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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the author:

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

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

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

You may find out more about Jan here:

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

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

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

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

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

And…   

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

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

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

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

Great Women, Great Writing, Great Stories.

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

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

Judith Barrow

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

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

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

I was lucky, I found Honno.

But, enough about me.

But, enough about me.

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

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

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

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

In order of appearance their replies:

Thorne Moore:

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

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

Carol Lovekin

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

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

Alison Layland

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

Wendy White

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

Jan Newton

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

Jane Fraser

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

Alys Einion

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

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

Juliet Greenwood

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

Hilary Shepherd

Text Box:

The community of writers and the friendship that has come out of being published by Honno. Having the confidence that I’ll be taken seriously with the next book (though as with big publishing houses there’s no guarantee a book will be taken on). And going to the seaside whenever I go to talk to my editor.”

Jo Verity

The informality and camaraderie of an indie publisher suits me and my way of working. I’ve been a Honno author for fifteen years and everyone I’ve worked with there has been approachable, supportive, flexible and available. I’m extremely blessed to have Caroline Oakley as my editor. She ‘gets’ what I’m trying to achieve and nudges me, firmly but sympathetically, in the right direction. I couldn’t bear to hand ‘my babies’ over to people whom I didn’t know, trust and consider to be friends.”

Jacqueline Jacques

My association with Honno began with their anthology, Luminous and Forlorn, which included my short story, Lovey Dovey Cats Eyes. I like that they are real people, who treat their authors as real people, rather than as a means to an end. They respect your wishes, offer sound advice and editing and pull out all the stops to provide a really good quality product you can be proud of.

Stevie Davies

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

Submitting your work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My greatest support has come from the group of authors published by Honno. We have a Facebook group where we can chat and ask for help, information and generally boost moral when it’s needed. And we’ve met up in real life on many occasions. About three years ago I shared interviews with some of them. Since then there have been other women writers who have become Honno authors. So this is the new set of interviews and today I am with Stevie Davies. Although new to Honno with this genre, Stevie is a prolific writer of many genres, on many platforms, as you will see when you check out her website

Welcome, Stevie, please tell us a little about yourself.

I live in Mumbles, Swansea, 10 doors down from where my parents once lived. I am a feminist, cyclist, sea-swimmer, music-lover, mother of 3 and grandmother of 4. I’m a long-time member of CND. I stood for Cheadle Council in the 1990s as a Green Party candidate. I didn’t win.

I taught English Literature at Manchester University, leaving to concentrate on writing fiction, before coming home to Swansea University in 2001 as Royal Literary Fund Fellow and then Professor of Creative Writing. I’m a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and a Fellow of the Welsh Academy. The Party Wall will be my fifteenth work of fiction. I’ve published 14 books of non-fiction. Euan Thorneycroft of A.M. Heath is my agent.

When did you start writing?

I started writing stories at the age of 5 or 6, which was more or less the age when my feminism kicked in: I saw the way the world was organised along gender lines and felt compelled to argue with it. My Morriston-born father was an Air Force sergeant so we were constantly on the move. My home from home was always the public lending library, from Oystermouth to Cornwall; from Kinloss to Hildesheim in Germany. My earliest works included an illustrated tale set in the Second World War, in which a group of Nazis gunned down everyone in sight, including one another – at which point the story found its natural terminus.

What genre do you write in and why?

I like to experiment. Writing is a process of exploration and discovery: it’s boring to repeat yourself. In non-fiction, I’ve written biography (Emily Brontë, Henry Vaughan), literary criticism (Shakespeare, Milton, Donne, Virginia Woolf), popular history (17th century).  In fiction: historical fiction, novella, short story. In The Party Wall, I’ve tried a slow-burning psychological thriller, domestic noir. For me the most powerful form of realism is tragicomedy because it represents a spectrum of experience and response.

How important is location in your novels?

Super-important, and especially location set in a historical period – from 20th century Yorkshire (Four Dreamers and Emily), Shrewsbury (The Web of Belonging), 17th century Cheshire and Wales (Impassioned Clay), Northern Germany pre- and postwar (The Element of Water), South Wales (Kith & Kin, The Eyrie, The Party Wall), 1940s Egypt (Into Suez), 19th century Gloucestershire (Awakening), Manchester (Equivocator).

When I came to write novels, I found that the varied landscapes of my childhood had given me different settings, enabling me to ponder history in a very personal way. From my early childhood in Egypt came Into Suez; from the lakeside Forces boarding school in Northern Germany, where I had been profoundly homesick, came The Element of Water, when I discovered that in 1945 High Admiral Doenitz had been named as Hitler’s successor, in those same buildings. Such coincidences enable us to focus the great wheel of history from the small arc of an individual’s destiny.

In The Party Wall, interior space is the central motif and the way people’s lives connect and are separated by the walls of home. I’ve lived all my life alongside party walls – overhearing the coming and going of neighbours, snatches of chat, arguments, muffled laughter. If you stop to think about it, how strange it is that we live our lives side by side, a few metres apart, hidden but throwing out unconscious clues. How little we know one another’s inmost hearts. I’ve sometimes imagined all the walls of a terrace turning to glass – we’d all be revealed in our most private (and embarrassing) postures and activities. Perhaps a novel functions like those glass partitions, revealing what is intimately concealed. In its double narration, oscillating between male and female narrators in adjoining terraced houses, The Party Wall tracks the convergence of a traumatised outsider and a free but broken spirit.

Who is your favourite (non Honno) author?  

I read voraciously and my tastes are catholic – forever changing and broadening, often according to the joyous principle of serendipity,  so I can’t give you a favourite. Since 1981, I’ve kept a Commonplace Book as people used to do in the past, noting the title of every book I read, with comments and quotations. Here are the openings of the first notebook and of the current one.

Where do you write?

At the dining room table and at a desk in the loft. With coffee. Up to and including the writing of The Eyrie, the first draft of every novel was handwritten. I redraft drastically many times and find it just as fascinating to revise as to create an original draft. You learn so much from your mistakes – and I think I have been a decent teacher of writing precisely because I have, over the years, committed every technical mistake in the book. You can’t beat a life rich in examined mistakes.

Who is your favourite character in your books?

It’s a mistake to keep looking back and ogling one’s earlier works. Probably the historical radical women I studied for Unbridled Spirits: Women of the English Revolution, 1642-1660 (Elizabeth Lilburne, Katherine Chidley, Anna Trapnel, Margaret Fell , Mary Fisher etc), have been the greatest inspiration. The characters of radical Quakers Hannah and Isabel in my novel, Impassioned Clay, are based on this research. Then come the complex, never-say-die rebels of my later novels: ‘Red Dora’, veteran of the Spanish Civil War, in The Eyrie; Ailsa Roberts, the adventurous spirit in Into Suez; Hannah Pentecost in Awakening; Quinta and Tertia in the Roman Britain of the title story of Arrest Me, For I Have Run Away.

What was your favourite bit of research?

Research might involve travel, a reading odyssey, and/or the learning or relearning of a language: for The Element of Water I read widely in German history, relearned German at the Goethe Institut and travelled to Lűbeck in Schleswig-Holstein. To research Into Suez, I made two unforgettable trips along the Suez Canal with my daughter Grace and corresponded with veterans of the Suez War.

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

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

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

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

Welcome, Jackie, please tell us a little about yourself

Raised in smoky, post-war Walthamstow, mostly in brick terraces, prefabs and flats, I have always loved escaping to fresh air and trees and, as soon as I could, moved to Essex. Now, in retirement, my husband, Peter, and I can watch ducklings and moorhens on Buckhurst Hill’s village pond, from our front windows, I couldn’t be happier. To cap it all we have the freedom of Epping Forest just a few hundred yards down the road. Perfect.
In spring and summer I spend half my time working an allotment with a friend; in autumn and winter and on rainy days, I cosy up indoors to do my writing. In between times, I paint, I run a Creative Writing group and Bookclub for the local U3A, and attend other art-based groups, a Scrabble Group and indulge in hilarious Parlour games with my friends. Before lockdown, I helped out at a Memory Cafe for people with Dementia. I consider myself blessed in my son and daughter, my daughter-in-law and in my four grandchildren who spice up our lives and keep us on our toes.


When did you start writing?

I have always loved make-believe. As a child I spent too much time daydreaming or immersed in a book for my own good, or so they told me. I loved play-acting, adored cinema and theatre and knew I would write stories eventually. But teaching put paid to that idea. It was only when I could see an end in sight, in the early 1990s, that I actually swapped my pottery kiln for a word processor and began writing short stories. Honno took one for an anthology they were compiling, and the rest – you’ve guessed it – is history.


What genre do you write in and why?
I’d written five novels before I decided, as an experiment, to have a go at crime, mainly because I thought I would reach a wider audience. I didn’t read crime myself, only seen police procedurals on TV which I found ‘samey’ and, for the most part, predictable. What did attract me, though, was historical research: the Victorian era and early policing. How did they solve crimes before fingerprinting and DNA? If I could combine all that with art, I’d be happy. So I invented a police artist named Archie Price, born in Wales but painting and working in Walthamstow, a town I know very well.

How important is location in your novels?

I have set many of my books in old Walthamstow, as I grew up there. I knew my way around the streets, the market, the shops, schools,the park, the railway station. I knew the Palace theatre watched pantomime and music hall there. I even danced the Highland Fling on its stage when our ballet class put on a show. I knew the journey to and from London, by train and bus, and all the stops along the way. I knew the walk down to the river, the marshes, the pubs and bridges. Loving a place, it’s easy to set a story there, imagine your protagonists walking around, inhabiting the place, having adventures.The place, and the time, of course, have such an influence on who they are and the way they think, react.

 Jackie’s painting of the Buckhurst Hill village pond outside her front window.

In all my books I need to have been to the places I write about, so that I can look around, recognise, touch, taste the air, get the atmosphere, put myself there and, through me, my characters.


Who is your favourite (non Honno) author?
Before she wrote Handmaid’s Tale I would have said Margaret Atwood. Now, I have to return to my first love, Thomas Hardy. My daughter is named Tamsin after his heroine in Return of the Native. My favourite live author Is Maggie Farrell. No one can break your heart as she can

.
Where do you write?
Anywhere in the house where I can find a quiet spot. Now that I have discovered I can write in Word on my iPad in bed and have it appear on my laptop downstairs, the world is my oyster.


Who is your favourite character in your books?

Archie Price – my ideal man – flawed but well meaning and kind.  Julia Margaret Cameron made a photograph of an enigmatic and mysterious man she called Iago. Those are his looks. He is not Shakespeare’s Iago, however. He does not have a disloyal bone in his body. He is rather like my husband, in fact
.

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

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

What was your favourite bit of research?
Any forensic Art – how an artist can build up the likeness of a villain from a witness’s description. How a face can be made for a skull, as in pmy latest novel Shades of Deception.But I also love researching the suffragettes for my current work in progress.


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

My association with Honno began with their anthology, Luminous and Forlorn, which included my short story, Lovey Dovey Cats Eyes. I like that they are real people, who treat their authors as real people, rather than as a means to an end. They respect your wishes, offer sound advice and editing and pull out all the stops to provide a really good quality product you can be proud of.

Links to Jackie:

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

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

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

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

Welcome,. Jo. Please tell us a little about yourself.

I live in North Cardiff with my husband of 53 years. We have two daughters – one lives in Bristol, one lives in London – and four grandchildren. Before retirement I worked as a medical graphic artist at the Dental Hospital in Cardiff. (I drew teeth!)

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To date, I have had six novels published by Honno Welsh Women’s Press – the first in 2005, the most recent in 2018. I also write short stories, many of which have been published or broadcast.

When did you start writing?

I began writing in 1999. I was scheduled to spend a week in Budapest with an American friend but at the last minute Ruth pulled out. I was furious with her for letting me down. An avid reader all my life, I’d never written anything before but, for some reason, I decided to get it off my chest by writing a short story about an egocentric American sculptress who got her comeuppance. Within days I was hooked. Obsessed in fact. After about six months of short story writing, I began working on a novel – naively assuming that this was the natural progression. (I’ve since discovered they are very different animals.)  

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What genre do you write in and why?

Those first short stories were about ordinary people, everyday life and set firmly in the ‘now’. When I decided to have a stab at a novel, I stuck with that. I’ve always been drawn to ‘quiet’ novels in which characters face the same dilemmas most of us do. They give us a chance to rehearse how we might react were we in the same position. To examine our own attitudes, prejudices and weakness.    

Genre? Amazon classifies my books as ‘contemporary urban fiction’ or ‘contemporary family fiction’. I’m not sure whether that’s a genre or simply what’s left after you eliminate crime, fantasy, sci-fi, historical etc.

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Who is your favourite (non Honno) author?

Anne Tyler. She has the knack of making the ordinary seem extraordinary. Her characters, flawed and unsure of themselves, linger around long after you’ve put the book down. I’ve just finished her latest novel (number 23!) – ‘Redhead by the Side of the Road’. Once again, in her quiet, ruthless way, she hits every nail squarely on the head.

May I cheat and choose another? Elizabeth Strout. Strout covers the same territory but is perhaps a little tougher on her characters. If you haven’t read her, I suggest you start with ‘Olive Kitteridge’.

 Where do you write?

I’ve concocted a writing cave at one end of the spare bedroom where I sit surrounded by writing paraphernalia – printer, scrap paper, pens, pin up board, etc. I work on a PC with a large screen. I find laptops uncomfortable to use – not good for posture or eyesight. When I’m away from my desk, I write by hand in a notebook. (It has to be a Pukka Pad and a black PaperMate Flexigrip. It is a well-known fact that all writers are stationery geeks.) I transfer what I’ve written to my machine as soon as I can, using this as an editing opportunity. And I’m rigorous about backing up my work.

Who is your favourite character in your books?

Mmm. That’s like asking a mother which child she most loves. I couldn’t possibly choose between my various protagonists.  

Secondary characters can be more broad-brush and quirkier than those taking centre stage although they mustn’t be ‘cartoonish’. I have a soft spot for the eccentric old codgers Mrs Channing and Mr Zeal who appeared briefly, yet to great effect, in ‘Sweets from Morocco’. Children and teenagers are delightful to ‘work with’. They ask awkward questions, stir things up and make a nuisance of themselves. They are fun to write about and a useful way of eliciting information and forcing grownups to address tricky issues.

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What was your favourite bit of research?

My stories are set in the ‘now’. I make them up as I go along. Consequently any research I do is on a ‘need to know’ basis. A character might recall what was in the charts when their first child was born or what the weather was like one particular Christmas. Small details evoke memories in the reader and make a fictitious character ‘real’.  A quick Google and I have the song title or weather report. (Get it wrong, and a helpful reader will soon let me know!)

Having said that, I did send Gil Thomas (from ‘Left and Leaving’) back to his home in Coffs Harbour, New South Wales. Thanks to Google Maps, I could ‘virtually’ wander around the town and surrounding area which gave me confidence to describe it. https://www.coffsharbour.nsw.gov.au gave me the local lowdown – right down to shops, café’s, train and bus services. Several globe-trotting acquaintances remarked that they didn’t know I’d been to Australia – so I think I got away with it.

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

The informality and camaraderie of an indie publisher suits me and my way of working. I’ve been a Honno author for fifteen years and everyone I’ve worked with there has been approachable, supportive, flexible and available. I’m extremely blessed to have Caroline Oakley as my editor. She ‘gets’ what I’m trying to achieve and nudges me, firmly but sympathetically, in the right direction. I couldn’t bear to hand ‘my babies’ over to people whom I didn’t know, trust and consider to be friends.


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

Honno: “Great Women, Great Writing, Great Stories.” Today Thorne Moore interviews me: https://bit.ly/2WWQ1jW #weekendReads #Honno

Thorny matters

Thorne turns the tables on me today!

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

Judith Barrow

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

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

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

All this and three ever-increasingly fractious children.

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

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

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

I fell in love with Pembrokeshire.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hope that makes sense?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What matters to you, apart from your writing? 

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

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

How did you come to be a Honno author?

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

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

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

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

Judith’s website

Judith at Honno

Judith on Twitter

Judith on Facebook

Judith on Pinterest

Judith on Amazon

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

Text Box:

Please tell us a little about yourself.

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

When did you start writing?

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

What genre do you write in and why?

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

How important is location in your novels?

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

Who is your favourite (non Honno) author?

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

Where do you write?

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

Who is your favourite character in your books?

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

 

What was your favourite bit of research?

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

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

The community of writers and the friendship that has come out of being published by Honno. Having the confidence that I’ll be taken seriously with the next book (though as with big publishing houses there’s no guarantee a book will be taken on). And going to the seaside whenever I go to talk to my editor.

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

Hilary’s links:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please tell us a little about yourself.

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

When did you start writing?

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

What genre do you write in and why?

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

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

Who is your favourite (non Honno) author?

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

Where do you write?

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

Who is your favourite character in your books?

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

What was your favourite bit of research?

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

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

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

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

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

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

A little more about Juliet

An image posted by the author.

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

Social media links:

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

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

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

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

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

The Ferryman’s Daughter:

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

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

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

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

Please tell us a little about yourself.

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

When did you start writing?

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

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

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

What genre do you write in and why?

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

How important is location in your novels?

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

Inshallah

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

Ash

Who is your favourite (non Honno) author?

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

Where do you write?

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

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

Who is your favourite character in your books?

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

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

What was your favourite bit of research

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links too Alys

@AlysEinion (Twitter)

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

Links to her books:

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

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

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

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

Please tell us a little about yourself

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

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

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

When did you start writing?

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

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

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

What genre do you write in and why?

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

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

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

How important is location in your novels?

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

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

Who is your favourite (non Honno) author?

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

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

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

Where do you write?

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

Who is your favourite character in your books?

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

What was your favourite bit of research?

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

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

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

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

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

Links to Jan:

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

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

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

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

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

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 #TuesdayBookBlog

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

Please tell us a little about yourself.

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

When did you start writing?


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

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

What genre do you write in and why?

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

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

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



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

How important is location in your novels?

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


Who is your favourite (non Honno) author?

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

Where do you write?

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


Who is your favourite character in your books?

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

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

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


What was your favourite bit of research?

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


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

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


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


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

About the author:

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

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

Links to find Carol:

Twitter: twitter.com/carollovekin

Website: carollovekinauthor.com/

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

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

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