From my Archives: With Honno authors: Today with Alison Layland #memories #FridayArchive

Today, I’m really pleased to be joined by Alison Layland.

Hello and welcome, Alison. Great to see you here today.

 Glad to be here, Judith.

How many books have you written, and which is your favourite?

I’ve written severalnovels, but so far had two published – Someone Else’s Conflict (2014), a psychological thriller involving storytelling and the long aftermath of war in the Balkans, and Riverflow (2019), a story of family secrets and community tensions against a background of flooding and environmental protest.

Like children, it’s impossible to name a favourite, as they all have a place in my heart while writing, but if I had to choose, I’d say my most recent novel, Riverflow.

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

Although the title just came to me while writing, I evetually realised I was subconsciously remembering the Levellers’ song of the same name, which, at the time, I hadn’t listened to for quite a while. Music is a really important influence for me, and I compile playlists for all my novels, both while I’m developing ideas and during the process of writing. Although I actually write in silence, or at most to soft but atmospheric instrumental music, the songs on my playlists inspire me by capturing a moment, a feeling, an idea or an atmosphere – whole songs or just a line or two, often shamelessly taken out of the context of the original songwriter’s intention!

Although my playlist for Riverflow does include a couple of songs by indie folk rock rebels, Levellers, their song of the same name isn’t directly relevant to the novel, although it does nicely encompass the idea of life flowing like a river, which is also central to the book.

What inspired the idea for your book?

I’m passionate about the environment and wanted to write a novel that highlights the issues, while giving readers a good story. As always happens when I write, the characters, particularly protagonists Bede and Elin Sherwell, took over and it also became a family drama, where past mistakes strongly influence the present.

What part of the book did you have the hardest time writing?

I don’t like black-and-white villains, but I found it hard to sympathise with the antagonist, Philip Northcote, the Sherwells’ landowner neighbour, who is keen to develop fracking on his land (which was still a real threat when I was writing, in 2018-19). Northcote does have personal reasons for his antipathy towards the Sherwells, but I found it hard to get my head round what drives a climate change denier. How can people, such as my character, justify fracking for shale gas, a fossil fuel, in the face of climate science? In the name of research, I suffered for my art by watching a video interview on the subject with my notoriously anti-Green MP, Owen Paterson – who recently hit the headlines for different but equally nefarious reasons.

If you’re planning a sequel, can you tantalize us with a snippet of your plans for it?

My work-in-progress, Tidings, builds on the ideas that are central to Riverflow: environmental protest, climate change and the related threats to a small community. It stands alone, but is a distant sequel, as it features some of the characters from that novel(though I’m not saying which ones!) The year is 2056, the world has changed, and the Seeders, an idealistic island community, could be making a big mistake when they welcome a mainlander onto their island. I’ve really enjoyed imagining the political and environmental changes that might happen over the next thirty years if governments don’t get their act together…

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

Something I’m prone to more than I should be. Another reason for my novel playlists – to keep me “in the zone” when the words aren’t  flowing.              

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

A great little piece of anti-distraction software, Cold Turkey ( It can be used to shut off selected procrastination-inducing websites and apps for a defined period of time, freeing the harried writer from the lure of notifications and random browsing, while still allowing limited internet access for essentials such as research.

What comes first for you — the plot or the characters — and why?

Neither, as I don’t plan, but rather make it up as I go along. I start with an idea, a setting and/or a character or two, and take it from there. I don’t have a plot as such when I start, but quickly develop an idea of the direction I’m heading in. The plot fills out as I write, but my second draft is where I do most of the nitty-gritty of the planning. It’s a similar story with the characters – I have a couple of central characters from the start, and the rest find their way in. Characters who start out as incidental do have a habit of taking on central roles, such as displaced teenager Vinko in Someone Else’s Conflict, and Bede’s Uncle Joe in Riverflow.

How do you use social media as an author?

By battling with my self-consciousness and introvert tendencies – which extend to online activity – and when Cold Turkey (see above) isn’t active! I use Twitter (@AlisonLayland) and Facebook (  to spread the word about my books and events, but am far more comfortable doing social media as part of a group, such as among our lovely Honno authors, and the Crime Cymru ( collective, where I’m actively involved in the Gŵyl Crime Cymru Festival ( My favourite social media moment to date is the book trailer video for Riverflow ( ) made for me by my talented daughter.

Why did you choose? Honno as a publisher?

It’s lovely to be published by a respected independent press, where you feel part of a family – both among the Honno team and the lovely authors’ community that has developed over the years, many of whom are now dear friends of mine.


Twitter: @AlisonLayland


Book Links:

Short bio:

Alison Layland is a freelance writer and translator who lives and works in the Welsh borderlands. She is the author of two novels, Someone Else’s Conflict and Riverflow, both published by Honno Press, and is also a literary translator from German, French and Welsh into English. She also writes short stories and flash fiction; her story Quirky Robbers will be featured in the Honno crime anthology, Cast a Long Shadow.

My Review of Emmet and Me by Sara Gethin #Honno #NetGalley #Review

Book Description :

Summer 1966: When her father comes home with lipstick on his collar, ten-year-old Claire’s life is turned upside down. Her furious mother leaves the family and heads to London, and Claire and her brothers are packed off to Ireland, to their reclusive grandmother at her tiny cottage on the beautifully bleak coast of Connemara. A misfit among her new classmates, Claire finds it hard to make friends until she happens across a boy her own age from the school next door. He lives at the local orphanage, a notoriously harsh place. Amidst half-truths, lies and haunting family secrets, Claire forms a forbidden friendship with Emmet – a bond that will change both their lives forever.

My Review:

Sara Gethin has a unique talent for being able to enter a child’s mind, to give their thoughts, speak their dialogue. I know this is commonplace in children’s stories but what I mean is that she has the ability to speak from a child’s perspective in an adult world. A world that is dysfunctional, that the child sees and comments on, but is swept along, helpless in the chaos those adults create.

Yet threaded throughout Emmet and Me is the wonderful developing friendship between the Welsh, displaced protagonist, Claire and the, equally displaced Irish boy, Emmet.

I also admired the short sections where Claire speaks as an adult looking back on her childhood and on that time in her life, which affected so much and says why she is now the woman she is.

I first came across this author when I read Not Thomas, also published by Honno, (my review here: and greatly recommended.). Emmet and Me is as poignant, as heartrending as that book. And as with Not Thomas, I both cried and rejoiced with the characters at certain parts of the story.

This is a novel set in Ireland at a time when many children had absolutely no control over what happened to them. To say any more would be to add spoilers: suffice it to say it is obvious Sara Gethin has researched thoroughly and has brought that era to life within this book.

This is superb writing: the plot is enthralling (and, although I had an inkling which way the story was travelling, in no way did this spoil the read for me), all the characters are well rounded, grow as the story progresses and come to life on the page, and the settings have a real sense of place.

Emmet and Me is a novel I have absolutely no hesitation in recommended to any reader.

About the author:

Sara Gethin

Sara Gethin grew up in Llanelli and worked as a primary school teacher. ‘Not Thomas’, her debut novel for adults, was shortlisted for The Guardian’s Not the Booker prize in 2017 and the Waverton Good Read Award in 2018. Her writing has been shortlisted for the Colm Toibin International Short Story Award and she was selected for the Hay Festival Writers at Work programme in 2018.
She has written four children’s books under the name Wendy White, and the first of these won the Tir na-nOg Award in 2014.
While west Wales remains her home, Sara is a frequent visitor to Ireland where she loves spending time browsing the many bookstores of Dublin. She is an avid reader and theatre-goer.

Website & Blog:

Facebook: @SaraGethinWriter

Twitter: @SGethinWriter

Instagram: @saragethinwriter

Wednesday’s Interview with #Honno authors – today with Manon Steffan Ros

Time for another Wednesday interviews with one of my fellow Honno authors. And today I’m pleased to be chatting with Manon Steffan Ros

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Tell us a little bit about yourself as a writer and as a person.

I started writing when I was pregnant with my first child, who’s almost ten now. I had to give up my job as an actress because I was quite unwell, and needed something to fill my time and take my mind off the daunting prospect of impending parenthood! I had some success in the National Eisteddfod, which gave me the confidence to go for it.

I’m now fortunate enough to be working full-time as a writer, and the jobs I take on are varied- novels, plays, scriptwriting, game story-lining. I can’t quite believe how lucky I am to be doing this. When people ask me what I do, I’m always faintly embarrassed when I answer – saying “I’m a writer” sounds a bit like “I’m an astronaut” or “I’m a rock star”!

Tell us about the concept behind your book.

The Seasoning is a novel with recipes. I love food, and have always found cooking to be very therapeutic. In the novel, we are told the life story of Peggy, and the recipes which form parts of her memory. Taste is so evocative- who forgets the flavours of long-ago school dinners? Also, I wanted to explore the complex relationship people have with food, especially the generation which have gone from rationing and undernourishment to being faced with endless amounts of cheap, mass-produced food.

The Seasoning is a Welsh novel at its heart-I wanted to portray what it’s really like to live in a small rural village, with its comforts and claustrophobia. It is set in the small (and very real) village of Llanegryn, which is a few miles from Tywyn on the Meirionnydd coast.


How much research went into sculpting the manuscript?

I am a bit of a history buff, and so I knew a lot of the historical context of that area anyway. For me, the story comes before historical accuracy. However, I did have to test the recipes over and over again. They are mostly my own, though a few have been passed down by my grandmother, and another is based on a Staffordshire oatcake recipe (a nod to my grandparents in Stoke-on-Trent!)

How do you balance marketing one book and writing the next?

I think one process feeds the other. Writing is, of course, lonely work, which suits me fine- but I do sometimes think that more social interaction would be good for the development of the characters which I’m writing. So when I go and talk to various groups of societies about what I do, it gives me that opportunity to meet new people and observe them. I know that makes me sound a bit odd, but the truth is that I’m not very gregarious- when I’m observing people and the way they behave, I admire, respect and love them, but I do feel like an outsider looking in.

Can you tell us about your writing process? What’s a typical writing day for you?

I have two young sons (5 and 9) and so my working day starts when they’re at school. I try to write from 9-3 every day, with an hour off at lunchtime to go for a walk. I visit the library every other day, as I don’t have an internet connection in my home and so rely on the library to send work and do any research. I work again when the boys are in bed, from eight to around ten. I have my lazy days, but I find that I feel flat and a bit down if I go a few days without writing. It has become my way of processing the world.

Which novelists do you admire?

I am a voracious reader, and I love all kinds of books- I tend to read 2 or 3 books a week. I adore Kate Atkinson, Sue Monk Kidd and Fannie Flagg. I collect and chain-read books by Judy Blume, Paula Danziger and Ruth Thomas- the young adults’ genre appeals to me.

Something personal about you people may be surprised to know?

I ADORE Lego. Honestly. I play with it until my fingers get stiff. My children and I have pyjama days where we play with Lego all day. It’s fantastic stuff.

What would you like to take to a lonely island?

A radio. It’s my constant companion- I flit between different stations depending on the time of day, but generally find that the sound of radio is very comforting.

Hope you don’t mind Manon – I thought I’d add a little extra here. This is the write up for your book which is published 21st May 2015 – Oh!!! That’s tomorrow!

“Peggy is eighty and the family are having a birthday party. Her son’s gift of a beautifully crafted notebook comes with a request…

Peggy’s not so keen on telling her own story, but each of her family and neighbours has a story to tell, revealing not just Peggy’s life but that of her village, tucked beneath Cader Idris on the southern fringes of Snowdownia. Bookended by Peggy’s own shocking testimony, each chapter has a different voice and a different take on events, from the jolly fat woman who is feeding not just Peggy but her own sense of emptiness, to the generous shopkeeper and his young son, who has had his eye on Peggy for a long time, and Peggy’s best friend, who’s not sure she’s cut out for marriage to the church and its curator. As the village voices fill out the picture of life in Llanegryn, slowly the reader realises that all is not well, and that Peggy’s eccentricities have a terrible dark secret hidden behind them – and not just that she was a neglected child.”

Buy a copy here:


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