1. How did you feel when you were nominated for the Wales Book of the Year Award?
It was a strange feeling, The Memory was published around the first week of the first lockdown and, I felt, became subsumed in all the disruption and anxiety of the pandemic. So, when I first heard that the book was being nominated, it was a complete surprise. Naturally I was also thrilled, because The Memory is so different from my other novels, which are all historical family sagas. And I wasn’t sure how it would be received by readers. To be recognised by Literature Wales for the Wales Book of the Year Award 2021, The Rhys Davies Trust Fiction Award, was a great accolade for me.
2. What made you want to write the Memory?
I believe we are all affected by our pasts; experiences that shape our present and future. And, as writers, memories feed our stories. Families fascinate me: the love, the loyalties, the rivalry, the complex relationships. Layers that are in all families. The casual acceptance of one another in a family can bring the best and the worst out in all of us, so there is a wealth of human emotions to work with. This is how The Memory evolved. Some of the background comes from a time when I was a carer for my aunt who lived with us. She developed dementia and I kept a journal so we could talk about what we’d done each day. Many years after she’d died, those memories crept into The Memory. And then there are memories from my childhood, when I had a friend who was a Downs Syndrome child. The affection she gave, the happiness that seemed to surround her, is something I remembered long after she died of heart failure at the age of eleven. And I wanted that love to be a huge part of the book, a main theme. Fundamentally it’s the story of a secret that is never discussed within a family, but which has had a profound lifelong effect on the relationship between the mother and daughter. The Memory is sometimes poignant, sometimes sad, but is threaded throughout with humour.
3. What would your words of advice be for aspiring writers?
The way you see the world is different from anyone else, so write from your heart. If you don’t feel the emotions as you put the words on the paper or screen, no reader will feel them either. Basically, your job is to write the story in the best way you can; you will know if you have. And then accept that not everyone is going to like your work; just understand that every reader will have a subjective opinion of your book.
Published by Honno Welsh Women’s Press, 19 March 2020. ISBN: 978-1-91290513-2 (PB)
Euthanasia is the greyest of grey areas in criminal terms, especially when the person on the receiving end is incapable of making such an irreversible decision. For thirty years Irene has lived with the memory of her mother Lilian standing at her sister’s bedside holding a pillow. No one has ever talked about it, but it has stood between mother and daughter ever since, a dark shadow that made an already fraught relationship almost unbearable
And now Irene and Lilian are inextricably bound by the cruellest of fates. Lilian is in the most demanding phase of dementia, and before the disease took hold she refused point-blank to give Irene power of attorney. They are joint owners of the house they live in, Irene’s childhood home, but with no control over her mother’s financial affairs she cannot sell it to pay for Lilian’s care and has to do everything herself. Through a nightmare twenty-four hours, during which Lilian’s demands become increasingly challenging, memories flood into Irene’s mind and she relives the childhood that led to that appalling moment and the frustrated adulthood that followed.
Rose, the dead sister, was a Downs baby, and Lilian rejected her from the outset. Irene, on the other hand, fell in love. Her adoration of her small sister, and the motherly care she lavishes on her is portrayed in almost tear-jerking detail, as is Rose’s affectionate nature, a common feature among Downs children. Irene is not without support, even after her father, who loves Rose but cannot deal with Lilian, leaves to set up home with another woman. There’s Sam, her childhood friend and later sweetheart, and Nanna, who willingly takes on the burden of the household. The network of complex relationships and all their ups and downs form the foundation of the novel.
Whether The Memory is a crime novel in any conventional sense is open to conjecture. As a perfectly observed account of the last stages of dementia, and a picture of a family riven and distorted by both tragedy and great love, it is a masterclass. But it is also as meticulously and tautly structured as any psychological thriller. As well as vividly drawn characters and a rich sense of place, there are edge-of-the-seat moments of tension, and a twist at the end that I would never have predicted, obvious though it was the moment it was revealed.
Judith Barrow has taken two emotionally charged situations and woven them into a heart-wrenching story which had me close to tears more than once. Long before the end I had stopped caring whether it qualified as crime. I simply didn’t want to stop reading.
Judith Barroworiginally from Saddleworth, a group of villages on the edge of the Pennines, has lived in Pembrokeshire, Wales, for over forty years. She has an MA in Creative Writing with the University of Wales Trinity St David’s College, Carmarthen. BA (Hons) in Literature with the Open University, a Diploma in Drama from Swansea University. She is a Creative Writing tutor for Pembrokeshire County Council and holds private one to one workshops on all genres.
Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives in Oxfordshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.
UK-based Mystery People, set up in February 2012, was founded by Lizzie Hayes following the discontinuation of the Mystery Women group. Mystery People is dedicated to the promotion of crime fiction and in particular to new authors. But this is not just a writers’ group, for without readers what would writers do? Lizzie says… “From an early age I have been a lover of crime fiction. Discovering like minded people at my first crime conference at St Hilda’s Oxford in 1997, I was delighted when asked to join a new group for the promotion of female crime writers. In 1998 I took over the running of the group, which I did for the next thirteen years. During that time I organised countless events promoting crime writers and in particular new writers. But apart from the sheer joy of reading, ‘I actually love books, not just the writing, the plot or the characters, but the sheer joy of holding a book has never abated for me. The greatest gift of my life has been the ability to read.” As a founder member of Mystery Women in 1997, promoting Crime Fiction has always been my passion. Following the closure of Mystery Women, a new group was formed on 30th January 2012 promoting crime fiction. New reviews are posted daily, but to search for earlier reviews please click on the Mystery People link below and select ‘reviews’ from the welcome page. This will display an alphabetic option for you to find the review you would like to read:
I wrote for years before letting anyone read my work. If I was self-deluded; if it was rubbish, I didn’t want to be told. I enjoyed my “little hobby” (as it was once described by a family member). But then I began to enter my short stories into competitions. Sometimes I was placed, once or twice I even won. Encouraged, I moved on to sending to magazines – I had some luck, was published – once! But I hadn’t dared to send out any of the four, full length book manuscripts I’d written (and actually never did, they were awful!) That changed after a long battle with breast cancer in my forties and, finally finishing a book that I thought might possibly…possibly, be good enough for someone else to see, other than me, I took a chance.
I grew resigned (well almost) to those A4 self-addressed envelopes plopping through the letterbox. (yes, it was that long ago!) The weekly wail of ‘I’ve been rejected again,’ was a ritual that my long-suffering husband also (almost) grew resigned to.
There were many snorts of exasperation at my gullibility and stubbornness from the writinggroup I was a member of at the time. They all had an opinion – I was doing it all wrong. Instead of sending my work to publishers I should have been approaching agents.
‘You’ll get nowhere without an agent,’ one of the members said. She was very smug. Of course she was already signed up with an agent whose list, she informed me, was full.
‘How could you even think of trying to do it on your own?’ was another horrified response when told what I’d done, ‘With the sharks that are out there, you’ll be eaten alive.’
‘Or sink without a trace.’ Helpful prediction from another so-called friend.
So, after trawling my way through the Writers & Artists Yearbook (an invaluable tome) I bundled up two more copies of my manuscript and sent them out to different agents
Six months later I was approached by one of the agents who, on the strength of my writing, agreed to take me on. The praise from her assistant was effusive, the promises gratifying. It was arranged that I meet with the two of them in London to discuss the contract they would send in the post, there would be no difficulty in placing my novel with one of the big publishers; they would make my name into a brand.
There was some editing to do, of course. Even though the manuscript was in its fifth draft, I knew there would be. After all, the agent, a big fish in a big pond, knew what she was doing. Okay, she was a little abrasive (on hindsight I would say rude) but she was a busy person, I was a first time author.
But I was on my way. Or so I thought.
A week before the meeting I received an email; the agent’s assistant had left the agency and they no longer thought they could act for me. They had misplaced my manuscript but would try to locate it. In the meantime would I send an SAE for its return when/if ‘it turned up’?
So – back to square one.
For a month I hibernated (my family and friends called it sulking, but I preferred to think of it as re-grouping). I had a brilliant manuscript that no one wanted (at this point, I think it’s important to say that, as an author, if you don’t have self-belief how can you persuade anyone else to believe your work is good?) But still, no agent, no publisher.
There were moments, well weeks (okay, if I’m honest – months), of despair, before I took a deep breath and resolved to try again. I printed out a new copy of the novel. In the meantime I trawled through my list of possible agents. Again.
Then, out of the blue, a phone call from the editorial assistant who’d resigned from that first agent to tell me she’d set up her own agency, was still interested in my novel and could we meet in London in a week’s time? Could we? Try and stop me, I thought.
We met. Carried away with her enthusiasm for my writing, her promises to make me into a ‘brand name’ and her assurance that she had many contacts in the publishing world that would ‘snap her hand off for my novel’, I signed on the dotted line.
Six months later. So far, four rejections from publishers. Couched, mind you, in encouraging remarks:
“Believable characters … strong and powerful writing … gripping story … Judith has an exciting flair for plot … evocative descriptions.”
And then the death knell on my hopes.
“Unfortunately … our lists are full … we’ve just accepted a similar book … we are only a small company … I’m sure you’ll find a platform for Judith’s work … etc. etc.”
The self-doubt, the frustration, flooded back.
Then the call from the agent; ‘I think it’s time to re-evaluate the comments we’ve had so far. Parts of the storyline need tweaking. I’ve negotiated a deal with a commercial editor. When she mentioned the sum I had to pay (yes, I had to pay, and yes, I was that naïve) I gasped.’ It’s a realistic charge by today’s standards,’ she said. ’Think about it. In the end we’ll have a book that will take you to the top of your field.’
I thought about it. Rejected the idea. Listened to advice from my various acquaintances. Thought about it some more. And then I rang the agent. ‘Okay,’ I said, ‘I’ll do it.’ I felt I had no choice; after all she was the expert. Wasn’t she? What did I know?
When the manuscript came back from the commercial editor, I didn’t recognise the story at all. ‘This isn’t what I wrote. It’s not my book,’ I told the agent. ‘It’s nothing like it.’The plot, the characters had been completely changed.
‘You know nothing of the publishing world. If you want me to represent you, you have to listen to me,’ she insisted. ‘Do as I say.’
‘Take it or leave it.’
I consulted our daughter, luckily she’s a lawyer qualified in Intellectual Property.
‘You can cancel the contract within the year. After that, you have problems. There will be all manner of complications...
I moved quickly. The agent and I parted company.
I took a chance and contacted Honno, the publisher who’d previously accepted two of my short stories for their anthologies.Would they have a look at the manuscript? They would. They did. Yes, it needed more work but…
I’m proud to say I’ve now been with Honno, the longest standing independent women’s press in the UK, for fourteen years, and have had six books published by them. I love their motto “Great writing, great stories, great women“, and I love the friends I’ve made amongst the other women whose work they publish, and the support amongst us for our writing and our books. In normal times we often meet up . I’m hoping those “normal times” will return before too long.
Of course, there has been much editing and discussion with every manuscript. But at least, in the end, the stories are told in my words. With my voice
We welcome Judith Barrow today, talking about her research and settings
Hello Judith, and welcome to the blog. First of all, could we ask what kind of research you do?
Writing historical family sagas necessitates a lot of research. It’s what I enjoy. It’s fun discovering the fashions of an era, the hairstyles and cosmetics. The toys, the games that occupied the children tell a lot about the times. Mostly I research late nineteenth and early twentieth century when children had less time to play; childhood often ended before the age of twelve, with chores and work to bring in money for the family. I researched the kind of employment given to them, unbelievable in this days and age. And it has made me see how far society has changed when it comes to the houses built: from terraces to high-rise flats to housing estates. And how there are differences…
A newcomer to Mayfair charms the socks off of Susanna Mayfair, the sheltered niece of the town’s elderly matriarch. In a panic, the aunt turns to service dog trainer Marcia Banks to dig into the man’s past.What Marcia finds, with her detective husband Will’s help, is disturbing—a…
I have a new guest on my blog today. I “met” Judith Barrow through Story Empire, then invited her to share her latest release The Memory. Please make her feel welcome as she gives us a behind the scenes look at what inspired her to write the book.
Thank you so much, Mae Clair, for hosting this guest post and promotion for my new book, The Memory.
Introduction Many people have asked what was the inspiration for The Memory and my answer is always – memories: memories of being a carer for two of my aunts who lived with us, memories of losing a friend in my childhood; a friend who, although at the time I didn’t realise, was a Downs’ Syndrome child. But why I started to write the story; a story so different from my other four books, I can’t remember. Because it was something I’d begun…