Murder, Mayhem and Families #womenwriters #Reviews #shortstories #poetry

For a while, I was only been able to read in short bursts; a temporary situation, but I missed being able to immerse myself into a novel. I did use audio books, but I missed the actual action of reading, and I found just listening frustrating, trying to find the actual place in the book that I wanted to emphasise; it’s far easier to skip through pages, either physically or on a Kindle screen. So, when I found these two reads I was delighted.

Cast a Long Shadow: Welsh Women Writing Crime

Book Description:

All original collection of the best of Welsh women’s crime short fiction from new and established voices…

A striking collection of the widest range of crime short stories from contemporary urban thriller to historical rural mystery and the speculative and uncanny.

Includes stories from Tiffany Murray – winner of the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize and an inaugural Hay Festival International Fellow; Eluned Gramich – winner of New Welsh Writing Award and shortlisted for Wales Book of the Year; Alison Layland – whose first thriller was a LoveReading Debut of the Month and Kittie Belltree – poet and Disability Arts Cymru Creative Word Award 2020 Winner. Plus a host of previously unpublished talent ripe for discovering.

My Review:

It’s quite a while since I read an anthology, but I enjoy the crime genre, and this particular collection is special for me because, (and I’m declaring an interest here ) – it’s a Honno published book, and I’m a Honno published author. Nevertheless, I’ve  also been a reviewer of many books for some years and I always write honest reviews. The title of Casting a Long Shadow is taken from one of the stories and, reflects the broad ‘shadows’ of crime: from straightforward (or not!) detective stories, murders, missing people, abuse, drug involvement, secrets and even slants on mythology and fairy tales. All themes written in a variety of imaginative and innovative  ways by Welsh women writers. I look forward to reading more from each and every one of them. As the editors with the final decision when choosing these stories , Katherine Stansfield and Caroline Oakley should be rightly proud. Definitely recommended.

To buy:

Honno:https://bit.ly/3tOrOMu

Amazon.co.uk: https://amzn.to/3b9SKzT

In contrast I dipped my toes into poetry. As with short stories it’s been a while since I immersed myself into poems, and when I closed the last page I wondered why I’d left it so long. By its very format, poetry, where every word must count towards the emotion, can evokes strong reaction in the reader. And this collection certainly does that.

Sherry and Sparkly: Paperback

Book Description:

Maureen and Patricia grew up hundreds of miles from each other in different countries of the UK but share common experiences of childhood in the fifties and sixties when ice laced the inside of bedroom windows and corporal punishment was common in schools. They survived to become brides, mothers, career women and technophobes. Sometimes joyous, sometimes painful, these poems are a conversation about love, hope and identity.

Sherry & Sparkly is a Poetry Conversation between two fantastic poets – one you really want to listen in to.

My Review:

What I really enjoyed about this collection is the accessibility of each short poem, and that, as is stated at the beginning of the book, it’s “a conversation in poetry between two poets. Each poem included is a reaction to what has come before”.

For me, as an older reader many of the poems evoked memories, of childhood… “… in a house where you relied on hot-water bottles to survive the night in rooms where windows frosted inside” (No-Brainer), and of past events…”Black and white televisions…Neil Armstrong bunny-hop on the moon…a home phone at the spin of a dial…” (Millennium), and of resistance to change…”No need to resort to that new computer, the size of four washing machines, rumbling in the corner…” ( Modernity).

Wonderful stories told through poetry – I loved it. And thoroughly recommend Sherry & Sparkly

Written by Maureen Cullen and Patricia M Osborne this collection was sold and bought by me to promote a charity they both support.

To buy:https://amzn.to/3zTdA0K

Presenting the Authors at the Honno Book Fair 7th May 2022 at the Queens Hall, Narberth, Pembrokeshire. Today with Carol Lovekin #Honno #authors

Introducing my friends and fellow (or should that be sister?) authors of Honno – The longest-standing independent women’s press in the UK – who will be at the Honno Book Fair on the 7th May 2022 , 10.00am until 4.00pm, at the Queens Hall, Narberth, Pembrokeshire. Over the next few weeks I’ll be introducing the each author. I’ll also be showcasing Honno, the publishers.

If you’re in the area,we’d be thrilled if you popped in to say hello.

Today, I’m really pleased to be joined by Carol Lovekin

Hello and welcome, Carol. Lovely to see you here today. 

And glad to be here, Judith

Please tell us, how many books have you written, and which is your favourite?

Four. Favourite is tough. Like my children, I love them all for different reasons. But I’ll pick Wild Spinning Girls as it’s the one everyone says they like best. And it was shortlisted for a prize: the Wales Book of the Year (Fiction Award) 2021.

How did you come up with the title for your book?

During a read through, I spotted it, almost at the end. It was a moment when one of my characters was musing on the essential nature of ‘girls’ and it was perfect.

What part of the book did you have the hardest time writing? Or what was your hardest scene to write, and why?

The opening chapter! It wasn’t until my editor pointed out, during our initial structural edit, that I’d started the story in the wrong place, I realised I had. Once she told me, ‘It begins with Ida’s accident’ (which feeds into the fairy tale element and the story of The Red Shoes), the penny dropped. I was able to draw on my own background in ballet and had the scene written in my head almost before I got home!

What part of the book was the most fun to write?

The scenes involving Olwen – my ghost. I love her. She is my role model and any hauntings I plan will be an homage to her!

If you were to write a spin-off about a side character, which would you pick?

Heather, probably. And some of my readers have expressed an interest in Roni, wanting to know more about her. This is the nature of story however – they are never finished and some threads get left to spin in the wind.

If you’re planning a sequel, can you tantalize us with a snippet of your plans for it? If not, your plans for your next book?

My next book is due out this May. Which is perfect, as the story takes places over the month of May. Only May is the story of May Harper, a girl who can look you in the eye and see your lies. As gifts go, it’s a double-edged sword; May doesn’t always want to know people’s secrets. But at the heart of her family hides the biggest lie of all, one she is determined to see. 

At what point did you think of yourself as a writer?

Before I was published, I was a scribbler with no directions. Once I retired, I decided to take my writing seriously, with a view to publication. And I had an idea I knew could work: if I could write it, it had legs, so to speak. Luckily for me, it had wings. When Ghostbird was published, that was when I knew I was a writer.

What do the words “writer’s block” mean to you?

Get a grip!? In my view and in my writing life, there’s no such thing. Sometimes (mostly) I write, sometimes I don’t. Regardless of any circumstances which may take me away from physical writing, I’m always thinking about my current story. Every aspect of creating a story is a writer’s work.

Are there therapeutic benefits to modelling a character after someone you know?

Absolutely. I did it with my second book, Snow Sisters. Allegra, the mother in this story is a narcissist. While I was writing the book, I finally said ‘No’ to a long-time friend whose narcissism had pushed me to my limit. ‘No’ is anathema to a narcissist and she instantly ended the friendship. Stealing a few of her attributes was a small but satisfying therapy. And the thing about a narcissist is, they will never guess you have modelled a character on them because in a narcissist’s world, everything is about them anyway. They are perfect, and that arrogant, self-involved, manipulative character couldn’t possibly be them!

What is the most difficult part of your writing process?

Beginnings. On every level. Sometimes, even though I know exactly what a chapter is about, I can’t start writing it. Can’t find the perfect opening sentence never mind a paragraph. It can takes hours. And don’t get me started on – well – the start! Once upon a time . . .?   

How do you use social media as an author?

Carefully!

Why did you choose Honno as a publisher?

Although, ultimately, Honno chose me, I always had them in mind. I thought they would be a perfect fit for the first book I submitted. Ghostbird has a quintessentially Welsh feel to it. Added to that was my admiration for Honno as a feminist women’s press supporting women’s voices. I got my debut break with them as a result of taking part in a Meet the Editor session with Janet Thomas. This was life-changing for me. At the age of 71 I became a published author and my fourth book is on the horizon.

Presenting the Authors at the Honno Book Fair 7th May 2022 at the Queens Hall, Narberth, Pembrokeshire. Today with Sara Gethin

Introducing my friends and fellow (or should that be sister?) authors of Honno – The longest-standing independent women’s press in the UK who will be at the Honno Book Fair on the 7th May 2022 , 10.00am until 4.00pm, at the Queens Hall, Narberth, Pembrokeshire.  

If you’re in the area we’d be thrilled if you popped in to say hello.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be introducing each author. I’ll also be showcasing Honno.

Today, I’m really pleased to be joined by Sara Gethin

Hello and welcome, Sara. And thank you for being with us today. 

 It’s good to be here, Judith

Please tell us how many books have you written, and which is your favourite?

I’ve written two novels for adults, and I’m going to add an optimistic ‘so far’ to the end of that sentence, as I have another storyline percolating in my head. ‘Not Thomas’ was my first novel. It’s a contemporary story about a neglected five-year-old boy and the people who are letting him down – spectacularly – and those who try to help him. The children in my second novel, ‘Emmet and Me’, are also failed by the adults around them. The background to that story is the extremely harsh industrial school system of 1960s’ Ireland. Picking a favourite from only two books feels like an impossible choice, but the most recently published is ‘Emmet and Me’, so I’ll choose that one.

What inspired the idea for your book?

The inspiration for ‘Emmet and Me’ came from a memoir I read by a man who’d been brought up in an industrial school in Letterfrack, Connemara. Those schools were filled with children whose families had fallen on hard times, and they were run, mainly, by the Catholic Church. They operated all over Ireland from the late 1800s, and some of them – a handful of the infamous ‘laundries’ – were still open in the 1990s.

The Letterfrack school was notorious for the extremely harsh treatment meted out by the Christian Brothers who ran it. Peter Tyrrell, the author of the memoir I read, wanted to draw attention to the terrible plight of children in these schools during the 1950s and ’60s. He felt ignored by the people in power, and eventually took his own life by setting fire to himself on Hampstead Heath. The character of Emmet came to me very clearly after reading Peter’s memoir, and I knew that at some point I was going to write about a boy growing up in the inhumane conditions of a rural industrial school in 1960s’ Ireland.

What was your hardest scene to write, and why?

There’s one scene in ‘Emmet and Me’ that readers have said makes them shudder. It’s where one of the characters has a rather nasty and unusual accident. The peculiar thing is I didn’t realise, until I went back to edit that passage, that I’d described an incident I’d witnessed as a child. That same accident happened to a friend I was with in a field when we were seven years old. I had buried the memory until I wrote about it for the book. Writing that scene initially wasn’t as difficult as going back to edit it, and discovering I was reliving the incident from my own childhood.

What part of the book was the most fun to write?

I loved writing the conversations between the two central characters, the ten-year-olds Claire and Emmet. The children meet in school and become forbidden friends. They’re misfits. Emmet is looked down on as he lives in the industrial school, or ‘orphanage’ as the locals call it. Claire feels out of place because she’s been uprooted from her Cardiff home and dumped at her granny’s isolated cottage. Both children love reading and horses, and Emmet and Claire bond over a copy of Black Beauty. It was great fun to write conversations alternating between Welsh and Irish accents, although it was also quite a challenge!

If you were to write a spin-off about a side character, which would you pick?

There are two girls in Claire’s class who are referred to by everyone as the ‘House Girls’. They live in the local orphanage, and they stand out a mile in school because their uniforms are different from the other girls’. They’re ignored or teased by the children in their class, and the teachers treat them appallingly too. Despite this, they show Claire nothing but kindness. I’d love to expand their story one day.

*At what point did you think of yourself as a writer?

The first book I wrote was the collection of stories for children, ‘Welsh Cakes and Custard’. When I found it on the shelf of my local library, I truly felt like a writer. That was back in 2013, and I’ve written three more books for children since then, plus two novels for adults. I still get a huge thrill when I see them on the shelves of Llanelli library, although I really hope they get borrowed too!

Have you ever considered writing under a pseudonym, and why or why not?

I write my children’s books under my real-life name, Wendy White, but I use Sara Gethin as a pen name when I write for adults. That’s because the stories I’ve written for children, so far, have a light touch and are humorous, whereas my stories for adults are in a totally different vein. That’s not to say there’s no humour at all in my novels – I really hope I make my readers laugh or smile a few times when they read ‘Not Thomas’ or ‘Emmet and Me’. But it’s certainly true to say there are darker moments in the stories too.

What do you need in your writing space to help you stay focused?

I love to have music on in the background while I write, but not just any music – it needs to be a playlist I’ve put together for that specific piece of writing. Sometimes the playlist consists of one song, repeated over and over, for a particular scene. I find music is the easiest route back into the mood I’m trying to create for a book, especially if I’ve had to take a break from writing. When I’m struggling to find the words, it’s normally because I haven’t yet discovered the perfect piece of music.

How do you use social media as an author?

Ah, social media – love it or loathe it, it’s not going away any time soon, is it?

I’m mainly active on two platforms – Twitter and Instagram – with an occasional dip into Facebook. My favourite is Insta. I could waste many happy hours on there, scrolling through images of gorgeous scenery and beautiful book covers. My own posts are mostly of sandy walks and shipwrecks. Cefn Sidan is my local beach, and it’s very photogenic. I’ve also been known to post the occasional book-related pic.

On Twitter, I love following authors and talking about books I’ve read or am looking forward to reading. I mostly retweet other people’s news, with a shameless flurry of self-promotion when I have a new book out myself, and I’m always so grateful when people share my news too. Pre-pandemic, when I’d organise signings in book shops, I’d tweet about them before and afterwards. My book launch for ‘Emmet and Me’ last year was a Zoom affair. I tweeted  about that to an extremely annoying extent, I’ve no doubt! But it was wonderful to have so much support from the Twitter community for the launch event, and for the new novel too.

Why did you choose Honno as a publisher?

I love the fact that Honno is run by a committee of women, and I’ve been a fan of the publisher and their books since my student days, many years ago now. Long before I began writing, I knew it would be wonderful to be published by them. I feel it’s a huge honour that my two manuscripts were chosen for publication by Honno, and I’m very proud to be featured among the fabulous female writers they have on their list.

Thank you so much, Judith – I can’t tell you how wonderful it feels to talk about books again! I’m so looking forward to getting together in May for the Honno Book Fair at Narberth. It will be a very special event indeed! Sara x

Sara Gethin Bio:

Sara Gethin is the pen name of Wendy White. She grew up in Llanelli and worked as a library assistant before becoming a primary school teacher. Her debut novel, ‘Not Thomas’, written in the voice of a neglected five-year-old boy, was shortlisted for the Guardian’s Not the Booker prize. While home is still west Wales, she and her husband spend much of their free time in Ireland.

Presenting the Authors at the Honno Book Fair 7th May 2022 at the Queens Hall, Narberth, Pembrokeshire. Today with Hilary Shepherd

Introducing my friends and fellow (or should that be sister?) authors of Honno – The longest-standing independent women’s press in the UK – who will be at the Honno Book Fair on the 7th May 2022 , 10.00am until 4.00pm, at the Queens Hall, Narberth, Pembrokeshire.

If you’re in the area,we’d be thrilled if you popped in to say hello

Over the next few weeks I’ll be introducing each author. I’ll also be showcasing Honno. 

Today, I’m really pleased to be joined by Hilary Shepherd

Hello and welcome, Hilary. Good to see you here today.

It’s good to be with you, Judith

Could you tell us, please, how many books have you written, and which is your favourite?

Five written, three published. My favourite is ‘Albi’.

What inspired the idea for your book?

The book is based on a village in Aragon in Spain where we have a house. Over the last 20 years we’ve been told a lot of stories about the impact of the Civil War on neighbours who have all died now. Our house is full of farm implements that would have been in common use then and the sound landscape has changed little – the streets are too narrow for traffic so human voices dominate. The sheep flocks still graze to the sound of their bells and the shepherds call to them as they always did. The golden orioles still sing. I couldn’t not write about it!

Which of the characters do you relate to the most and why.

Albi himself, a nine-year-old boy who is catapulted into a strange and forbidding world but is still only a child. I think of him whenever I’m in the village and things he got up to and it’s a jolt to remember sometimes that he exists only in my head. And in the heads of my readers.

What part of the book did you have the hardest time writing? Or what was your hardest scene to write, and why?

The ending, because there were so many threads to draw together and I wanted to do justice to my characters and also to history, which doesn’t have resolutions.

What part of the book was the most fun to write?

The pranks Albi gets up to, and the irony of what he sees compared with what he understands.

What do you need in your writing space to help you stay focused?

Now I’m older, a comfortable chair. 

 What is the most difficult part of your writing process?

At the moment it’s to keep writing when making physical things seems so much less of a self-indulgence. This is a knock-on of covid though I’m not sure why. At the moment I find myself preferring to make a window than spend time at my desk, which isn’t very conducive to finishing off my next novel.

What, to you, are the most important elements of good writing?

Writing that isn’t tied to the earth by too many words in the wrong places.

What comes first for you — the plot or the characters — and why?

Both – they leapfrog each other until it gets difficult to remember which was the trigger, though I’m pretty certain the characters come second but then drive the plot, sometimes surprisingly.

 How do you use social media as an author?

I’m afraid I don’t. I used to, but I really didn’t like it.

 Why did you Honno as a publisher?

Because they were there, and because Caroline responded so generously to my first submission. Since then I’ve come to appreciate the community that Honno is and the chance to be aware of others’ progress through the otherwise deeply solitary experience of being published.

About Hilary:

I live on a hillside in the middle of Wales where I have spent most of my adult life farming and woodworking, and also writing. My first novel was set in the Sudan where I lived for two years, the second in Ghana, and the third in Spain. Writing about other places is a wonderful way to spend time in them when life keeps you somewhere else.

Presenting the Authors at the Honno Book Fair 7th May 2022 at the Queens Hall, Narberth, Pembrokeshire. Today with Annette Purdey Pugh

Introducing my friends and fellow (or should that be sister?) authors of Honno – The longest-standing independent women’s press in the UK – who will be at the Honno Book Fair on the 7th May 2022 , 10.00am until 4.00pm, at the Queens Hall, Narberth, Pembrokeshire. Over the next few weeks I’ll be introducing the each author. I’ll also be showcasing Honno, the publishers.

If you’re in the area,we’d be thrilled if you popped in to say hello

Today, I’m really pleased to be joined by Annette Purdey Pugh.

Annette Purdey Pugh

 . Hello and welcome, Annette. Great to see you here today. 

 Glad to be here, Judith

Please tell us, how many books have you written, and which is your favourite?

So far, I have only had one book published: A Murder at Rosings, published 2021.

So, what inspired the idea for your book?

I’ve always loved Pride and Prejudice, but the immediate inspiration was an indulgent afternoon watching the BBC adaptation. It just occurred to me that it would be fun to use some of the characters in a murder mystery.

What part of the book was the most fun to write?

It was all great fun to write! This, of course, has a lot to do with Jane Austen’s wonderful characters, who formed a basic framework upon which to build. I was provided with a ready-made villain, in the form of the obnoxious Mr Collins, and a natural suspect, in Mr Bennet. Lady Catherine’s grand establishment at Rosings was ripe for population with all those servants necessary to run it and I greatly enjoyed bringing them to life, together with the two ‘detectives’ who investigate.

Which of the characters do you relate to the most and why?

The character I most enjoyed writing about is Mary Bennet. As Jane Austen depicts her in Pride and Prejudice, she is very dull, especially when compared with her sisters, and we learn very little about her, except that she is studious and can be given to pompous pronouncements. This leaves her character open to exploration, and, as my novel progressed, I found my sympathy for her growing. Her visit to Rosings with her father, and her experiences there, both before and after the murder, cause great changes in herself and her life. Hopefully, if there were an alternative universe where fictional characters came alive, she would be happy with the outcome.  

If you’re planning a sequel, can you tantalize us with a snippet of your plans for it? If not, your plans for your next book?

I have thought a lot about a sequel, but I do feel that my story came to a natural conclusion at the end of A Murder at Rosings. However, I have been toying with the idea of continuing with the history of the house itself, with reference, of course, to past events.

Meanwhile, I have been working on a completely different mystery concerning buried bones and old wrongs in the Cors Caron area of Ceredigion.

 At what point did you think of yourself as a writer?

I’ve enjoyed writing stories and poems all my life and have won prizes in the Learners’ Section at the National Eisteddfod. I took two full-length Open University courses in Creative Writing and found them immensely fulfilling. However, I don’t think I would ever have considered myself a ‘writer’ until Honno agreed to publish my novel, A Murder at Rosings – and, even now, I feel a bit reticent about it!

What, to you, are the most important elements of good writing?

This is a big question! For me, good fiction writing is a combination of the following: An interesting storyline which draws the reader in quickly and maintains their interest throughout; characters who arouse the reader’s sympathy and a desire to know what happens to them next; a style of writing which flows well and is appropriate to the subject matter. Above all, a piece of prose, whether fiction or non-fiction, should be readable and enjoyable. If it’s a struggle to get from page to page, then it’s not for me.

What comes first for you — the plot or the characters — and why? 

As a writer, the characters definitely come first, though I’m not always sure where they come from in the first place. I like to see where they will take me, and it is not necessarily in the direction I might have sketchily planned for them. Sometimes, a peripheral character may turn out to be crucial to the plot, when that finally emerges. In writing A Murder at Rosings, I was more than half-way through before I had any idea as to the identity of the murderer, or the circumstances, but the characters eventually led the way. As a reader, I think I have always been most interested in the characters; I faithfully follow some detective series, for example, not so much for the mysteries as for the detectives’ evolving personal lives!

How do you use social media as an author?

I’m very new to social media and did not use it at all until my book was published, when I saw that it is useful for authors to have some social media presence. Consequently, and with the encouragement of an old friend, I joined Twitter, and enjoy interacting with others on that platform – although I am often lured away from writerly things by politics! I try to mention my book in posts from time to time, sometimes including a relevant photo. Twitter is also a good source of advice from other writers, whom I have found to be really supportive. Finally, it is full of news of literary events and publication opportunities, as well as of the myriad of new books which come out every week.

Why did you choose Honno as a publisher?

I sent my manuscript to Honno on the advice of my sister-in-law, who used to work for Cyngor Llyfrau Cymru. I was encouraged by their website, where I was told that all submissions would be read, and by the fact that it is a company run by women, with the aim of publishing Welsh women’s writing. As an added bonus, it’s based in Aber!

Biography

Annette Purdey Pugh grew up in Flintshire and graduated in English from Lancaster University. She studied Creative Writing with the Open University, and has won prizes for poetry and prose at the National Eisteddfod of Wales. In a varied career, she has worked as a medical librarian, an optical adviser, and a milkwoman. She lives with her husband on the family farm in West Wales, where they keep 300 sheep. A Murder at Rosings is her first novel.

Connect with Annette:

Twitter: @APurdeyPugh

Presenting the Authors at the Honno Book Fair 7th May 2022 at the Queens Hall, Narberth, Pembrokeshire. Today with Crystal Jeans

Introducing my friends and fellow (or should that be sister?) authors of Honno – The longest-standing independent women’s press in the UK who will be at the Honno Book Fair on the 7th May 2022 , 10.00am until 4.00pm, at the Queens Hall, Narberth, Pembrokeshire.

If you’re in the area,we’d be thrilled if you popped in to say hello.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be introducing each author. I’ll also be showcasing Honno. 

Today, I’m really pleased to be joined by Crystal Jeans.

 Hi and welcome, Crystal. Good to see you here today.

It’s good to be with you, Judith

Tell us, please, how many books have you written, and which is your favourite?

I’ve written four books and though my latest, The Inverts, is my favourite, I have a special place in my heart for The Vegetarian Tigers of Paradise, as it was my first.

How did you come up with the title for your book?

Someone else did actually – Catherine Merriman, a fellow Honno author, suggested it. She was my teacher at the time and she lifted it out of the text. It was in reference to an illustration from my Children’s Book of Bible Stories – it showed tigers and lambs and people frollocking in paradise (I grew up a Jehovah’s Witness). I’d wondered if the tigers were vegetarian in paradise.

What part of the book did you have the hardest time writing? Or what was your hardest scene to write, and why?

No particular part was difficult. Overall, it was hard trying to splice together what was essentially a collection of personal essays into a novel. Emotionally, it was hard writing about my mother as I wasn’t on speaking terms with her at the time. But I got to flex my magnanimity muscle, which made me feel very noble (we’re fine now). I also struggled with fictionalising it. Looking back, I could have gone further. I was too close to it.

If you’re planning a sequel, can you tantalize us with a snippet of your plans for it? If not, your plans for your next book?

I’m not writing a sequel but I would like to return to creative non-fiction one day. I thought I’d scratched that itch with The Vegetarian Tigers of Paradise but apparently not. I’d like to write very honest essays about sex. I will never write about my family again. I felt awful when VToP came out – my mother loved it but she was very anxious about how she might be perceived and I felt bad for her. Guilty. Right now I’m working on a historical fiction novel. It’s too early for me to talk about.

 At what point did you think of yourself as a writer?

When I started writing my first novel at age 21. It was terrible by the way.

 Have you ever considered writing under a pseudonym, and why or why not?

No. I love my name. And it already sounds made-up.

What do the words “writer’s block” mean to you?

Hell. I’ve only had writer’s block once, when I was pregnant. I watched a lot of TV and felt very empty.

What do you need in your writing space to help you stay focused?

Tea and nicotine. Radio 2 played on low. And a walking treadmill or a knee stool. Sitting at a desk for years has ruined my back.

 Are there therapeutic benefits to modelling a character after someone you know?

Yes. Writing about my mother made me really think hard about how she might have felt at certain points of her life, like when she lost her own mother at 14. As I said, we weren’t speaking at the time, and part of the reason I ended up wanting to make up with her was the empathy I felt recounting (fictionalised) parts of her life.

 What is the most difficult part of your writing process?

The first draft. I absolutely love the editing process though. It’s like a fun puzzle and I could do it all day.

 How do you use social media as an author?

I don’t. I’m beyond crap at using social media to promote my work. I don’t have a lot of time for it, or enthusiasm. I don’t really understand how Twitter works – am I supposed to add anyone who adds me? I personally have never bought a book because I’ve seen an author’s Twitter feed. I buy books through word-of-mouth. My agent tells me that it does make a difference for some authors – those who seem like they actually enjoy it. I think if I was in my teens/early twenties when my books came out, I would have been brilliant at social media book promotion because I was such a flaming narcissist and attention seeker back then. Now, the prospect fills me with dread and low-level anxiety.

 Why did you choose Honno as a publisher?

Honestly? None of the big London publishers would accept unsolicited manuscripts, I couldn’t get an agent, so I tried the Welsh indies, who did accept unsolicited MMS. Honno turned out to be a great fit though and I have nothing but praise for Caroline, my editor.

Bio

Crystal Jeans has had three books published by Honno – The Vegetarian Tigers of Paradise, which was shortlisted for the Polari Prize, Light Switches are my Kryptonite, which won Wales Book of the Year in the English language for fiction, and The Homeless Heartthrob, a collection of short stories. The Inverts was published by Borough Press in 2021. She lives in Pontypridd with her wife and two children.

My twitter – @crystaljeans1

My Review of Making Waves, the sequel to Inside Out by Thorne Moore

As with Inside Out, I was given an ARC copy of Making Waves by the author, in return for an honest review.

I gave Making Waves 5* out of 5*

After reading this book I was happy to give the following endorsement: “Thorne Moore’s writing has three great qualities: the variety of genres, an exceptional sense of place, and characters that come alive on the page.”

I reviewed Inside Out here: https://bit.ly/3tNqwyI. Although both books are brilliant stand alone stories, I recommend reading Inside Out first.

Book Description:

Two hundred years in the future, with the Solar System in the hands of mega-corporations…
Tod Fox, commander of the Heloise, has delivered six rash volunteers to Triton, control centre of Ragnox Inc. But then he took one away again.
Now volunteers and crew face a new chapter in their lives, as human resources at the mercy of Ragnox Director, Jordan Pascal, or as allies of Pan, under Benedict Darke, the relentless enemy of the Triton regime.
Where will their allegiance lie? There is no middle ground in Arkadia. It is war. No mercy. Victory at any price.

Volume II of Salvage. Sequel to Inside Out

My Review:

I need to start by saying that Making Waves is only the second Science Fiction book I have read (and, yes, the first was Thorne Moore’s book, Inside Out). So I have little knowledge of this genre. But my interest in this author’s work is – and has long been – the psychological underpinning of the stories: I am always instantly gripped from the very first lines and by the way she presents the characters with all their foibles, their strengths, their weaknesses. And, juxtaposed with that aspect, are the settings they are living in. Backgrounds that inevitable affect their actions.

Even so, I was taken by surprise in Volume ll of Sequel: some of the characters act… well… out of character. Or, should I say, not with the personalities I expected after reading Volume l. The author gives them a new dimension. The travellers who journeyed to Triton on the ISF Heloise and the original crew of ISF Heloise, are instantly recognisable by their spoken and internal dialogue and by the subtle inclusion of details from their back stories. But they have extra facets to their characters, greater depths in their portrayals by their reactions to what is happening in the plot. Once engaged with that I applauded the courage, the innovative adaptation to the lives they are forced to endure, and I despaired of the evil of those connected with Ragnox on Triton and the desperate conditions there. And I was fascinated by the varied and complex new characters associated with Pan; Benedict Darke, that add even more interest to the story.

Trying hard to resist giving away spoilers here.

And, yet again, as in all her books, and although it’s an alien world. it’s the author’s inherent ability for writing descriptions (sometimes in only a few words) of the settings that evoke a sense of place. That gives credence to this excellent plot.

A plot that is intricate in the way it moves along, twisting and turning, yet with an ease that brings together the expected and unexpected, as in ‘real’ life.

This is a cracking book that kept me riveted and immersed. And, as I said in my review of Inside Out, Making Waves is a novel I would recommend to any readers who enjoys character-led stories – whatever the genre.

The author:

Thorne was born in Luton and graduated from Aberystwyth University (history) and from the Open University (Law). She set up a restaurant with her sister and made miniature furniture for collectors. She lives in Pembrokeshire, which forms a background for much of her writing, as does Luton.
She writes psychological mysteries, or “domestic noir,” exploring the reason for crimes and their consequences, rather than the details of the crimes themselves. and her first novel, “A Time For Silence,” was published by Honno in 2012, with its prequel, “The Covenant,” published in 2020. “Motherlove” and “The Unravelling” were also published by Honno. “Shadows,” published by Lume, is set in an old mansion in Pembrokeshire and is paired with “Long Shadows,” also published by Lume, which explains the history and mysteries of the same old house. She’s a member of Crime Cymru.

Find Thorne at

Website:https://thornemoore.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/ThorneMoore

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/thorne.moore.7

Buy Making Waves from:

Amazon.co.uk: https://amzn.to/3sZufKR

A lovely review of The Memory from Lynne Patrick, member of Promoting Crime Fiction #PromotingCrimeFiction #MysteryPeople #TuesdayBoolBlog

Published by Honno Welsh Women’s Press,
19 March 2020.
ISBN: 978-1-91290513-2 (PB)

Euthanasia is the greyest of grey areas in criminal terms, especially when the person on the receiving end is incapable of making such an irreversible decision. For thirty years Irene has lived with the memory of her mother Lilian standing at her sister’s bedside holding a pillow. No one has ever talked about it, but it has stood between mother and daughter ever since, a dark shadow that made an already fraught relationship almost unbearable 

And now Irene and Lilian are inextricably bound by the cruellest of fates. Lilian is in the most demanding phase of dementia, and before the disease took hold she refused point-blank to give Irene power of attorney. They are joint owners of the house they live in, Irene’s childhood home, but with no control over her mother’s financial affairs she cannot sell it to pay for Lilian’s care and has to do everything herself. Through a nightmare twenty-four hours, during which Lilian’s demands become increasingly challenging, memories flood into Irene’s mind and she relives the childhood that led to that appalling moment and the frustrated adulthood that followed. 

Rose, the dead sister, was a Downs baby, and Lilian rejected her from the outset. Irene, on the other hand, fell in love. Her adoration of her small sister, and the motherly care she lavishes on her is portrayed in almost tear-jerking detail, as is Rose’s affectionate nature, a common feature among Downs children. Irene is not without support, even after her father, who loves Rose but cannot deal with Lilian, leaves to set up home with another woman. There’s Sam, her childhood friend and later sweetheart, and Nanna, who willingly takes on the burden of the household. The network of complex relationships and all their ups and downs form the foundation of the novel.  

Whether The Memory is a crime novel in any conventional sense is open to conjecture. As a perfectly observed account of the last stages of dementia, and a picture of a family riven and distorted by both tragedy and great love, it is a masterclass. But it is also as meticulously and tautly structured as any psychological thriller. As well as vividly drawn characters and a rich sense of place, there are edge-of-the-seat moments of tension, and a twist at the end that I would never have predicted, obvious though it was the moment it was revealed.

Judith Barrow has taken two emotionally charged situations and woven them into a heart-wrenching story which had me close to tears more than once. Long before the end I had stopped caring whether it qualified as crime. I simply didn’t want to stop reading.

Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Buying Links:

Honno: https://bit.ly/3b2xRSn

Amazon.co.uk: https://amzn.to/3qEbVnM

Amazon.com: https://amzn.to/3k8DIMO

Judith Barrow originally from Saddleworth, a group of villages on the edge of the Pennines, has lived in Pembrokeshire, Wales, for over forty years. She has an MA in Creative Writing with the University of Wales Trinity St David’s College, Carmarthen. BA (Hons) in Literature with the Open University, a Diploma in Drama from Swansea University. She is a Creative Writing tutor for Pembrokeshire County Council and holds private one to one workshops on all genres.

https://judithbarrowblog.com

Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives in Oxfordshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

https://promotingcrime.blogspot.com/2021/09/the-memory-by-judith-barrow.html?showComment=1631538885937#c1304619422469911346

Promoting Crime Fiction

My photo
UK-based Mystery People, set up in February 2012, was founded by Lizzie Hayes following the discontinuation of the Mystery Women group.
Mystery People is dedicated to the promotion of crime fiction and in particular to new authors.
But this is not just a writers’ group, for without readers what would writers do?
Lizzie says…
“From an early age I have been a lover of crime fiction. Discovering like minded people at my first crime conference at St Hilda’s Oxford in 1997, I was delighted when asked to join a new group for the promotion of female crime writers. In 1998 I took over the running of the group, which I did for the next thirteen years. During that time I organised countless events promoting crime writers and in particular new writers. But apart from the sheer joy of reading, ‘I actually love books, not just the writing, the plot or the characters, but the sheer joy of holding a book has never abated for me. The greatest gift of my life has been the ability to read.”
As a founder member of Mystery Women in 1997, promoting Crime Fiction has always been my passion. Following the closure of Mystery Women, a new group was formed on 30th January 2012 promoting crime fiction. New reviews are posted daily, but to search for earlier reviews please click on the Mystery People link below and select ‘reviews’ from the welcome page. This will display an alphabetic option for you to find the review you would like to read
:

https://promotingcrime.blogspot.com/2021/09/the-memory-by-judith-barrow.html?showComment=1631538885937#c1304619422469911346

The Long and Winding Road. The journey of a Wannabe Writer #MondayBlogs #Writing #EverHopeful

Image

I wrote for years before letting anyone read my work. If I was self-deluded; if it was rubbish, I didn’t want to be told. I enjoyed my “little hobby” (as it was once described by a family member). But then I began to enter my short stories into competitions. Sometimes I was placed, once or twice I even won. Encouraged, I moved on to sending to magazines – I had some luck, was published – once! But I hadn’t dared to send out any of the four, full length book manuscripts I’d written (and actually never did, they were awful!) That changed after a long battle with breast cancer in my forties and, finally finishing a book that I thought might possibly…possibly, be good enough for someone else to see, other than me, I took a chance.

I grew resigned (well almost) to those A4 self-addressed envelopes plopping through the letterbox. (yes, it was that long ago!) The weekly wail of ‘I’ve been rejected again,’ was a ritual that my long-suffering husband also (almost) grew resigned to.

There were many snorts of exasperation at my gullibility and stubbornness from the writing group I was a member of at the time. They all had an opinion – I was doing it all wrong. Instead of sending my work to publishers I should have been approaching agents.

 ‘You’ll get nowhere without an agent,’ one of the members said. She was very smug. Of course she was already signed up with an agent whose list, she informed me, was full.

 ‘How could you even think of trying to do it on your own?’ was another horrified response when told what I’d done, ‘With the sharks that are out there, you’ll be eaten alive.’

‘Or sink without a trace.’ Helpful prediction from another so-called friend.

So, after trawling my way through the Writers & Artists Yearbook (an invaluable tome) I bundled up two more copies of my manuscript and sent them out to different agents

Six months later I was approached by one of the agents who, on the strength of my writing, agreed to take me on. The praise from her assistant was effusive, the promises gratifying. It was arranged that I meet with the two of them in London to discuss the contract they would send in the post, there would be no difficulty in placing my novel with one of the big publishers; they would make my name into a brand.

There was some editing to do, of course. Even though the manuscript was in its fifth draft, I knew there would be. After all, the agent, a big fish in a big pond, knew what she was doing. Okay, she was a little abrasive (on hindsight I would say rude) but she was a busy person, I was a first time author.

But I was on my way. Or so I thought.

A week before the meeting I received an email; the agent’s assistant had left the agency and they no longer thought they could act for me. They had misplaced my manuscript but would try to locate it. In the meantime would I send an SAE for its return when/if ‘it turned up’?

So – back to square one.

For a month I hibernated (my family and friends called it sulking, but I preferred to think of it as re-grouping). I had a brilliant manuscript that no one wanted (at this point, I think it’s important to say that, as an author, if you don’t have self-belief how can you persuade anyone else to believe your work is good?) But still, no agent, no publisher.

There were moments, well weeks (okay, if I’m honest – months), of despair, before I took a deep breath and resolved to try again. I printed out a new copy of the novel. In the meantime I trawled through my list of possible agents. Again.

 Then, out of the blue, a phone call from the editorial assistant who’d resigned from that first agent to tell me she’d set up her own agency, was still interested in my novel and could we meet in London in a week’s time? Could we? Try and stop me, I thought.

 We met. Carried away with her enthusiasm for my writing, her promises to make me into a ‘brand name’ and her assurance that she had many contacts in the publishing world that would ‘snap her hand off for my novel’, I signed on the dotted line.

Six months later. So far, four rejections from publishers. Couched, mind you, in encouraging remarks:

Believable characters … strong and powerful writing … gripping story … Judith has an exciting flair for plot … evocative descriptions.”

And then the death knell on my hopes.

“Unfortunately … our lists are full … we’ve just accepted a similar book … we are only a small company … I’m sure you’ll find a platform for Judith’s work … etc. etc.”

The self-doubt, the frustration, flooded back.

Then the call from the agent; ‘I think it’s time to re-evaluate the comments we’ve had so far. Parts of the storyline need tweaking. I’ve negotiated a deal with a commercial editor. When she mentioned the sum I had to pay (yes, I had to pay, and yes, I was that naïve) I gasped.’ It’s a realistic charge by today’s standards,’ she said. ’Think about it. In the end we’ll have a book that will take you to the top of your field.’

 I thought about it. Rejected the idea. Listened to advice from my various acquaintances. Thought about it some more. And then I rang the agent. ‘Okay,’ I said, ‘I’ll do it.’ I felt I had no choice; after all she was the expert. Wasn’t she? What did I know?

 When the manuscript came back from the commercial editor, I didn’t recognise the story at all. ‘This isn’t what I wrote. It’s not my book,’ I told the agent. ‘It’s nothing like it.’ The plot, the characters had been completely changed.

‘You know nothing of the publishing world. If you want me to represent you, you have to listen to me,’ she insisted. ‘Do as I say.’

‘But …’

‘Take it or leave it.’

I consulted our daughter, luckily she’s a lawyer qualified in Intellectual Property.

‘You can cancel the contract within the year. After that, you have problems. There will be all manner of complications...

I moved quickly. The agent and I parted company.

I took a chance and contacted Honno, the publisher who’d previously accepted two of my short stories for their anthologies. Would they have a look at the manuscript? They would. They did. Yes, it needed more work but

 I’m proud to say I’ve now been with Honno, the longest standing independent women’s press in the UK, for fourteen years, and have had six books published by them. I love their motto “Great writing, great stories, great women“, and I love the friends I’ve made amongst the other women whose work they publish, and the support amongst us for our writing and our books. In normal times we often meet up . I’m hoping those “normal times” will return before too long.

 Of course, there has been much editing and discussion with every manuscript. But at least, in the end, the stories are told in my words. With my voice

My Review of Emmet and Me by Sara Gethin #Honno #NetGalley #Review

Book Description :

Summer 1966: When her father comes home with lipstick on his collar, ten-year-old Claire’s life is turned upside down. Her furious mother leaves the family and heads to London, and Claire and her brothers are packed off to Ireland, to their reclusive grandmother at her tiny cottage on the beautifully bleak coast of Connemara. A misfit among her new classmates, Claire finds it hard to make friends until she happens across a boy her own age from the school next door. He lives at the local orphanage, a notoriously harsh place. Amidst half-truths, lies and haunting family secrets, Claire forms a forbidden friendship with Emmet – a bond that will change both their lives forever.

My Review:

Sara Gethin has a unique talent for being able to enter a child’s mind, to give their thoughts, speak their dialogue. I know this is commonplace in children’s stories but what I mean is that she has the ability to speak from a child’s perspective in an adult world. A world that is dysfunctional, that the child sees and comments on, but is swept along, helpless in the chaos those adults create.

Yet threaded throughout Emmet and Me is the wonderful developing friendship between the Welsh, displaced protagonist, Claire and the, equally displaced Irish boy, Emmet.

I also admired the short sections where Claire speaks as an adult looking back on her childhood and on that time in her life, which affected so much and says why she is now the woman she is.

I first came across this author when I read Not Thomas, also published by Honno, (my review here: https://bit.ly/3tUBjHw and greatly recommended.). Emmet and Me is as poignant, as heartrending as that book. And as with Not Thomas, I both cried and rejoiced with the characters at certain parts of the story.

This is a novel set in Ireland at a time when many children had absolutely no control over what happened to them. To say any more would be to add spoilers: suffice it to say it is obvious Sara Gethin has researched thoroughly and has brought that era to life within this book.

This is superb writing: the plot is enthralling (and, although I had an inkling which way the story was travelling, in no way did this spoil the read for me), all the characters are well rounded, grow as the story progresses and come to life on the page, and the settings have a real sense of place.

Emmet and Me is a novel I have absolutely no hesitation in recommended to any reader.

About the author:

Sara Gethin

Sara Gethin grew up in Llanelli and worked as a primary school teacher. ‘Not Thomas’, her debut novel for adults, was shortlisted for The Guardian’s Not the Booker prize in 2017 and the Waverton Good Read Award in 2018. Her writing has been shortlisted for the Colm Toibin International Short Story Award and she was selected for the Hay Festival Writers at Work programme in 2018.
She has written four children’s books under the name Wendy White, and the first of these won the Tir na-nOg Award in 2014.
While west Wales remains her home, Sara is a frequent visitor to Ireland where she loves spending time browsing the many bookstores of Dublin. She is an avid reader and theatre-goer.

Website & Blog: saragethin.com

Facebook: @SaraGethinWriter

Twitter: @SGethinWriter

Instagram: @saragethinwriter

A few Moments With Carol Lovekin #MondayBlogs #Interview @Honno

Handing over to Carol for a moment

Hello, dear reader, and welcome.
Like you, I am a guest; invited by Judith to appear on her blog and answer some questions. This is an event, frankly. Since lockdown has put paid to physical book launches and fairs, sitting down to write about my author self and my books is a treat. So thank you, Judith!
   Judith and I are both published by Honno, the Welsh women’s Press. It’s the longest standing women-only press in the UK and I think I can safely speak for both of us when I say it is an honour and a privilege to be a Honno Girl. That said, we’re not girls anymore! We are both women of a certain age who, although we were already writers, came to publishing later than some. Judith was first published by Honno in 2010; my debut came out in 2016.
   Although we write in very different genres, our stories share some similarities. We both write strong women characters and explore family dynamics, not least, the relationships between mothers and daughters, and sisters.
   I recall first meeting Judith at a Honno gathering before I was published. Ghostbird, my debut, had been accepted but I was very much the new girl. Judith immediately struck me as down-to-earth, friendly and very funny. I was soon to learn her dry wit and no-nonsense Northern persona sat comfortably alongside her kindness and supportive nature.
   Over the years we have become good friends. (I’m still a bit star-struck to be honest. Judith really is a wonderful novelist and her published output is prolific.) It’s an extra special pleasure then to chat with her on her blog.  

Now let’s learn a little about Carol and her books

Judith: What do you love most about the writing process?

Carol: The opportunity to create story, Judith. Showing up and losing myself in the process. The lightbulb moments which illuminate a previously dim corner, or the ones that change the narrative’s trajectory. Being led by my characters because I threw away my breadcrumbs and allowed them to show me the way. Days when I punch the air because an unexpected tangent is about to make the story so much better.   

Judith: Are your characters based on real people or did they all come entirely from your imagination?

Carol: I’ve never knowingly based a character on a real person. I do confess to having ‘borrowed’ certain character traits. For instance, the narcissism of Allegra in Snow Sisters definitely has echoes of someone I used to know. The wonderful thing about it is of course, you don’t have to worry about being accused of writing negatively about a narcissist. They would never believe they could be that flawed therefore the character couldn’t possibly be based on them!

Snow Sisters

Judith: If you could write about anyone fictional/nonfictional who would you write about?

Carol: No one comes to mind. My writing feet are firmly set in the land of make-believe. I would be scared of mucking up a story about someone I admired!

Judith: What do you think makes a good story?

Carol: The perfect hook. An opening sentence that causes me to stop, go back and read it again. A sense of place and a central character who immediately piques my interest. To use a cliché: somebody who makes me care about them. They can be unreliable so long as they are largely sympathetic. And language – I am quickly put off by lazy language, which isn’t the same thing as bad editing. A good storyteller with a grasp of her craft will still shine through a tardy edit.  

 Judith: How many books have you written? Which is your favourite?

Carol: The only ones I’m prepared to own are the three I’ve seen published plus the one in transit. There are the cobwebbed stories of course, in the back of metaphorical drawers. And the one I seem to have been writing forever, whose destiny is to be discarded each time a new, more exciting idea crops up. (My mentor calls it ‘the one my other books bounce off’ and a writer friend described it as being like ‘an old lover you parted with on good terms – between great passions, this lover is comfortable. . ’  (Like old lovers, some stories are best left to fade?)
   Not sure I have a favourite but okay – for the sake of a good yarn, I’ll have a go. Ghostbird because it was my first published book and Cadi, the central character, retains a special place in my heart. She presented herself, fully formed from a dream and I knew everything about her. She made writing what was a vague outline a possibility. Snow Sisters because it validated me as more than a one-trick pony and I love the relationship between the sisters, Verity and Meredith. My heart still aches for Allegra – a narcissist yes, but made that way by circumstances and upbringing. Wild Spinning Girls, my most recent book is my favourite because I can see my process as a writer; the improvements that come with practice I guess. And it has the best ghost! If I ever come back, as a ghost, I want to be Olwen!

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Judith: Have you considered writing in another genre?

Carol: Good question, Judith. When I began writing Ghostbird, I thought, naïvely and a little smugly, that I was writing literary fiction. I had nothing else to call it to be honest. I knew nothing about how genre works in publishing – in book shops – and in any case, I disliked the idea of being pigeonholed. Time has taught me that the Lit Fic label is as meaningless as the Women’s Fiction one.
   (My favourite quote about genre comes from Matt Haig who said: “
There is only one genre in fiction. The genre is called book.”)

   Once I realised Ghostbird was a ghost story my first thought was, ‘Who knew?’ My second was that it suited me. There was a palpable shift in my thinking and my next two books were specifically planned as ghost stories – with hints of Welsh Gothic – and with an emphasis on family dynamics.  
   Having found my “niche” so to speak, I see no reason to deviate.

 Judith: Could you tell us a bit about your most recent book? And why it’s a must read?

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Carol: Wild Spinning Girls came out just before the first lockdown and unlike so many of my writer friends I was able to have a physical launch. I remain hugely appreciative of this.
   The book is, like my previous ones, a ghost story. It concerns Ida Llewellyn, a young woman who loses her job and her beloved parents in the space of a few weeks. Her life thrown off course she sets out for Wales and the remote house her father has left her. When Heather, the daughter of the last tenant turns up, Ida is confronted by a series of terrifying events, not least the ghost Heather claims is her dead mother. The two young women embark on a battle of wills and in the process uncover a dark secret that has lain hidden in the house for twenty years.
   Anyone who likes a ghost story rather than a horror one; family intrigue and mother daughter relationships will, I think, like Wild Spinning Girls. There is a ballet theme too and allusions to the fairy tale, The Red Shoes. It has been described as ‘stunning and utterly unforgettable’ and ‘a timeless tale alive with a wild, old magic.’

Judith: Do your characters seem to hijack the story or do you feel like you have the reins of the story?

Carol: Reins!? I was about to say, ‘I wish’ but as I mentioned previously, what I particularly love about the writing process are the tangents. Yes, I am a serious plotter – other than scribbled outline notes I’m reluctant to type Chapter One until I have a pretty good idea what the story is about, with a beginning, a middle and an end. Equally, I’m open to suggestions!
   Like real people, fictional characters evolve. And often indulge in spontaneous hijacking. It can be startling, but it really is part of the process. When characters behave in ways that differ from my original concept, it makes them more real to me. I can only hope it does the same for my reade
r.  


Judith: If you could spend a day with a character from your book who would it be? And what would you do during that time?

Carol: What a brilliant question! It would have to be Olwen. I adore her as a ghost and love her as a living woman. Her story is a thread though, with only hints about her life before she died. I’d like to go for a long walk with her, take a picnic and sit “out on the wild moor near the stone where the black birds watch” where she grew up; ask her to tell me about her life, the one I have half imagined for her and only vaguely outlined.   

Judith: When did you write your first book and how old were you?

Carol: I wrote my first story when I was about ten or eleven. It was called The Veiled Lady and although I hadn’t written the end, I read it to my younger sister. I told her she would have to wait until the next day for the dénouement. The next day came but because she did something to annoy me, I refused to finish the story. We are both in our 70s now and she still hasn’t forgiven me.


Judith: Do you have any hidden or uncommon talents?

Carol: I used to be a ballet dancer and drew on that dormant past when I wrote Wild Spinning Girls.

 Judith: What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
Carol: I have a pair of writing earrings. They’re odd – their partners lost. Because they were so pretty, I paired them up and wear them when I’m working.  

Judith: What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Carol: In the middle of what Marion Keyes calls, The Pandemonium? Think about not being in it? *Wry grin* Covid restrictions on meeting family and friends and attending book events apart, my life is pretty much as it was. I walk (I’ve always walked alone), read a good deal the way most writers do. In the morning I practice Qigong and have recently taken up yoga.
   I like to knit, watch long series on telly and tend to my house plants. Currently, I’m obsessed with growing avocado trees from the stones. It’s fascinating, watching the tap root emerge in water, the stone splitting and a tiny green shoot pushing its way up. Potted on these shoots soon begin turning into tiny trees and over weeks and months they can become really tall.     

Judith: What is the most amusing thing that has ever happened to you? Not particularly to do with your writing?

Carol:Does tripping over outside the chip shop and landing on my face count? Or on my knee, running (why would I even do that) to open the door to answer the postman? Or breaking my leg tripping over an inch of iffy pavement in the dark? Three times in two years and I’m not even kidding. I’m an accident waiting to happen, Judith, but you have to see the funny side. And small things amuse me every day. I am drawn to the absurd and see it everywhere. It’s what keeps me cheerful I think.      


Judith: Give us a random fact about yourself.

Carol: I’m continually and endlessly home-schooled. Seriously – I left school with two O-levels and once I caught up with myself and refused my father’s “education is wasted on girls” doctrine, I began educating myself. I’ve been doing it ever since.


All my books are available from my publisher, Honno: www.honno.co.uk

LINKS:
Website: carollovekinauthor.com
Twitter: twitter.com/carollovekin
Instagram: www.instagram.com/carollovekin
Honno: www.honno.co.uk/authors/l/carol-lovekin

Thank you for being with us today, Carol. And for giving us a glimpse unto your writing world.

I loved being here, Judith. Thank you

Judith Barrow Author MA BA (Hons) Dip Dramahttps://judithbarrowblog.com/
https://twitter.com/judithbarrow77

https://www.facebook.com/judith.barrow.3
https://www.honno.co.uk/authors/b/judith-barrow/
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Judith-Barrow/e/B0043RZJV6

The Heart Stone Kindle Edition
The Memory Kindle Edition

Crazy Chloe by Alex Askaroff #Humour #ShortStory

I’ve already introduced Alex Askaroff. But here’s a reminder. When I was researching for the background of The Heart Stone https://bit.ly/3kOpZYO, and needed to know the technical details for the manufacturing of sewing machines, I knew there was only one person to contact. The man who knows all is Alex. As the emails flew back and forth ( and I wondered how long it would be before he became fed up with my constant and often boring – I’m sure – questions), I realised that there seemed to be nothing he didn’t know. But I also knew he is a story teller – a multi genre writer: https://amzn.to/3pM7vLX . So I asked him to tell a story about one of his days…

Over to you, Alex…

After a lifetime in the sewing trade you would think that I had seen it all. No. Today, Crazy Chloe was going to show me how to abuse a sewing machine in a completely new way.

In the October sunshine I rolled down the hill from Friston Forest. The sun hung low in the bright sky as sheep enjoyed nibbling on the last lush grass that had sprung up in the dewy autumn fields. I was on my way to Honeycrag Close in Polegate and my second customer of the morning. I was a bit wary because I knew Crazy Chloe all too well. She had a reputation in Polegate that actually scared the villagers. She once screamed and threw a bag of dog poo at a dog walker when she saw them leave it hanging on a tree branch. She chased the manager of Barclays Bank up the High Street, shouting about her overdraft. Boy, that woman was tough and knew the value of a penny!

I pulled up outside her pretty bungalow. Her garden was plastered with tiny garden ornaments from her local discount store and looked great. I took a deep breath, no turning back now! Shortly after I rang the doorbell I could see her tiny frame and massive wild curly hair moving towards the door. Last chance to run I thought. “Chloe, how lovely to see you. How are you?”

“Oh, don’t ask. I’m only alive because I can’t afford the coffin! Come in darlin’, I’ve got work for you. Don’t mind the mess. The cleaner broke last year and he doesn’t get out of bed till lunchtime now!”

Chloe showed me into her messy life. We made our way around countless obstacles to a table piled high with junk mail. It was post that she could not bear to throw away. Chloe shoveled a hole with her hands, creating a space on the table. I heaved up her old New Home into the space. “Seized solid!” Chloe announced. “Bloody thing, it’s ‘ardly been a year since the last time I paid you.” I quickly interrupted her with a little correction. “Actually it was three years ago Chloe, and last time you paid me it was with half a pot of honey and two marrows. Not exactly a king’s ransom.”

“Ah, but there were lovely marrows weren’t they? Not that I grew them mind,” she threw in with a wicked smile. “Now down to business. My baby has seized up solid. Won’t make a bloomin’ stitch. She was running slow, so I oiled her like you told me to, but then it got even worse, then stopped altogether!” 

Sewing machine seizures fall into several categories: lack of oil, thread jamming, bearings tightening, gears stuck, shafts out of line and so on. The worst, so I thought until today, is a main top bearing seizure. The top bearings are the largest on a sewing machine and when they go it can be hard work. I could try for a month and they would still never run properly. “Any chance of a nice cuppa, Chloe?

“Only if you have one sugar! Last time you caused a sugar shortage in Polegate! I’m surprised you’re not type four diabetic!

“I don’t think there’s no such thing,” I laughed back.

“Well there should be!” She added, muttering something else under her breath as she went. I sat in front of the old machine and tried to turn it. It was locked. I mean LOCKED. There was no movement at all, not even the slightest wiggle. I let out a deep sigh and surveyed my cluttered prison. I knew Chloe would not let me out of the house until her machine was purring like a pedigree kitten. As I looked across the table I saw a half empty bottle of fabric glue. A sudden feeling of dread came over me. I called Chloe.

“Um, Chloe, what oil did you use on your sewing machine?”

“It’s right there on the table you pillock. Lost your eyes hav’ ya’!”

“Chloe. That’s glue!”

“Don’t be such an idiot,” she said grabbing the bottle. She held it up at an angle to the light and tried to read the label. Then she toddled off to find her glasses. I could hear her swearing like a drunk sailor in the other room. She sheepishly returned. “Do you think that is the problem?”

I’m pretty sure it is, Chloe. The reason it slowed in the first place is that you had the motor switched to half speed. I suspect you then glued the moving parts together to make sure it never works again!”

“NOOOOOOO.” She howled. “NOT MY BAAABY. You have to save her,” she wailed in desperation. “Look I’ll give you two sugars, no, three. I’ll give you the whole bag. I’ve got loads!”

“Let me see what I can do Chloe. Now if you can get me four sheets of kitchen roll. Not one piece cut into four like last time, I’ll get to work.” I had seen she had not managed to get the top and bottom off so she could only have ‘glued’ the side needlebar assembly. Chloe shuffled off as quickly as a witch on bonfire night and I got down to work.

An hour later the New Home was stitching like new. I had taken the needlebar out and scraped every last bit of glue away. Then I had carefully reset the whole machine, including the half speed setting. I left with a large muddy pumpkin, a jar of blackberry jam, half a pot of oil, sorry, fabric glue, and yes, you guessed it, some sugar poured into a plastic Chinese take-away container (I knew I’d never get a whole bag). No mention of money was made or forthcoming. I did not have the guts to ask for any. Visions of the Polegate bank manager running for his life always stopped me from trying.

Chloe waved me away with the words. “I ‘ope I don’t see ya’ again luv’. Enjoy the pumpkin. I nicked it from the allotments the other night! Same as your marrows last time.” She howled with laughter and slammed the door.

I put my stolen goods on the passenger seat and pulled out of Honeycrag Close. Sweet Lord I love this job. No money, countless crazy customers, and the most life affirming, soul fulfilling way to grow old. I knew that as sure as the sun rises it would not be long before Crazy Chloe did something else stupid to her baby and I would be back!

Links to Alex Askaroff:

Website: https://sewalot.com/

Amazon: https://amzn.to/3pM7vLX

YouTube: https://bit.ly/3pQkInk

Thank you, Alex. A lovely story that made me chuckle. I‘m sure the readers will have laughed as well at Chloe’s antics.

Judith Barrow Author MA BA (Hons) Dip Dramahttps://judithbarrowblog.com/
https://twitter.com/judithbarrow77

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https://www.honno.co.uk/authors/b/judith-barrow/
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Judith-Barrow/e/B0043RZJV6

My Review of Advent by Jane Fraser #TuesdayBookBub #NetGalley

Book Description:

Winter, 1904, and feisty twenty-one-year old Ellen has been summoned back from her new life in Hoboken, New Jersey, to the family farm on windswept Gower, in a last bid to prevent the impending death of her alcoholic father. 

On her return, she finds the family in disarray.  Ailing William is gambling away large swathes of Thomas land; frustrated Eleanor is mourning the husband she once knew; and Ellen’s younger twin brothers face difficult choices.

Ellen, tasked with putting her family’s lives in order, finds herself battling one impossible decision after another.  Resourceful, passionate, and forthright, can she remain in Gower, where being female still brings with it so many limitations?  Can she endure being so close to her lost love?  Will she choose home and duty, or excitement and opportunity across the Atlantic?

My Review:

I loved this book for so many reasons. Jane Fraser’s writing style is superb; the story is a good one, the characters well rounded, the dialogue immediately summons up each of them, the descriptions evoke instant images.There is not one word wasted.

The protagonist, Ellen, is multi layered, the reader becomes aware of her fragility, both emotionally and physically as the story progresses. She has striven to distance herself from her family’s needs, from a lost love, by going to America – yet still,on her return to the farm, she is drawn in by those needs, by that love.

To paraphrase a sentence in the book, “long days, short time.’ – the story only covers a brief six months, but each day is long, each day needs to be endured, dealt with by Ellen. New decisions have to be made. And all the while we are listening to her internal dialogue: learning her history, of her relationship with those in her life, getting to know them through her eyes; discovering how each fits into the society and era of Wales in the early twentieth century, what is expected of them. How, in the past, through no fault of her own, she didn’t fit in, and now refuses to succumb to others’ expectations.

What I most admire about this author’s writing is the brevity of words in bringing the background, the setting, the weather, to life on the page. A sentence, here and there of poetic prose immediately evokes a sense of place. Wonderful.

Whilst I realise that, for some readers, there may be not enough background fleshed out – and it’s difficult for me not to give spoilers here( i.e. Ellen’s life before America and her life there) – I felt the subtlety of the writing that covers both of these events was enough for me and the absence of that backdrop doesn’t take anything away from the story.

Advent is a book that will stay with me for a long time. I have no hesitation in recommending it to any reader who loves a well written historical family story.

Links to buy:

Honno: http://bit.ly/3nUfXYa

Amzon.co.uk: http://amzn.to/2WNt8yn

To read more about Jane, please visit the interview she gave previously on my blog: http://bit.ly/3fxNPX4

From my Archives: The Inspiration Behind Pattern of Shadows. Ah, the Memories! #Bookbub

I’m thrilled that Pattern of Shadows is on BookBub this month and grateful to my publishers, Honno, for the support and belief in my writing. When I discovered the first of the trilogy was going to be promoted, I remembered the research that set off the idea for the book, and thethoughts it brought back.So this is a return to memory lane…

Glen Mill was the inspiration for the first of my trilogy: Pattern of Shadows. Glen Mill was one of the first two POW camps to be opened in Britain. A disused cotton mill built in 1903 it ceased production in 1938. At a time when all-purpose built camps were being used by the armed forces and there was no money available for POW build, Glen Mill was chosen for various reasons: it wasn’t near any military installations or seaports and it was far from the south and east of Britain, it was large and it was enclosed by a road and two mill reservoirs and, soon after it opened, by a railway line.

The earliest occupants were German merchant seamen caught in Allied ports at the outbreak of war and brought from the Interrogation centre of London. Within months Russian volunteers who had been captured fighting for the Germans in France were brought there as well. According to records they were badly behaved, ill-disciplined and hated the Germans more than they did the British. So there were lots of fights. But, when German paratroopers (a branch of the Luftwaffe) arrived, they imposed a Nazi-type regime within the camp and controlled the Russians.

Later in the war the prisoners elected a Lagerführer; a camp leader. This hierarchy ruled the inner workings of the camp and the camp commanders had to deal with them.

Image courtesy of Lancashire At War.co.uk
Image courtesy of Lancashire At War.co.uk

The more I read about Glen Mill the more I thought about the total bleakness of it and the lives of the men there.  And I knew I wanted to write about that. But I also wanted there to be hope somewhere. I wanted to imagine that something good could have come out of the situation the men were in.

And that’s where Pattern of Shadows came in. Pattern of Shadows was published  by Honno in 2010.

Reading about the history of Glen Mill as a German POW camp in Oldham brought back a personal memory of my childhood.

In the nineteen fifties and sixties my parents worked in the local cotton mill.

My mother was a winder (working on a machine that transferred the cotton off large cones onto small reels – bobbins – in order for the weavers to use to make the cloth). Well before the days of Health and Safety I would often go to wait for her to finish work on my way home from school I. I remember the muffled boom of noise as I walked across the yard and the sudden clatter of so many different machines as I stepped through a small door cut into a great wooden door. I remember the rumble of the wheels as I watched men pushing great skips filled with cones alongside the winding frames, or manoeuvring trolleys carrying rolls of material. I remember the women singing and shouting above the noise, whistling for more bobbins: the colours of the cotton and cloth – so bright and intricate. But above all I remember the smell: of oil, grease – and in the storage area – the lovely smell of the new material stored in bales and the feel of the cloth against my legs when I sat on them in the warehouse, reading until the siren hooted, announcing the end of the shift.

1950s Lancashire Cotton Mill
Image courtesy of Lancashire Life
Image courtesy of Lancashire At War.co.uk

When I was reading about Glen Mill I wondered what kind of signal would have been used to separate parts of the day for all those men imprisoned there. I realised how different their days must have been from my memories of a mill. 

Pattern of Shadows was published by Honno in 2010, followed by Changing Patterns and then, the last of the trilogy, Living in the Shadows. When all three books were published the parents of the protagonist, Mary Haworth, clamoured for their story to be told. I actually think they thought they’d been unfairly represented in the trilogy. In the end I gave in, and wrote A Hundred Tiny Threads as the prequel.

Links

Website: https://judithbarrowblog.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/judithbarrow77

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/judith.barrow.3

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

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Judith-Barrow/e/B0043RZJV6

Pals Regiments – An Experiment Never Repeated #WW1

 As members of the human race we feel safest with those we know and trust. And we choose who to trust; friends and those members of our families with whom we can empathise. Those who think like us, who, on the whole, believe in the things we believe in, who share group values.

Even if those ideals are instigated by someone else, we can sometimes be persuaded to take them onboard. To consider them as our own core principles. And, as such we cooperate; we work together towards a shared goal.

It was this theory; that man has evolved to cooperate within a trusted group and so is able to achieve more than any one person could ever accomplish alone, that in nineteen fourteen led to the formation of the Pals Battalions.

When the First World War broke out in the August, Britain was the only major power not to begin with a mass conscripted army. It quickly became clear that the small professional British Army was not large enough for such a comprehensive conflict. Despite the general belief that the war would be over by Christmas, the newly appointed Secretary of State for War, Lord Kitchener, was unconvinced. He approached Asquith’s Government to allow conscription, but this was considered politically dangerous for the Liberals. However, Parliament did sanction strengthening the Army through volunteering.  And so, on the sixth of August, Kitchener set about recruiting.

General Henry Rawlinson, serving as Director of Recruiting at the War Office on the outbreak of war, believed that men would be more willing to join up if they could serve with men they already knew, they would enlist if they could serve alongside their friends, relatives and, local football teams, church members, workmates.

pals-batallion

Image courtesy of A Date with History

Building on General Rawlinson’s idea Lord Derby, Conservative member of the House of Lords, organised one of the most successful recruitment campaigns to Kitchener’s Army.

In  a speech to the men of Liverpool , he said: “This should be a battalion of pals, a battalion in which friends from the same office will fight shoulder to shoulder for the honour of Britain and the credit of Liverpool.”

Pals battalions were formed on patriotic fervour and community spirit, spurred on by local magistrates and officials on behalf of Lord Kitchener. Thousands answered the call. Cities, driven by civic pride, competed to sign up new recruits until there were too many for the military to train. So they were drilled in their own towns by those same magistrates and officials, until the army could take over.

December 1915, London: A recruiting campaign attacts recruits to Southwark  Town Hall. Read more: http://www.mademan.com/ga… | World war one, World war  i, World war
Image courtesy of Pinterest

It was easier to sign on recruits from areas where mining or mass industry were the main employment. It appears that, to many men, the army gave them a great opportunity to escape dire poverty: to have regular pay, food, clothing, sometimes better living conditions in barracks compared with their homes. Most had never been abroad. The war offered the opportunity to go to France and Belgium with their friends and get paid for it.

Hull and the First World War | World war one, World war, War
Image courtesy of Pinterest
World War One: Manchester Pals battalion details to go online - Manchester  Evening News

Members of Manchester pals battalions – image courtesy of Manchester Evening news

Once they had been formed, most Pals Battalions spent 1914 and 1915 training in Britain. But plans were being made for a major offensive on the Somme that was intended to relieve the pressure on the French and break through German lines to force an early victory. It would be the first major battle for most volunteers.

For many it would also be their last. The first day of the Somme was disastrous. Most of these units sustained heavy casualties.

Certainly the Pals Battalions increased the number of volunteers. However, poor military tactics by the higher ranks meant that there was a heavy price to pay by the men in those battalions. Neighbourhoods and families were devastated.

 With the introduction of conscription in 1916, the close-knit nature of the Pals battalions was never to be replicated.

Quote from one Pal: ‘Two years in the making. Ten minutes in the destroying. That was our history.‘.

Image courtesy of The Manchester Evening News

 THE HEART STONE IS CURRENTLY ON NETGALLEY:

https://www.netgalley.co.uk/catalog/?text=the+heart+stone

The Heart Stone

Excerpt:

In The Heart Stone, Jessie’s young love, Arthur, joins the local Pals Brigade, even though, at sixteen, he is too young.

They held onto one another for a while.

‘I have to go, sweetheart.’ Arthur pulled away from her. ‘Best I go first, eh?’

Jessie nodded, not trusting herself to speak. She didn’t watch him walk away...

Chapter Eighteen September 20th 1914

She didn’t go to watch him leave the town with the other two hundred men and boys either. Through her opened bedroom window, she listened to the uneven thud of their undisciplined marching between the changing tunes of the brass band and the singing. How she resented the singing. And the cheering.

Sitting on her bed, her handkerchief sodden between her fingers, she tried to shut down the images she’d conjured up in her mind of what Arthur might face. She had no idea, but she’d read in the newspapers about the atrocities the Germans were committing in Belgium; killing randomly, deliberate cruelty. What kind of men were they?

Despite Amos Morgan’s constant calls to go down to serve in the shop, she ignored him. She wouldn’t face the excitement, the proud chatter of the customer. She didn’t, wouldn’t, couldn’t share it.

Eventually the crowds moved away from in front of the shop. She heard the noise from below quieten to a low murmur and thought bitterly that Amos Morgan would be worried about making less money now so many men had gone. Gone to a foreign land to be killed in a war that her own country shouldn’t have become involved in. It didn’t make sense to her.

Links:

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

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Judith-Barrow/e/B0043RZJV6