Megan Matthews stops on the step at the front door of the bungalow before pushing the key into the lock.
‘I’m home,’ she calls, knowing full well no one will answer. Not anymore. Never again.
The place is silent; there is no irritable retort from behind the door to the room on the right, no ginger tom snaking around her ankles, yowling to be fed and stinking the place out. No more demands on her time to bring this, take that away. No more guilt dumped on her for being ten minutes late; no accusations that she must have a man on the go if it took her more than the usual twenty minutes to walk from the shop to the house.
As though she’s ever had the opportunity to form a relationship with anyone, when she’s surrounded by a shopful of silly young girls, who flutter their eyelashes at any man who sets foot through the door. Not that she’d ever want to, she thinks, taking off her coat and hat, checking her hair in the mirror; men are far too much trouble. She’d found that out years ago, much to her cost.
She looks around. Nothing looks any different and yet it is. She pulls in a deep breath. A smile almost curls the corners of her mouth. Walking into the living room she sits down and pushes each of her shoes off with her toes, giving a sigh of relief, before leaning back for a few minutes, listening. Silence. Perfect silence.
It had been a hard day. The staff junior is the worst she’s had to train in a long time. The other girls hadn’t helped, whispering and giggling behind her back, egging on the stupid girl to ask stupid questions about the way to arrange the shelves, use the till. They’d got on her nerves all week.
Pushing herself up from the sofa. Megan wanders into the kitchen, relishing the rare opportunity not to be rushing around. She fills the kettle and takes the coffee jar out of its secret place in the cupboard. No need to hide it anymore; she can have coffee whenever she wants now, she thinks, absently staring out of the window at the dustbin in the back garden. No cat sitting there. But she hadn’t put the lid on properly in her hurry to tidy everything up that morning.
The water is almost boiling; she switches the kettle off and spoons coffee granules into a mug and stirs, the sound loud in the utter silence. Taking the bottle of milk from the fridge, she sniffs at it and screws up her nose. Black it is then.
It’s only when she’s drunk the coffee that she realises it will look odd if she delays any longer. The neighbour across the street was peering through her curtains when she arrived home. And everyone knows how devoted she is, how her life is ruled by her demanding invalid mother.
Megan opens the bedroom door. ‘I’m home, Mother.’
The pillow is still over the old woman’s face. When she takes it off, her mother’s eyes are open. Accusing.
‘Now, can’t have that, can we?’ Megan gently closes the lids. She tucks the pillow under her mother’s head and straightens the duvet.
‘There!’ Megan puts her hands on her hips, head tilted to one side. ‘Think you’ve been there long enough, Mother. Time to raise the alarm.’
I’m a member of Crime Cymru, an ever-growing group of crime writers in Wales. It’s an eclectic collection of authors who create stories from investigative thrillers, domestic noir, to historical crime and cosy mystery genre.
The Spring of 2022 will see the launch of Wales’s first crime festival, the Gŵyl CRIME CYMRU Festival, a weekend-long event in Aberystwyth.
Because of COVID 19, between April 26 – May 2, 2021 there will be a smaller online festival: Virtual CRIME CYMRU Digidol.
I’m thrilled that Pattern of Shadows is on BookBub this month and grateful to my publishers, Honno, for the support and belief in my writing. When I discovered the first of the trilogy was going to be promoted, I remembered the research that set off the idea for the book, and thethoughts it brought back.So this is a return to memory lane…
Glen Mill was the inspiration for the first of my trilogy: Pattern of Shadows. Glen Mill was one of the first two POW camps to be opened in Britain. A disused cotton mill built in 1903 it ceased production in 1938. At a time when all-purpose built camps were being used by the armed forces and there was no money available for POW build, Glen Mill was chosen for various reasons: it wasn’t near any military installations or seaports and it was far from the south and east of Britain, it was large and it was enclosed by a road and two mill reservoirs and, soon after it opened, by a railway line.
The earliest occupants were German merchant seamen caught in Allied ports at the outbreak of war and brought from the Interrogation centre of London. Within months Russian volunteers who had been captured fighting for the Germans in France were brought there as well. According to records they were badly behaved, ill-disciplined and hated the Germans more than they did the British. So there were lots of fights. But, when German paratroopers (a branch of the Luftwaffe) arrived, they imposed a Nazi-type regime within the camp and controlled the Russians.
Later in the war the prisoners elected a Lagerführer; a camp leader. This hierarchy ruled the inner workings of the camp and the camp commanders had to deal with them.
The more I read about Glen Mill the more I thought about the total bleakness of it and the lives of the men there. And I knew I wanted to write about that. But I also wanted there to be hope somewhere. I wanted to imagine that something good could have come out of the situation the men were in.
And that’s where Pattern of Shadows came in. Pattern of Shadows was published by Honno in 2010.
Reading about the history of Glen Mill as a German POW camp in Oldham brought back a personal memory of my childhood.
In the nineteen fifties and sixties my parents worked in the local cotton mill.
My mother was a winder (working on a machine that transferred the cotton off large cones onto small reels – bobbins – in order for the weavers to use to make the cloth). Well before the days of Health and Safety I would often go to wait for her to finish work on my way home from school I. I remember the muffled boom of noise as I walked across the yard and the sudden clatter of so many different machines as I stepped through a small door cut into a great wooden door. I remember the rumble of the wheels as I watched men pushing great skips filled with cones alongside the winding frames, or manoeuvring trolleys carrying rolls of material. I remember the women singing and shouting above the noise, whistling for more bobbins: the colours of the cotton and cloth – so bright and intricate. But above all I remember the smell: of oil, grease – and in the storage area – the lovely smell of the new material stored in bales and the feel of the cloth against my legs when I sat on them in the warehouse, reading until the siren hooted, announcing the end of the shift.
When I was reading about Glen Mill I wondered what kind of signal would have been used to separate parts of the day for all those men imprisoned there. I realised how different their days must have been from my memories of a mill.
Pattern of Shadows was published by Honno in 2010, followed by Changing Patterns and then, the last of the trilogy, Living in the Shadows.When all three books were published the parents of the protagonist, Mary Haworth, clamoured for their story to be told. I actually think they thought they’d been unfairly represented in the trilogy. In the end I gave in, and wrote A Hundred Tiny Threadsas the prequel.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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
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.