Presenting the Authors at the Honno Book Fair 7th May 2022 at the Queens Hall, Narberth, Pembrokeshire. Today with Crystal Jeans

Introducing my friends and fellow (or should that be sister?) authors of Honno – The longest-standing independent women’s press in the UK who will be at the Honno Book Fair on the 7th May 2022 , 10.00am until 4.00pm, at the Queens Hall, Narberth, Pembrokeshire.

If you’re in the area,we’d be thrilled if you popped in to say hello.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be introducing each author. I’ll also be showcasing Honno. 

Today, I’m really pleased to be joined by Crystal Jeans.

 Hi and welcome, Crystal. Good to see you here today.

It’s good to be with you, Judith

Tell us, please, how many books have you written, and which is your favourite?

I’ve written four books and though my latest, The Inverts, is my favourite, I have a special place in my heart for The Vegetarian Tigers of Paradise, as it was my first.

How did you come up with the title for your book?

Someone else did actually – Catherine Merriman, a fellow Honno author, suggested it. She was my teacher at the time and she lifted it out of the text. It was in reference to an illustration from my Children’s Book of Bible Stories – it showed tigers and lambs and people frollocking in paradise (I grew up a Jehovah’s Witness). I’d wondered if the tigers were vegetarian in paradise.

What part of the book did you have the hardest time writing? Or what was your hardest scene to write, and why?

No particular part was difficult. Overall, it was hard trying to splice together what was essentially a collection of personal essays into a novel. Emotionally, it was hard writing about my mother as I wasn’t on speaking terms with her at the time. But I got to flex my magnanimity muscle, which made me feel very noble (we’re fine now). I also struggled with fictionalising it. Looking back, I could have gone further. I was too close to it.

If you’re planning a sequel, can you tantalize us with a snippet of your plans for it? If not, your plans for your next book?

I’m not writing a sequel but I would like to return to creative non-fiction one day. I thought I’d scratched that itch with The Vegetarian Tigers of Paradise but apparently not. I’d like to write very honest essays about sex. I will never write about my family again. I felt awful when VToP came out – my mother loved it but she was very anxious about how she might be perceived and I felt bad for her. Guilty. Right now I’m working on a historical fiction novel. It’s too early for me to talk about.

 At what point did you think of yourself as a writer?

When I started writing my first novel at age 21. It was terrible by the way.

 Have you ever considered writing under a pseudonym, and why or why not?

No. I love my name. And it already sounds made-up.

What do the words “writer’s block” mean to you?

Hell. I’ve only had writer’s block once, when I was pregnant. I watched a lot of TV and felt very empty.

What do you need in your writing space to help you stay focused?

Tea and nicotine. Radio 2 played on low. And a walking treadmill or a knee stool. Sitting at a desk for years has ruined my back.

 Are there therapeutic benefits to modelling a character after someone you know?

Yes. Writing about my mother made me really think hard about how she might have felt at certain points of her life, like when she lost her own mother at 14. As I said, we weren’t speaking at the time, and part of the reason I ended up wanting to make up with her was the empathy I felt recounting (fictionalised) parts of her life.

 What is the most difficult part of your writing process?

The first draft. I absolutely love the editing process though. It’s like a fun puzzle and I could do it all day.

 How do you use social media as an author?

I don’t. I’m beyond crap at using social media to promote my work. I don’t have a lot of time for it, or enthusiasm. I don’t really understand how Twitter works – am I supposed to add anyone who adds me? I personally have never bought a book because I’ve seen an author’s Twitter feed. I buy books through word-of-mouth. My agent tells me that it does make a difference for some authors – those who seem like they actually enjoy it. I think if I was in my teens/early twenties when my books came out, I would have been brilliant at social media book promotion because I was such a flaming narcissist and attention seeker back then. Now, the prospect fills me with dread and low-level anxiety.

 Why did you choose Honno as a publisher?

Honestly? None of the big London publishers would accept unsolicited manuscripts, I couldn’t get an agent, so I tried the Welsh indies, who did accept unsolicited MMS. Honno turned out to be a great fit though and I have nothing but praise for Caroline, my editor.

Bio

Crystal Jeans has had three books published by Honno – The Vegetarian Tigers of Paradise, which was shortlisted for the Polari Prize, Light Switches are my Kryptonite, which won Wales Book of the Year in the English language for fiction, and The Homeless Heartthrob, a collection of short stories. The Inverts was published by Borough Press in 2021. She lives in Pontypridd with her wife and two children.

My twitter – @crystaljeans1

Pals Regiments – An Experiment Never Repeated #WW1

 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.

pals-batallion

Image courtesy of A Date with History

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.

December 1915, London: A recruiting campaign attacts recruits to Southwark  Town Hall. Read more: http://www.mademan.com/ga… | World war one, World war  i, World war
Image courtesy of Pinterest

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.

Hull and the First World War | World war one, World war, War
Image courtesy of Pinterest
World War One: Manchester Pals battalion details to go online - Manchester  Evening News

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.‘.

Image courtesy of The Manchester Evening News

 THE HEART STONE IS CURRENTLY ON NETGALLEY:

https://www.netgalley.co.uk/catalog/?text=the+heart+stone

The Heart Stone

Excerpt:

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.

Links:

https://judithbarrowblog.com/

https://twitter.com/judithbarrow77

https://www.facebook.com/judith.barrow.3

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

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Judith-Barrow/e/B0043RZJV6

Honoured to be included in a Post Written by Thorne Moore (Alongside Jane Austen No Less!!)

Thorny matters

Home, Hearth and Murder – domestic drama

Back in 1816, Jane Austen (yes, I always try to bring her into anything if I can) commiserated with her nephew when he reported that he had lost 2 whole chapters of his own tentative novel. She hadn’t stolen them, she promised. “What should I do with your strong, manly, spirited Sketches, full of Variety & Glow? — How could I possibly join them on to the little bit (two Inches wide) of Ivory on which I work with so fine a Brush, as produces little effect after much labour?”

Being Jane Austen, she was, of course, being ironic, suggesting that her own writing was on such a slight and insignificant scale. Sir Walter Scott recognised that her work was fair more powerful than a little bit of ivory would allow. “The big bow-wow strain I can do myself like any now going; but the exquisite touch, which renders ordinary commonplace things and characters interesting, from the truth of the description and the sentiment, is denied to me.”

And yet critics have dared to complain that Austen’s novels are too limited, confined to “three or four families in a country village,” when all around her, the social upheaval of the industrial revolution, the French Terror, the Napoleonic wars were playing out. She knew well enough what great dramas were happening out there. A cousin’s husband was guillotined, an aunt was hauled off to prison, two brothers were serving in the navy, and yet she chose to concentrate on a small group of people interacting on a tiny stage as if the outside world didn’t exist. But what Jane Austen appreciated was that there is just as much emotional and psychological drama to be found in closed families as on wide battlefields.

I write about crime. My genre has been defined as Domestic Noir and it always focuses on the dark dynamics at work within a family, a neighbourhood, a close circle of friends. Does that mean it lacks the drama of a crime novel set, say, among Columbian drug barons, or the Mafia, or human traffickers or crooked financiers in the city? It probably lacks the extreme gore of a hard-boiled thriller. I work on the assumption that lashing out wildly and causing a loved one’s death with a misplaced blow is just as tragic and dramatic as a gruesome plot involving a victim’s head being chewed off by a bear.

Domestic drama might lack the fast pace of mainstream crime fiction too. It tends to be a matter of a slow burn, rising gradually to a rolling boil, scalding oil and an all-consuming blaze. That’s what I like, because it is what goes on in families – and with isolating lock-down, even more so. You don’t have to look to the scheming world of international crime or the grimy nastiness of the underworld to discover every facet of human emotion – thundering passion, consuming rage, seething jealousy, love, hope, disappointment, despair, joy, triumph, resentment, remorse. They are all there, simmering behind lace curtains.

Judith Barrow’s latest book, The Memory, proves the point exactly. Following the story of Irene from young girl greeting the birth of her beloved Downs Syndrome sister to aging carer of a mother with dementia, it is an exquisite study of how family ties and stresses stir up every possible joy and anguish from deep protective love to long-nursed hatred, with sheer bloody exhaustion nudging inexorably towards a fatal brink.

Read it and tell me a domestic drama can’t shake the reader as much as a shoot-out in bank vaults or torture in a cellar.

The Memory by Judith Barrow

www.thornemoore.co.uk