I received a copy of Eternity Leave from the author in return for an honest review.
I gave the book 4* out of 5*
A MUST READ FOR ANY PARENT…
FOUR CHILDREN. ONE MAN. HOW HARD CAN IT BE?…
Dear Chloe, Emma, Ruby, and Ollie,
‘I am applying for the position you haven’t advertised, has no specific job description and no hope of fiscal reward. I am applying because I have this misguided belief that it will look like it does on the cover photo of ‘The Complete Guide to Childcare’ where everyone appears relaxed and bright-eyed, not knackered, irascible or covered in snot.
Armed with a pristine copy of ‘The Complete Guide to Childcare’, ambitions to be the next literary giant and live off the grid, what could possibly go wrong?
‘Five minutes after Brigit’s maternity leave ended I realised the magnitude of my error. I was now the sole carer for two six-month old children who thought the hands smearing yoghurt over their faces belonged to somebody else, and a two-year old who walked for five steps and decided it wasn’t for her.’
I crashed into a world of mainly strong, resourceful, resilient women, a mountain of nappies to rival Kilimanjaro and a widening gap where my self-esteem used to reside.’
I am a man. I soon discovered this was not an excuse…’
Simon Kettlewell’s Eternity Leave has been on my TBR list for some weeks, and I was sorry I’d left it so long because It’s an easy and enjoyable account of family life. Humorous yet poignant at the same time, it’s a story that many parents will recognise and identify with. Yet, as a stay at home father (not a mother) there is a obvious and unique slant on this account of the chores and trials that the narrator lives through, coping throughout the years from the children being babies to teenagers (oh, those wonderful years when the adult is never right and needs to be patronised!. Yet at no time is there any melodramatic response to these encounters, these carefully negotiated concessions.)
I ‘ve said this is an easy read, but only because it’s one any parent can recognise and nod along with (and grandparent might give a sigh of relief and laugh because its something they have lived through). But also it’s a cleverly written, evenly paced, droll story, told with great insight to reveal each of the children’s character – and judged so honestly, but with great affection – admirable in itself.
Yet, despite the wry humour (with which I thoroughly delighted in) there is also a sense of isolation in being a stay at home father; of being ‘the other’, that is threaded throughout the book. Even an inability to share with other parents what the narrator has shared with the reader. Even so, nowhere is the a sense that this father would rather be holding down any other kind of ‘job’ but that which he has been given. The narrative is undeniably optimistic and gives a sense of satisfaction and relish in his part in leading his family to adulthood in the best way he knows how.
This is yet another book by Simon Kettlewell that I thoroughly recommend.
Hello, dear reader, and welcome. Like you, I am a guest; invited by Judith to appear on her blog and answer some questions. This is an event, frankly. Since lockdown has put paid to physical book launches and fairs, sitting down to write about my author self and my books is a treat. So thank you, Judith! Judith and I are both published by Honno, the Welsh women’s Press. It’s the longest standing women-only press in the UK and I think I can safely speak for both of us when I say it is an honour and a privilege to be a Honno Girl. That said, we’re not girls anymore! We are both women of a certain age who, although we were already writers, came to publishing later than some. Judith was first published by Honno in 2010; my debut came out in 2016. Although we write in very different genres, our stories share some similarities. We both write strong women characters and explore family dynamics, not least, the relationships between mothers and daughters, and sisters. I recall first meeting Judith at a Honno gathering before I was published. Ghostbird, my debut, had been accepted but I was very much the new girl. Judith immediately struck me as down-to-earth, friendly and very funny. I was soon to learn her dry wit and no-nonsense Northern persona sat comfortably alongside her kindness and supportive nature. Over the years we have become good friends. (I’m still a bit star-struck to be honest. Judith really is a wonderful novelist and her published output is prolific.) It’s an extra special pleasure then to chat with her on her blog.
Now let’s learn a little about Carol and her books
Judith: What do you love most about the writing process?
Carol: The opportunity to create story, Judith. Showing up and losing myself in the process. The lightbulb moments which illuminate a previously dim corner, or the ones that change the narrative’s trajectory. Being led by my characters because I threw away my breadcrumbs and allowed them to show me the way. Days when I punch the air because an unexpected tangent is about to make the story so much better.
Judith: Are your characters based on real people or did they all come entirely from your imagination?
Carol: I’ve never knowingly based a character on a real person. I do confess to having ‘borrowed’ certain character traits. For instance, the narcissism of Allegra in Snow Sisters definitely has echoes of someone I used to know. The wonderful thing about it is of course, you don’t have to worry about being accused of writing negatively about a narcissist. They would never believe they could be that flawed therefore the character couldn’t possibly be based on them!
Judith: If you could write about anyone fictional/nonfictional who would you write about?
Carol: No one comes to mind. My writing feet are firmly set in the land of make-believe. I would be scared of mucking up a story about someone I admired!
Judith: What do you think makes a good story?
Carol: The perfect hook. An opening sentence that causes me to stop, go back and read it again. A sense of place and a central character who immediately piques my interest. To use a cliché: somebody who makes me care about them. They can be unreliable so long as they are largely sympathetic. And language – I am quickly put off by lazy language, which isn’t the same thing as bad editing. A good storyteller with a grasp of her craft will still shine through a tardy edit.
Judith: How many books have you written? Which is your favourite?
Carol: The only ones I’m prepared to own are the three I’ve seen published plus the one in transit. There are the cobwebbed stories of course, in the back of metaphorical drawers. And the one I seem to have been writing forever, whose destiny is to be discarded each time a new, more exciting idea crops up. (My mentor calls it ‘the one my other books bounce off’ and a writer friend described it as being like ‘an old lover you parted with on good terms – between great passions, this lover is comfortable. . ’ (Like old lovers, some stories are best left to fade?) Not sure I have a favourite but okay – for the sake of a good yarn, I’ll have a go. Ghostbird because it was my first published book and Cadi, the central character, retains a special place in my heart. She presented herself, fully formed from a dream and I knew everything about her. She made writing what was a vague outline a possibility. Snow Sisters because it validated me as more than a one-trick pony and I love the relationship between the sisters, Verity and Meredith. My heart still aches for Allegra – a narcissist yes, but made that way by circumstances and upbringing. Wild Spinning Girls, my most recent book is my favourite because I can see my process as a writer; the improvements that come with practice I guess. And it has the best ghost! If I ever come back, as a ghost, I want to be Olwen!
Judith: Have you considered writing in another genre?
Carol: Good question, Judith. When I began writing Ghostbird, I thought, naïvely and a little smugly, that I was writing literary fiction. I had nothing else to call it to be honest. I knew nothing about how genre works in publishing – in book shops – and in any case, I disliked the idea of being pigeonholed. Time has taught me that the Lit Fic label is as meaningless as the Women’s Fiction one. (My favourite quote about genre comes from Matt Haig who said: “There is only one genre in fiction. The genre is called book.”)
Once I realised Ghostbird was a ghost story my first thought was, ‘Who knew?’ My second was that it suited me. There was a palpable shift in my thinking and my next two books were specifically planned as ghost stories – with hints of Welsh Gothic – and with an emphasis on family dynamics. Having found my “niche” so to speak, I see no reason to deviate.
Judith: Could you tell us a bit about your most recent book? And why it’s a must read?
Carol: Wild Spinning Girls came out just before the first lockdown and unlike so many of my writer friends I was able to have a physical launch. I remain hugely appreciative of this. The book is, like my previous ones, a ghost story. It concerns Ida Llewellyn, a young woman who loses her job and her beloved parents in the space of a few weeks. Her life thrown off course she sets out for Wales and the remote house her father has left her. When Heather, the daughter of the last tenant turns up, Ida is confronted by a series of terrifying events, not least the ghost Heather claims is her dead mother. The two young women embark on a battle of wills and in the process uncover a dark secret that has lain hidden in the house for twenty years. Anyone who likes a ghost story rather than a horror one; family intrigue and mother daughter relationships will, I think, like Wild Spinning Girls. There is a ballet theme too and allusions to the fairy tale, The Red Shoes. It has been described as ‘stunning and utterly unforgettable’ and ‘a timeless tale alive with a wild, old magic.’
Judith: Do your characters seem to hijack the story or do you feel like you have the reins of the story?
Carol: Reins!? I was about to say, ‘I wish’ but as I mentioned previously, what I particularly love about the writing process are the tangents. Yes, I am a serious plotter – other than scribbled outline notes I’m reluctant to type Chapter One until I have a pretty good idea what the story is about, with a beginning, a middle and an end. Equally, I’m open to suggestions! Like real people, fictional characters evolve. And often indulge in spontaneous hijacking. It can be startling, but it really is part of the process. When characters behave in ways that differ from my original concept, it makes them more real to me. I can only hope it does the same for my reader.
Judith: If you could spend a day with a character from your book who would it be? And what would you do during that time?
Carol: What a brilliant question! It would have to be Olwen. I adore her as a ghost and love her as a living woman. Her story is a thread though, with only hints about her life before she died. I’d like to go for a long walk with her, take a picnic and sit “out on the wild moor near the stone where the black birds watch” where she grew up; ask her to tell me about her life, the one I have half imagined for her and only vaguely outlined.
Judith:When did you write your first book and how old were you?
Carol: I wrote my first story when I was about ten or eleven. It was called The Veiled Lady and although I hadn’t written the end, I read it to my younger sister. I told her she would have to wait until the next day for the dénouement. The next day came but because she did something to annoy me, I refused to finish the story. We are both in our 70s now and she still hasn’t forgiven me.
Judith: Do you have any hidden or uncommon talents?
Carol: I used to be a ballet dancer and drew on that dormant past when I wrote Wild Spinning Girls.
Judith: What would you say is your interesting writing quirk? Carol: I have a pair of writing earrings. They’re odd – their partners lost. Because they were so pretty, I paired them up and wear them when I’m working.
Judith:What do you like to do when you’re not writing? Carol: In the middle of what Marion Keyes calls, The Pandemonium? Think about not being in it? *Wry grin* Covid restrictions on meeting family and friends and attending book events apart, my life is pretty much as it was. I walk (I’ve always walked alone), read a good deal the way most writers do. In the morning I practice Qigong and have recently taken up yoga. I like to knit, watch long series on telly and tend to my house plants. Currently, I’m obsessed with growing avocado trees from the stones. It’s fascinating, watching the tap root emerge in water, the stone splitting and a tiny green shoot pushing its way up. Potted on these shoots soon begin turning into tiny trees and over weeks and months they can become really tall.
Judith: What is the most amusing thing that has ever happened to you? Not particularly to do with your writing?
Carol:Does tripping over outside the chip shop and landing on my face count? Or on my knee, running (why would I even do that) to open the door to answer the postman? Or breaking my leg tripping over an inch of iffy pavement in the dark? Three times in two years and I’m not even kidding. I’m an accident waiting to happen, Judith, but you have to see the funny side. And small things amuse me every day. I am drawn to the absurd and see it everywhere. It’s what keeps me cheerful I think.
Judith:Give us a random fact about yourself.
Carol: I’m continually and endlessly home-schooled. Seriously – I left school with two O-levels and once I caught up with myself and refused my father’s “education is wasted on girls” doctrine, I began educating myself. I’ve been doing it ever since.
A great collection of writers covering many different genres – both Traditionally and Indie Published. Representatives of Romantic, Historical, Crime, Domestic Noir, Family Saga, Sci-Fi,, Children’s, Fantasy, Contemporary and Psychological Fiction. And Poetry.
After their interviews the writers will be in Room Three for Meet the Author. Your chance to interact with them all. So make a note of those you would like to chat with and Zoom in!
And here you may find the stray writer/ author/poet wandering around – your chance to chat with them about all the interviews, books and readings that have taken place and been discussed over the day.
Room One: The Video Presentations
Although this and many of the video presentations are free to watch on Showboat tv, there are opportunities to see much more: See these here: http://bit.ly/3s9agYV
Today I want to introduce Alex Askaroff. When I was researching for the background of The Heart Stone https://bit.ly/3kOpZYO, and needed to know the technical details for the manufacturing of sewing machines, I knew there was only one person to contact. The man who knows all is Alex. As the emails flew back and forth ( and I wondered how long it would be before he became fed up with my constant and often boring – I’m sure – questions), I realised that there seemed to be nothing he didn’t know. Eventually – and being a naturally nosy woman – I asked him how he knew so much. And would he write a post about it. So, I was thrilled when he said okay. And here it is!
Over to you, Alex...
I was born in the latter half of the 1950’s in the busy bomb-blitzed seaside town of Eastbourne, on the South Coast of England. Rubble still lay in places from the 11,000 or so buildings damaged by Nazi planes. At the port of Newhaven, along the road, the old fort still had the empty shells and cartridges scattered around its gun emplacements.
My father was a proud Russian, born in Moscow on the first official day of the Russian revolution, in 1917, not a good start. His life seemed to be dramatic from then on. He was smuggled out of the country as a child to his mother in Paris. Some 30 years later (and two lifetimes of experiences by his tales) he settled in the quaint seaside resort of Eastbourne. After WW2 he had heard the call for men and brought his young Austrian partner to Britain to make his fortune. A spell in the 1950’s London smog led him to the clean seaside air of Eastbourne. Here he brought up six strapping lads who were the plague of the neighbourhood.
I had grown up with a passion for Britain and it became clear why! While I had a half-Russian father and a half-Austrian mother, I also had deep British roots running right back to Anglo Saxon England. My mum’s family was a real surprise. As it turned out I was as local as could be with my roots leading back to Victorian Eastbourne, the very place my dad was drawn to in the 1950’s!
My great grandfather was Stanley Carr Boulter, barrister and founder of the Law Debenture, he married Helen D’Oyly Carte of the London Savoy Theatre and Savoy Hotel Empire. My great grandfather, four times along, was the British Dramatist James Robinson Planché, the most prolific playwright of the Victorian era and great friends with Charles Dickens and Arthur Conan Doyle. His dad was a personal friend of King George III. The best bit for me was discovering Matilda Planche, my great, great granny who later became the prolific author Mrs Henry Mackarness. Over 40 of her books are still in print!
So how did I get into manufacturing? Well the truth is I never got out of it! Mum was a skilled Viennese seamstress and broke! She had a wonderful design ability, inventing such things as the pushchair Raincape and other products like the Top‘n’Tail, a changing-mat that a baby could not roll off. These items were first used around Britain, then the world, and all originally made by mum and dad.
The family business became the largest manufacturer of baby goods in Europe, supplying every baby shop in the country. At the huge factory the stairwells were lined with patents of mum’s great ideas. Baby goods that were produced in their thousands every week were shipped to the four corners of the world.
For decades the names Simplantex and Premiere Baby were synonymous with the best you could buy for your baby We were supplying the rich and famous, film stars and royalty alike. Silver Cross products were lined with our goods. Harrods would place special orders for special people and even more special babies. It was a real thrill to see Princess Diana carrying our future King in one of our handmade Palm Leaf baskets, and with the rights to such toys as Beatrix Potter, no home was without our merchandise.
Dad talked me out of my dream of becoming a doctor and I undertook a four-year engineering course (which would be far more useful for his machinery problems at the factory). When I started in the family business I had the best of the best teach me everything from mass production and sewing circles to sewing machine repair.
I was the first of the six boys to officially join the family firm that I had grown up in, initially working downstairs with the cutters in the cutting room, where cloth was laid by huge automatic machines rolling up and down all day. Dad eventually retired and mum had a go at running the business but then Nik, my older brother arrived at the factory gates and everything changed. His influence quadrupled sales in a few years, he was like dad on Red Bull, flying around the world, (even on Concorde) bringing back big orders. Suddenly we had machinist stretched along the South Coast with vans collecting and delivering goods. In the factory, noise and commotion was everywhere with rows of sewing girls, cutters and packers. Lorries loaded and unloaded all day every day and we all worked like mad from dusk till dawn. It was around this time that I made an amazing observation. My life was disappearing!
Let me try to explain. Ten years or so had passed in a blur. I was suddenly in my early 30’s. I had eaten, slept and even dreamt about work. It was an all-consuming passion. A thousand deadlines on a thousand products, (we had over 2,600 items on our prices lists). What was happening outside of my immediate circle was irrelevant. I was unable to measure time. Most weeks, or months, even years, were the same. Rush, rush, rush. When I had my revelation, it hit me like a ton of bricks. Work was silently and efficiently stealing my life!
I decided to leave the family firm, throw caution to the wind and start out on my own. I had spent a lifetime in the manufacturing business and I hoped that there were people out there looking for my expertise. One day I parked my new company BMW in the yard and walked the three miles home, never to return.
I started my own sewing machine business and never looked back. I even bought roses so that I could smell them when I got home. How funny!
I suddenly had the time to play with my kids before they went to school and help them with homework later. In 1991, I became a Master Craftsman as I practised my trade around Sussex. During my travels I came across people that had wonderful stories to tell. At last I was ready to listen. My first great story was from an old dear who personally knew Rudyard Kipling! I knew these tales had to be captured before they were lost forever. I needed to write a book!
I’ll tell you a funny thing. When I started to put pen to paper no one could have ever imagined what would happen next! Every person that I spoke to advised me that writing a book full of ‘old dears’ reminiscences was a dangerous game. Lots of time and money invested and little reward. Out of the thousands who try only a handful make it. How wrong they all were! Now that’s a lesson for every budding author, ignore yourself at your peril.
My first book sold out so fast that I had hundreds of pre-paid orders for the second edition before I could get them printed. And don’t forget this was in a time when people had to write a letter, enclose a cheque and post it with faith! If only I could have bottled the printers face when I asked for another print run!
And so my world turned. I used my expertise in manufacturing and passion for sewing machines to earn a living and in my spare moments I put pen to paper. Now with 25 books under my belt and seven No1 New releases on Amazon it seems almost normal. My Sewalot Site: https://sewalot.com/ for antique sewing machines is the No1 of its kind on the planet. It connects me with countless enthusiasts all over the world and even the odd TV appearance.
A Tiny taste of Alex’s books.
So what’s the secret? I’ll tell you just like my dad told me when I moaned about becoming a sewing machine engineer. It’s so simple, learn to love your job! Yep that’s it. You have to really work at it, but the second you crack it, you will never work another day in your life!
Sometimes you find a niche where you know you just fit. That’s how I felt when I joined the Romantic Novelists’ Association and then the RNA Saga Writers group on Facebook. I was made very welcome and, in fact, was interviewed:on the Write Minds blog https://bit.ly/2VhEPg7, run by two of the members:Francesca Capaldi Burgess and Elaine Roberts, who you’ll soon be able to read about here.
I wanted to discover how and why, like me, they wrote family sagas, with a little romance thrown in. So I asked if any of them would be interested in discussing that. I certainly received some fascinating answers.
Today is the first interview and I’m thrilled to introduce a prolific and wonderful author, Tania Crosse.
Welcome, Tania, so happy you’re here today.
Please tell us, when you started writing your book, did you intend to write a family saga or series of stories rather than one book?
I never intentionally set out to write a series, it just seemed to evolve. My debut novel, Morwellham’s Child, is set at Morwellham Quay, the major Victorian copper port in Devon that’s been a living history museum since the early 1970s. I discovered it in the late 1990s on our first family holiday in the area, and was amazed to discover that nobody had ever written a story to illustrate its history. Living two hundred miles away, over the three years it took me to complete, we made frequent trips there for research purposes, and fell in love with nearby Dartmoor. So much so that in 2003, we bought a tiny cottage in a small village on the moor, which we owned for fifteen years, spending one week out of every month there throughout the year and becoming part of the local community. The more I learnt about the moor’s fascinating history, the more subjects I discovered that I wanted to illustrate in human, if fictitious, terms. I’ve written about mining, farming, the gunpowder mills, the infamous prison, quarrying, Tavistock workhouse, the arrival of various railways, the Great Flood of 1890 and the Great Blizzard of 1891. The first five books covered the Victorian era, followed by two illustrating Dartmoor’s part in the Great War. Then I was asked by my then agent, the lovely late Dot Lumley, to set two sagas set in the 1950s, and I set those on Dartmoor, too, again basing them on local history, but also bringing in wider events such as the legacy of WW2 and then the Korean War of 1950s. Although each book in the series stands alone, there is a thread running through them, which readers love to follow. After completing the Devonshire series, I had to take a break for various reasons, but eventually came to write Twentieth Century sagas, Nobody’s Girl and A Place To Call Home, originally one story inspired by a visit to Chartwell. The publishers, Aria Fiction, however, liked it so much that they asked me to expand it into two volumes, although each can be read alone. Finally, the Banbury Street series of two books is set in the London back street where I lived as a small child. The stories are set a decade apart and are completely separate, the main link being the matriarch of the street, Evangeline Parker, who I loved so much in the first book that I wanted to explore her more in the second. I’m so glad I did, as that was the book,The Street of Broken Dreams, that won Saga of the Year in the RNA Awards 2020 earlier this year.
Which do you think is more important, the family story or the romance?
For me what is actually more important is the historical background and the facts that I want to illustrate. I like to place my characters into what was a real life situation and see how they cope with it, weaving a tense, emotional story out of true fact. Inevitably, a family story and a romance will grow out of it, but it’s the social history behind it that’s most important. The Quarry Girl, for instance, illustrates life at remote, windswept Foggintor Quarry, which was a complete little community with cottages, gardens and even a chapel-cum-school, the ruins of which can still be seen today. Then the Princetown Railway opened in 1883, giving the quarrymen and their families easier access to the outside world. How might their lives have changed? One thing I discovered was the particular way in which the quarrymen would conduct the funeral of a colleague, and that found its way into the story as a major event in the life of the heroine and her family.
How important do you think it is to research the historical background, locations, features of the era, your characters live in?
Absolutely essential! As you can see, the historical background is what I aim to illustrate in the first place, but I will always go all out to track down the tiniest detail. If I can’t find exactly what I’m looking for, I will never make it up. If I’m not certain that something is correct, then it doesn’t go in the book. But meticulous research must be the same for any genre, except perhaps fantasy and sci-fi! What is fantastic is when you suddenly hit on something that’s exactly what you’re looking for. I’m currently working on the first of a trilogy set in Plymouth – again, all stand alones that happen to be set in the same city – and came across an actual film of George V’s Jubilee celebrations there in 1935 that I wanted to write about. I was cock-a-hoop!
How do you manage to keep track of all the characters in your book/s over a stretch of time?
Copious hand-written notes! (I don’t trust technology!) Date of birth, stature, colour of eyes and hair, and any other particular features or anything they’ve done before coming on the scene that I might need to refer to later. All quite important if you bring back characters from earlier books as I do particularly in the Devonshire series. In The Ambulance Girl, I wind up what has happened to all the characters and their families from the Victorian era through to 1919, so I had to get that right. The book finishes with an epilogue set in 1939 that provides a link through to the first of the 1950s Dartmoor sagas, Lily’s Journey, which was pretty poignant with most of the earliest characters having passed away by then. There are also tiny links to the Kent/London based series, too. The hero of the two Kent stories is in the RAF during WW2. There were a number of aircrashes on Dartmoor during the conflict, and when his plane comes down one night, he is rescued by descendants of earlier characters in the Devonshire series who remain farmers on the moor, so I had to have all their details correct. Very discerning readers might spot Lily as a small child in London-set The Street of Broken Dreams, so I had to have her at the correct age, of course. I’ve only ever made one continuity mistake. I’m not going to tell you what! Nobody’s ever noticed, or at least, they’ve never said, and I think that with so many books under my belt, I can be forgiven – although I have to say, it annoys me intensely to know I made such an error!
A saga demands change, both in its characters and its world. How important is the time period to the development of your narrative?
It really depends on what the story demands. My books do tend to cover a period of years, sometimes four or five, or sometimes taking a character from childhood to maturity. I do make use of prologues and/or epilogues in some of my novels if I think it’s appropriate. In The Street of Broken Dreams, for instance, I have a prologue set in 1944 that’s crucial to the plot, although the main part of the book takes part during the summer of 1945, from April to the autumn. There is then a gap before the epilogue in 1951, necessary as the heroine tries to come to terms with the trauma she suffers in 1944, but then something happens in 1951 that finally sets her free. The break is also necessary for the sub plot involving her best friend whose moral fibre has driven her to sacrifice her own happiness for the sake of another. However, whatever I consider the necessary time scale to be, the most important thing is that the characters find peace or at least hope for the future in one way or the other, bringing the story to a satisfying conclusion for the reader.
Thank you for being here on my blog today, Tania.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tania Crosse was born in London and lived in Banbury Street, Battersea, the setting of her two latest novels, The Candle Factory Girl and The Street of Broken Dreams. Later, the family moved to Surrey where her love of the countryside took root. She wanted to be an author since she was a child, but having graduated with a degree in French Literature, she did not have time to indulge her passion for writing until her own family had grown up. She eventually began penning historical novels set on her beloved Dartmoor. After completing her Devonshire series, some of which are currently being re-published by Joffe Books, she took her writing career in a new direction with four Twentieth Century sagas set in London and the south east, which were published by Aria Fiction. She was thrilled when the last of these, The Street of Broken Dreams, won Best Saga of the Year in the Romantic Novelists’ Association 2020 Awards. Tania and her husband have lived in a small village on the Hampshire/Berkshire border since 1976. They have three grown-up children, two grandchildren and a variety of grand-dogs! Tania’s interests, apart from reading and writing, of course, are dance, gardening and rambling, especially on Dartmoor, naturally!
As members of the human race we feel safest with those we know and trust. And we choose who to trust; friends and those members of our families with whom we can empathise. Those who think like us, who, on the whole, believe in the things we believe in, who share group values.
Even if those ideals are instigated by someone else, we can sometimes be persuaded to take them onboard. To consider them as our own core principles. And, as such we cooperate; we work together towards a shared goal.
It was this theory; that man has evolved to cooperate within a trusted group and so is able to achieve more than any one person could ever accomplish alone, that in nineteen fourteen led to the formation of the Pals Battalions.
When the First World War broke out in the August, Britain was the only major power not to begin with a mass conscripted army. It quickly became clear that the small professional British Army was not large enough for such a comprehensive conflict. Despite the general belief that the war would be over by Christmas, the newly appointed Secretary of State for War, Lord Kitchener, was unconvinced. He approached Asquith’s Government to allow conscription, but this was considered politically dangerous for the Liberals. However, Parliament did sanction strengthening the Army through volunteering. And so, on the sixth of August, Kitchener set about recruiting.
General Henry Rawlinson, serving as Director of Recruiting at the War Office on the outbreak of war, believed that men would be more willing to join up if they could serve with men they already knew, they would enlist if they could serve alongside their friends, relatives and, local football teams, church members, workmates.
Building on General Rawlinson’s idea Lord Derby, Conservative member of the House of Lords, organised one of the most successful recruitment campaigns to Kitchener’s Army.
In a speech to the men of Liverpool , he said: “This should be a battalion of pals, a battalion in which friends from the same office will fight shoulder to shoulder for the honour of Britain and the credit of Liverpool.”
Pals battalions were formed on patriotic fervour and community spirit, spurred on by local magistrates and officials on behalf of Lord Kitchener. Thousands answered the call. Cities, driven by civic pride, competed to sign up new recruits until there were too many for the military to train. So they were drilled in their own towns by those same magistrates and officials, until the army could take over.
It was easier to sign on recruits from areas where mining or mass industry were the main employment. It appears that, to many men, the army gave them a great opportunity to escape dire poverty: to have regular pay, food, clothing, sometimes better living conditions in barracks compared with their homes. Most had never been abroad. The war offered the opportunity to go to France and Belgium with their friends and get paid for it.
Members of Manchester pals battalions – image courtesy of Manchester Evening news
Once they had been formed, most Pals Battalions spent 1914 and 1915 training in Britain. But plans were being made for a major offensive on the Somme that was intended to relieve the pressure on the French and break through German lines to force an early victory. It would be the first major battle for most volunteers.
For many it would also be their last. The first day of the Somme was disastrous. Most of these units sustained heavy casualties.
Certainly the Pals Battalions increased the number of volunteers. However, poor military tactics by the higher ranks meant that there was a heavy price to pay by the men in those battalions. Neighbourhoods and families were devastated.
With the introduction of conscription in 1916, the close-knit nature of the Pals battalions was never to be replicated.
Quote from one Pal: ‘Two years in the making. Ten minutes in the destroying. That was our history.‘.
In The Heart Stone, Jessie’s young love, Arthur, joins the local Pals Brigade, even though, at sixteen, he is too young.
They held onto one another for a while.
‘I have to go, sweetheart.’ Arthur pulled away from her. ‘Best I go first, eh?’
Jessie nodded, not trusting herself to speak. She didn’t watch him walk away...
Chapter Eighteen September 20th 1914
She didn’t go to watch him leave the town with the other two hundred men and boys either. Through her opened bedroom window, she listened to the uneven thud of their undisciplined marching between the changing tunes of the brass band and the singing. How she resented the singing. And the cheering.
Sitting on her bed, her handkerchief sodden between her fingers, she tried to shut down the images she’d conjured up in her mind of what Arthur might face. She had no idea, but she’d read in the newspapers about the atrocities the Germans were committing in Belgium; killing randomly, deliberate cruelty. What kind of men were they?
Despite Amos Morgan’s constant calls to go down to serve in the shop, she ignored him. She wouldn’t face the excitement, the proud chatter of the customer. She didn’t, wouldn’t, couldn’t share it.
Eventually the crowds moved away from in front of the shop. She heard the noise from below quieten to a low murmur and thought bitterly that Amos Morgan would be worried about making less money now so many men had gone. Gone to a foreign land to be killed in a war that her own country shouldn’t have become involved in. It didn’t make sense to her.
Crime Cymru has three main aims. – To support crime writers with a real and present relationship with Wales – To help in the development of new writing talent – To promote Wales, Welsh culture and Welsh crime writing in particular, to the wider world.
A page-turning crime thriller set in Catalonia.
killer is targeting figures of corruption in the Catalan city of Girona, with each corpse posed in a way whose meaning no one can fathom
Elisenda Domènech, the head of Girona’s newly-formed Serious Crime Unit, believes the attacker is drawing on the city’s legends to choose his targets, but soon finds her investigation is blocked at every turn.
Battling against the press, the public and even her colleagues, she is forced to question her own values. When the attacks start to include less deserving victims, however, the pressure is suddenly on Elisenda to stop him.
A gripping series sure to appeal to readers of Val McDermid and the Inspector Montalbano novels
Ireally enjoyed City of Good Death. Chris Lloyd has an easy writing style and, although both Girona and its history and legends of Catalonia were unknown to me it didn’t detract from what is a a clever and intricate plot, It’s also an astute study in human nature, where evil deeds are seen as retribution and values are twisted to justify immoral acts.
The author was recommended to me and I chose this book knowing that it is the first of a series. I was anxious to see if I could relate to the main characters before I carried on with the others. I needn’t have worried; the characters are well rounded and distinguishable despite the names and ranks being unfamiliar(though I must admit that, at first, I needed to go back once or twice to make sure I knew who I was reading about. But that didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the book).The protagonist, Elisenda Domenech, the law-enforcement officer leading the investigations, is portrayed as a lonely, yet self sufficient woman. Her background and that of her family are, as yet, to be explored more thoroughly in the next books, I surmise. Nevertheless she is a character with whom one can empathise.
The dialogueis good, with those idiosyncrasies and turns of phrase a reader would expect of a book set in a different country with a mixture of languages.
But it is the descriptions of the settings, especially those of the legendary clues, that give the story so many levels. It is obvious that the author both knows Girona and has extensively researched the country in both its historical and contemporary eras.
As the book description says this is a page turner. Any readers who enjoys a crime thriller in an interesting setting, with characters that evolve as the story progresses, will enjoy City of Good Death as much as I did. Recommended.
Straight after graduating in Spanish and French, Chris Lloyd hopped on a bus from Cardiff to Catalonia and stayed there for over twenty years, falling in love with the people, the country, the language and Barcelona Football Club, probably in that order. Besides Catalonia, he’s also lived in the Basque Country and Madrid, teaching English, travel writing for Rough Guides and translating. He now lives in South Wales, where he works as a Catalan and Spanish translator, and returns to Catalonia as often as he can. He writes the Elisenda Domènech crime series, featuring a police officer with the newly-devolved Catalan police force in the beautiful city of Girona.
“It’s your review; to write as you want”. I carried this advice from Rosie Amber (#RBRT) around in my head as I struggled to find a way to put into words what I thought about the first book I’d read and was about to review for her team. I’d never reviewed a book before – or anything, come to think of it,
As a creative writing tutor, I was used to reading essays, stories, poems – but this was different. Five tries later and I decided to break up the parts of the book into sections, as I do for my work: characters, dialogue, settings, points of view, plot etc. A moment of eureka; I didn’t need to tell the story of the book, I could say what I thought were the strong points and what didn’t work for me, because I know any review is subjective, and what I might like or not be so keen on, someone else will always have different thoughts. Writing it that way I could then recommend it to readers who like a book that had a good plot, is character led, told in a certain tense, and so on – or for readers who like particular genres.
One thing I do like with being on the #RBRT team is that if I really can’t get to grips with a book, I’m not expected to finish it; I’ll let Rosie know and that’s the end of the matter. And I don’t give below three stars; I don’t think it’s fair to any writer who has worked hard to produce a book but has probably not used either an editor or a proof-reader. It happens and I always think it’s a shame if the plot/idea is good.
“It’s your review; to write as you want”; something I would say to anyone thinking of joining #RBRT, with the one proviso (which goes unsaid but should be kept in mind) use constructive criticism and be kind. And enjoy the reading. Rosie is approached by many authors of all kinds of genres, eager for the team to review. Their books are put on a list and we can choose the ones we think we might like. I’ve had the chance to read some wonderfully written books of all genres … for free. Although I don’t always manage to review as often as I’d like for Rosie’s Book Review Team, due to other commitments, I’ve loved being a member since I day I joined and I’ve made some brilliant and supportive on-line friends in the team.
And Rosie is always there for advice and to steer the ship. What more can one ask?
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. “
Why Honno was a question I wanted to ask each of the following Honno authors when I started the interviews with them over the last few months.
I mean, I knew why I liked being published by Honno:
Honno is my kind of publisher; small, independent, and led by strong women who know what kind of books they want to publish and don’t accept anything but the best that an author can produce. So the editing is hard, but fair, and leads to many discussions – and a few compromises on both sides. Because it is known to be a Welsh press it is sometimes assumed that all its authors will be Welsh as well. So, often, when I’ve appeared at events, people are surprised to hear my broad Northern English accent. The supposition is false; Honno’s aim as an inspiring, feminist, Welsh press is to provide opportunities for women writers. The only proviso is that they are either Welsh, are living in Wales or have a connection to the country – which actually covers a great many writers. I love their strapline -. “Great Women, Great Writing, Great Stories.” So it always gives me a thrill when the manuscript I’ve been toiling over for months (or years!) is accepted by them.
I’ve had experience of having an agent, of being asked to conform to the commercial market; to fit in. And it wasn’t for me. As a creative writing tutor, I’ve spent the last couple of decades encouraging students to “write in their own voices”. So when the agent told me I needed to conform if I wanted to be published by one of the big publishing companies, I knew it wasn’t for me. This, after she’d placed me with a commercial editor who, not only wanted me to write in a different way, but also wanted me to write in a different genre.”The talent and skill as a writer is there but you need to be open to change.”, was the advice.
I took it; I changed from being a client with an agent ( who had, after all, accepted me on the strength of my first book) to seeking other outlets for my work.
I was lucky, I found Honno.
But, enough about me.
But, enough about me.
Honno’s mission is to publish Welsh women writers – for the purposes of submission to Honno this means that you must be a woman born in Wales or resident in Wales at the time of submission. Honno also publishes titles of exceptional interest to women within Wales from writers who may not meet the first two criteria i.e. that they are female and that they are of Welsh birth or residence.
I started each of the interviews with the statement:”My greatest support has come from the group of authors published by Honno. We’ve met up in real life on many occasions…”
That being said, the question all the Honno authors were glad to answer was: “What do you like most about being published by Honno, an indie press rather than one of the big publishing houses?”
To learn more about the authors and their books, please click on their names
“It’s a small press, which means it’s personal. Maybe famous sportsmen or ex-cabinet ministers can be lauded (promoted) to the skies by big publishers, but most of their less famous authors tend to be lost in a very impersonal ocean, with very little one-to-one attention. They are names on a spreadsheet. With Honno, you know the team and they know you. You feel far more valued, even if the big bucks aren’t there.
And there’s the fact that Honno is a Women’s Press, run by women, publishing women (as well as being Welsh, of course). It’s not an anti-man thing, but I grew up in the era of the rising tide of women’s lib, when women didn’t just sit around arguing their case but took really positive actions to prove themselves, such as setting up publishing companies like Virago. Unlike others, Honno is still going strong and flying the flag.”.
“The intimacy. The sense of being part of a family. Honno’s reputation as an independent press publishing writing exclusively by women appealed to my feminist heart from the start. And it felt like the right fit for my debut, with its connection to The Mabinogion and the legend of Blodeuwedd.
A small press may not have the financial resources available to bigger, mainstream houses; they do tend to have a broad vision. They’re less bureaucratic, more collaborative and if they believe in a project enough, will invest time, expertise and energy in it. This has certainly proved to be the case for me with Honno.”
“It feels like being part of a close-knit family. The small but dedicated and talented Honno team are accessible and supportive at all stages of the process, and it’s been lovely to become friends with so many of the other Honno authors. We’re a wonderful community, and although we’re scattered all over Wales and beyond, it’s particularly lovely when we get to meet up in person.“
“When I was writing ‘Not Thomas’ I knew exactly where I wanted to send it when I’d finished, and that was to Honno. I’d long admired their work and I loved the fact that they’re a female-only press and have a committee of women who decide what to publish. Added to that was my huge respect for Caroline Oakley, a Honno editor who had worked closely in a previous role for a number of years with (the aforementioned) Ian Rankin. I was absolutely delighted when I heard from Caroline that Honno were going to publish ‘Not Thomas’ and my whole experience of being part of the Honno family has been fantastic. All the staff and other authors are extremely supportive and go out of their way to make everyone welcome. I’m constantly recommending Honno to my female friends who are writers. It may be a small indie press but it commands huge respect and publishes wonderful books.”
“Ilove the team spirit which goes with being a Honno author. The other authors are so supportive of each other, and you really feel part of the gang. You get to know everyone who makes Honno work, and feel part of the enterprise, in a way which would surely be very difficult in a larger organisation. I was, and continue to be, overwhelmed at the generosity of everyone involved. It feels like a real joint-venture, which is a pleasure to be a part of.”
“I think with Honno, my forthcoming novel has found the perfect home with the UK’s longest-standing independent press that champions Welsh women and Welsh writing. I am proud that I now find myself among a list of authors I so admire.“
“First, the fact that I am published by a women’s press is a major achievement. I grew into my own identity reading books by Honno and other women’s presses, and I felt that there must be something really special about authors who are published by smaller presses who can’t afford to take a gamble in the way in a bigger publishing house could. I am in awe of my fellow Honno authors, and I really do feel honoured to be in their company. It is so great to have a good relationship with my editor, and the community of Honno authors is so supportive and helpful. It is a huge plus to not have to have an agent to get your work read. I could paper my wall with rejection slips and after a while it just wears you down. Then there’s that personal experience of being nurtured by an editor who really knows her stuff and is invested in making sure your work is the best it can be.
I think with Honno, the authors are all excellent, and that kind of sets a standard. It makes me strive to be better, to be worthy of the association. And it’s a feminist press, so what’s not to like?“
“I’m eternally grateful that I had the experience of being published by Honno before finding an agent and having a two-book deal with Orion. Having been through the process in the slightly less pressurised atmosphere of Honno, and learning the different stages of the editing process, gave me the confidence to feel I knew what I was doing – and even more importantly know that I had done it three times before so could do it again! That experience has been utterly invaluable. Honno also gave me time to develop as a writer and become more certain of who I was as an author.”
“The community of writers and the friendship that has come out of being published by Honno. Having the confidence that I’ll be taken seriously with the next book (though as with big publishing houses there’s no guarantee a book will be taken on). And going to the seaside whenever I go to talk to my editor.”
“The informality and camaraderie of an indie publisher suits me and my way of working. I’ve been a Honno author for fifteen years and everyone I’ve worked with there has been approachable, supportive, flexible and available. I’m extremely blessed to have Caroline Oakley as my editor. She ‘gets’ what I’m trying to achieve and nudges me, firmly but sympathetically, in the right direction. I couldn’t bear to hand ‘my babies’ over to people whom I didn’t know, trust and consider to be friends.”
“My association with Honno began with their anthology, Luminous and Forlorn, which included my short story, Lovey Dovey Cats Eyes. I like that they are real people, who treat their authors as real people, rather than as a means to an end. They respect your wishes, offer sound advice and editing and pull out all the stops to provide a really good quality product you can be proud of.“
“Being published by Honno is like going home. The first publisher of my fiction was The Women’s Press, where writers experienced warm support and a shared outlook on the politics of gender. At Honno there is a sense of solidarity such as one rarely finds in larger and more impersonal firms. Caroline’s editing skills are second to none and I have been grateful for her experience and insight.“
Submitting your work
Honno is always interested in receiving unsolicited manuscripts but currently does not intend to publish poetry, works for children, novellas or short story collections by a single author. Honno does publish full length works of fiction and non-fiction for adults (manuscripts of between 60,000 and 120,000 words).
Honno is open to all genres of fiction and is particularly interested in increasing the number of literary fiction, crime/thriller, commercial women’s fiction, science fiction and fantasy titles it publishes. Honno is also building a list of non-fiction works to include biography (untold tales of remarkable Welsh women, places and industries), memoir, nature and travel writing. For a good idea of the types of work Honno is interested in study the Books pages on this site and the Editor’s blog posts.
However, whatever kind of work you are submitting, please ensure that you meet Honno’s criteria (see ‘Submission guidelines’ below) BEFORE doing so.
Honno is keen to publish work that shows all sides of life in Wales, but will consider stories not set within Wales. Honno is a feminist publisher and that influences the kinds of work selected for publication.
During the Coronavirus crisis we are happy to take submissions by email. Please attach your covering letter and submission and email it to firstname.lastname@example.org with ‘submission – your name ‘ as the subject line.