Honno: “Great Women, Great Writing, Great Stories.” Today Thorne Moore interviews me: https://bit.ly/2WWQ1jW #weekendReads #Honno

Thorny matters

Thorne turns the tables on me today!

Fellow Honno author Judith Barrow has been running interviews on her blog (https://judithbarrowblog.com/) with other authors published by Honno Welsh Women’s Press. (Read her interview with me)  I thought it was about time that the table was turned on her, so here is my interview in similar vein, with Judith Barrow.

Judith Barrow

So, Judith, you are the tireless champion of other authors. Let’s hear about you, for a change.
How did Yorkshire lass come to be a Pembrokeshire author?

We found Pembrokeshire by accident. After we were married, and before children, we always holidayed for a week in July in Cornwall. But after seven years of marriage and with three children under three and our only mode of transport being an ancient van, we decided it was too far with a young family. So we thought we would go to Wales; not too difficult a journey from Yorkshire, we believed.
I borrowed books on Wales from the library and, balancing our 8-month-old twins, one on each knee, I read as much as I could about the county of Pembrokeshire. With wonderful beaches it sounded just the place to take children for a holiday
.

We booked a caravan and, when the big day came, packed the van to the hilt with everything the children would need, remembering only at the last minute, to throw a few clothes in for ourselves.

It took us ten hours. In 1978 there was no easy route from the North of England to West Wales. We meandered through small lanes, stopping for emergencies like much needed drinks, picnics and lavatory stops. The closer we were to our destination the slower we went; in the heat of the day the engine in our old van struggled; we needed to top up the radiator every hour or so. For the last fifty miles we became stuck in traffic jams. We got lost numerous times.

All this and three ever-increasingly fractious children.

We arrived at the caravan site in the middle of the night so were relieved to find the key in the door. The owner, a farmer, had given up and gone home.

The following morning I woke early. Leaving David in charge of our exhausted and still sleeping family, I crept out. The air was warm; a breeze barely moved the leaves on the trees around the field. Although the caravan was one of four in the farmer’s field, we were the only people there.

I walked along a small path. Within minutes I was facing the sea, glittering in the sun; dark rocks jutted out of the water surrounded by foaming waves. The horizon was a silvery line far in the distance. Faint voices from two small fishing boats carried on the air. The cliffs curved round in a natural cove. It was so quiet, so peaceful.

I fell in love with Pembrokeshire.

Within months we’d thrown caution, and our past lives, to the wind and moved into a half-built house in what was a field. It took us years to finish it but it’s been a labour of love.

How could anyone not fall in love with Pembrokeshire? But your books are mostly set up north. How important is location in your books?

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Bacup.jpg

For me it’s vitally important, because it sets the scene for where my characters live. |And I try to portray the locations as they would exist in a certain era. It takes a lot of research to make sure the details of both the place and the time are correct. Luckily I enjoy researching.

I always draw a map of the town or village so I can see the characters moving around, see what they see; experience what they experience. It’s the only way I can picture it.

Location was especially important for the trilogy. The first book, Pattern of Shadows, was inspired by my research into a disused cotton mill in Oldham, Lancashire and its history of being the first German POW camp in the country. Rather than the noise of the machinery, the  colours of the cotton and cloth, the smell of oil, grease and the new material, I envisaged only vehicles coming and going, the sounds would be of men with a different language and dialect, no riot of colour, no tang of oil, grease, cotton fibres; just the reek of ‘living’ smells.

And the camp retains its importance throughout the trilogy after the war and into the sixties. It falls into ruin at the same time as the cotton industry is declining and the mill town where it is situated also deteriorates.

But, in the sequel, Changing Patterns and the last of the trilogy, Living in the Shadows, the characters are also in a small Welsh village; a complete contrast to the industrial town. And this disparity between the two locations is where the many layers of the human condition can be explored in order for me to create rounded characters that, hopefully, come to life on the page.

I hope that makes sense?

Perfect sense. Your first books, the Howarth stories, are a family saga. What appeals to you about that genre?

I love writing about the intricacies of relationships within families; it fascinate me. We live in such diverse situations and, a lot of the time; tend to take it all for granted. Being a family member, with the casual acceptance of one another that the circumstance brings, can bring the best and the worst out in all of us. So there is a wealth of human emotions to work with. It’s fascinating to write about that potential.  And, of course, behind closed doors, anything can happen. So the family saga is a genre that can cross over into historical fiction and the crime, mystery and romantic genres.

Your latest, The Memory, is still family-based but quite different. What made you shift direction for that one? What inspired it?

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is MemoryLR.jpg

It is new territory for me but the book is still set around a family unit so, from that point of view, I don’t think I strayed too far with The Memory. In the Haworth trilogy and the prequel, A Hundred Tiny Threads, (set against the background of the first World War, the Suffragettes and the Irish War of Independence),  there is still an underlying theme of reactions to a situation. But the difference between those books and this one is that those characters, as well as reacting in a domestic setting, respond to a wider situation; their lives are affected by what is happening in the outside world.  In The Memory it is only Irene Hargreaves, the protagonist that the reader learns about; mainly from the claustrophobic atmosphere she is living in presently, but also through her memories.

It’s a more contemporary book than the others and also it’s written in a different style. The book runs on two timelines: Irene’s life from the age of eight, after her sister is born and her grandmother comes to live with the family because her mother refuses to accept her second daughter, Rose, a Downs Syndrome child. That’s written in past tense. The second timeline, over the last twenty-four hours is written in the present tense and shows Irene’s life as the carer of her mother, who has dementia.

I don’t know that it was inspired by any one thing. The Memory actually began as a short story I wrote a long time ago, which just grew and, which, in turn, started from a journal that I’d kept from when I was carer for one of my relatives who had dementia. I read many articles on coping with the disease at the time, but writing how I felt then helped tremendously. Writing like that always has; it’s something I did through many years from being a child.

Another memory was of was a childhood friend of mine; a Down’s syndrome child, though I didn’t realise then. We would sit on the front doorstep of their house and I would read or chat; well, I would talk and he would smile and laugh. I didn’t think that it was odd that he never spoke. Thinking about it, I never even wondered why he wasn’t in school either. Anyway, one Monday after school, I went along the lane to their house and the front door was closed. I didn’t understand; one day he was there and the next gone. No one explained that he’d died. I‘m not sure I even understood what that meant anyway. So, I did what I usually did; I wrote about it; how I felt losing a friend. So, from finding the short story in a drawer I was clearing out, my memories, and remembering the journals, came The Memory.

What matters to you, apart from your writing? 

Family and friends. At least the small family that David and I created. I suppose that sounds odd; perhaps even a little selfish to exclude any extended members of our families. But I’m being honest here. I wasn’t close to my parents for various reasons; reasons that partly underlined the decision to move so far away from Yorkshire. They weren’t bothered about their siblings, who we rarely saw, so I never really got to know any of them.  Don’t misunderstand me; when any of them needed us we willingly did what we could. But moving away from where most of them live meant we were unable to rely on instant support; there was no childminding, no unexpected welcome visits. It made us more self-sufficient. So by family I do mean David and the children. And their children; our grandchildren. Whatever happens; however much changes, whatever life chucks at us, they will always matter to me.

 And friends? Well, at my age (and I think this happens to most people as they get older), friends are fewer and become more important. And, at this stage, true friends tend to know you inside out; all the good bits and the not so good bits. And they still like you. I think that’s wonderful. And it works both ways!

How did you come to be a Honno author?

For many years, whilst writing books that stacked up in drawers, never to appear again, I was writing poetry, plays and short stories and entering creative writing competitions. I also used to look for notifications for submissions to anthologies. A friend told me about a call that had come from Honno. The remit was to write a story around the subjects of gardens and life. The title of the anthology, published in 2008, is Coming up Roses. My story is called Whose House is This? (I wrote a post about it here).

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Coming-Up-Roses.jpg

Shortly after the anthology was published I attended a workshop run by Honno and, in conversation with the editor, Caroline Oakley, I said that I had recently completed a manuscript. I think I should mention here that this book was the first I’d ever been truly excited about; even reluctant to consign it to the drawer with the others. Caroline told me to send it to her, which I did.

But, previously I’d sent the book to an agent.  And this is where it all gets a bit messy, drawn out  and tedious; so all I will say is that the agent wanted me to work with a commercial editor to change the genre from family saga to chick lit ( not that there is anything wrong with chick lit, it’s just not what I write.) So, after much discussion, the agent and I parted company and it was a great relief when the book was accepted by Honno as a family saga. That book became the first of the Haworth trilogy, Pattern of Shadows.
The rest, as is often quoted, is history. I’ve been with Honno for over twelve years now and had five books published with them and another, The Heart Stone, to be released in 2021
.

What do you value most about 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.

Judith’s website

Judith at Honno

Judith on Twitter

Judith on Facebook

Judith on Pinterest

Judith on Amazon

My Time on Meet the Author: Judith Barrow With Michelle Whitham

Good evening my lovelies.  I hope you’re all well and finding plenty to amuse you and any children you may have during lockdown!  Today I’m delighted to welcome the lovely Judith Barrow on to my blog with a wonderful interview.  She’s is talking to us about writing as an escape, connecting with others through her love of walking, the hilarious tale of Mr & Mrs Wilson (don’t miss it!) and her most recent book, The Memory……

GENRE(S):

Cross Genres: Mainly Family Saga/ but also includes Historic Fiction/ Crime Fiction

TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOURSELF:

I’m originally from Saddleworth, a group of villages at the foot of the Pennines in the North of England but have lived in Pembrokeshire, Wales, for forty years with my family.

I have an MA in Creative Writing with Trinity College, a BA (Hons) in Literature with the Open University, a Diploma in Drama from Swansea University. I’ve had short stories, plays, reviews and articles, published throughout the British Isles and have won several poetry competitions. I’ve also completed three children’s books but done nothing with them as far as publishing goes.

I’m a Creative Writing tutor for Pembrokeshire County Council and I also hold private one-to-one creative writing workshops.

WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO START WRITING AND WHERE DO YOU GET YOUR IDEAS?

I’ve written since I was a child; it was a way to escape. My father was the head of the household; what he said was the rule. I didn’t always like it and hid in my writing.

HOW MANY BOOKS HAVE YOU WRITTEN AND PUBLISHED?

Three books (appallingly) written; never to see the light of day again! Five books, if we include this year’s one, so far, with Honno Press (https://www.honno.co.uk/): Pattern of Shadows, Changing Patterns and Living in the Shadows; a trilogy but also stand-alone books. The prequel to the trilogy, A Hundred Tiny Threads (written because the parents of the protagonist, Mary Haworth, Bill and Winifred, kept mithering me to tell their story). And, in March this year, Honno have published my most recent book, The Memory.

Different from the last four in that it’s more contemporary but still a family saga and written in two time-lines. I’ve also signed the contract with them for another book I’ve already written, which will be published in February 2021. There is another book that I Indie published in 2012, Silent Trauma: its fiction built on fact and a bit of a long story how this came about. It’s the story of Diethylstilboestrol; a drug; an artificial oestrogen, given to women, approximately between the years 1947 – 1975 in the UK, to prevent miscarriages. In short, I became involved in the charity because a relative of mine was affected by it. I was asked to write an article for their monthly magazine. After that, women began to contact me and the article turned into a story, then into a book. The charity was closed in the UK due to lack of funds and lack of interest by the British Government. I’d already had contact with many women and the charity in America: https://desaction.org/ through researching and getting quotes so, when the book was finished, I sent the manuscript to the committee of the charity. I needed to know that they approved of it, that it told their story honestly and that there was nothing in it that would offend or upset anyone. They answered and said I’d told the story as they wanted.

WHICH OF YOUR CHARACTERS WOULD YOU WANT TO BE STRANDED ON AN ISLAND WITH, AND WHY?

Mary Haworth, the protagonist of my Haworth trilogy. She’s strong-willed, so, whatever we’d need, whether it was food, water, some sort of shelter, or a boost to morale, I know I could rely on her. She makes the best of any situation and isn’t thwarted by obvious difficulties. She is tolerant, so would put up with any whinging (which no doubt I would do if too hot, too cold, hungry, thirsty, or bored). But can also be quite frightening when her temper’s up – so she would scare away any wild animals that threatened us. She’s an empathetic and good listener and can also tell a great story, which we would both need to help pass the time until we were rescued… hopefully by my husband who had missed me.

WHAT OTHER JOBS HAVE YOU DONE OTHER THAN BEING AN AUTHOR?

For years I worked in various departments of the Civil Service. But in my time as a stay-at-home mum with the children I had various part-time work: teaching swimming, hotel receptionist, cleaner on a caravan site, sewing slippers, making novelty cakes from home, working in a play school/nursery, working in a youth club. Would being on seven committees at various clubs (swimming, badminton, Scouts, Playgroup, PTA, athletics, gymnastics etc. etc.) that the children were involved in, be counted. I wonder? It felt like work at the time!

OTHER THAN WRITING, WHAT ELSE DO YOU ENJOY DOING?

Walking. I walk the Pembrokeshire coast with husband, David. There are a hundred and eighty-six miles of paths and we’ve covered a lot of them but only in stretches. Pembrokeshire is a glorious place to live. I sometimes write about the walks on my blog – and, through that, have made friends with many other walkers from all over the country who pass on their favourite places as well. And David takes the most stunning photographs (though he’s too modest to say so himself), so we always have memories to look back on when he uploads them onto the TV. And I have the most wonderful screen savers!

NAME ONE BOOK YOU THINK EVERYONE SHOULD READ AND TELL US WHY?

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King. As the write-up says: “Part memoir, part master class; a revealing and practical view of the writer’s craft. It comprises the basic tools of the trade every writer must have”.  I couldn’t say it in a better way. This is a book I read a long time ago and it spurred me on when I was in the doldrums of the second book syndrome.

WHAT IS THE BEST THING YOU’VE DONE IN YOUR LIFE SO FAR?

Get married. I wrote a post about it; says it all! http://bit.ly/39h9ajW.

YOU WIN A MILLION POUNDS – YOU GIVE HALF TO CHARITY.  WHICH CHARITY DO YOU PICK AND WHY? WHAT WOULD YOU DO WITH THE REST OF THE MONEY?

A cancer charity because I was so well looked after when I had breast cancer and, also, because it’s affected many others in my family. I’d put money on one side and persuade my husband to hire a gardener (it’s an acre of land around the house and, though he wouldn’t agree, is too much for him). I’d have a cleaner so I wouldn’t have to do domestic trivia and could have more time to write. I’d give some money to the local animal rescue centre. (Can we get away with not counting that as a charity?) The rest of the money would be shared between my children and grandchildren.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE TIME TO WRITE, AND WHY?

I’m usually up at five because that’s when my brain works. I try to resist looking at any social media until I’ve put 1000 words on the page or when two hours has passed. If I don’t have any classes to run later I’ll carry on writing. Otherwise it’s time to start on the domestic trivia of the day and hope to get back to writing later. I always try to get an hour in at my desk in the late evening but, usually, that’s a mistake because if I get carried away I lose track of time and, before I know it, I’m almost catching up to the next day’s writing time. Hmm, does that make any sense at all? Perhaps I should say, I write until I stop! Anytime – but sometimes it turns out to be rubbish.

WHAT WAS THE STRANGEST, FUNNIEST, FULFILLING TIME OF YOUR LIFE THAT INSPIRED YOUR WRITING?

I have to say it was when we let the apartment attached to our home, as a holiday let during the summer months. Though hard work it provided me with a wealth of stories. People are a mystery to me most of the time. I’ve added one here:

The Naturists

 They must have been in their eighties. Mr and Mrs Wilson from Wigan

 Dilapidated car

 ‘Would you mind if we practiced our Tai Chi on the lawn?’

 I sense Husband’s alarm. When I glanced at him I saw he was breathing rapidly and his eyes were bulging a bit. But his ears were still their usual pink; bright redness is the usual signal of him being overly upset.

We’d had a couple who had stayed with us before and practised their judo on the front lawn. It had been quite entertaining until the man did his back in (or should I say his wife did his back in for him with a particular enthusiastic throw). They’d had to leave early with the man lying across the lowered back seat with his feet pointing towards the boot and surrounded by suitcases.  ‘Good job it’s an estate car’ Husband said in a casual way turning back to tend to his lawn where the husband had made a dent.

 I digress.

‘Tai Chi links deep breathing and relaxation with slow and gentle movements. See… ‘ the wife explained, taking in one long breath that made her nostrils flare alarmingly as, at the same time, she stretched out both arms. She felled Mr Wilson with one blow. I remember thinking at the time when her husband was smacked on the nose, that he should have known better than to stand so close. After all he must have realised she was going to demonstrate. ‘It’s a health-promoting form of exercise, Mrs Wilson said, cheerfully, as we all helped her husband back on his feet. ‘Sorry, love.’ She dusted him down. ‘It’s like a form of meditation, you know, exercises the whole of you, not just your body. Helps you to stay calm and gives you peace of mind, like.’

‘You didn’t do it right,’ Mr Wilson muttered.

 She ignored him. ‘We only took it up a month or two back,’ she said to us.

Husband carried their two small suitcases into the apartment, his shoulders shaking.

I clamped my teeth together. When I spoke I knew my voice was a couple of pitches higher than normal but there was nothing I could do about it.  ‘Is that all you’ve brought?’ I peered into the boot of the car.

‘Oh, yes, just the two bags. ‘Mrs Wilson linked her husband. ‘We travel light, don’t we Sidney?’

He nodded but said nothing.

There are two things I should mention at this point.

One, my mother was staying with us and her bedroom window looked out onto the front lawn.

 And two, we quickly discovered that this wobbly (no, I’ll rephrase that); this elderly couple were Naturists.

On the second morning after they’d arrived I drew back the curtains of my mother’s bedroom to see the two of them on the lawn, practicing their Tai Chi.  Despite their years their movements were graceful, there was no doubt about that. They moved forward in one continuous action, their hands held out in front of them.  But it wasn’t with admiration but in alarm that I watched them. Because they were completely naked. And I was standing side by side with my mother.

 It was when he turned towards the house and bent his knees and squatted that my mother made a choking noise and fell back onto the bed.

 Now I know this is totally out of context and misquoted (and I apologize wholeheartedly to Shakespeare) … but the words that sprang to mind when I gazed at him, were ‘…age shall not wither…

Well it was a very warm morning

Mum kept her curtains drawn for the rest of the week

AND FINALLY, TELL US ABOUT YOUR MOST RECENT BOOK AND WHERE WE CAN FIND IT?

Irene Hargreaves lives with her husband, Sam, and her mother, Lilian, who has dementia. It has, for a long time, been a difficult relationship between the two women and, over the last few years made worse by Irene’s mother’s illness. Irene is trapped by the love she has for Lillian which vies with the hatred she feels because of something she saw many years ago.

The book runs on two timelines: Irene’s life from the age of eight, after her sister, Rose, is born and her grandmother comes to live with the family, with flashbacks to happier times with Sam, and in present tense, over the last twenty-four hours when Irene knows she needs to make a decision.

The book. published 19th March 2020 by Honno>. Purchase here: Honno ~ Amazon

Where to find Judith online: Website ~ Blog ~ Twitter ~ Facebook

FINAL WORDS FROM CHELLE…

Thank you Judith for this wonderful interview.  I think we’ll all agree that the story of Mr & Mrs Wilson is quite hilarious – what a shock it must have been for your Mother!! I definitely think we can get away with not including the local animal rescue as a charity – I’d be donating my money them too.  A cancer charity is always a good cause that is close to so many people’s hearts and I’m glad that you were well looked after.

I’m also lucky enough to have been gifted with a copy of The Memory by Judith and Honno so keep an eye out as there will be a review up in the coming months! (Thank you Judith!).

I hope you’ve all had a good day and stayed in and safe.

Any comments for Judith, just drop us a comment or contact her using the links above.

Chelle x