the Greek island, the harbour, the art school The portrayal of all the settings give an evocative sense of place.

 The book moves at a good pace with a number of twists and turns that sometimes took me by surprise and sometimes gave me a feeling of ‘Ah-ha!; my suspicions, picked up through the foreshadowing the author has slipped into the story, coming to fruition is always satisfying to a reader.  

There are many themes running through Her Mother’s Secret: of love, relationships, mystery, crime, secrets and friendships, all woven to give a good balance of romance with a believable darker side of life.

All in all, Her Mother’s Secret is a novel I would recommend to any reader who enjoys a story that is grounded in the Romance genre but reveals itself to be so much more.

About the author:

Jan Baynham

After retiring from a career in teaching and advisory education, Jan joined a small writing group in a local library where she wrote her first piece of fiction. From then on, she was hooked!

She soon went on to take a writing course at the local university and began to submit stories for publication to a wider audience. In October 2019, her first collection of short stories, ‘Smashing the Mask and Other Stories’ was published.

Following a novel writing course, Jan began to write her first full length novel. She loves being able to explore characters in greater depth and delve into their stories. She writes about family secrets and the bond between mothers and daughters. Partly set in the last year of the 60s, ‘Her Mother’s Secret’, takes you to sun-drenched Greece, her favourite holiday destination.

Originally from mid-Wales, Jan lives in Cardiff with her husband.

To find out more about Jan, she may be contacted on:
Twitter – @JanBaynham https://twitter.com/JanBaynham
Facebook – Jan Baynham Writer https://www.facebook.com/JanBayLit
Blog – http://www.janbaynham.blogspot.co.uk

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 Thorne Moore interviews me: https://bit.ly/2WWQ1jW #weekendReads #Honno

Thorny matters

Thorne turns the tables on me today!

Fellow Honno author Judith Barrow has been running interviews on her blog (https://judithbarrowblog.com/) with other authors published by Honno Welsh Women’s Press. (Read her interview with me)  I thought it was about time that the table was turned on her, so here is my interview in similar vein, with Judith Barrow.

Judith Barrow

So, Judith, you are the tireless champion of other authors. Let’s hear about you, for a change.
How did Yorkshire lass come to be a Pembrokeshire author?

We found Pembrokeshire by accident. After we were married, and before children, we always holidayed for a week in July in Cornwall. But after seven years of marriage and with three children under three and our only mode of transport being an ancient van, we decided it was too far with a young family. So we thought we would go to Wales; not too difficult a journey from Yorkshire, we believed.
I borrowed books on Wales from the library and, balancing our 8-month-old twins, one on each knee, I read as much as I could about the county of Pembrokeshire. With wonderful beaches it sounded just the place to take children for a holiday
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We booked a caravan and, when the big day came, packed the van to the hilt with everything the children would need, remembering only at the last minute, to throw a few clothes in for ourselves.

It took us ten hours. In 1978 there was no easy route from the North of England to West Wales. We meandered through small lanes, stopping for emergencies like much needed drinks, picnics and lavatory stops. The closer we were to our destination the slower we went; in the heat of the day the engine in our old van struggled; we needed to top up the radiator every hour or so. For the last fifty miles we became stuck in traffic jams. We got lost numerous times.

All this and three ever-increasingly fractious children.

We arrived at the caravan site in the middle of the night so were relieved to find the key in the door. The owner, a farmer, had given up and gone home.

The following morning I woke early. Leaving David in charge of our exhausted and still sleeping family, I crept out. The air was warm; a breeze barely moved the leaves on the trees around the field. Although the caravan was one of four in the farmer’s field, we were the only people there.

I walked along a small path. Within minutes I was facing the sea, glittering in the sun; dark rocks jutted out of the water surrounded by foaming waves. The horizon was a silvery line far in the distance. Faint voices from two small fishing boats carried on the air. The cliffs curved round in a natural cove. It was so quiet, so peaceful.

I fell in love with Pembrokeshire.

Within months we’d thrown caution, and our past lives, to the wind and moved into a half-built house in what was a field. It took us years to finish it but it’s been a labour of love.

How could anyone not fall in love with Pembrokeshire? But your books are mostly set up north. How important is location in your books?

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For me it’s vitally important, because it sets the scene for where my characters live. |And I try to portray the locations as they would exist in a certain era. It takes a lot of research to make sure the details of both the place and the time are correct. Luckily I enjoy researching.

I always draw a map of the town or village so I can see the characters moving around, see what they see; experience what they experience. It’s the only way I can picture it.

Location was especially important for the trilogy. The first book, Pattern of Shadows, was inspired by my research into a disused cotton mill in Oldham, Lancashire and its history of being the first German POW camp in the country. Rather than the noise of the machinery, the  colours of the cotton and cloth, the smell of oil, grease and the new material, I envisaged only vehicles coming and going, the sounds would be of men with a different language and dialect, no riot of colour, no tang of oil, grease, cotton fibres; just the reek of ‘living’ smells.

And the camp retains its importance throughout the trilogy after the war and into the sixties. It falls into ruin at the same time as the cotton industry is declining and the mill town where it is situated also deteriorates.

But, in the sequel, Changing Patterns and the last of the trilogy, Living in the Shadows, the characters are also in a small Welsh village; a complete contrast to the industrial town. And this disparity between the two locations is where the many layers of the human condition can be explored in order for me to create rounded characters that, hopefully, come to life on the page.

I hope that makes sense?

Perfect sense. Your first books, the Howarth stories, are a family saga. What appeals to you about that genre?

I love writing about the intricacies of relationships within families; it fascinate me. We live in such diverse situations and, a lot of the time; tend to take it all for granted. Being a family member, with the casual acceptance of one another that the circumstance brings, can bring the best and the worst out in all of us. So there is a wealth of human emotions to work with. It’s fascinating to write about that potential.  And, of course, behind closed doors, anything can happen. So the family saga is a genre that can cross over into historical fiction and the crime, mystery and romantic genres.

Your latest, The Memory, is still family-based but quite different. What made you shift direction for that one? What inspired it?

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It is new territory for me but the book is still set around a family unit so, from that point of view, I don’t think I strayed too far with The Memory. In the Haworth trilogy and the prequel, A Hundred Tiny Threads, (set against the background of the first World War, the Suffragettes and the Irish War of Independence),  there is still an underlying theme of reactions to a situation. But the difference between those books and this one is that those characters, as well as reacting in a domestic setting, respond to a wider situation; their lives are affected by what is happening in the outside world.  In The Memory it is only Irene Hargreaves, the protagonist that the reader learns about; mainly from the claustrophobic atmosphere she is living in presently, but also through her memories.

It’s a more contemporary book than the others and also it’s written in a different style. The book runs on two timelines: Irene’s life from the age of eight, after her sister is born and her grandmother comes to live with the family because her mother refuses to accept her second daughter, Rose, a Downs Syndrome child. That’s written in past tense. The second timeline, over the last twenty-four hours is written in the present tense and shows Irene’s life as the carer of her mother, who has dementia.

I don’t know that it was inspired by any one thing. The Memory actually began as a short story I wrote a long time ago, which just grew and, which, in turn, started from a journal that I’d kept from when I was carer for one of my relatives who had dementia. I read many articles on coping with the disease at the time, but writing how I felt then helped tremendously. Writing like that always has; it’s something I did through many years from being a child.

Another memory was of was a childhood friend of mine; a Down’s syndrome child, though I didn’t realise then. We would sit on the front doorstep of their house and I would read or chat; well, I would talk and he would smile and laugh. I didn’t think that it was odd that he never spoke. Thinking about it, I never even wondered why he wasn’t in school either. Anyway, one Monday after school, I went along the lane to their house and the front door was closed. I didn’t understand; one day he was there and the next gone. No one explained that he’d died. I‘m not sure I even understood what that meant anyway. So, I did what I usually did; I wrote about it; how I felt losing a friend. So, from finding the short story in a drawer I was clearing out, my memories, and remembering the journals, came The Memory.

What matters to you, apart from your writing? 

Family and friends. At least the small family that David and I created. I suppose that sounds odd; perhaps even a little selfish to exclude any extended members of our families. But I’m being honest here. I wasn’t close to my parents for various reasons; reasons that partly underlined the decision to move so far away from Yorkshire. They weren’t bothered about their siblings, who we rarely saw, so I never really got to know any of them.  Don’t misunderstand me; when any of them needed us we willingly did what we could. But moving away from where most of them live meant we were unable to rely on instant support; there was no childminding, no unexpected welcome visits. It made us more self-sufficient. So by family I do mean David and the children. And their children; our grandchildren. Whatever happens; however much changes, whatever life chucks at us, they will always matter to me.

 And friends? Well, at my age (and I think this happens to most people as they get older), friends are fewer and become more important. And, at this stage, true friends tend to know you inside out; all the good bits and the not so good bits. And they still like you. I think that’s wonderful. And it works both ways!

How did you come to be a Honno author?

For many years, whilst writing books that stacked up in drawers, never to appear again, I was writing poetry, plays and short stories and entering creative writing competitions. I also used to look for notifications for submissions to anthologies. A friend told me about a call that had come from Honno. The remit was to write a story around the subjects of gardens and life. The title of the anthology, published in 2008, is Coming up Roses. My story is called Whose House is This? (I wrote a post about it here).

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Shortly after the anthology was published I attended a workshop run by Honno and, in conversation with the editor, Caroline Oakley, I said that I had recently completed a manuscript. I think I should mention here that this book was the first I’d ever been truly excited about; even reluctant to consign it to the drawer with the others. Caroline told me to send it to her, which I did.

But, previously I’d sent the book to an agent.  And this is where it all gets a bit messy, drawn out  and tedious; so all I will say is that the agent wanted me to work with a commercial editor to change the genre from family saga to chick lit ( not that there is anything wrong with chick lit, it’s just not what I write.) So, after much discussion, the agent and I parted company and it was a great relief when the book was accepted by Honno as a family saga. That book became the first of the Haworth trilogy, Pattern of Shadows.
The rest, as is often quoted, is history. I’ve been with Honno for over twelve years now and had five books published with them and another, The Heart Stone, to be released in 2021
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What do you value most about Honno?

Honno  is my kind of publisher; small, independent, and led by strong women who know what kind of  books they want to publish and don’t accept anything but the best that an author can produce. So the editing is hard, but fair, and leads to many discussions – and a few compromises on both sides.
Because it is known to be a Welsh press it is sometimes assumed that all its authors will be Welsh as well. So, often, when I’ve appeared at events, people are surprised to hear my broad Northern English accent. The supposition is false; Honno’s aim as an inspiring, feminist, Welsh press is to provide opportunities for women writers. The only proviso is that they are either Welsh, are living in Wales or have a connection to the country – which actually covers a great many writers. I love their strapline -. “Great Women, Great Writing, Great Stories.” So it always gives me a thrill when the manuscript I’ve been toiling over for months (or years!) is accepted by them.

Judith’s website

Judith at Honno

Judith on Twitter

Judith on Facebook

Judith on Pinterest

Judith on Amazon

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

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

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 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