Whose House is This? #Honno #ThrowbackThursday

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

Coming up Roses: A collection of garden stories from Wales

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thorny matters

Home, Hearth and Murder – domestic drama

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Memory by Judith Barrow

www.thornemoore.co.uk

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

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

Please tell us a little about yourself.

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

When did you start writing?

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

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

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

What genre do you write in and why?

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

How important is location in your novels?

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

Inshallah

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

Ash

Who is your favourite (non Honno) author?

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

Where do you write?

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

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

Who is your favourite character in your books?

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

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

What was your favourite bit of research

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

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

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

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

First, the fact that I am published by a women’s press is a major achievement. I grew into my own identity reading books by Honno and other women’s presses, and I felt that there must be something really special about authors who are published by smaller presses who can’t afford to take a gamble in the way in a bigger publishing house could. I am in awe of my fellow Honno authors, and I really do feel honoured to be in their company. It is so great to have a good relationship with my editor, and the community of Honno authors is so supportive and helpful. It is a huge plus to not have to have an agent to get your work read. I could paper my wall with rejection slips and after a while it just wears you down. Then there’s that personal experience of being nurtured by an editor who really knows her stuff and is invested in making sure your work is the best it can be.  

I think with Honno, the authors are all excellent, and that kind of sets a standard. It makes me strive to be better, to be worthy of the association. And it’s a feminist press, so what’s not to like?

Links too Alys

@AlysEinion (Twitter)

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

Links to her books:

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

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

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

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

Please tell us a little about yourself

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

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

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

When did you start writing?

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

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

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

What genre do you write in and why?

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

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

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

How important is location in your novels?

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

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

Who is your favourite (non Honno) author?

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

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

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

Where do you write?

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

Who is your favourite character in your books?

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

What was your favourite bit of research?

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

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

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

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

I love the team spirit which goes with being a Honno author. The other authors are so supportive of each other, and you really feel part of the gang. You get to know everyone who makes Honno work, and feel part of the enterprise, in a way which would surely be very difficult in a larger organisation. I was, and continue to be, overwhelmed at the generosity of everyone involved. It feels like a real joint-venture, which is a pleasure to be a part of.

Links to Jan:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please tell us a little about yourself.

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

When did you start writing?

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

What genre do you write in and why?

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

How important is location in your novels?

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

Who is your favourite (non Honno) author?

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

Where do you write?

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

Who is your favourite character in your books?

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

What was your favourite bit of research?

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

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

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

Thanks for being with us today, Wendy..

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

Links to Wendy’s page on Honno:

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

Sara Gethin Social Media Links:

Website & Blog: saragethin.com

Facebook: @SaraGethinWriter

Twitter: @SGethinWriter

Instagram: www.instagram.com/saragethinwriter

Honno: “Great Women, Great Writing, Great Stories.” Today with Alison Layland #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, Alison Layland

Please tell us a little about yourself.

I’m originally a Yorkshire lass – well, my family originate from Nottinghamshire, but I grew up in and around Bradford. With my family, I moved to Wales in 1997 and feel it’s my home now. I’m a translator, both commercial and now predominantly literary, and speak six languages to different degrees of fluency. I love the natural world and being out of doors – walking, gardening, foraging and photographing. I’m an environmental campaigner, currently hoping we can learn from our experiences during the Covid-19 pandemic to make the deep social and economic changes needed to mitigate the climate and biodiversity crisis.

When did you start writing?

When we moved house a few years ago, I found some cute poems and songs I wrote in infants’ school, at the age of about 5 (including an illustrated limerick about a man who kept pups in cups, which made me smile). I’ve always told myself stories in my head, but never had the courage – or self-belief, or lack of self-consciousness? – to write them down, at one stage thinking I’d satisfy my love of words by translating other people’s work. However, much as I still enjoy translation, when we moved to Wales, I learned the language and started using it to write my own stories. Writing in another language – together with the affirmation of winning the short story competition at the National Eisteddfod – enabled me to break some barriers down and I haven’t looked back since.

What genre do you write in and why?

As my novels tend to be very character-driven, and I like a good dose of conflict, mystery and drama, they fall nicely into the genre of psychological thrillers, but in truth I don’t actually write in any genre; I simply get the story down in a first draft and my novels are shaped in subsequent drafts. As a reader, listener of music or appreciator of any other art form, I tend to shy away from boxes and categorisation; I take more notice of a description, sample or synopsis than a genre. Although there are definite ideas behind my writing, and things I hope my readers will be moved to think about, I’m also inspired by music, legends, folk tales and history – first and foremost I like to tell a good story.

How important is location in your novels?

Location is an essential aspect of my writing. Riverflow is set close to my current home, on the banks of the river Severn on the border between Wales and England; the river in particular infused the story.In Someone Else’s Conflict, I was drawn to the Yorkshire Dales, where I spent a lot of time when growing up, and my former stamping ground of West Yorkshire, for the present-day part of the story. The backstory is set during the Croatian conflict of the 1990s, and although the scenes are quite impressionistic, the location was nevertheless important to me for conveying the atmosphere.

My immediate locations tend to be fictional; this began with the Croatian village of Paševina, which is entirely made-up as it was the location of a wartime atrocity. It therefore seemed logical to make my Dales village, Holdwick, fictional too, although based on aspects of several real places. I love the freedom of creating a fictional micro-location with the wider setting grounded in reality, and the village of Foxover in Riverflow is another one that’s not on any map.

Who is your favourite (non Honno) author?

There are so many; it’s impossible to choose – and my choice changes with the latest book I’ve enjoyed. Having said what I said before about genre, I particularly love authors who surprise me, writing excellently in a range of different genres (or none at all) like Margaret Atwood, Iain Banks (RIP), TC Boyle, Jim Crace and Joanne Harris, to name but a few. I also love the inventive fantasy worlds of China Miéville, and exploring all corners of the real world through the translated novellas published by Peirene Press.

Where do you write?

When we moved to our present house we converted the garage to an office/writing room/reading nook looking out over the canal and some magnificent trees; I feel lucky to have a such a lovely place, particularly at the moment during lockdown. However, when I can, I also like to get away to write, and have used AirBnB and house-sitting for friends as low-budget writing retreats. Since last year I’ve had a caravan permanently located at a site in North Wales, which is a wonderful place to go and write – inspired by nearby Ynys Ennli/Bardsey, my work-in-progress is largely set on a remote island.

Who is your favourite character in your books?

I know plenty of others have said this, but it’s true that it’s like being asked to pick a favourite child! I get immersed in all of my main characters. However, in both of my published novels there are those who appeared early in my first draft as minor characters, but I became increasingly fond of them until they ended up with key roles. In Someone Else’s Conflict this was teenage economic migrant, Vinko, who lost his parents to the war and has been rootless and taken advantage of ever since. I remember when the book was published, realising he doesn’t get a mention in the cover description – typical of the poor lad’s fate in life – so he’s getting one here! When I was writing an early scene in Riverflow, my main character, Bede, mentioned a favourite uncle. At the time, I never thought that Uncle Joe, and his diary, would turn out to be central to the story. He’s not as amiable as he may seem at first, but it’s not always the nice characters who are the most interesting, and I really enjoyed getting into his voice when writing.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is riverflow-final-front-only-small.jpg

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is someone-elses-conflict-final-front-only-1.jpg

What was your favourite bit of research?

I really enjoy research and have to work hard to make sure it doesn’t become an excuse for procrastination! For Someone Else’s Conflict, as well as reading widely, both non-fiction and fiction, about the 1990s civil war, I also really enjoyed getting to know Croatia more widely, including travelling, attempting to learn the language and discovering music from the region (I build playlists for each of my novels), particularly a brilliant singer called Darko Rundek: https://youtu.be/X1bzBZvgxbs], who has become a firm favourite.

After all the research I did for the background to my debut novel, I thought that the local setting of Riverflow, and its environmental themes that are so close to my heart, would make it easier from a research point of view. However there were plenty of aspects of sustainable and off-grid living that I needed to find out more about, and my research could also be said to be life-changing – I’ve always been into environmental issues and tried to live as sustainably as possible, but have never been particularly politically active. My visit to the Preston New Road anti-fracking protests while writing the novel, and the emergence of Extinction Rebellion hot on the heels of me writing about protest, changed all that, and I’ve been actively involved with Oswestry & Borders XR ever since.

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

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.

Alison’s bio & links:

Alison Layland is a writer and translator who lives and works in the beautiful borderlands between Wales and Shropshire. She translates from German, French and Welsh into English, and her published translations include a number of award-winning and best-selling novels.

Her debut novel, Someone Else’s Conflict, was featured as a Debut of the Month on the LoveReading website in January 2015, and her second novel, Riverflow, was Waterstones’ Welsh Book of the month in August 2020.

Social media and buying links

My website: www.alayland.uk

Twitter: @AlisonLayland

Honno website: https://www.honno.co.uk/authors/l/alison-layland/

(https://www.honno.co.uk/riverflow/

Hive: https://www.hive.co.uk/Search/Search?Author=Alison%20Layland

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AlisonLaylandAuthor

YouTube: https://youtu.be/Ty_hqQ_UcOE

Honno: “Great Women, Great Writing, Great Stories.” Today with Carol Lovekin

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/

Honno: “Great Women, Great Writing, Great Stories.” Today with Thorne Moore #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, Thorne Moore.

Hi Thorne, glad you are with us today.

It’s good to be here, Judith.

Let’s start by you telling us a little about yourself, please.

I was born in Luton, but my mother came from Cardiff and I went to Aberystwyth University, so it was a bit like reclaiming my Welsh heritage when I moved to Wales in 1983 to run a restaurant with my sister. I live now in north Pembrokeshire, in an old farm cottage on the site of a mediaeval mansion, overlooking forests and valleys and very nearly in sight of the sea. I am just retiring from 40 years of making miniature furniture for collectors, and I write, garden, write, cook, write, walk… oh, and write.

When did you start writing?

I was certainly writing seriously when I was at school, because I remember sitting on a radiator during a wet break (prefect’s privilege), telling a friend I was writing a book – and I was enormously relieved that she didn’t laugh. In a way, I began very young, though not by putting the words down on paper. I was a daydreamer. Every Sunday we went for a drive around Bedfordshire and I would sit in the back, daydreaming long elaborate stories. I was always slightly irritated if my brother or sister wanted to talk to me. By the time I was at university, I knew that writing was the only thing I wanted to do.

What genre do you write in and why?

I began with fantasy, moved into Science Fiction and now drift between contemporary domestic noir and historical mysteries. But really there isn’t much difference in my mind between the genres. All my books of any genre have two underlying themes. How do people react, psychologically, when they are confronted by a traumatic situation that shakes them out of their comfort zones? And what are the consequences of an event? Not just the immediate consequence but consequences in the far future. Someone once said history is just one damned thing after another. In reality, it’s one damned thing leading to another, a never-ending stream. Situations are never just resolved and put to bed. They leave footprints out to the horizon.

How important is location in your novels?

Extremely important. In fact, when my books are set in a particular house, like the cottage of Cwmderwen in A Time For Silence and The Covenant, or Llysygarn, the mansion in Shadows and Long Shadows, they are almost the main character in the books. But the general location is also very important. It gives me an excuse to breathe in and breathe out the spirit of a place. Some of my books are set in north Pembrokeshire, where I live, which is a very isolated and enclosed area, utterly rural, all wooded valleys and high open hills – and, of course, the sea – and I couldn’t imagine those books being set anywhere else.

In contrast, others of my books (Motherlove and The Unravelling) have an urban setting, the fictional town of Lyford which is based very closely on my birth town of Luton. Even though it’s a wide web of Victorian terraces and suburban semis, I find myself automatically focussing the most emotional moments on the green places, which are always imbued with a certain mystery of their own, whether it’s Portland Park (closely modelled on Wardown Park in Luton) or an old farm lane, still clinging on in the midst of post-war expansion.

In The Unravelling, I do take my character Karen on a tour of England and Wales in search of old friends, finishing up on the Chilterns, in an area based on Ashridge, where I spent many childhood Sundays. I live in an area of igneous bluestone, forested with oak and ash, but I still nurse a longing for chalk downs and beechwoods

Who is your favourite (non Honno) author?

Jane Austen. It’s her scalpel wit, her elegantly precise language, and her powers of observation of personalities, reactions, impulses and inhibitions, along with economic realities, all played out on settings so minimal they could be chessboards. Her novels are not romances, they are studies of how people reach decisions while navigating between personal desires and public pressures.

Where do you write?

Physically, in my bedroom, with the laptop on my lap in bed, or at my desk. Mentally, while walking up and down my lane after dinner (the joys of having a farm lane to walk along, at this physical distancing time).

Who is your favourite character in your books?

Now you know that’s like asking a mother who is her favourite child. How can I possibly say?  I am inside all of them, feeling with them, even when they’re annoying or slightly insane, or even wicked. Which one would I actually like to spend time with? Possibly Angharad in Long Shadows. Or, if I were cast up on a desert island with one of them, it would have to be Leah, in my new novel, The Covenant, (to be published in August), because she might be rather waspish, but she’d be extremely competent and sort things out.

What was your favourite bit of research?

I am disgraceful in that I usually do very little research because I’m mostly concerned with what’s going on in people’s heads. When writing anything historical, I mostly rely on my past historical studies (school, university and general reading). Occasionally, when I have to be specific about things, I force myself. My latest book, The Covenant, required a fair bit of research to match my story (set between 1883 and 1922) with events in the wide world, or the narrow world of Pembrokeshire. My third novel, The Unravelling, shifts between the present day, 2000 and the mid 1960s. The 1960s, seen through the eyes of a child, didn’t require much research at all: I just dredged up my own childhood memories of home-made frocks and pink custard. But the millennium needed real research. It seems such a short while ago but the world has changed utterly. That part of the book involves searching for long-lost friends. How would it have been done back in a time when we didn’t have broadband or Facebook and mobile phones were still a novelty.

My favourite research was for A Time For Silence because, although it was published in 2012, early versions of it were written quite a few years before, when the internet was an erratic thing of limited use, so I had to get out there on my hind legs and look for information, so, searching for information about Pembrokeshire in the 1930s and 40s, I spent many happy hours pouring over old newspapers in the National Library of Wales – something I make my character Sarah do although, in reality, she could probably have done all her research on-line.   

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

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.

I’ve heard a whisper that there will be a new book coming out soon? Would like to give us a hint about that?

Well, Its the Prequel to Time for Silence and Honno have given me a publication date of August 18th

Ah, yes, I found this tantalising description of it.

The Owens are tied to this Pembrokeshire land – no-one will part them from it dead or alive.

Leah is tied to home and hearth by debts of love and duty – duty to her father, turned religious zealot after the tragic death of his eldest son, Tom; love for her wastrel younger brother Frank’s two motherless children. One of them will escape, the other will be doomed to follow in their grandfather’s footsteps.

At the close of the 19th century, Cwmderwen’s twenty-four acres, one rood and eight perches are hard won, the holding run down over the years by debt and poor harvest. But they are all the Owens have and their rent is always paid on time. With Tom’s death a crack is opened up and into this chink in the fabric of the family step Jacob John and his wayward son Eli, always on the lookout for an opportunity.

Saving her family, good and bad, saving Cwmderwen, will change Leah forever and steal her dreams, perhaps even her life.”

The Covenant is the shocking prequel to the bestselling A Time For Silence:

Honno page for ordering: https://www.honno.co.uk/authors/m/thorne-moore/

email: thornemoore@btinternet.com

Blog: http://thornemoore.blogspot.co.uk

website: www.thornemoore.co.uk

FB Author page: https://www.facebook.com/thornemoorenovelist

Twitter: https://twitter.com/ThorneMoore

Amazon author page: http://amzn.to/1Ruu9m1

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

Books in my Handbag Blog Detective Indie Author Investigates #FridayReads #Editing #Publishing The Crime and Coffee Festival

Detective Indie Author Investigates

The Crime and Coffee Festival beckoned me to Cardiff Library to solve the mystery of writing and publishing. The workshop: Cut, Slash and Perfect promised to reveal more about the writing and traditional publishing journey.  As I passed the crime scene tape surrounding the bookshelves, I did wonder if any authors had been lost during the cutting, slashing and perfecting process. I went undercover to find out more about traditional publishing. Would I need an agent, and would I need a sharper pair of scissors?

The panel discussion with: Thorne Moore, Caroline Oakely and Judith Barrow. Has Judith spotted Jessie?

Authors, Judith Barrow and Thorne Moore, chatted with the editor, Caroline Oakley, of Honno Pressabout publishing. The entertaining chat provided food for thought for all authors who wish to publish their work.  As I listened, I captured some of the main points and discovered what makes editors cut and authors cry. The panel put me at ease, and I was able to remove my disguise as an indie author.

Introducing Caroline Oakley who is the editor at Honno Press

Caroline has worked in general trade publishing for over thirty years and has edited a number of award winning and bestselling authors. Caroline works for, Honno Press, an independent Welsh Women’s publisher in Wales.

Clues from the Editor

Caroline gave a balanced overview of publishing

Big publishers only work through agents.

A good editor is key to success for all authors

Agents often have useful contacts within the publishing world and deal with the contracts.  Care must be taken when selecting an agent because, as in all businesses, there are inefficient, self –styled experts, with little experience, out there. Google and search for those authors who write in your genre to find out the names of the agents who deal with your kind of book before submitting. You can approach independent and smaller publishers with or without an agent. Find out what this kind of publisher wants before approaching them.  Research their website; look at the work of the signed authors.  Take your time to select the appropriate one for your genre; consider how much advance that publisher pays, the amount of royalties for sold books you will get, your rights (such as audio and foreign rights for your work) and the terms and conditions of your contract. You must read the small print!

Don’t get disheartened with rejection letters sent to publishers.  Hope your manuscript reaches the publisher at the right time (by this I mean that it’s not a miserable Monday morning for them, or they’ve not had a quarrel with a partner or their family – or they’ve not had a week of wading through a pile of “not very good” manuscripts before they get to yours)– it is subjective.

Indie publishing has its challenges, but it gives you more control and you get all the profit.  The Indie author deals with every element of the process; from the writing to choosing the cover, the blurb formatting, publication and marketing. Traditionally published authors also are expected to promote and market. Indie publishing is time- consuming but as I said before, they do have complete control over their work.

The venue – Cardiff Library

Whichever publishing route you choose, you must get yourself an editor! Although time-consuming (and sometimes devastating!) you must go through the cut, slash perfect process.  A good editor will identify gaps, things that possibly don’t work in your writing, mistakes such as change of dates of characters’ birthdays or colour of eyes in different parts of the book, errors in time scale etc.. But will not tell you what to do, only point out those mistakes and suggest changes to make your work stronger.

It is advisable that every author, whether self-published or traditionally published, has a website, blog and social media accounts.

Introducing Judith Barrow:

Judith Barrow has published four books with Honno Press.  She writes historical family saga fiction. She has also self-published books and a collection of short stories of the minor characters in her trilogy.

What did Judith say about her publishing journey?

Judith Barrow and Thorne Moore are published by Honno Press

I love working with Honno Press.  The staff are friendly and accessible. As a writer you learn what you can and cannot get away with.  I have built up trust with the editor who I know has had a long and professional career in all genres. And, although  Honno Pressalso organises the front cover for the books, they have allowed me input to the final decision .

Working with Honno Press provides me with quality, professional editing.  I cry every time, I get the editor’s comments, but I know, in my heart, it makes the work better.  An editor will read your book line by line and give an overview. A good editor will ask the right questions but will not give you the answers. When you edit your work, you must keep your own voice.

I do not send my very first draft to an editor and probably have about ten revisions.  I ask my friend, who is an author, to give me an honest opinion on anything I have doubts about.  I am also a member of a writing group and we email sections of our books for discussion.  But do, avoid too much input from too many sources into your work as it can confuse you – have a small trusted network of writers.  Believe in yourself! The cut, slash and perfect stages involves a first general edit, as many more detailed edits then necessary to get the writing to its best, a line by line edit to weed out any noticeable mistakes and then a proof read by the publisher’s proof reader. Finally, it comes back to me for a last read to make sure all is correct. I do like this final stage; it does make me feel as though I have control over the end product to some degree.

Introducing Thorne Moore

Thorne had published three books with Honno Fiction and writes domestic noir and psychological fiction.  Thorne has self-published and works with two publishers.

What did Thorne say about publishing?

She has self-published short stories in order to market a published book.  The different publishers are relevant to the books promoted. Regardless of how the books are published, the author must have a good editor.

A writer needs an editor to stand on the mountain and look down on your work.  During the writing process the author becomes too absorbed to be objective.  Through the feedback from the editor, you learn to write.  The editor will locate your common mistakes then you will avoid these in subsequent drafts.

You do need a small critical group of friends who will give you constructive criticism.

Don’t worry about the reviews. Jane Austin has plenty of one star and two star reviews on Amazon.

Don’t give up!  I was rejected by Honno at first. In an interview with Thorne, she told me about the trials and tribulations of her publishing journey. This story of Thorne’s publishing journey will be published very soon.

A good editor is key to success for all authors: traditionally published and self-published need a good editor.  A good editor will identify gaps in your work and ask the right questions.  My editor forced me to ask lots of questions about my book and rework sections.  I learnt a great deal about my writing through this process. As a self-published author I have involved a professional editor, beta readers and other authors.  One must be careful of making new mistakes in a new edit – it is expensive to pay for all the various stages of the edit.  I understand the security of working with an independent publisher who provides an editor. The indie author has greater control of the book but must complete all stages of the process including the book cover and the marketing. In the end, all clues pointed towards the importance of a professional editor during the publishing process.  No matter how many times the author sharpens the scissors to cut, they still need an editor and dosh to pay for quality.   Clearly, this wasn’t an open and shut case and more investigation needed to be completed.

Clue of the Day

Narbeth Book Fair – see Judith, Thorne and Jessie!

Caroline suggested the market for the unreliable narrator in all genres will change. Like fashion in clothes, fashion in books also changes.  No one knows what will be the next ‘in thing’ for novels.

Judith Barrow, Caroline Oakley, Thorne Moore will all be at the Narberth Book Festival on 22nd September.

You can book individual session with Caroline Oakley of Honno Press for £35.  For more information visit the Narberth Book Fair website. Children’s writers can book sessions with Firefly Press.

 

Yorkshire Lasses in Wales: When Jessie Met Judith Barrow

Judith Barrow, originally from Saddleworth, near Oldham, and on the wrong side of the Pennines but still in Yorkshire

Judith waited for me in a department store while I waited for her in Cardiff Library.  Would the meeting take place? Neither of us had thought to share our phone numbers prior to the meeting.  

Judith emerged from the lift, in Cardiff Library, wearing a silk purple top that was co-ordinated with her fabulous lilac hair.  I warmed to her instantly! Her beaming smile lit up her face and I knew she’d make me laugh.  She travelled from Pembrokeshire to take part in a panel on agents, traditional and Indie publishing and agents at the Crime Cymru event, and her huge canvas bag bulged with goodies for the day ahead.  I was lucky to grab some time with her.

We almost didn’t meet at Cardiff Library

Judith: At last, I thought you’d got lost in your handbag. I waited in the department store and realised I had no contact details. After I finished my mint tea, I asked three strange women if they were Jessie.  They thought I was mad.

Judith’s Yorkshire accent and mischievous blue eyes instantly made me giggle. Great to meet someone who spoke the same lingo.

Jessie:  I’m so sorry but I thought you’ be able to read my mind. Couldn’t you hear me calling you in my dulcet tones across the streets of Cardiff?  Don’t ask me why I didn’t send you my mobile number and confirm the meeting.  I also approached a couple of potential Judiths but the real Judith is much better. So pleased, I found a representative of Honno Press and she had your number.

We laughed and grabbed some coffee from a coffee station in Cardiff Library.  The staff set up a couple of chairs for us to conduct the chat.  Having spilt the coffee all over my hand, we settled down to chat about Judith. 

Jessie:  Judith, tell me what a Yorkshire lass is doing in Pembrokeshire.

Judith:  We went on holiday to Pembrokeshire, loved it and never returned to Saddleworth.  We bought a half-built house and renovated it.

Jessie:  Do you miss Yorkshire?

Judith Barrow – Secrets

Judith:  Pembrokeshire was a great place for our kids to grow up.  I miss Yorkshire stone, craggy landscape and the meandering moors. I love our house, in Pembrokeshire, but I always expected I’d live in a stone cottage in my old age.  As you can hear, even after forty years in Wales my accent hasn’t changed – I’m still a Yorkshire lass.  People say they can hear my voice in their heads when they read my books.  Lucky them!

Jessie:  Obviously, people love your voice as you have written eight books.  How did the writing start?

Judith:  Well, I hope they do. As for the writing, I’d written since I was a child but never done anything much about it. Then I went to night school with my daughter. I finished A Level English and went on to gain a degree through the Open University. Whilst studying for the degree, I had breast cancer, and this made me see life differently.  I decided to follow my dream to become a writer.  Initially, I had an agent but she wanted me to write as an author of Mills and Boon so I parted company with her.

A place that inspired the setting of Judith’s novels

Jessie: That’s ridiculous; your books are not of that genre.  The books are historical fiction with engaging stories of the Howarth family. The books have complex plots and characters.

Judith:  I write people driven, gritty dramas and wasn’t prepared to adapt my writing.  Eventually, I got a contract with Honno Press – an independent publisher in Wales- and found their approach personal and supportive.  My first book ‘Pattern of Shadows’

Jessie:  What’s Pattern of Shadows about?

Judith:  It’s the story of a nursing sister, Mary Howarth, and her family, during World War Two and is set around a POW camp located in a disused cotton mill in a Lancashire town.  When I was a child my mother was a winder in a cotton mill and I would go there to wait for her to finish work; I remember the smell of the grease and cotton, the sound of the loud machinery and the colours of the threads and bales of material.  Pattern of Shadows was meant to be a standalone book, but the characters wanted me to carry on with their lives. Eventually, it developed into a family saga trilogy. My recent book, the prequel, is A Hundred Tiny Threads. The two main characters, Winifred and Bill, are the parents of the protagonist in the trilogy, Mary Howarth. They wanted me to explain their, how they had become what they are in the trilogy. I was happy to; I think, as we get older, we are made by our life experiences.

Hundred Tiny Threads. The two main characters, Winifred and Bill, are the parents of the protagonist in the trilogy, Mary Howarth

Jessie:  I’m reading One Hundred Tiny Threads. I’m about a third of the way through.  It’s a great read.  The opening is engrossing with Winifred waking up to another day in the shop. The characters are so real, and I love getting inside their heads.  I’m shouting at them all the time. The way you thread the characters’ attitudes towards women is brilliant.  I’m fascinated by the Suffragettes in Leeds.  For some reason, I always imagined the movement to be concentrated in London.

Judith:  Researching the Suffragettes opened up my eyes.  I wanted to tell their story through the voices of the characters and show how women, in the society at that time, were ready for the change. Stories draw people into to the political background of the era, and life was certainly a challenge then.  People say my books are dark.  Have you got to the gory bits?

Jessie:  Well, there has been a murder.

Judith:  No, I’m thinking of scene after that – you wait.  Bill’s a bastard but it’s his background.  I don’t know why Winifred married him.

Jessie:  Oh no, what was Winifred thinking of?  I’m furious with her, as I haven’t read the terrible news yet.  I’m intrigued as to why she didn’t marry the love of her life and scared for her.

Judith: oh ‘eck, hope I haven’t I haven’t spoiled it for you, Jessie.  But, you must understand Bill had a terrible life as a child with his father.  And then he was a soldier in the horrendous First World Wars. He was also one of the Black and Tans when he returned from the Front. He’s a bastard but didn’t have it easy.  As I said, our lives shape us.

Jessie:  I agree and people interest me too.

Judith:  Yes, well your novel, You Can’t Go It Alone, is also character driven and could become a family saga.  I can see it now.  I want to know more about Luke and Rosa and their parents.

Jessie:  I plan to do that, and you have inspired me to complete historical research.  I would have to look carefully into the eras the generations were born into.   Thanks for your advice.

Judith:  No problem, I teach creative writing in Pembrokeshire, so I just can’t help myself (some would say it’s interfering!!).  Writing is like looking at the world through the eyes of a child and I love it. I watch folk walk past my window, at home.  It’s hilarious how people walk. I can’t stop people watching and passing it on through my books.  I never stop watching and am always so busy.

Narbeth book fair – a great book fair for readers and worth a visit

Jessie:  I notice you also organise Narberth Book Fair.

Judith:  Yes, I organise it with a friend, author, Thorne Moore.  It started in Tenby, but we had to move because we outgrew the venue with so many writers wanting to take part. I think it’s so important to attend these events; to get out there and meet the readers.

Jessie:  What advice would you give to fledgling writers?

Judith:  Get a professional editor and be prepared for a slog.  The first draft of the book is the best bit. I always cry when I get my editor’s comments.

Jessie: Tell me, what have you got in your handbag today?

Judith handed me a copy of Pattern of Shadows and a book entitled Secrets; an anthology of short stories of the minor characters in the trilogy. She proceeded to let me in on the secret life of her handbag.  She had some very colourful reading glasses, pens, more pens, bookmarks, a spare blouse, her mobile and an agenda. 

Judith:  As you can see I do love a bit of colour. I try to be organised and I absolutely love writing.  I want you to place these books in your handbag and let the Howarth family keep you company. You’ll love some of the family and dislike some of the other – but that’s life!

Judith is fabulous fun, and I had a blast meeting with her.  Meeting face to face is so much better than communicating on line.  I delighted in her humour, straight-talking and infectious sense of fun.  Judith is a natural storyteller, and this translates in her animated dialogue.  She told me she is ‘living each day’.  She thrives on her writing and engagement with authors.  Her generosity was evident in her willingness to share the benefit of her experience.

 I should add that I will be one of the authors at this year’s Narberth Fair: http://www.narberthbookfair.co.uk/
https://www.facebook.com/narberthbookfair/

About Judith:

Judith Barrow, originally from Saddleworth, near Oldham, and on the wrong side of the Pennines but still in Yorkshire, has lived in Pembrokeshire, Wales, for forty years.

She has an MA in Creative Writing with the University of Wales Trinity St David’s College, Carmarthen, a BA (Hons) in Literature with the Open University and a Diploma in Drama from Swansea University. She has had short stories, plays, reviews and articles, published throughout the British Isles and has won several poetry competitions. She has completed three children’s books.

She is also a Creative Writing tutor for Pembrokeshire County Council.

Contact Judith at:
Email: Judithbarrow77@gmail.com
Twitter: @judithbarrow77 
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/judith.barrow.3

Amazon link to her books:

Secrets
A Hundred Tiny Threads

Secrets

Winifred is a determined young woman eager for new experiences, for a life beyond the grocer’s shop counter ruled over by her domineering mother. When her friend Honora – an Irish girl, with the freedom to do as she pleases – drags Winifred along to a suffragette rally, she realises that there is more to life than the shop and her parents’ humdrum lives of work and grumbling. Bill Howarth’s troubled childhood echoes through his early adult life and the scars linger, affecting his work, his relationships and his health. The only light in his life comes from a chance meeting with Winifred, the daughter of a Lancashire grocer. The girl he determines to make his wife. Meeting Honora’s intelligent and silver-tongued medical student brother turns Winifred’s heart upside down and she finds herself suddenly pregnant. Bill Howarth reappears on the scene offering her a way out.

 

Please see all my interviews at My Guests and my website and blog at JessieCahalin.com.

Hundreds of Tiny Threads: #BookReview of The Howarth Family Trilogy by @JudithBarrow77 #Family #HistFic #TuesdayBookBlog

Barb Taub

Chains do not hold a marriage together. It is threads, hundreds of tiny threads, which sew people together through the years.—Simone Signoret

In my last post here, I talked about why I could never do a generational family saga like the epic miniature tales and historical sweep of Judith Barrow’s Howarth family trilogy. But it wasn’t until I read the title of the prequel, 100 Tiny Threads, that I really started to understand what she was building wasn’t so much a generational epic, but an examination of the things that tie families together even as they drive them apart.


SERIES REVIEW:  5 out of 5 stars for Howarth Family Trilogy, Prequel, and Anthology

Mary is a nursing sister at Lancashire prison camp for the housing and treatment of German POWs. Life at work is difficult but fulfilling, life at home a constant round of arguments, until Frank Shuttleworth…

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A Hundred Tiny Threads: Wales Book of the Month January 2018 #Welshpublishers @WelshBooks @honno

I am so proud that  A Hundred Tiny Threads is The Welsh Books Council  BOOK OF THE MONTH in January 2018

The title,  A Hundred Tiny Threads,  is taken from a quote by Simone Signoret (the French actress of cinema and a writer in her later years. She died of cancer in 1985 at the age of 60. The full quote is, “Chains do not hold a marriage together. It is threads, hundreds of tiny threads, which sew people together through the years. “

A Hundred Tiny Threads  is the story of the parents of protagonist in the Howarth  trilogy, Mary Howarth. I thought I’d finished with the characters when the last book ended. But something niggled away at me until I realised that until their story was told; their lives explained, the narration was incomplete. The story takes place during a time of social and political upheaval, between the years 1911 and 1922. It’s set in Yorkshire, Lancashire and Ireland at the time of the Suffragettes, the  first World War and the Uprising in Ireland.

I knew the years I wanted to cover so one of the obvious difficulties was the timeline. I needed to make sure that those characters, already existing in the trilogy, fitted correctly into those decades. And the two main characters, Winifred Duffy and Bill Howarth, are already fully formed, rounded characters in the previous books so I wanted to show how the era they had grown up in; the environment, the events, the conditions, had shaped them, moulded them into the characters they’d become.

I actually wasn’t going to write a trilogy. The first of the three books is called Pattern of Shadows

I’ve often told the story about how I discovered that the first German POW camp in the UK was a disused cotton mill in Lancashire. And how, because of my memories; of the noise, the colours of the cloth, the smell of grease and cotton when my mother worked as a winder in such a mill, I wondered what it would be like for those prisoners.  I imagined their misery, loneliness and anger. And I wanted to write a story about that. But research in a local history library; finding sources of personal accounts of those times, from ex-prisoners, the locals and the guards of the camp, proved that it wasn’t quite as bad as I had imagined. There were times of hope, of love even. So then I knew I needed to write the novel around a family who lived in the town where the camp was situated. Who were involved in some way with the prisoners.

The trouble was that once the story was told there were threads that needed picking up for the sequel, Changing Patterns

And after that book was completed I realised that there would be repercussions from the actions of the characters in the first two stories that would affect the next generations. And so I wrote Living in the Shadows

 

 

It’s been hard to let go of some of the characters, especially the protagonist, Mary. But in a way I’m still staying in their world. When I’d sent A Hundred Tiny Threads to  Honno , my publishers, for the final time, I wrote and Indie published an anthology of eight short stories called Secrets.

These are the stories of some of the minor characters in the trilogy. At least three of these are crying out for their life stories to be told. I’ve already started on two of the characters: Hannah Booth, the sour mother- in- law of Mary’s sister, Ellen, who appears in Pattern of Shadows, and on Edith Jagger’s tale; the woman who becomes the gossipy and sharp-tongued next-door neighbour of the protagonist, Winifred, in the prequel and previously in the trilogy.

As is often the case, how we finish up in life is shaped by our past.  And both women have a dark secret.

Perhaps, all along, I knew I was not going to walk away from these characters. Perhaps they knew they wouldn’t let me.

Please click  The Welsh Books Council for A Hundred Tiny Threads: Wales Book of the Month for January 2018.

double a hundred one

Click here  for my trilogy and prequel available from Honno.

Gwasg Honno Press

All my books are available from:

Amazon.co.uk: http://amzn.to/2klIJzN

Amazon.com: http://amzn.to/2CdPuNv

A Hundred Tiny Threads by Judith Barrow #familysaga  Reviewed by Julie Barham #review #women

 

 So thrilled with this review:

I received a review copy of this book from Honno Press, the Welsh Women’s Press, as I was intrigued by the idea of a book which swept through so much history through the eyes of one woman. Winifred lives and works in a shop in a grim mining town in 1911. Her parents own and run the general shop, and her mother’s sharp temper and determination to keep Winifred working mean that her horizons are, and always have been severely limited. Bill, a miner, is first seen trapped by a misplaced explosion in a mine, reflecting on his probable death and his dislike of his step-family. In many ways they are alike, but all the circumstances of their lives suggest that they will never meet, let alone come together. This novel is a family saga without the central family; personal dislike and forces beyond their control mean that these are two individuals struggling to survive in challenging social circumstances.

Winifred is tempted away from her home by chance meetings with Honora, an unconventional artist who has become an active worker for woman’s suffrage. This is not genteel campaigning but marches and protests which lead to violence and arrest, even death, for those women who become involved. I was not sure why Winifred becomes a speaker for this small group, but her absences from the shop annoy her mother and force her father to shield her. Winifred meets Conal, Honora’s attractive and clever brother, and becomes involved with him. She is horrified by her grandmother’s living conditions which have resulted from family losses and her own mother’s harsh unyielding personality. Developments within the shop and the campaign mean that Winifred becomes more isolated and more desperate.

Bill survives the accident but is unable to continue working at the mine; he travels away and encounters Winifred while trying to scrape enough to survive. He becomes entranced by her and takes desperate action to try and gain her interest. Terrible events graphically described force him into fighting in the War which is just as hideous as can be imagined. This is a novel which pulls no punches in describing death; I cannot say that there is much light or joy in any of its narrative.

This is an immense book which traces those pushed by events and a War which affected everyone in the country. The intense details leave little to the imagination as the struggle to survive is real and incrementally built as loved ones go and unyielding hatred makes loss worse. It is a layered view of life as characters find challenges on many fronts. Barrow has a keen eye for detail which builds up a feeling of reality in this chronicle of lives lived in harsh situations. The writing is painfully real and feels just as overwhelming as life; decisions quickly taken lead far into the story as a whole. This is apparently a book which precedes three others relating to the same family through several generations. Certainly it is just as diverse, with as many backstories and complicated feelings as real families tend to inherit. There are many elements of tragedy here as well as determined love and strands of hope. This is a superb book for those who like their novels immersive and intense, real life of people around them in times of trial and progress.

Julie blogs at Northern Reader.

Judith Barrow, A Hundred Tiny Threads (Honno Press, 2017). 978-1909983687, 320pp., paperback.

BUY A Hundred Tiny Threads from the Book Depository.

AnneMarie Brear Author of sweeping historical family dramas and modern romantic novels, plus the odd short story!

 Wednesday, August 30, 2017

A Hundred Tiny Threads by Judith Barrow

My guest today is author, Judith Barrow. Her latest novel A Hundred Tiny Threads, is out this month. It’s a wonderful story set in a fascinating period that includes The Great War and Suffragettes. it’s a story about love and making sacrifices.

A Hundred Tiny Threads

It takes more than just love to make a marriage…

It’s 1911 and Winifred Duffy is a determined young woman eager for new experiences, for a life beyond the grocer’s shop counter ruled over by her domineering mother.

The scars of Bill Howarth’s troubled childhood linger. The only light in his life comes from a chance encounter with Winifred, the girl he determines to make his wife.

Meeting her friend Honora’s silver-tongued brother turns Winifred’s heart upside down. But Honora and Conal disappear, after a suffrage rally turns into a riot, and abandoned Winifred has nowhere to turn but home.

The Great War intervenes, sending Bill abroad to be hardened in a furnace of carnage and loss. When he returns his dream is still of Winifred and the life they might have had… Back in Lancashire, worn down by work and the barbed comments of narrow-minded townsfolk, Winifred faces difficult choices in love and life.

Praise for previous novels in the Howarth family series:
“Not… an ordinary romance but a book that deals with important issues which are still relevant today” Historical Novels Review

“Barrow’s thoughtful and atmospheric novel shines a light on the shadowy corners of family life” Lancashire Evening Post

ISBN: 9781909983687
Language: English
About the author: Judith Barrow has lived in Pembrokeshire for thirty years. She has published poetry and short fiction in various anthologies, winning several poetry competitions, as well as writing three children’s novels. Her play: My Little Philly was performed at the Dylan Thomas Centre in Swansea. Judith grew up in the Pennines and has degrees in literature and creative writing. Pattern of Shadows is her first published novel. For more on Judith see her website. www.judithbarrow.co.uk.