Copyright David Barrow 2020
Copyright David Barrow 2020
Copyright David Barrow 2020
Copyright David Barrow 2020
Copyright David Barrow 2020
Copyright David Barrow 2020
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 Threads as the prequel.
Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been be chatting with authors who will be at the Tenby Book Fair, http://bit.ly/27XORTh, the first event of the Tenby Arts Festival http://bit.ly/24eOVtl . I’m looking forward to having many more such chats over the next couple of months.
So far I’ve interviewed Rebecca Bryn: http://bit.ly/1XYWbtF, Thorne Moore: http://bit.ly/1P6zDQh and Matt Johnson: http://bit.ly/1RUqJFg . Over the next few weeks I’ll be introducing them all and I’ll also be showcasing the publishers who will be in attendance. There may also be a short chat with John and Fiona of http://showboat.tv/ who, as usual, will be filming the event.
Today’s guest need little introduction. I’m really pleased to be chatting with my friend, Christoph Fisher. Christoph organised the first Llandeilo Book Fair this year and is now in the process of setting up another: http://llandeilobookfair.blogspot.co.uk/
Hi Christoph and welcome. Let’s start by asking you what books have most influenced your life?
I’m not sure which ones influenced me the most but here are some books that triggered big events in my life:
After reading “The Idiot” by Dostoevsky I became a true literary addict. Before then I liked reading, now I was hooked. I read all of his work and decided to find a way of living by working with books. I became a librarian.
I switched over to the travel industry after reading “Backpack” by Emily Barr. It is a thriller set in Asia but it is as much about finding yourself as ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ – only with more bite.
I have basic plans for the story and the characters but I allow them to change as the story moves along. I often find that the great scene in Chapter 13, which I had built up to from the start, doesn’t feel right any more. I allow chaos during the first drafts and then iron things out in the re-writes.
Ludwika is about a Polish woman forced to work in Germany to fill the labour shortage during WW2. Although she is better off than other victims of the Nazi regime, her life gets disrupted beyond repair.
In Ludwika’s case there is real-life inspiration. She was the mother of a friend of mine and I started writing her story after helping them find out more about their mother’s time in Germany.
I usually have a real villain in mind. One in particular found her way into two of my books. I imagine what they would say or do and then the writing comes to me very easily. In the re-writing process I make sure I change enough not to get sued.
I used my grandparents as inspiration for two of my books. Their marriage was difficult for various reasons. In “The Luck of the Weissensteiners” I focus on the political circumstances and their life in Slovakia during WW2. In “Sebastian” I write about my grandfather and his disability.
Did you research for your book?
Yes. I think especially in historical fiction you need to get your facts right. In many cases the research came long before I had the idea for the book, so it wasn’t too arduous during the writing.
Letting Ludwika go through her ordeals, knowing she was a real person and only in part product of my imagination.
One chapter in which Ludwika makes a new friend. I wanted to show how even in the darkest hours there can be hope, friendly encounters and a little joy.
Yes, I learned that odd choices can make a lot of sense when you look at them closely and know the context. There are often good reasons for what appears irrational or risky.
I hope people will see that there were many heart-breaking tragedies and stories during that time. In comparison they may pale but for the individual they were still catastrophic.
I am currently working on the sequel to my medical thriller “The Healer” and also on a humorous murder mystery.
Film and book critic.
Yes. Readers, please leave reviews for the books and recommend them to your friends. Your support is very important.
To new writers: Be true to yourself and don’t let yourself be discouraged.
Today I’m really pleased to be chatting with Rebecca Bryn who’s going to talk about her latest novel, On Different Shores.
We will hear more of Rebecca: she will be one of the authors at the Tenby Book Fair: http://tenbybookfair.blogspot.co.uk/ which is one of the first events at the the Tenby Arts Festival: http://www.tenbyartsfest.co.uk
Hi Rebecca, please introduce yourself and your book to help our readers get to know you.
Hi Judith. I write under the name of Rebecca Bryn, chosen to protect my family from the embarrassment of being associated with me. I’d like to talk about my latest novel, ‘On Different Shores’ based on a true family story, which I hope to release later this year.
What inspired you to write your book and how long did it take.
A: Someone once asked me how long it took me to paint a seascape they were interested in buying. I told them thirty years, because that was how long it had taken me to learn my craft, to be able to produce that particular painting. So, on that basis, On Different Shores is the culmination of about twelve years of writing, rewriting, editing, tearing apart and rebuilding, and a lifetime of experiences that broke me and allowed me to rebuild myself.
On Different Shores is inspired by a family story, my grandmother was somewhat tight-lipped about. After my mother died, I delved into her family history and found this story was true. I haven’t been able to confirm the assertion that we have relatives in Tasmania who own a shipping line, but I have found the committal proceedings, trial reports, convict records and probations records of my great-great-great uncle James, who was transported to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) aboard the convict ship Tortoise, in 1841, along with his two cousins. They were found guilty of ‘very aggravated manslaughter’ and transported for life. James married twice; (his first wife died in childbirth and his baby son 8 days later) he died in 1913, aged 93, and is buried in Hobart alongside his Irish convict wife, who died in 1912 aged 92. So Hobart was not bad for them, it seems. A short story that may raise a smile can be found free at www.independentauthornetwork.com/rebecca-bryn. It’s called ‘Ooh Air Margrit’ and is embarrassingly true. (And a little too honest)
What did you enjoy most about creating this book?
The research. I feel really close now to James and to my roots in Yardley Hastings, East of the Brook.
What facets of your life, both personal and professional, are woven into your book, if any?
I enjoy research so I can accurately depict, pictorially almost, the time, the place and the emotional strictures this must have placed on the people who become my characters. I’ve used my artist head to clothe a character in ‘The Silence of the Stones’ and my love of my maternal grandfather to bring Walt to life in ‘Touching the Wire’. I recommended honesty, earlier, to aspiring writers, so I can do no less here. My novels all have an underlying theme, that of unbreakable love. Walt for Miriam, Alana for Tony, Raphel for Kiya, and Ella for Jem. Losing my first husband broke me. To be deserted, unloved, discarded was unbearable. To lose the man I adored, my friends and family, people I’d grown up with, was so painful I suffered clinical depression for many years. I didn’t know I was clinically depressed then but, reading the symptoms now, I realise I had all of them. Each day was a struggle. I lived to get through the next two minutes, then the next. I had to, to bring up two children alone and hold down a full-time job to keep a roof over our heads. But they say what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. I met a wonderful man, who showed me it was possible to love again, and I married him. I shall always love my first husband, despite the pain he put me through. Love, in my mind, is unbreakable. This was a concern to me for a long while. It felt disloyal to my second husband, but my ex mother-in-law, who is ninety-six and has been my role model since I was thirteen, assured me it is possible to love two men in your life. So I do, without guilt, and this determination and ability to love inspires many of the tangled relationships in my novels. Excuse me while I reach for a tissue. I’ve come over all emotional.
How did you get published?
After a close shave with traditional publishing, that frankly scared me witless, I decided to take my destiny in my own hands and self-publish. I like the freedom to write what I want and promote it how I want. It’s been a huge but very satisfying learning curve. I can say, however, that I did everything myself… with a little help from my friends.
Did you have any surprises or hiccups along the way during the book writing and/or publishing process?
Hiccups have usually been accepting criticism and finding a way forward through it: using it in the best way to improve my writing. That can sometimes be a challenge… I did say I liked a challenge. I think the main surprise was the physical difficulty of putting a book under a reader’s nose and, if they do see it and read it, getting them to leave a review.
What one thing did you wish you’d known before you started this project?
Probably nothing. If I’d known what was involved, I’d never have started. Not knowing what I can’t do has always been a huge help to me.
You’re a fly on the wall when readers are discussing your book. What would you hope to hear them say about it?
That they empathised with my characters and understood them, even if they didn’t like them. That they found an honesty in my writing, and that it made them think. I tackle difficult and sometimes traumatic subjects, and I hope it makes people appreciate what they have in life.
Tell us one thing about you that most people don’t know or would surprise them.
Oh gosh. I have one leg longer than the other? I did say I wasn’t symmetrical. I sound quite deformed don’t I? Maybe I should write under the name of Quasimodo.
What single piece of advice would you give new authors?
Write from the heart. Dig deep into your own experiences and don’t be afraid to write what you feel. (Like me, you can always hide behind a pseudonym)
Share a short summary of a typical day in your life with us please.
I get up too late to do the writing I promised myself I’d do before my husband gets up. I walk the dog, have breakfast, deal with e-mails and social media. Catch up on my promoting from the previous day, (Do interviews J) By this time it’s usually lunchtime and I wonder where the morning’s gone. Lunch, watch Bargain Hunt on the TV. Walk dog, water greenhouse, wander round garden not weeding. Feel guilty because husband is weeding. Don’t manage to find time to do the painting I should have finished last week for an exhibition that’s looming ominously. Fit in a bit of cleaning in case the estate agent rings up with a viewing. By this time it’s four-thirty, which is when I feel justified in sitting down to do a bit of writing. I catch up with e-mails and social media instead, and do some promoting, by which time it’s time to think about tea. I throw something together, eat, watch the soaps, and wish I had a quiet place to write. Reread the last bit I wrote and rewrite it. Maybe, if I’m inspired, write a few new words, delete them and write a few more. Do tonight’s promoting, ignore husband talking about what’s on TV and the fact that he needs an early night for once… And just as I’m getting into a character… it’s almost midnight: bed time and I’ve achieved precious little. Hey ho, tomorrow is another day. I promise myself I’ll get up early and write before husband gets up…
Describe where you do most of your writing. What would I see if I was sitting beside you?
You’d be sitting on top of my dog, on the settee in my living room, in front of a log burner and a rug that’s thirty-four years into its thirty-five year guarantee. I wonder if the company that made it still exists?
What’s your motto or favourite quote you like to live by?
‘Never judge a man until you’ve walked two moons in his moccasins.’ Another is ‘The only thing written in stone is your epitaph.’ (I made that one up myself – I’m rather proud of it.)
Links to find Rebecca: and her books:
Well, yes it is worth it – we love it, despite the unexpected. Having a holiday apartment attached to our house has brought us many friends; visitors who return year after year in the summer to enjoy the lovely Pembrokeshire coastline and all the other attractions this part of West Wales offers. We love seeing them again. And we are fortunate to meet many new people as well. But there have been downsides. Or should I say, occasions that made us think again about sharing our home.
Such as the Hippies.
One of the first lot of visitors in our first year (nearly our last!) I’d almost forgotten about them until Husband dug up a string of bells in one of the flower beds the other day. Here I must hasten to add that, no, we didn’t do away with one of them and bury the body in the garden. In fact I’ve no idea how the bells got there and so can offer no explanation. Which is all besides the point.
There were just the two of them when they arrived in a small battered car, decorated with brightly coloured swirly shapes. Having always yearned to be ‘one of the beautiful people’ , and knowing I’d no chance, I thought they both looked wonderful in their colourful clothes and long flowing locks ( him and her). Our three children were very young at the time and were mesmerised, especially when, before even unpacking, the man sat cross-legged on the front lawn playing his guitar and she sat alongside banging on a tambourine. Being a conventional type of chap Husband was wary. ‘Hope they don’t stay in every day making that racket.’ (obviously seeing his quiet weekend and evenings pottering in the garden quickly disappearing). ‘Oh, live and let live,’ said I, wistfully.
Words I needed to remember later that day.
Thinking discretion was the better part of valour I persuaded Husband to take us to the beach; giving the couple a chance to settle in.
Five hours later we piled three weary kids into the car and went home.
We could hear the noise as we drove up the lane to our house. ‘What the …! Husband, looking forward to a quiet beer after his strenuous Family Day of playing football, keeping three kids from drowning in the sea and being being buried in the sand, stared at me with horror. It was extremely loud. ‘It’s actually music,’I said. ‘It’s coming from our garden and it’s actually too bloody loud,’ said he.
As we turned onto the drive we were faced by a large camper van. We parked the car next to it and got out. There were half a dozen dancers on the lawn. One of them waved to us. I half raised my hand in reply before I heard Husband’s sigh. (I think I should add here that when we moved into the house the acre of land around it was a field and it had taken three years to get it anything like a garden. He’d worked hard on transforming it and it’s the only thing he’s precious about ) Two of the women were holding small bunches of flowers; Dianthus, I realised (and hoped Husband didn’t) from around the edges of the garden. No such luck; I watched with interest as his face turned puce. ‘Oh dear,’ I said, suddenly aware that I was tapping my feet to the beat. The kids, ecstatic, joined in with the dancing. One woman picked up our daughter and twirled her around. Seeing Husband looking at his churned-up grass, and seeing our original woman holiday-maker amongst the others, I thought I should say something. ‘They’ve got visitor… our visitors.’ ‘We’ve got trouble,’ he growled, pointing to the back of the van where a pile of rucksacks and sleeping bags lay on the ground
Just then four men appeared from around the corner of the house and gathered up the bags. They walked away from us. For the second time Husband said,’what the …’. And followed them. I followed him. I wasn’t too worried, after all their van had ‘Peace’ written along the side. We knocked on the door of the apartment. The man who answered wasn’t our visitor. He looked to be around forty-five; an original hippie. ‘Hey, man,’ he said, holding up a hand. He actually said ‘Hey, man,’ like someone out of a third rate film.
‘Who are you? ‘ said Husband. I noticed his ears were bright red, a sure sign of an impending explosion. (oh, dear, I always make him to be so angry in these posts)
‘Friends are staying here,’ the man said. ‘We’re going to kip down for a couple of days with them.’ The other men looked on from inside the kitchen, bottles of beer in their hands. There was no sign of ‘our’ visitor.
‘Just going to stay a couple of days,’ said one of the others.
‘Got a problem with that?’ said another.
‘You got a problem?’ The first man again..
I felt the first tremor of trepidation. ‘Should I call the police?’ I whispered, poking Husband in the back.
He didn’t answer. What he did say to them was, ‘No,I’ve not got a problem. Because what you’re going to do is…you’re going to leave.’There was a long silence, then some mutterings. The men bunched up behind the older man. I was really worried by this time, Husband was no match for them.
Then one said,’ we come in peace.’ He did! He really did say that!
‘Then… in peace, you’ll leave,’ said Husband. I had the urge to giggle; I think it was nerves. ‘From my count,’ continued Husband, ‘there are ten of you. Eight too many. Eight have to leave.’
‘No way, we’re doing no harm.’
It was a stand-off. We all stared at one another. Then Husband said,’okay, then that’ll be fifty pounds each.’ I knew he didn’t mean it; we’re only insured to take two people in the apartment and he’s not one for flouting the law. It was a gamble.
I’ve never seen people move so fast! They last we saw of them was the billowing of smoke from the exhaust of the camper van.
Until, that is, Husband dug up the string of bells the other day
This is My Mum.. She’s the one on the left. Next to her (the dark-haired toddler, is her sister Olive, who lived with us for many years) …
This is My Mum, a photograph taken in her early teens …
This is My Mum – The girl on the left …
This is My Mum, elegantly posed in her late teens…
This is My Mum in her Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) uniform during the war…
This is My Mum – on her wedding Day to Dad. Sitting in a car in a photographer’s studio with a pretend background …
This is My Mum – with my sister and me – I’m the grumpy-looking blond one…
This is My Mum in her forties outside the house she lived in until 2014 …
This is My Mum in her sixties, enjoying the sun in the garden …
This is My Mum -aged eighty, at our son’s wedding …
This is My Mum …
This is My Mum …
I will give her some dignity so I won’t show her as she is now; a small frail figure huddled under the bedclothes. She sleeps most of the time, only speaks the odd disconnected word, she’s doubly incontinent and can’t feed herself,
My Mum would not have wanted to live like this. I do not want her to have to to live like this. I wouldn’t want to live like this What I should say is … ‘exist like this.’
You’ve seen the photographs of my mum as she was. That’s how I want to remember her. In a similar way, that’s how I want my children to remember me.
This why I wanted to write this post.
This is the view I saw from the window of my bedroom in the house I lived in as a child until the day I married. The war memorial, an Obelisk, on Alderman’s Hill is called Pots and Pans. No one seems to know why. When I was eleven I had a dog (a Heinz Fifty-Seven variety; a cross between a corgi and a terrier, who probably these days would be called a Torgi) named Rusty. She and I could climb and run back down the hill in twenty minutes. Nowadays I think it would take me an hour just to get to the top. I’m not even going to try.
The house itself doesn’t change. Each tread of the stairs has its own noise; a soft whisper, a sigh of relief underfoot, a crack of protest. Each door sounds my progress through the house; the bedroom door protests its opening on the ill-fitted carpet, the bathroom door shushes closed. Downstairs the living room door opens quietly, then creaks as it’s forced against the many painted-over the hinges and frame. Finally there’s the heavy sigh of kitchen door, as though opening onto another day’s toil.
It’s my mother’s house. Once I lived here too. Now I visit.
It’s six o’clock in the morning.With laptop and cup of tea I settle down to write. I must have done this hundreds of times before. I wait to hear the thud of her feet as she stomps across the bedroom, the sound of her peeing in the bathroom, the yank on the chain of the flush of the old-fashioned cistern. I hold my breath, force back the slight irritation, hope she gets back into bed. But the mumblings get louder. I hear her tap on my bedroom door: ‘Judith?’ followed by the feigned echo of surprise; ‘you’re up already?’ as she takes the first two steps onto the landing.
In the past I bit back the exasperation. She knew I wrote at this time. I always have; it’s my time. We had a day of shared memories to get through. Again. Of laughing at the old black and white photographs; the different and often outrageous hairstyles and perms, her hats and frilly blouses, my flower-power flared jeans and mini skirts. Hours of mindless TV; Jeremy Kyle, This Morning, Doctors. Lunchtimes; chomping mournfully through thinly buttered Ryvita on diet days – joyfully savouring meat and potato pies and custard slices on ‘who gives a damn’ days. Then the comfort of the afternoon nap and the quiet hour of companionable reading.
I wait to hear the thud of her feet as she stomps across the bedroom floor.
It doesn’t happen.
Some weeks ago, a quick phone call, a frantic journey brought us to to this part of the country, to the hospital, to the ward, to the bed she sat up … cheerfully waving as we walk towards her. ‘Hello love,’ she shouted, ‘ well, here’s another fine pickle I’ve got myself into.’ She seemed perfectly clear, lucid for a few minutes. Then she called me Olive, her sister who’d died some years ago, mixing up past and present; confused. I held her hand, traced the veins under the thin, wrinkled skin, touched the deformed nail on her right hand little finger that once was trapped in the machinery of her winding frame in a cotton mill and never properly grew back..
And I knew there were hard family decisions to be made.
Mum at a family wedding ten years ago.
Yesterday Mum went into residential care. At ninety three she’d lived in this house for sixty-one years.
Today will be the last time I write here; it felt as though it was a ritual I needed to go through. This is what I wrote.
Just read and re- post things I like.
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