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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How did you adapt your services in lockdown?

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

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

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

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

Yes, we have very loyal customers

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

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

Please tell us how people can buy books from you?

The shop is now open!

Message from Goldstons:

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

Find Goldstone Bookshop, Carmarthen

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

Whose House is This? #Honno #ThrowbackThursday

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

Coming up Roses: A collection of garden stories from Wales

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GENRE(S):

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

TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOURSELF:

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

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

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

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

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

HOW MANY BOOKS HAVE YOU WRITTEN AND PUBLISHED?

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

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

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

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

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

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

OTHER THAN WRITING, WHAT ELSE DO YOU ENJOY DOING?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE TIME TO WRITE, AND WHY?

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

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

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

The Naturists

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

 Dilapidated car

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

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

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

 I digress.

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

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

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

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

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

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

He nodded but said nothing.

There are two things I should mention at this point.

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

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

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

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

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

Well it was a very warm morning

Mum kept her curtains drawn for the rest of the week

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

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

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

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

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

FINAL WORDS FROM CHELLE…

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

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

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

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

Chelle x

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

Detective Indie Author Investigates

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

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

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

Introducing Caroline Oakley who is the editor at Honno Press

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

Clues from the Editor

Caroline gave a balanced overview of publishing

Big publishers only work through agents.

A good editor is key to success for all authors

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

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

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

The venue – Cardiff Library

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

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

Introducing Judith Barrow:

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

What did Judith say about her publishing journey?

Judith Barrow and Thorne Moore are published by Honno Press

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

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

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

Introducing Thorne Moore

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

What did Thorne say about publishing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clue of the Day

Narbeth Book Fair – see Judith, Thorne and Jessie!

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

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

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

 

Yorkshire Lasses in Wales: When Jessie Met Judith Barrow

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

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

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

We almost didn’t meet at Cardiff Library

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jessie:  Do you miss Yorkshire?

Judith Barrow – Secrets

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

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

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

A place that inspired the setting of Judith’s novels

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

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

Jessie:  What’s Pattern of Shadows about?

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

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

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

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

Jessie:  Well, there has been a murder.

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

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

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

Jessie:  I agree and people interest me too.

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

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

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

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

Jessie:  I notice you also organise Narberth Book Fair.

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

Jessie:  What advice would you give to fledgling writers?

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

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

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

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

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

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

About Judith:

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

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

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

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

Amazon link to her books:

Secrets
A Hundred Tiny Threads

Secrets

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

 

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

Changing Relationships #MondayBlogs #families #relationships

olive

It’s twenty years today since my auntie left our home for the last time to go into care; eight years since she died. I wrote some of the following on each of those occasions. Now it seems almost unbelievable how much time has passed. I remember …

During our lives, Auntie Olive and I had three different relationships.

When I was a child I was told she was ‘someone very important in the civil service.’ She was a spinster in every way. I think I was as much a mystery to her as she was to me and we avoided each other as much as possible. But there was one occasion when we united in gleeful rebellion and it caused the only quarrel I can remember between her and my mother.

 For a long time, when I was a child, my mother insisted on my having ringlets. Every night my hair was twisted into rags and my scalp lifted from my skull. It was sheer torture. Auntie Olive hated those ringlets as much as I did and one day, when I was ten, she put a pudding basin on my head and cut round it. I was overjoyed and imagined that I looked like George out of the Famous Five books. My mother was less impressed. She didn’t speak to my auntie for a whole month.

 As I grew up my auntie took it upon herself to educate me in classical music but gave up the day she caught me gyrating to the Beatles. She then changed tactics and taught me ballroom dancing. We whirled up and down the hall of the tiny terraced house, where she lived and I can still do a mean waltz and quickstep, but only in straight lines; I never learned to turn corners. She showed me how to sew which came in very useful in the 60’s; it was surprising how many mini skirts a couple of yards of material could make. Most useful of all Auntie Olive taught me to drive and trusted my skills enough to lend me her car; which gave me a lot of kudos in our village (even if it was just a little blue Ford Popular). And, although we still didn’t understand each other’s ways, we were fond of one another.

So it seemed natural that, when my Nan died, Auntie Olive came  to live with us in Pembrokeshire.

By that time I was married with children and she was not just my aunt; she had become a dear friend. Even so, with little patience for trivial pleasantries and the possession of an acerbic tongue, she demanded respect wherever she was and I was sometimes a little wary of her. 

This made the adjustment to my next relationship with her very difficult.

                                                ***********

 Thirty years later Aunt Olive lives in the apartment, attached to our house. As she walks past my kitchen window she waves a peeled banana at me, which she intends to eat on the way to the shops. She does this every morning, perhaps to let me know she’s eating properly, perhaps as a joke. But, probably, she doesn’t even realise she’s doing it. All I know is that at one time my aunt would not have done something so ‘unseemly’ as to eat in the street.

  As she walks down the drive I realise she has no skirt on.

‘You can’t go out just in your knickers, you’ll stop the traffic’ I joke and we go back to the house. We laugh. She and I laugh a lot these days; it’s the only way to cope. We both know she is trying to keep some control over her life and, more often than not, fails. When she stubbornly insists on wearing her vest over her cardigan; when I find her washing her soiled pyjamas in an overflowing bath, wearing a woolly hat because she can’t find the shower cap she thinks she should wear; when, for the tenth time, the smoke alarm shrieks because she has burned the toast, again, and we both run to waft at it with a tea towel, we laugh. Who cares?

I do, it’s heart breaking.

 In our discussions on current affairs she pretends that she has read the newspaper, yet I know she can no longer read and after less than five minutes conversation I am repeating myself and she is the echo. She remembers her school days, her work in the War Office during the Second World War, a lover killed at Dunkirk. But she forgets that she has already had lunch and insists that I make her another; I feel chained to that damn cooker. Her nights and days are muddled and I am getting used to grilling bacon and frying eggs at three in the morning. It’s easier than trying to explain.

 Sometimes she calls me by my mother’s name as we sit in the garden, and wonders where her own mother is. I have learned to play the game.

  She loves the sun these days.

  ‘Warms my old bones.’ She says, wearing a floral sun hat, which she wouldn’t have been seen dead in ten years ago.   

 She has the same route around the village each day, paper shop, chemist, Post Office, Co-op. Not that she needs anything, I shop for her, but it’s her routine and at each place they are good enough to make sure she is heading back in the right direction.  Sometimes she walks down the road as far as the cross roads. I watch from an upstairs window. She has begun to wander. She’s very clever at slipping out of the house without me knowing she has gone. I drive around in the car looking for her or I get a telephone call from some kind soul who has ‘captured’ her and is supplying tea and biscuits. And safety.

She’s started to flash her knickers at the man who takes her to the day centre once a week.

                                                ************

 Now there is a third relationship I have with my aunt. I am a visitor. We no longer laugh at the silly things she does. I no longer help her to dress or eat. Someone else does all that now. They do it with love and care but it doesn’t stop the guilt i feel. Our conversations are a monologue. She sits and smiles at me. We hold hands. Sometimes she squeezes my fingers and when I look into her eyes I see the fear. I wrap my arms around her and whisper, ‘you’re safe, I’ve got you. It will be alright.’

 Against my shoulder I feel her shake her head.

© Judith Barrow 2018

The Grim Reaper by Judith Radbourne. #MondayBlogs

Some of you may know, as well as holding private creative writing workshops, I also tutor creative writing for the local council. Tutoring adults can be  rewarding (discovering wonderful writers), chaotic (my lesson plans are rarely followed – someone will inevitably take things off at a tangent) hilarious (the undiscovered comedian/ the completely unaware comedian) and thought-provoking (especially with memoir writing) Every now and then I like to share some of their work. This week I asked the classes to write three different personas of The Grim Reaper. Here is a set of brilliant pieces on the subject written by Judith Radbourne

death-2865060__340

 

Images courtesy of Pixybay

The Grim Reaper

1-VACANCY- WANTED a Grim Reaper. Are you looking for a stable and reliable career option?

Previous experience not required. Immediate start available

Role summary; This is an extremely demanding role, with unpredictable hours. The successful candidate must be available at short notice and use their initiative when dealing with difficult situations. The ability to ‘think on their’ feet essential to successful outcomes. Effective decision making and timely interventions are key.

Uniform provided- Black cloak with hood must be kept clean and tidy. It is company policy that candidates provide their height to ensure length of cloak meets trip hazard standards. Under current Health and Safety regulations, Section 3, paragraph 2a subsection 6c, candidates must ensure that their scythe is appropriately covered when not in use to avoid accidental injury to self or others.

Terms and conditions; Zero hours contract, Unsocial hours guaranteed.

Travelling expenses negotiable depending on mode of transport.

Must be willing to master a varied range of skills to succeed in this role including horse riding and boatmanship.

Moving and handling, training will be provided.

Must be mindful of the religious and cultural perceptions of the diverse populations you are likely to meet.

Candidates must be flexible, adaptable and have no sense of humour whatsoever.

Able to deal with the unexpected (previous job holder still recovering from post -plague traumatic stress).

To be patient, be discreet.

Be able to work by yourself without supervision. Lone working rules apply. You may face increased or additional risk from:

  • Inadequate provision of rest, hygiene, and welfare facilities
  • Violent thoughts and verbal abuse from members of the public
  • Sudden illness/emergencies.
  • Effects of social isolation – friends will probably drift away.

If interested please submit your CV.

 

 death-2024663__340

 2- The Grim Reaper

 I have come to accept that most people dislike me, some fear me. Must have something to do with my rather foreboding presence. For to know me you must have death. I can show no mercy? I make no judgements, can’t love or hate, emotions unfamiliar to me. I merely assist those who find themselves ready to travel to another place. I wait like a silent yet faithful companion taking your hand when you are ready to hold mine.  My touch may be cold but I steer your path as you need. Neither fair nor unfair, unmoved by pleading and prayers, no heart that beats or tears that fall. Neither ghost nor god. Tasked with lighting the way of infinite paths, no-one gets lost. There is none blacker than death that does not mean that I am evil. Shielded by my hood and cloak, not to hide but to be the same for everyone, anonymous yet enduring.  If you are looking for me and see a familiar face, you may understand me, you can put aside your fears. It maybe that you can find a terrifying countenance when you look, yet I will wait patiently in the shadows — and come for each of you in the end. Hourglass in hand, waiting for the last grain of sand to fall. When it does, I will collect your soul with a well-practiced cut of my razor-sharp blade to sever the ties that bind, no longer needed, another space and time awaits.

 

tunnel-965720__340

 

3- The Grim Reaper

I relish the many images that illustrate me, The Grim Reaper, swinging my mighty scythe through a crowd of people, mowing down souls as if they were grain. The popular notion that I am the face of death mystifies, death leads and I follow, black-cloaked, scythe wielding. Sometimes we work together interacting with the living tempting them to the grave. When we dance the Danse macabre, dancing and cavorting with people from all walks of life possibilities abound. I am diligent yet I view mankind with an impassive simplicity. People talk, tell me of their regrets, their wishes, their memories. So, this is what I have become, I am your pain, your sorrow.

I know that the things you can’t see frighten you so much more than the things you can see, so I hide within the shadows of your fears playing off your misgivings of the unknown. To make sense of dying and your mortality, you humans have relied on giving death a form that suits you. You have turned the abstract invisible phenomena that is death into something real and tangible. You have made me Grim, instilling the never-ending fear of death and departure, so why should I behave in any other way? Just as you harvest your crops, so do I harvest souls for their journey into the afterlife.

©  Judith Radbourne 2018

 

 

More Than a Simple Two-Shot Americano #shortstory #coffeetime #coffeeconvos

As some of you may know, as well as holding private creative writing workshops, I also tutor creative writing for the local council. Tutoring adults can be  rewarding (discovering wonderful writers), chaotic (my lesson plans are rarely followed – someone will inevitably take things off at a tangent) hilarious (the undiscovered comedian/ the completely unaware comedian) and thought-provoking (especially with memoir writing) Every now and then I like to share some of their work.

Here is a piece written by one of my students, Lei. He has an exceptional style of writing that is always individualistic, always has great depth.I hope you enjoy his work.

 

More than a simple two-shot americano

 How so.

 Cafe society, she says. Busy lunchtime. All tables surrounded. Custer’s last stand. Wagons, ho. People sitting angular wooden chairs. Hubub of humanity talking. So loud can hardly hear laconic Scotsman sits across from me. Something explanatory about photography and jazz. He deaf in one ear. Head twists to one side as I speak in response. Hears me but can’t.

 Cafe society, yes.

 She retired now. Bad back, you see. Watch walking. Lifts one leg, knee at right angle. Places foot down. Other repeats action of first. Ambulates carefully. Arms not move, at sides all times. Resigned. To pain. From work. Voluntary redundancy or something. Says can’t take it any more. DWP. Targets. People just numbers now. National insurance. Emphasise throughput. Taylorism. Quantity. Quality no time for. People units of movement. Everybody nice about it, she said. My leaving, I mean. Sorrow felt for those behind, sinking in statistical swamp. Interviews in windowless rooms Inexpensive polypropylene carpets stinking of anxiety and discarded skin. Consultation with job coaches to be taped, she says. So getting out now, she says. Hates sound of self on tape anyway haha. (Who doesn’t?) As if that real reason. Yes. Memorex. Purposes of staff training, not surveillance. Right. Nothing to see here, please move along. Job not under threat. Just squeezing the stone, more blood out of. (Ajahn Chah asked his followers, See that rock over there? Yes, they say. Is it heavy? he asks. Yes, they say. Not if you don’t lift it, he says.)

 Business transient. Life transient. Contemporary. Foolish. Irishman pink shirt outside jeans complaining. Englishman greeted him shop next door. Irishman angry that Anglophile mocks accent. “Top o’ the mornin’ to yer!” Irishman jigs exaggeratedly as describes moment. Surprisingly agile on trainered feet. Heels flick sideways; arms bend at waist. Head nods. Own caricature how English parody inhabitants over Irish Sea. Says, ‘So told him, “Aw, jus’ feck off!”’. We laugh. Know won’t count next time Irishman needs pop next door when runs out milk again. What a thing for a coffee shop.

 Once, said, in Boston, US. Seated in coffee bar, Tom Waits playing. Thought to self how heaven playing Tom Waits in own coffee shop. Now has. Now living the dream. Yes.

 But I know drinks white wine and maudlin increases. Accompaniment of Tom Waits, drinking songs. ‘Hasn’t drunk for twenty years,’ says. Wasn’t talking about him, almost said. Referring you. Imagine white wine. Sweet. Sharp. How after several glasses cease tasting it. Smoothness of chilled glass. Hold between index finger and thumb. Pinky outstretched. After while stop caring how look. And his eyes glaze, like a dying bird. Sees inward to own soul. Sings along Tom Waits. Duet of sorts, done remotely. Not even on same continent. Stops. Goes quiet, not like him at all.

 Then. ‘Hasn’t drunk alkhol twenty years,’ slurs. ‘Here, have sm’wine’. Holds empty bottle up to me. Looks at carafe. ‘Shit!’, says. ‘Empty!’ Like only noticed now. ‘I’m going,’ I say. ‘’Where you going?’ Rhetorical, so don’t reply. Leave two others, drinking buddies. One young with dreadlocks, smoking spliff. Other older man, squat, white beard and trilby hat. Irishman gets up. ‘No smoking ‘n here!’ declares, no direction. Followed by, ‘Wait here! More wine maestro!’ and ‘Next door, Jeeves!’ As if carbon-guzzling motor chauffered outside waiting. ‘Nxzht dzhr!’ Vowels go missing, snatched by inebriated brain. ‘Nglshz bshztrd,” says. ‘Top o’ th’ mornin’, my arse!’

 Staggers to feet. Yanks open glass door in wooden frame which warps in season. Glass shivers in situ, surprised. ‘Bldy dzhr!’ exclaims. ‘Fxsh tht!’ Follow out of shop. Watch weave next door, pushing on wall with left hand for support. Opposite direction, I, homeward. As walk away hear shouting. ‘Nglszh bshztrd!’ Perhaps refused to serve. It’s an offence, Your Honour. 2003 Licensing Act. Fine up to £1000. Or licence lose. More than my job’s worth, don’t hear proprietor say.

 Don’t know. Don’t know. Not there.

 

 

 

 

 

AND THIS IS THE ROOM WHERE IT HAPPENED #thursdaythoughts @Pembrokeshire #humour

Some of you may know, as well as holding private creative writing workshops, I also tutor creative writing for the local council. Tutoring adults can be  rewarding (discovering wonderful writers), chaotic (my lesson plans are rarely followed – someone will inevitably take things off at a tangent) hilarious (the undiscovered comedian/ the completely unaware comedian) and thought-provoking (especially with memoir writing) Every now and then I like to share some of their work. Here is a piece written by Trish Power (you may remember her as one of my students whose previous work, Enigma, I posted here

As you will see, this is the same exercise that inspired  Alex Abercrombie’s poem  here .

mansion-160425__340

 

AND THIS IS THE ROOM WHERE IT HAPPENED

We study the expansive hall, wood buffed to a mirrored finish reflecting the framed dignitaries set at precise intervals around the walls. At the start of the tour we had chatted and laughed in between our guide’s flawless documentary. But a hush has fallen over us now as we take in the enormity of the events leading to this point. Joleen assesses us. Practised as she is in her art, she is attuned to our mood and knows when to intervene.

‘Ladies and gentlemen, shall we move on?’

She walks ahead towards the end of the hall, stopping at one of the wall panels. When everyone is assembled and she has our attention she reaches out an immaculately manicured finger and pushes on a piece of the gold scrolling.

There’s a collective intake of breath as that section of the wall swings silently inwards exposing a carpeted stairwell lit by bright, rectangular lights recessed into the edge of the ceiling.

‘Please hold on to the rail; the treads are quite steep.’

She takes a step back and ushers us ahead with a sweep of her arm.

We arrive at an area where the lighting is dimmer. Six doors lead off from a central square. There is a shuffling as we make way for Joleen to move through us to the middle door on the right. This is what we’ve been waiting for.

We enter in total silence.

In front of us is a large, rectangular table surrounded by leather chairs. In front of each chair is a file of what appears to be documents. Behind us is a huge, wall-mounted screen.

At the head of the table is a taller chair with a studded back and embellished on top with a golden eagle. There are four phones in different colours set in an arc around a rectangular metal box containing a keypad and a large, red button.

There are other things in the room but for now our focus is on that button. The red button.

‘As you all are aware, ladies and gentlemen, this is where the Secretary of Defense and a united cohort of military advisors attempted to dissuade him from his plan of action. They pointed out the likely consequences for the world but were silenced by his declaration that he was Commander-in-Chief and outranked them all. He wasn’t going to stand by and let someone say things like that about him, even if they were an ally.

‘The video cameras were checked to make sure that they were still running as he insisted on the codes being tapped into the keypad.

‘Again, he was urged not to carry on.

‘But, like a child determined on having his way, he gave a triumphant grin and stabbed a stubby finger down on that button.

‘There were sighs of resignation but the way forward was clear now. He had failed their test and proven himself to be a danger to the free world. The Secretary of Defense gave a nod and two men approached, one of them carrying something rolled-up under his arm. They slipped behind the still-smirking president, reached forwards and slipped his arms into the straightjacket.

‘And so, ladies and gentlemen, the president of the most powerful country in the world was taken into protective custody in order to safeguard our planet – and this is the room where it happened.’

 ©Trish Power 2018

Donkey Boy and Other Stories by Mary Smith #RBRT #TuesdayBookBlog

 

Donkey Boy and Other Stories by [Smith, Mary]

 

I reviewed the book as a member of Rosie Amber’s Review Team #RBRT in return for an honest review

 I gave Donkey Boy and Other Stories  4* out of 5*.

Book Description:

Shot through with flashes of humour the stories here will entertain, amuse, and make you think. Mary Smith’s debut collection of short stories is a real treat, introducing the reader to a diverse range of characters in a wide range of locations. A donkey boy in Pakistan dreams of buying luxuries for his mother; a mouth artist in rural Scotland longs to leave the circus; a visually impaired man has a problem with his socks; and a woman tries to come to terms with a frightening gift – or curse

My Review:

I do like Mary Smith’s style of writing. Previously I have read and enjoyed No More Mulberries by this author; my review here: http://bit.ly/2CTEuZl

This is a fascinating collection of short stories, set in various places with a wealth of diverse characters, all wonderfully rounded. The author has a talent for setting the scene and giving a sense of place with few well-chosen words.

 I read each of these unusual stories slowly, taking in the way each situation unfolded, savouring the reactions of the characters to each problem they faced, enjoying the touches of humour, poignancy, empathising with the great sadness in some of the tales.

 Not sure I had an overall favourite, they are all easy to read, but these are the ones that stayed with me long after I’d read them:

The story in the title, Donkey Boy. The protagonist, Ali, should be in school but instead drives a donkey cart for his father. His resentment is palpable from the very start. The dilemma he faces exposes the way different cultures live;  not only their values and ethics but the differences in the child and adult in these societies.  This is well deserving as the title story.

Trouble with Socks. Set in a care home with the character George; patronised by one of the carers who really is in the wrong job.

Accidents Happen. Set in Pakistan; the story of a young girl with a step father she detests.

Asylum Seekers. One of the monologues (I did like this way of writing/reading a short story). Though ironic, this reveals unpleasant bigotry and prejudice,

There is a whole gamut of human emotions in Donkey Boy and Other Stories and I thoroughly recommend this collection by Mary Smith to any reader. Whatever your favourite genre you’ll be sure to find one that will linger with you long afterwards.

Links to buy: 

 Amazon.co.uk http://amzn.to/2D9bxGk

Amazon.com http://amzn.to/2D9bxGk

About the author:

Mary Smith

 

Mary Smith has always loved writing. As a child she wrote stories in homemade books made from wallpaper trimmings – but she never thought people could grow up and become real writers. She spent a year working in a bank, which she hated – all numbers, very few words – ten years with Oxfam in the UK, followed by ten years working in Pakistan and Afghanistan. She wanted others to share her amazing, life-changing experiences so she wrote about them – fiction, non-fiction, poetry and journalism. And she discovered the little girl who wrote stories had become a real writer after all.
Drunk Chickens and Burnt Macaroni: Real Stories of Afghan Women is an account of her time in Afghanistan and her debut novel No More Mulberries is also set in Afghanistan.
Mary loves interacting with her readers and her

Links to Mary:

Website  www.marysmith.co.uk.
Facebook: http://bit.ly/2wWIDci
Twitter: http://bit.ly/2ws6LAt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

double a hundred one

Click here  for my trilogy and prequel available from Honno.

Gwasg Honno Press

All my books are available from:

Amazon.co.uk: http://amzn.to/2klIJzN

Amazon.com: http://amzn.to/2CdPuNv

Patient Zero: Short stories from the Project Renova series by Terry Tyler #TuesdayBookBlog #ShortStories

Patient Zero: Short stories from the Project Renova series by [Tyler, Terry]

On my request the author gave me an arc of Patient Zero on the understanding I give an honest review.

I gave Patient Zero 5* out of 5*

Book Description:

The year is 2024.
A mysterious virus rages around the UK.
Within days, ‘bat fever’ is out of control.
Patient Zero is a collection of nine short stories featuring minor characters from the post apocalyptic Project Renova series. All stories are completely ‘stand alone’.

1. Jared: The Spare Vial
Jared has two vaccinations against the deadly virus: one for him, one for a friend…

2. Flora: Princess Snowflake
The girl with the perfect life, who believes in her father, the government, Christian charity and happy endings.

3. Jeff: The Prepper
What does a doomsday ‘prepper’ do when there is nothing left to prepare for?

4. Karen: Atonement
She ruined her sister’s last day on earth, and for this she must do penance.

5. Aaron: #NewWorldProblems
Aaron can’t believe his luck; he appears to be immune. But his problems are far from over.

6. Ruby: Money To Burn
Eager to escape from her drug dealer boyfriend’s lifestyle, Ruby sets off with a bag filled with cash.

7. Meg: The Prison Guard’s Wife
Meg waits for her husband to arrive home from work. And waits…

8. Evie: Patient Zero
Boyfriend Nick neglects her. This Sunday will be the last time she puts up with it. The very last time.

9. Martin: This Life
Life after life has taught the sixty year old journalist to see the bigger picture.

Tipping Point and Lindisfarne are the first two full length novels in the Project Renova series. A third will be available around late spring/early summer 2018.

My Review:

Having already read the two post-apocalyptic novels,Tipping Point (here’s my review: http://bit.ly/2um9Fcq), and Lindisfarne: (review here: http://bit.ly/2igJnQG)  of this Project Renova series by Terry Tyler, I was keen to get my hands on her anthology of short stories of the minor characters in these books. Until I read both these novels I was wary of this genre… too gloomy, I thought…not something I’d want to read about. But because I have always admired this author’s work I gave them a go. I’m glad I did. Brilliant writing!  

And Patient Zero sets the bar high for collections of short stories as well.

I love this idea of giving the flat characters in novels a life of their own. Each story reveals both the background and the present environment of the characters. Some tales are chilling, some poignant, some even threaded through with slight subtle humour. But all show the universal belief that humans have, that ‘all will be well’  for them belief. (Well, I say all, there is one story; Jeff: The Prepper, where the character has believed that the world as we know it will end and is ready. But even he has a discovery he didn’t expect… say no more.

 

With some told from both the first person point of view and some from the omniscient narrator each story is complete in itself and is a good solid read. 

As always with this author the dialogue, both spoken and internal, is true to each character.

And, as usual, the descriptions of the settings give a great sense of place.

There is the same inevitability to the endings of the short stories, as with the two novels,  after all these are apocalyptic accounts. Yet some took me by surprise (which, for me is always a good sign). There are open-endings, twist in the tale denouements and the ‘of course’ endings. But what they all are, is satisfying.

The character who evoked a sense of sadness in me –  Meg: The Prison Guard’s Wife.

The character that most angered me by her selfishness – Karen in Atonement.

 The character who gives hope, perhaps –  Martin: This Life.

Not that I’m going to tell you their stories!

I strongly suggest to any reader that they check Patient Zero out for themselves.  I highly recommend this anthology to readers who love this genre… and to readers who like good writing.

Links: 

Amazon.co.uk: http://amzn.to/2jTfp3i

Amazon.com: http://amzn.to/2yF7sGP

About the Author:

terry tyler

Terry Tyler is the author of sixteen books available from Amazon, the latest being ‘Patient Zero’, the third book in her new post apocalyptic series, which is a collection of stand-alone short stories featuring characters in the main novels. She is proud to be self-published, is an avid reader and book reviewer, and a member of Rosie Amber’s Book Review Team.

Terry is a Walking Dead addict, and loves history, winter, South Park and Netflix. She lives in the north east of England with her husband, a move that took place nine years ago from the beautiful Norfolk coast; she is still trying to learn Geordie.

Stan Green’s Secret #WW1 #shortstories #RemembranceDay

 

‘How old are you, son?’

 Stan straightened his spine and stretched his shoulders back, looking beyond the man to the recruitment poster of Lord Kitchener, on the wall.  ‘Eighteen, sir.’

‘Hmm. Date of birth?’ The captain studied Stan.

‘October 3rd, 1896, sir.’

‘Okay, lad, you’re in. Report to the sergeant over there.’ He dismissed Stan by shouting, ‘Next!’

 Stan grinned and gave the thumbs up to his mate, Ernest Sharp who stood, behind him. He turned and marched as best he could to the other side of the room to the serveant.

‘If that’s the best you can do as a march lad, I’ve got some work cut out for me.’ But the recruiting sergeant, tall and moustached, gave Stan a grin. ‘Welcome to the East Lancashire Regiment. ‘He winked. ‘We’re doin’ well; you’re the tenth recruit today, so that’s ten half-crowns we’ve earned. We’ll be ‘aving a few pints on you lot tonight.’

 

‘What do you mean, you’ve joined the army. You’re fourteen.’ Stan’s mother stared at him. Drying her soapy hands on her pinny she moved away from the sink full of washing. ‘Emmanuel, tell him. Tell him he can’t; he’s not old enough.’

Stan’s father didn’t move from behind his newspaper. ‘If the lad wants to serve his king and country, Mother, there’s nothing we can do.’

‘Nothing.’ Stan’s mother screeched the word. ‘Nothing? He’s a boy, for God’s sake.’

‘No blaspheming, Mother.’  Now Emmanuel Green did lower his paper.  ‘There’s nothing we can do if he’s already signed up.’

‘We could tell them his real—’

‘I want to go, Mother. I will go.’ Stan didn’t want to hurt her by telling her he needed to get away from home; from his sanctimonious father and a mother who almost smothered him with her love.

‘Ernie’s signed up as well, Mam. We’ll watch out for one another.’ He held out his hand to her but, with a wail and throwing her pinny over her head, Gertrude Green rushed from the kitchen.

‘Ignore your mother; she’s being hysterical as usual.’ His father pointed at Stan with the stem of his pipe. ‘She knows nothing of a man’s duty or the work he has to do. I was in the mill at twelve, myself. Just wish I wasn’t too old to join up but it’s up to you stand in for the family now. Make sure you don’t let us down.’

 Stan waited to see if there was anything else he would say but Emmanuel shook the newspaper straight and disappeared behind it again.

 

Stan sat on the edge of his narrow bed. He’d packed his clothes, his notebook and his copy of Robinson Crusoe and was waiting for Ernie to call for him to join the others down at the railway station. Glancing around the small bedroom he wondered when he’d see it again. He doubted he would come home after his training at Tidworth, or even ever. He was sick of this place; of his father, his five sisters, even his mother who he knew was probably the only one in the family who truly loved him.

 The lid of his toy box in the corner of the room was open; the wooden rifle he used to play with was sticking out. Soon he’d be carrying a real rifle. Soon he’d be trained to defend his country holding it; to kill with it. The last thought made him shiver involuntarily and for a moment, only a moment though, he wondered if he’d done the right thing.

 The clatter of the doorknocker stopped his thoughts. He stood, dropping the note he’d written to his mother on the bed. It was short because he hadn’t known what to say. He read the words again “Don’t worry, Mam. I’ll be careful.” He’d hesitated, wondering if he should tell her he loved her but they didn’t say things like that in his family and it sounded soppy, so he just put a cross for a kiss after his name. Stopping at the door to his room he looked around. It wouldn’t be kept as his room, he knew that. As soon as his sisters realised he’d gone, they be fighting over who could move in. He listened outside his parents’ room; his mother was still crying. He couldn’t go in and, without stopping to say anything to his father he opened the door and stepped onto the pavement.

 ‘Come on, Ernie, me old pal,’ he said, flinging his arm over his friend’s shoulder and hitching his bag under his arm. ‘Let go and see the world.’

 

Stan and Ernie slumped next to each other in the trench. The noise of artillery and grenades above them made Stan’s ears ring

       ‘They’re getting nearer, Stan.’ Ernie’s voice wavered. ‘I can’t stand much more of its.’ He put the palms of his hands over his ears.  ‘Have you thought any more about what the Sarge said yesterday? That, if we own up to being fourteen—’

      ‘Fifteen,’ Stan interrupted. ‘We’re fifteen now.’

      ‘Still underage.’ Ernie plucked at Stan’s sleeve. ‘And the Sarge said all of us who’re under nineteen would be allowed to go home to England if we wanted.’

      ‘Well I don’t.’ Stan was curt.

      ‘We’ve done our duty, Stan; we’ve been in this hell for a year now. Please, Stan.’ The tears made rivulets in the dirt on Ernie’s face.’

      Stop it!’ Stan lurched onto his knees to block his friend off from the rest of the soldiers further along the trench. ‘Stop it, for God’s sake, Ern. D’you want that lot to think you’re a coward?’

      ‘I’ve not felt right since that German sniper got Watson in the head. I can’t get his screams out of my head now. And we left him there—’

      ‘We had no choice; they knew where we were by then, we couldn’t hang around. They’d have come for us.’ Stan sat back next to Ernie and rubbed at the barrel of his rifle with his sleeve. ‘We need to get these cleaned up,’ he nodded at both his and Ernie’s rifles, ‘Before the Sarge comes along.’

       ‘Shall we tell him we want to go back—?’

      ‘No!’ You go if you want. I’m staying.’ Stan ached in every bone of his body, his skin was red-raw from scratching at the lice and he couldn’t remember when he was last dry. But he couldn’t go back home. He didn’t know what he’d do when it was all over but he’d never go back to that house.

 

‘Come on, you lot, we’re moving up.’ Stan watched Sergeant Mills kick the boots of those soldiers who were sleeping as he stumbled through the mud of the trench towards him.

      ‘Ernie, wake up. We’re off again.’

      His friend didn’t speak. Holding on to the side of the trench he struggled to his feet and pushed himself upright.

      Keep your bloody head down.’ The sergeant thumped Ernie’s shoulder. ‘Bloody idiot. Do you want to lose it?’ He stood at the front of the line. ‘We’re moving up to our sector. Stick close to me and keep your gobs shut. We don’t want the soddin’ Krauts doing what they did last week, do we?’

       ‘Oh God.’

      When Stan looked into his mate’s eyes they were unfocussed. He hadn’t been the same since the Germans had raided their trench, armed with knives and clubs two nights ago and taken the division by surprise.

      ‘Buck up, Ern,’ he muttered.  ‘Stick close.’ But he knew he shared the same nightmares. There had been no escape in the assault and fourteen of the men around them had died before they’d even managed to retaliate. It was the noise that haunted him most; the sound of the clubs on skulls, knives through flesh, the screams and moans of the dying.

 

       ‘Come on, shift.’ The sergeant glared at the men fumbling into line, fastening their helmets, fixing bayonets to their rifles. ‘Ready?’          

      ‘Ready, Sarge.’ Stan tried to sound confident raising his voice above the mumbles around him; hoping Sergeant Mills hadn’t seen Ernie’s bewilderment.

 The grenade landed feet in front of the sergeant.  

      The explosion blew three of the men in front of Stan off their feet. Stan wiped his arm across his face to clear his eyes. Looking down at his sleeve he saw the blood and torn tissue mixed with the mud. He swallowed the bile that rose instantly in his throat

      Sergeant Mills seemed to be propped up against the side of the trench at least ten yards in front of them, both legs missing.  As Stan watched the body slid down the wall and fell, face upwards into the mud. Bloody parts of the three soldiers were scattered around the trench. The head of one, Cuthbert Grimes, Stan noted numbly, lay in front of his boots, the skin peppered with shrapnel.

      ‘Our Father who art in Heaven… our Father who art in Heaven… our Father…’

      Behind him Ernie’s voice grew higher. Other voices joined in with him.

      ‘Shut it. Shut up.’ Stan whirled round to face those behind him. They blundered away from him.   He didn’t see the cloud of the yellow gas seeping along the trench. In an instant the gas tore into Stan’s lungs and scorching his eyes. Choking he followed the rest of his division, crawling on hands and knees through the mud.

       Ernie, move. Quick!’ He faltered, rubbing frantically at his eyes, blinded. It was the last thing he remembered.

     

Stan’s throat burned from the stream of vile – smelling liquid that poured out of him, He was barely aware of the soothing words and the gentle touch on his back. When the agony finally stopped he slowly sat up, scared it would start again.

      ‘Okay, now?’ The nurse came into view; a kindly concerned expression on the smiling face of a woman about his mam’s age.

      He nodded, tentative with any movement in case it started again. ‘Where am I?’

      ‘In the hospital at the Base Camp.’

      ‘Ernie?’ he said. ‘My mate, Ernie?’ he looked around the long ward, past beds of injured men. ‘He here as well?’

      ‘I’m sorry; I don’t know where your friend is.’

      ‘How long have I been here?’ He closed his eyes against the harshness of the whiteness of his surroundings.

      ‘A month or so. You’ve been gassed and you’ve been in shock.’

      The tears came easily. Humiliated, Stan leant back, felt the hardness of the bed rail against his head.

      ‘You need more iodine on those cuts on your face. I’ll be back in a minute.’ The nurse walked away, carrying the sick bowl.

     

‘He’s had his sentences confirmed. His execution; it’ll happen tomorrow. They say the chaplain’s with him now.’

      Stan stared at the man shifting uncomfortably on the chair next to his bed. ‘They can’t do that, Harry, he’s only fifteen.’

      ‘They don’t care.’ Harry leant forward, resting his forearms on his thighs. He lowered his voice. ‘They say Ernie ran away; finished up at a farmhouse. Stupid sod told the farmer’s wife he was going back to England.’ He shook his head.  ‘They’re setting up a firing squad for him…’ He looked up at the ward door. ‘Look out.’ Harry rose quickly, stood to attention and saluted.

       Stan raised his hand to his forehead in a similar gesture

       ‘Green.’ The officer stopped at the foot of Stan’s bed. ‘Firing squad 0600 hours. Tomorrow. Report to—’

      ‘I’ve been gassed, sir. I can’t—’

      ‘It’s an order, Green. Are you refusing to obey an order?’ The officer raised his eyebrows, his lips tightened. He tapped his fingers on the bed rail.

      ‘No, sir. It’s just that Ernie– Sharpe’s a mate…’

       ‘He’s a coward. He was charged with fleeing in the face of the enemy. He’s had a fair trial. The man—’

      ‘He’s fifteen,’ Stan interrupted, trying to shut out the words. ‘A lad…’ He heard the sudden intake of breath from Harry.

      The officer stopped tapping his fingers. He fixed Stan with a glare.

      ‘Sir,’ Stan added. ‘He’s only fifteen – sir.’

      ‘He signed on as eighteen; the Army took him in good faith. But he’s a coward, he deserted his post.’ The officer turned away. ‘0600 hours at the cells. Tomorrow.’

 

‘Eyes front!’

      Stan lined up with the other five soldiers on either side of him, facing the wall and the firing post. He couldn’t stop shaking. Out of the corner of his eye he sensed movement at the door leading to the cells.

      When the hooded and bound figure was dragged, legs trailing, into his sight by two burly soldiers he almost cried out. He tried to blot out the sight as his friend was tied to the post. Slumping away from the post despite the ties Ernie whimpered when the captain fastened the white square to his jacket.

       The chaplain was muttering words Stan couldn’t hear. He took in a long shuddering breath.

      Ernie lifted his head, tilted his chin upwards as though trying to see under the hood, even though it was fastened around his neck.

      ‘Stan?’ he cried. ‘Stan? Are you there?’

      Stan turned to the sergeant in silent appeal but, ignoring Stan and with a gesture, the man indicated for the squad to pick up the Lee Enfield rifles placed in front of them.

      ‘Stan?’

      ‘Fire!’

      Ernie’s cry was cut off in the volley of shots.

      The soldier next to Stan pushed him to turn away from the body and when the sergeant ordered, ‘Quick march,’ the man gave him another shove.

       ‘Keep going, lad.’ Stan heard the hissed whisper. ‘Keep it together ‘til you get back to the ward.’

      The men marched into the building, without inspecting their weapons, without turning a head.  Stan didn’t see the concerned looks of the nurses and the other patients in the ward. It was only when he crawled into his bed that he realised that tears were streaming down his face.

 

 Stan held the creased photograph of Ernie’s sister between his fingers.  His hand hovered over the door before he rapped on the wood with his knuckles.

      It was Ernie’s sister who opened it, her eyelids swollen and pink.  She buckled at the knees when she saw Stan. He only just managed to catch hold of her and clutched her to him.

       ‘Stan! Oh, Stan.’ She clung to him. ‘Our Ernie…’

      ‘I know, Betty.’ He lifted her in his arms and carried her into the house, setting her down on the sofa in the parlour.  ‘I know.’ He sat next to her, closing his eyes against the scalding tears. His chest hurt.

      ‘How?’ She held his face between her palms. The scent of lavender from her skin was the sweetest thing he could remember.

       ‘The War Office wrote to say he was suffering from shock but then we heard he was he was passed fit,’ she sobbed. ‘They wouldn’t tell us what happened; why he’d been sent back to fight.’ She pulled back to study his face. ‘You know, Stan. You must know? Mother and me, we need to know as well.’

      ‘Ernie was brave to the last, Betty. I promise. He was a brave soldier to the last’. The words were thick in his throat. ‘The last thing he said to me was that you and his mother should carry on as if he was at home.’ Stan swallowed the lie. ‘And that he’ll always love you both.’

      “We got a letter from him last week.’ Betty fumbled into her cardigan pocket and handed the note to Stan. It was worn and creased as though it had been read many time. There were only a few words scrawled across it. Stan only saw the last lines.

“We were told we could come home because we were underage. But Stan and me had a long discussion and we decided to stay.”

 Then his friend’s last words

“We were in the trenches. I was so cold I went out and took shelter in a farmhouse. They took me to prison so I will have to go in front of the court. I’m in a bit of trouble now, Mam.  I will try my best to get out of it, so don’t worry.”

 Links: 

Amazon.co.uk: http://amzn.to/2swOWgg

 Amazon.com:  http://amzn.to/2uQhcg2

 

 

Silent Night: A Christmas Story Collection by Wendy Clarke #RBRT #TuesdayBookBlog

 

Silent Night: A Christmas Story Collection by [Clarke, Wendy]

Book Description: ‘Silent Night’ is a collection of thirteen Christmas stories by Wendy Clarke, a regular writer of fiction for national magazines.

I was given this book by the author as a member of Rosie Amber’s review team in exchange for an honest review.

 I gave Silent Night 4* out of 5*

 My Review:

I enjoyed reading these short, sometimes very short, stories around the theme of Christmas. These are tales very much ‘in the moment’, of love lost and found, unrequited love returned, families torn apart and reunited (or about to be), of friendships. All set around Christmas time. They fit neatly into the genre they were written for; as it says in the book description, they are, ” fiction for national magazines”.

Reading to review a collection of such short stories is completely different from reading to review a novel. There are no multi layered characters, no complex plot, no wrestling with an unreliable narrator, no in-depth internal dialogue, no  time for peaks and troughs in the story. Just a good honest telling of a tale with (if not always completely a happy ending), always with a satisfying denouement.

 As such, I settled down to read each one and enjoyed most of them. Wendy Clarke is a good storyteller, I like her style of writing. I loved the depth of emotion she gave to the characters through the dialogue; they were mostly all truly believable.  I especially enjoyed her portrayal of the children; for me she got the dialogue of these perfectly.

And her descriptions and narratives give a good sense of place and era.

What I most admired was the author’s ability to weave the tone of the story into the narrative. Perhaps i should explain by giving a couple of examples:

Silent Night: (the story that gives the collection its title) and  Do You believe in Angels – poignant tales of familial love in wartime. These were my favourites.

Together for Christmas: A lovely humorous story of friendship and empathy.

This collection has obviously been published in time for the Christmas market, although I would certainly recommend Silent Night to any reader who enjoys short stories anytime.

 Love the cover, by the way.

Buying links:

Amazon.co.uk http://amzn.to/2zRJvMU

Amazon.com: http://amzn.to/2yhbqcR 

About the Author:

Wendy Clarke

Wendy Clarke is a full time writer of women’s fiction. She started writing when the primary school she taught in closed down and after completing two creative writing courses, began writing short fiction for magazines. Since then, she has sold over two hundred short stories and her work regularly appears in national women’s magazines such as The People’s Friend, Take a Break Fiction Feast and Woman’s Weekly. She has also written serials and a number of non-fiction magazine articles.

Wendy lives with her husband, cat and step-dog in Sussex and when not writing is usually dancing, singing or watching any programme that involves food! 

 

Today I’m hosting my very first guest – the wonderful saga writer, Judith Barrow. Her latest book is just out – A Hundred Tiny Threads. So come and meet the Howarth family!

Image

http://merrynallingham.com/a-hundred-tiny-threads/?doing_wp_cron=1503679765.9046089649200439453125

A Hundred Tiny Threads

Today I’m welcoming Judith Barrow to the blog – my very first guest! It’s lovely to have you here, Judith. I really enjoy the family sagas you write, so my first question is:

What made you decide to write in your genre?

Families 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 can bring the best and the worst out in all of us, I think. So a wealth of human emotions to work with.

What other authors of your genre are you connected/friends with, and do they help you become a better writer in any way?

I recently held a series of interviews with other family saga authors. Through those posts it was lovely getting to know them and the way they work.  With some I’d already read their books, others, it was brilliant to discover their novels. I also have met writers, both Indie and traditionally published, through social media over the years and feel I know some of them quite well. 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. My dearest Honno friend is Thorne Moore who is an invaluable help with the book fair we organise annually; I’d go so far to say it wouldn’t be half the success it is without her.

Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly?

No, I really don’t. It’s one of the things I stress to my adult creative writing classes; they have to feel what they write. If they don’t how can they expect the reader to empathise with their characters? I have laughed out loud with my characters, cried through some of the situations they’ve found themselves in, felt admiration and even envy for the strengths they have dealt with the hard times. And been completely exasperated and cross with some of them.

Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?

It’s funny you ask that. Not long ago I was told by another author that all my books were ’Samey’. I was quite incensed for a few moments until it was explained to me that she meant of the same genre. But even if they are all family sagas I still think that, like life in different families, each story needs to be original; both for my own satisfaction and for my readers. And writing style comes into that as well. Just lately I read a book by an author whose past books I’ve devoured. Her latest is written in such a different style I could have sworn it was by a different author. It wasn’t, of course but I wondered how she managed to write in such a diverse way. I’m not sure I could change my voice so drastically.

How do you balance making demands on the reader with taking care of the reader?

Ah, this is our great friend ‘foreshadowing’; I like to drop subtle hints of things to come into the main body of the story. I drive my husband mad by saying who’s done what/ what’s going to happen/ how something will turn out in television dramas. I do try to keep quiet but even then I say triumphantly, “Knew it!” afterwards. There’s satisfaction in being a reader and guessing the action to come. Then again, there’s great satisfaction as an author in leading the reader down the wrong track as well.

Do you want each book to stand-alone or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?

I set off to write Pattern of Shadows as a stand-alone but I knew here was another story about the Howarth family waiting in the wings. And that happened again after Changing Patterns, so Living in the Shadowsemerged. I breathed a sigh of relief when that last book of the trilogy was finished but after a week the two main characters of A Hundred Tiny Threads, the parents of Mary Howarth, the protagonist in the trilogy, stared clamouring. So their story had to be written.

Front of Secrets

I actually thought I’d finished with them all then. But up popped eight minor characters from the three books mithering and pecking at my head. So I wrote a set of short stories for them in my anthology, Secrets.A couple of them are still buzzing around… hmm!

 

Would you like to talk about your latest book here?

 

Thank you. A Hundred Tiny Threads is the prequel to my trilogy. It’s a family saga set between 1911 and 1922 in Lancashire and Ireland during a time of social and political upheaval. So it covers the years of the Suffragettes, the First World War and the Uprising in Ireland with the Black and Tans. The two main characters are Winifred Duffy and Bill Howarth, the people who become the parents of Mary Howarth, the protagonist in the trilogy. As with the trilogy, it’s published by Honno (http://www.honno.co.uk) and has been described as an engaging, emotive novel.

 And finally where can readers find you?

 

Bloghttps://judithbarrowblog.com/
Amazon Page: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Judith-Barrow/e/B0043RZJV6
Twitter: https://twitter.com/barrow_judith
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Judith-Barrow-327003387381656/
Pinterest: https://uk.pinterest.com/judithbarrow/
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3295663.Judith_Barrow
Google+: https://plus.google.com/+JudithBarrowauthor
Linkedin : https://www.linkedin.com/in/judith-anne-barrow-02812b11/

judith heashot last

Judith Barrow, originally from Saddleworth, Yorkshire, has lived in Pembrokeshire, Wales, for almost forty years. She has an MA in Creative Writing with the University of Wales Trinity St David’s College, Carmarthen, a BA (Hons) in Literature with the Open University and a Diploma in Drama from Swansea University. She has had short stories, plays, reviews and articles, published throughout the British Isles and has won several poetry competitions. She has completed three children’s books.
She is also a Creative Writing tutor for Pembrokeshire County Council’s Lifelong learning Scheme