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 …

My Review of The Memories We Bury by H.A. Leuschel. #Review #TuesdayBookBlog

Book Description:

Lizzie Thomson has landed her first job as a music teacher, and after a whirlwind romance with Markus, the newlywed couple move into a beautiful new home in the outskirts of Edinburgh. Lizzie quickly befriends their neighbour Morag, an elderly, resourceful yet lonely widow, whose own children rarely visit her. Everything seems perfect in Lizzie’s life until she finds out she is pregnant and her relationship with both Morag and Markus change beyond her control.

Book Description:

Lizzie Thomson has landed her first job as a music teacher, and after a whirlwind romance with Markus, the newlywed couple move into a beautiful new home in the outskirts of Edinburgh. Lizzie quickly befriends their neighbour Morag, an elderly, resourceful yet lonely widow, whose own children rarely visit her. Everything seems perfect in Lizzie’s life until she finds out she is pregnant and her relationship with both Morag and Markus change beyond her control.

Can Lizzie really trust Morag and why is Markus keeping secrets from her?

In The Memories We Bury the author explores the dangerous bonds we can create with strangers and how past memories can cast long shadows over the present.

Can Lizzie really trust Morag and why is Markus keeping secrets from her?

In The Memories We Bury the author explores the dangerous bonds we can create with strangers and how past memories can cast long shadows over the present.

My Review:

 I thoroughly enjoyed The Memories We Bury and I like H.A. Leuschel’s writing style. This is a riveting psychological read, with thoroughly rounded characters and an absorbing plot, sensitively woven throughout with themes of personal insecurity, trust, hope, duplicity and lies

There are two main characters, Lizzie, the insecure young woman with a small baby, whose own childhood was blighted by manipulating mother. Now she is left to struggle mostly alone with motherhood by a husband who is only concerned with himself and his work and his life away from home.

The second character is Morag, a retired nurse and neighbour of Lizzie. From the start of the story the reader is led to believe that this older woman with be a godsend to the young mother; she is the support, the ever-available friend, always anxious to help.

Character led novels are my favourite and I was not disappointed in The Memories We Bury. Indeed the title itself give more than a hint that there are many layers to these two lonely women and, gradually, each character is shown through the spoken and internal dialogue – excellently written.

Each chapter has the alternating points of view from Linzie and Morag and is evenly paced as the tension is slowly but surely ramped up. Through the narrative the author reveals the background of both characters, exposing their frailties and insecurities that controls the way they behave towards one another. The husband is, in a way, used by each as a foil but it is struggle between them that is the main battle of wills.

 The setting of this novel is mainly of the houses of the characters and, though giving a great sense of place, seemed, to me to be secondary to the story. This is not a criticism, indeed, I felt it added to the claustrophobic feeling in this emotional read

 This is a shorter review than I normally write. This in no way detracts from H.A. Leuschel’s novel and I thoroughly recommend The Memories We Bury to any reader who enjoys a compelling psychological read.

About the author:

Helene Andrea Leuschel gained a Master in Journalism & Communication, which led to a career in radio and television in Brussels, London and Edinburgh. She later acquired a Master in Philosophy, specializing in the study of the mind.

Helene has a particular interest in emotional, psychological and social well-being and this led her to write her first novel, Manipulated Lives, a fictional collection of five novellas, each highlighting the dangers of interacting with narcissists.

She lives with her husband and two children in Portugal. Please find out more about Helene at heleneleuschel.com or on Facebook and Twitter.

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/

Why Honno? Just Asking the Question. @Honno #authors

Great Women, Great Writing, Great Stories.

Why Honno was a question I wanted to ask each of the following Honno authors when I started the interviews with them over the last few months.

I mean, I knew why I liked being published by Honno:

Judith Barrow

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

I’ve had experience of having an agent, of being asked to conform to the commercial market; to fit in. And it wasn’t for me. As a creative writing tutor, I’ve spent the last couple of decades encouraging students to “write in their own voices”. So when the agent told me I needed to conform if I wanted to be published by one of the big publishing companies, I knew it wasn’t for me. This, after she’d placed me with a commercial editor who, not only wanted me to write in a different way, but also wanted me to write in a different genre.”The talent and skill as a writer is there but you need to be open to change.”, was the advice.

I took it; I changed from being a client with an agent ( who had, after all, accepted me on the strength of my first book) to seeking other outlets for my work.

I was lucky, I found Honno.

But, enough about me.

But, enough about me.

Honno’s mission is to publish Welsh women writers – for the purposes of submission to Honno this means that you must be a woman born in Wales or resident in Wales at the time of submission. Honno also publishes titles of exceptional interest to women within Wales from writers who may not meet the first two criteria i.e. that they are female and that they are of Welsh birth or residence.

I started each of the interviews with the statement:”My greatest support has come from the group of authors published by Honno. We’ve met up in real life on many occasions…”

That being said, the question all the Honno authors were glad to answer was:What do you like most about being published by Honno, an indie press rather than one of the big publishing houses?”

To learn more about the authors and their books, please click on their names

In order of appearance their replies:

Thorne Moore:

It’s a small press, which means it’s personal. Maybe famous sportsmen or ex-cabinet ministers can be lauded (promoted) to the skies by big publishers, but most of their less famous authors tend to be lost in a very impersonal ocean, with very little one-to-one attention. They are names on a spreadsheet. With Honno, you know the team and they know you. You feel far more valued, even if the big bucks aren’t there.

And there’s the fact that Honno is a Women’s Press, run by women, publishing women (as well as being Welsh, of course). It’s not an anti-man thing, but I grew up in the era of the rising tide of women’s lib, when women didn’t just sit around arguing their case but took really positive actions to prove themselves, such as setting up publishing companies like Virago. Unlike others, Honno is still going strong and flying the flag.”.

Carol Lovekin

The intimacy. The sense of being part of a family. Honno’s reputation as an independent press publishing writing exclusively by women appealed to my feminist heart from the start. And it felt like the right fit for my debut, with its connection to The Mabinogion and the legend of Blodeuwedd.

A small press may not have the financial resources available to bigger, mainstream houses; they do tend to have a broad vision. They’re less bureaucratic, more collaborative and if they believe in a project enough, will invest time, expertise and energy in it. This has certainly proved to be the case for me with Honno.”

Alison Layland

It feels like being part of a close-knit family. The small but dedicated and talented Honno team are accessible and supportive at all stages of the process, and it’s been lovely to become friends with so many of the other Honno authors. We’re a wonderful community, and although we’re scattered all over Wales and beyond, it’s particularly lovely when we get to meet up in person.

Wendy White

When I was writing ‘Not Thomas’ I knew exactly where I wanted to send it when I’d finished, and that was to Honno. I’d long admired their work and I loved the fact that they’re a female-only press and have a committee of women who decide what to publish. Added to that was my huge respect for Caroline Oakley, a Honno editor who had worked closely in a previous role for a number of years with (the aforementioned) Ian Rankin. I was absolutely delighted when I heard from Caroline that Honno were going to publish ‘Not Thomas’ and my whole experience of being part of the Honno family has been fantastic. All the staff and other authors are extremely supportive and go out of their way to make everyone welcome. I’m constantly recommending Honno to my female friends who are writers. It may be a small indie press but it commands huge respect and publishes wonderful books.”

Jan Newton

“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.”

Jane Fraser

I think with Honno, my forthcoming novel has found the perfect home with the UK’s longest-standing independent press that champions Welsh women and Welsh writing. I am proud that I now find myself among a list of authors I so admire.

Alys Einion

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?

Juliet Greenwood

I’m eternally grateful that I had the experience of being published by Honno before finding an agent and having a two-book deal with Orion. Having been through the process in the slightly less pressurised atmosphere of Honno, and learning the different stages of the editing process, gave me the confidence to feel I knew what I was doing – and even more importantly know that I had done it three times before so could do it again! That experience has been utterly invaluable. Honno also gave me time to develop as a writer and become more certain of who I was as an author.”

Hilary Shepherd

Text Box:

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.”

Jo Verity

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.”

Jacqueline Jacques

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.

Stevie Davies

“Being published by Honno is like going home. The first publisher of my fiction was The Women’s Press, where writers experienced warm support and a shared outlook on the politics of gender. At Honno there is a sense of solidarity such as one rarely finds in larger and more impersonal firms. Caroline’s editing skills are second to none and I have been grateful for her experience and insight.

Submitting your work

Honno is always interested in receiving unsolicited manuscripts  but currently does not intend to publish  poetry, works for children, novellas or short story collections by a single author. Honno does publish full length works of fiction and non-fiction for adults (manuscripts of between 60,000 and 120,000 words).

Honno is open to all genres of fiction and is particularly interested in increasing the number of literary fiction, crime/thriller, commercial women’s fiction, science fiction and fantasy titles it publishes. Honno is also building a list of non-fiction works to include biography (untold tales of remarkable Welsh women, places and industries), memoir, nature and travel writing. For a good idea of the types of work Honno is interested in study the Books pages on this site and the Editor’s blog posts.

However, whatever kind of work you are submitting, please ensure that you meet Honno’s criteria (see ‘Submission guidelines’ below) BEFORE doing so.

Honno is keen to publish work that shows all sides of life in Wales, but will consider stories not set within Wales. Honno is a feminist publisher and that influences the kinds of work selected for publication.

During the Coronavirus crisis we are happy to take submissions by email. Please attach your covering letter and submission and email it to post@honno.co.uk with ‘submission – your name ‘ as the subject line

https://www.honno.co.uk/authors/b/judith-barrow/

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 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
.

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

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Judith on Amazon

Whose House is This? #Honno #ThrowbackThursday

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

Coming up Roses: A collection of garden stories from Wales

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Description:

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

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My greatest support has come from the group of authors published by Honno. We have a Facebook group where we can chat and ask for help, information and generally boost moral when it’s needed. And we’ve met up in real life on many occasions. About three years ago I shared interviews with some of them. Since then there have been other women writers who have become Honno authors. So this is the new set of interviews and today I am with friend, Juliet Greenwood.

Please tell us a little about yourself.

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

When did you start writing?

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

What genre do you write in and why?

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

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

Who is your favourite (non Honno) author?

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

Where do you write?

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

Who is your favourite character in your books?

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

What was your favourite bit of research?

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

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

I’m eternally grateful that I had the experience of being published by Honno before finding an agent and having a two-book deal with Orion – especially when my first book, The Ferryman’s Daughter, was moved forward a whole year, meaning it was a bit of a mad dash to get the various stages of editing done, while also hitting the deadline for book two. Having been through the process in the slightly less pressurised atmosphere of Honno, and learning the different stages of the editing process, gave me the confidence to feel I knew what I was doing – and even more importantly know that I had done it three times before so could do it again! That experience has been utterly invaluable.

Honno authors with from the left Editor Caroline Oakley, Juliet, Carol Lovekin, Judith Barrow, Alison Layland, Janet Thomas (former editor of Honno, now Honno committee member), Thorne Moore, Hilary Shepherd, Jan Newton.

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

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

A little more about Juliet

An image posted by the author.

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

Social media links:

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

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

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

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

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

The Ferryman’s Daughter:

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

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

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 Carol Lovekin #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 my friend, Carol Lovekin

Please tell us a little about yourself.

My mother was from Northern Ireland, my dad was Anglo-Irish. They met during the war when Ma was a nurse and Dad was in the army. I was born and brought up in Warwickshire. I’ve lived in Wales since the late seventies and in Lampeter for the last fourteen years, in a small first floor flat. In summer it overlooks rolling hills and bird-laced drifting skies. Come winter the mist encroaches, the sky grows wilder and the birds are in their elemen
t.

When did you start writing?


My parents disagreed about the importance of education for girls. Having been denied an education herself, my mother wanted better for me. Dad had other ideas and in spite of his socialist leanings, patriarchy won out. In the 50s, the husband’s word was still law. I left school with no qualifications and went on to educate myself. (I’m still home-schooling.) One thing I did do, from childhood, was write. Decades later, my mother told me how much she regretted not fighting my corner. I don’t blame her – she did her best for me in other ways. Always made sure I had an endless supply of books to read and encouraged my scribbling. She would have been proud of my publishing achievements.

It took a long time though. I never settled into a disciplined writing state of mind and spent too many years in a state of arrested development. Life intruded, the way it does for many women. Finding myself older, wiser, retired and settled, I chose to make time and take my writing seriously, with a view to being published. Three books later, I hope my dad would have been proud too.

What genre do you write in and why?

Now, there’s a question. And a tricky one to answer. I write outside mainstream notions of genre and I’m still not sure where my books fit. When I began writing my first published book, Ghostbird, I vaguely imagined I was writing literary fiction. Largely because there was – and remains – no obvious slot for my stories. (Joanne Harris called Ghostbird “quirky” and I’ll take that.)

The truth is, were it not for the publishing world’s preoccupation with categories and shelf appeal, I wouldn’t give the genre of my books a second thought. On the edges of Gothic mystery with a nod to ghosts and magical realism?

Although they do contain these elements, conversely, my stories are rooted in reality: they’re intimate, small in scale and grounded in the commonplace dramas that exist within apparently ordinary families. I write about women with witchy heritages and a penchant for chatting to birds; eccentric mothers, absent fathers, lonely teenage girls, old houses and village life.



And I’m a collector of old stories – fairytales and legends. In particular, the patriarchal ones (which is most of them, frankly) denying women a voice. The motif of the ghost – particularly as the ‘presence’ of a previously silenced voice – has been the main factor in the trajectory my writing has taken. Each of my books feature encounters with ghosts of one kind or another. The crux for me is though, I find fiction a perfect vehicle for retelling women’s stories – old and new – in a modern setting. I leave my reader to decide on the genre.

How important is location in your novels?

Hugely. My books are almost exclusively set in Wales. The vivid, mysterious landscape of my adopted home is the backdrop to each of them. Verity and Meredith in my second book, Snow Sisters, do go off to London for a while but essentially, my settings are Welsh villages, its old houses and magical gardens. The hinterland too – the wild moorland with its endless skies.


Who is your favourite (non Honno) author?

Impossible to answer!If I’m reading a fantastic book, in the moment, that author is my favourite. I’m a lifelong admirer of Virginia Woolf. My favourite Irish author is the sublime Edna O’Brien. Daphne du Maurier is superb. Jane Eyre and To Kill a Mockingbird are my favourite books, except when they aren’t, because I’m reading something brilliant and how do I choose?

Where do you write?

In the first instance, when a new idea begins to come into focus, I write a lot by hand. Non-linear, random notes, often in bed first thing in the morning. My preference is for spiral-bound, A5 artist sketchpads and a pencil. These scribbles eventually translate to the main event, and once I’m in the World of Word, I’m in my study on the PC. I know how fortunate “a room of my own” makes me.


Who is your favourite character in your books?

Cadi Hopkins in Ghostbird. Possibly because she was my first. When I met her, coming out of a dream – in itself remarkable as I rarely recall them – I knew her. Her name, what she looked like, where she lived and that she had a dead baby sister; that this baby was somehow connected to the Welsh legend of Blodeuwedd, the woman made from flowers who was ‘punished’ by being turned into an owl.

I’m fond of Allegra in Snow Sisters, too. She’s a deeply misunderstood character who acts out her pain in appalling, attention seeking behaviour, because she has been betrayed by the men in her life and feels unloved.

My favourite ghost is Olwen, in Wild Spinning Girls. If I’m ever a ghost, I want to be Olwen.


What was your favourite bit of research?

My stories don’t require a great deal of research per se. I’m very familiar with Welsh villages, old houses and so forth. I do like to check details however and if I’m writing about specifics – the bureau in Wild Spinning Girls for instance – I enjoy looking for something that best fits my initial vision. For my fourth book, I’m currently researching tasseography – the art of reading tea leaves!


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

The intimacy. The sense of being part of a family. Honno’s reputation as an independent press publishing writing exclusively by women appealed to my feminist heart from the start. And it felt like the right fit for my debut, with its connection to The Mabinogion and the legend of Blodeuwedd.


A small press may not have the financial resources available to bigger, mainstream houses; they do tend to have a broad vision. They’re less bureaucratic, more collaborative and if they believe in a project enough, will invest time, expertise and energy in it. This has certainly proved to be the case for me with Honno.


Honno translates as ‘that one (feminine) who is elsewhere’ which is beautiful. And we are: Honno authors are elsewhere, here and everywhere

About the author:

Carol says, ‘I am a writer, feminist & flâneuse based in west Wales. I write contemporary fiction exploring family relationships & secrets, the whole threaded with myth, fairytale, ghosts, Welsh Gothic mystery & slivers of magic.

My third & most recent novel, WILD SPINNING GIRLS, is now available! Published on 20th February 2020 by HONNO, the Welsh Women’s Press. It has been selected as Books Council of Wales BOOK OF THE MONTH for March.’

Links to find Carol:

Twitter: twitter.com/carollovekin

Website: carollovekinauthor.com/

Instagramwww.instagram.com/carollovekin/?hl=en

Honno: : https://www.honno.co.uk/authors/l/carol-lovekin/

My Time on Meet the Author: Judith Barrow With Michelle Whitham

Good evening my lovelies.  I hope you’re all well and finding plenty to amuse you and any children you may have during lockdown!  Today I’m delighted to welcome the lovely Judith Barrow on to my blog with a wonderful interview.  She’s is talking to us about writing as an escape, connecting with others through her love of walking, the hilarious tale of Mr & Mrs Wilson (don’t miss it!) and her most recent book, The Memory……

GENRE(S):

Cross Genres: Mainly Family Saga/ but also includes Historic Fiction/ Crime Fiction

TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOURSELF:

I’m originally from Saddleworth, a group of villages at the foot of the Pennines in the North of England but have lived in Pembrokeshire, Wales, for forty years with my family.

I have an MA in Creative Writing with Trinity College, a BA (Hons) in Literature with the Open University, a Diploma in Drama from Swansea University. I’ve had short stories, plays, reviews and articles, published throughout the British Isles and have won several poetry competitions. I’ve also completed three children’s books but done nothing with them as far as publishing goes.

I’m a Creative Writing tutor for Pembrokeshire County Council and I also hold private one-to-one creative writing workshops.

WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO START WRITING AND WHERE DO YOU GET YOUR IDEAS?

I’ve written since I was a child; it was a way to escape. My father was the head of the household; what he said was the rule. I didn’t always like it and hid in my writing.

HOW MANY BOOKS HAVE YOU WRITTEN AND PUBLISHED?

Three books (appallingly) written; never to see the light of day again! Five books, if we include this year’s one, so far, with Honno Press (https://www.honno.co.uk/): Pattern of Shadows, Changing Patterns and Living in the Shadows; a trilogy but also stand-alone books. The prequel to the trilogy, A Hundred Tiny Threads (written because the parents of the protagonist, Mary Haworth, Bill and Winifred, kept mithering me to tell their story). And, in March this year, Honno have published my most recent book, The Memory.

Different from the last four in that it’s more contemporary but still a family saga and written in two time-lines. I’ve also signed the contract with them for another book I’ve already written, which will be published in February 2021. There is another book that I Indie published in 2012, Silent Trauma: its fiction built on fact and a bit of a long story how this came about. It’s the story of Diethylstilboestrol; a drug; an artificial oestrogen, given to women, approximately between the years 1947 – 1975 in the UK, to prevent miscarriages. In short, I became involved in the charity because a relative of mine was affected by it. I was asked to write an article for their monthly magazine. After that, women began to contact me and the article turned into a story, then into a book. The charity was closed in the UK due to lack of funds and lack of interest by the British Government. I’d already had contact with many women and the charity in America: https://desaction.org/ through researching and getting quotes so, when the book was finished, I sent the manuscript to the committee of the charity. I needed to know that they approved of it, that it told their story honestly and that there was nothing in it that would offend or upset anyone. They answered and said I’d told the story as they wanted.

WHICH OF YOUR CHARACTERS WOULD YOU WANT TO BE STRANDED ON AN ISLAND WITH, AND WHY?

Mary Haworth, the protagonist of my Haworth trilogy. She’s strong-willed, so, whatever we’d need, whether it was food, water, some sort of shelter, or a boost to morale, I know I could rely on her. She makes the best of any situation and isn’t thwarted by obvious difficulties. She is tolerant, so would put up with any whinging (which no doubt I would do if too hot, too cold, hungry, thirsty, or bored). But can also be quite frightening when her temper’s up – so she would scare away any wild animals that threatened us. She’s an empathetic and good listener and can also tell a great story, which we would both need to help pass the time until we were rescued… hopefully by my husband who had missed me.

WHAT OTHER JOBS HAVE YOU DONE OTHER THAN BEING AN AUTHOR?

For years I worked in various departments of the Civil Service. But in my time as a stay-at-home mum with the children I had various part-time work: teaching swimming, hotel receptionist, cleaner on a caravan site, sewing slippers, making novelty cakes from home, working in a play school/nursery, working in a youth club. Would being on seven committees at various clubs (swimming, badminton, Scouts, Playgroup, PTA, athletics, gymnastics etc. etc.) that the children were involved in, be counted. I wonder? It felt like work at the time!

OTHER THAN WRITING, WHAT ELSE DO YOU ENJOY DOING?

Walking. I walk the Pembrokeshire coast with husband, David. There are a hundred and eighty-six miles of paths and we’ve covered a lot of them but only in stretches. Pembrokeshire is a glorious place to live. I sometimes write about the walks on my blog – and, through that, have made friends with many other walkers from all over the country who pass on their favourite places as well. And David takes the most stunning photographs (though he’s too modest to say so himself), so we always have memories to look back on when he uploads them onto the TV. And I have the most wonderful screen savers!

NAME ONE BOOK YOU THINK EVERYONE SHOULD READ AND TELL US WHY?

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King. As the write-up says: “Part memoir, part master class; a revealing and practical view of the writer’s craft. It comprises the basic tools of the trade every writer must have”.  I couldn’t say it in a better way. This is a book I read a long time ago and it spurred me on when I was in the doldrums of the second book syndrome.

WHAT IS THE BEST THING YOU’VE DONE IN YOUR LIFE SO FAR?

Get married. I wrote a post about it; says it all! http://bit.ly/39h9ajW.

YOU WIN A MILLION POUNDS – YOU GIVE HALF TO CHARITY.  WHICH CHARITY DO YOU PICK AND WHY? WHAT WOULD YOU DO WITH THE REST OF THE MONEY?

A cancer charity because I was so well looked after when I had breast cancer and, also, because it’s affected many others in my family. I’d put money on one side and persuade my husband to hire a gardener (it’s an acre of land around the house and, though he wouldn’t agree, is too much for him). I’d have a cleaner so I wouldn’t have to do domestic trivia and could have more time to write. I’d give some money to the local animal rescue centre. (Can we get away with not counting that as a charity?) The rest of the money would be shared between my children and grandchildren.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE TIME TO WRITE, AND WHY?

I’m usually up at five because that’s when my brain works. I try to resist looking at any social media until I’ve put 1000 words on the page or when two hours has passed. If I don’t have any classes to run later I’ll carry on writing. Otherwise it’s time to start on the domestic trivia of the day and hope to get back to writing later. I always try to get an hour in at my desk in the late evening but, usually, that’s a mistake because if I get carried away I lose track of time and, before I know it, I’m almost catching up to the next day’s writing time. Hmm, does that make any sense at all? Perhaps I should say, I write until I stop! Anytime – but sometimes it turns out to be rubbish.

WHAT WAS THE STRANGEST, FUNNIEST, FULFILLING TIME OF YOUR LIFE THAT INSPIRED YOUR WRITING?

I have to say it was when we let the apartment attached to our home, as a holiday let during the summer months. Though hard work it provided me with a wealth of stories. People are a mystery to me most of the time. I’ve added one here:

The Naturists

 They must have been in their eighties. Mr and Mrs Wilson from Wigan

 Dilapidated car

 ‘Would you mind if we practiced our Tai Chi on the lawn?’

 I sense Husband’s alarm. When I glanced at him I saw he was breathing rapidly and his eyes were bulging a bit. But his ears were still their usual pink; bright redness is the usual signal of him being overly upset.

We’d had a couple who had stayed with us before and practised their judo on the front lawn. It had been quite entertaining until the man did his back in (or should I say his wife did his back in for him with a particular enthusiastic throw). They’d had to leave early with the man lying across the lowered back seat with his feet pointing towards the boot and surrounded by suitcases.  ‘Good job it’s an estate car’ Husband said in a casual way turning back to tend to his lawn where the husband had made a dent.

 I digress.

‘Tai Chi links deep breathing and relaxation with slow and gentle movements. See… ‘ the wife explained, taking in one long breath that made her nostrils flare alarmingly as, at the same time, she stretched out both arms. She felled Mr Wilson with one blow. I remember thinking at the time when her husband was smacked on the nose, that he should have known better than to stand so close. After all he must have realised she was going to demonstrate. ‘It’s a health-promoting form of exercise, Mrs Wilson said, cheerfully, as we all helped her husband back on his feet. ‘Sorry, love.’ She dusted him down. ‘It’s like a form of meditation, you know, exercises the whole of you, not just your body. Helps you to stay calm and gives you peace of mind, like.’

‘You didn’t do it right,’ Mr Wilson muttered.

 She ignored him. ‘We only took it up a month or two back,’ she said to us.

Husband carried their two small suitcases into the apartment, his shoulders shaking.

I clamped my teeth together. When I spoke I knew my voice was a couple of pitches higher than normal but there was nothing I could do about it.  ‘Is that all you’ve brought?’ I peered into the boot of the car.

‘Oh, yes, just the two bags. ‘Mrs Wilson linked her husband. ‘We travel light, don’t we Sidney?’

He nodded but said nothing.

There are two things I should mention at this point.

One, my mother was staying with us and her bedroom window looked out onto the front lawn.

 And two, we quickly discovered that this wobbly (no, I’ll rephrase that); this elderly couple were Naturists.

On the second morning after they’d arrived I drew back the curtains of my mother’s bedroom to see the two of them on the lawn, practicing their Tai Chi.  Despite their years their movements were graceful, there was no doubt about that. They moved forward in one continuous action, their hands held out in front of them.  But it wasn’t with admiration but in alarm that I watched them. Because they were completely naked. And I was standing side by side with my mother.

 It was when he turned towards the house and bent his knees and squatted that my mother made a choking noise and fell back onto the bed.

 Now I know this is totally out of context and misquoted (and I apologize wholeheartedly to Shakespeare) … but the words that sprang to mind when I gazed at him, were ‘…age shall not wither…

Well it was a very warm morning

Mum kept her curtains drawn for the rest of the week

AND FINALLY, TELL US ABOUT YOUR MOST RECENT BOOK AND WHERE WE CAN FIND IT?

Irene Hargreaves lives with her husband, Sam, and her mother, Lilian, who has dementia. It has, for a long time, been a difficult relationship between the two women and, over the last few years made worse by Irene’s mother’s illness. Irene is trapped by the love she has for Lillian which vies with the hatred she feels because of something she saw many years ago.

The book runs on two timelines: Irene’s life from the age of eight, after her sister, Rose, is born and her grandmother comes to live with the family, with flashbacks to happier times with Sam, and in present tense, over the last twenty-four hours when Irene knows she needs to make a decision.

The book. published 19th March 2020 by Honno>. Purchase here: Honno ~ Amazon

Where to find Judith online: Website ~ Blog ~ Twitter ~ Facebook

FINAL WORDS FROM CHELLE…

Thank you Judith for this wonderful interview.  I think we’ll all agree that the story of Mr & Mrs Wilson is quite hilarious – what a shock it must have been for your Mother!! I definitely think we can get away with not including the local animal rescue as a charity – I’d be donating my money them too.  A cancer charity is always a good cause that is close to so many people’s hearts and I’m glad that you were well looked after.

I’m also lucky enough to have been gifted with a copy of The Memory by Judith and Honno so keep an eye out as there will be a review up in the coming months! (Thank you Judith!).

I hope you’ve all had a good day and stayed in and safe.

Any comments for Judith, just drop us a comment or contact her using the links above.

Chelle x

My Review of What’s Left Unsaid by Deborah Stone #TuesdayBookBlog #RBRT



What's Left Unsaid

I was given a copy of What’s Left Unsaid by the author as a member of Rosie Amber’s Review Team #RBRT, in return for an honest review.

I gave this book 5*

Book Description:

Sasha is just about managing to hold her life together. She is raising her teenage son Zac, coping with an absent husband and caring for her ageing, temperamental and alcoholic mother, as well as holding down her own job. But when Zac begins to suspect that he has a secret sibling, Sasha realises that she must relive the events of a devastating night which she has done her best to forget for the past nineteen years.

Sasha’s mother, Annie, is old and finds it difficult to distinguish between past and present and between truth and lies. As Annie sinks deeper back into her past, she revisits the key events in her life which have shaped her emotionally. Through it all, she remains convinced that her dead husband Joe is watching and waiting for her. But there’s one thing she never told him, and as painful as it is for her to admit the truth, Annie is determined to go to Joe with a guilt-free conscience.

As the plot unfurls, traumas are revealed and lies uncovered, revealing long-buried secrets which are at the root of Annie and Sasha’s fractious relationship.

My Review:

There are some books that grab you from the first page, even the first paragraph. What’s Left Unsaid did just that for me:

“If Annie had just been honest with me, we might have avoided much of the ugliness which followed… but she wasn’t and we didn’t…”

How could I resist? I didn’t! It helped when I realised the story is told in one of my favourite formats; it’s written from different points of view under the name of three characters: the protagonist, Sasha, her mother Annie and her late father, Joe. I especially liked Joe’s objective viewpoint that balanced out the subjective viewpoints of the other two characters as they describe the complex and difficult relationship between them. Even so, the question hovering throughout the text is what is truth and what is lies. It’s a cleverly written narrative and I loved the writing style of Deborah Stone; she moves from character to character, slipping easily into their voices, alternately moving the reader to understand each with empathy, yet being able to see the flaws in them as well.

The plot is tense and tightly woven, moving at different paces to reveal the secrets held for years held by this family. There are many themes: family secrets and deceptions, emotional power struggles between characters, dementia, miscommunications, understandings and forgiveness. All delicately intertwined throughout the text.

I always think that, when we reach a certain age we are formed by the things that we have done, what has happened to us, how we have been treated and how we have treated others. In What’s Left Unsaid the flashbacks to Annie’s earlier life reveal her vanity, her prejudices of others and her jealousy of her own daughter. As a reader I was torn between disliking much of what she was and yet having compassion for what she has become; a woman in the throes of dementia. The flashbacks of Joe’s earlier life show his Jewish family’s struggles to move from a totalitarian Russia at the end of the nineteenth century to the North of England where they face fascism and suffer poverty that they fight to escape, much as they have escaped from an oppressive regime.

The characters are many layered. The protagonist, Sasha is living in a loveless marriage and cannot understand either her husband, Jeremy, who has a secret of his own or her son, Zac, typically a monosyllabic, hormonal teenager. She has no closeness with her mother yet is forced to be deeply involved in her life. The author cleverly and subtly reveals the tensions hidden in Sasha, much as she does in all the major characters.  Her internal dialogue initially shows her timidity, her nervousness, in the way she approaches her family. Yet there is also exasperation and even anger. And this comes out more and more as the story progresses.

Joe’s words, spoken from beyond the grave, are wise and, as I said earlier, objective. I felt they gave a distanced reflective view on human nature as a whole. Yet, through the dialogue and thoughts of the other characters, his personality in life is exposed to have had had the same flaws and weaknesses as their own.

Even without the story being allocated to each character the reader is left in no doubt who is speaking; each have their own distinctive voice.

The narrative describing the settings give a good sense of place and provide an interesting background to the story.

What’s Left Unsaid is a complex and poignant read. Thought provoking and absorbing it left me reflecting on the complexities of marriage and families. I would recommend this to readers who enjoy well-written family sagas

 

 

My Review of Connectedness (Identity Detective Book 2) by Sandra Danby #RBRT #TuesdayBookBlog

Connectedness (Identity Detective Book 2) by [Danby, Sandra]

I was given this novel by the author as a member of Rosie Amber’s Review Team #RBRT in return for an honest review.

I gave Connectedness 4* out of 5*

Book Description:

TO THE OUTSIDE WORLD, ARTIST JUSTINE TREE HAS IT ALL… BUT SHE ALSO HAS A SECRET THAT THREATENS TO DESTROY EVERYTHING

Justine’s art sells around the world, but does anyone truly know her? When her mother dies, she returns to her childhood home in Yorkshire where she decides to confront her past. She asks journalist Rose Haldane to find the baby she gave away when she was an art student, but only when Rose starts to ask difficult questions does Justine truly understand what she must face.

Is Justine strong enough to admit the secrets and lies of her past? To speak aloud the deeds she has hidden for 27 years, the real inspiration for her work that sells for millions of pounds. Could the truth trash her artistic reputation? Does Justine care more about her daughter, or her art? And what will she do if her daughter hates her?

This tale of art, adoption, romance and loss moves between now and the Eighties, from London’s art world to the bleak isolated cliffs of East Yorkshire and the hot orange blossom streets of Málaga, Spain.

My Review:

I enjoyed reading Connectedness. Although it is the second novel in the ‘Identity Detective’ series that features Rose Haldane, journalist and identity detective, who reunites the people lost through adoption, it can be read as a standalone novel. In Connectedness the story revolves around the protagonist, successful artist, Justine King, who discovers her life is, and has been, a web of lies and secrets. She is vulnerable and haunted by incidents that happened in her younger days as a student. The suspenseful plot is revealed through a clever blend of her past and present and has a steadily growing pace after an intriguing prologue.

There are numerous layers to this book, details that are cleverly drip-fed throughout to reveal many themes: of sadness and distress, memories, anger, grief, familial love, discovery, loss and regret.

The characters are well rounded and portrayed to evoke sympathy and understanding in the reader. Both the internal and spoken dialogue add to their credibility.

It is obvious the author has researched the art world that is the basis of the story. Research that adds to the character of the protagonist who uses her emotions, her fears, her pain, both consciously and unwittingly, when producing her work. There is a wonderful sense of art being part of both the human condition and the environment around us,

The descriptions of the settings of contemporary Filey in Yorkshire, Malaga in Spain in the eighties and London are evocative through the use of all the five senses and give a wonderful sense of place. At times I felt I was travelling alongside the protagonist in her journey of discovery.

And the denouement is poignant and satisfying.

Just the one reservation, and I’m sorry to say this, but I don’t like the title. If I hadn’t been intrigued by the book description and if I hadn’t loved the cover on first sight, I wouldn’t have chosen Connectedness. It doesn’t mean anything to me. Suffice it to say I’m glad I did choose this book.

This is the first book I’ve read by Sandra Danby It won’t be the last. The idea of the story itself is intriguing and she has a sensitive yet powerful writing style that I have no hesitation in recommending to readers who enjoy contemporary and women’s’ fiction.

About the author:

An image posted by the author.

Sandra Danby is a proud Yorkshire woman, tennis nut and tea drinker. She believes a walk on the beach will cure most ills. Unlike Rose Haldane, the identity detective in her two novels, ‘Ignoring Gravity’ and ‘Connectedness’, Sandra is not adopted.

 

 

 

My Review of Someone Close to Home by Alex Craigie #TuesdayBookBlog #RBRT

Someone Close To Home by [Craigie, Alex]

I gave Someone Close to Home 5*

My Review:

It’s been quite a while since I read a book in one go but I couldn’t put this one down. Someone Close to Home sent me through a whole range of emotions; delight, sadness, anger, joy, frustration. And this is a debut novel! The writing style of Alex Craigie  is sophisticated, emotive and empathetic.

The start of the story grabbed me straightaway: the image of the protagonist, Megan, watching “each minuscule judder of the hand (of the clock)”, her immobility and her thoughts on her childhood, especially of her selfish and destructive mother who Megan loathed – still loathes, is compulsive reading. There is one sentence that foreshadows all that happens as the story continues: ‘This is all down to my mother… she’s been dead for over thirty years now and still she’s poisoning my life.”

This is a story of two halves: the time that Megan is in the badly-run care home, which lasts around six months and is told in present tense, mainly through the internal dialogue of the protagonist, and the whole of her childhood and younger life.told in past tense as flashbacks. The latter leads the reader inexorably to the point where Megan is lying helpless after suffering a stroke. She is at the mercy of mostly inattentive carers, poorly paid and resentful. Their actions, the way they carry out their tasks on Megan is described simply by her; they are tasks done to her, sometimes carefully, sometimes without heed. And then there is the carer, Annie… I’ll say no more.

The description of  of the protagonist’s days evoke the dreariness. The word, “waiting” is repeated so many times that I, as the reader, also waited with Megan, knowing, with some dread, that something awful will happen.

The main characters: Gideon (childhood friend and later the man she loves. Claire, her true friend in later life, Jordan,  Megan’s husband, egotistical actor and a cruel man, Theo and Camilla, her greedy and selfish children), are many layered and well portrayed; their dialogue identifies them immediately. And, although there are many flat characters,, in the guise of the carers and the owner of the care home, the author also gives them distinguishable voices. 

The descriptions of the settings give a good sense of place. The room Megan is lying in is told in meticulous but confined detail. We see the limited view she has, and only that. (it did give me a sense of claustrophobia, I must admit.). There is “the sturdy chest of drawers topped with shapes that will become a television and some framed photographs”as “the heavy grey light” “pushes into the room” after a long sleepless night”. We hear “the rattle of trolleys” that she knows is “laden with clean and soiled bedding”, the “insistent buzzing” of room bells, the “moans, shouts and cussing from room nearby punctuated by the chivying of staff”. We feel her pain through the roughness of the care, the threat of bed sores. And the details of the places in her childhood, the  houses she lived in, countries she visited as a professional pianist, are full of evocative imagery.

It’s a plot that moves at an even pace but, ultimately, it’s also one that took me by surprise. Even closely following the actions of the characters in the story still didn’t prepare me for the ending.

Someone Close to Home by Alex Craigie is a book I thoroughly recommend to any reader.

Book Description:

Talented pianist Megan Youngblood has it all – fame, fortune and Gideon.

But Gideon isn’t good enough for Megan’s ambitious, manipulative mother, whose meddling has devastating repercussions for Megan and for those close to her.

Now, trapped inside her own body, she is unable to communicate her needs or fears as she faces institutional neglect in an inadequate care home.

And she faces Annie. Sadistic Annie who has reason to hate her. Damaged Annie who shouldn’t work with vulnerable people.

Just how far will Annie go?

Author details:

Born in Sunderland, in the north of England, Alex has wended her way south via Eccles, Bramhall, Histon, Cambridge, Leicester and Market Harborough before finally coming to rest thirty years ago in a peaceful village  in Wales. She lives in an old, draughty house with stone walls 2’ thick that make any DIY a real challenge and she knows she’s really lucky to have all her children and grandchildren living close by. It’s often chaotic and noisy but these are her most treasured moments and she savours them – even if she’s reduced to an immovable heap after they’ve gone.  When not writing, reading or simply enjoying the rural life, she’s in the garden waging a war of attrition against the brambles that she encourages in the hedges for birds to nest in, vicious nettles that support a variety of butterflies, and bindweed that looks lovely but doesn’t share nicely with the other plants.

Amazon.co.uk: https://amzn.to/2JDruLL

Amazon.com: https://amzn.to/2KezulB