The Rat in the Python #MondayBlogs #Fifties #Memoirs #Humour

Many of you will have enjoyed Trish’s writing here before. She is one of my many talented students that I’m privileged to tutor each week. Hope you equally relish this dip into the past. For some of you it’s a small history lesson, for others, a memory. I am not saying which group I belong to!!

The following words belong to Trish…

If you haven’t heard of a liberty bodice, believe that half-a-crown is something to do with impoverished royalty and never had the experience of slapping a television to stop the grainy black and white picture from rolling, then this book is probably not for you.

It is intended for us Baby Boomers who, in the stability following the Second World War, formed a statistical bulge in the population python. It is a personal snapshot of a time that is as mystifying to my children as the Jurassic Era -and just as unrecognisable.

My intention is to nudge some long-forgotten memories to the surface, test your own recollections and provide statistics to put it all in context.

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin…

The Rat in the Python

Chapter One The House

It would be fair to say that most houses in this country pre-date our generation and so this topic should present few surprises.

However the external appearance is deceptive. We’ve all seen old postcards of towns and can instantly recognise many of the buildings. But what of the insides?

They were different.

In my day none of my friends had fitted carpets and central heating was unheard of. We did have carpets, and the ones I remember were hideously patterned, but they were square or rectangular, circular or oval and housewives in a hurry could lift a corner and sweep the dust and dirt under them.

Heating
We had a coal fire downstairs and my mother would plait and weave strips of newspaper, lay them like a nest in the grate and build a carefully-constructed pyramid of coal in the centre in and around more of these strips. Then she’d light the paper. If it looked as though it was going to sulk and go out she’d produce a sheet of galvanised zinc like a flat shield that she’d hold over the front of the open fire to ‘draw’ it up and once it was going properly we’d feed it with great hunks of coal the size of bread loaves that you could later split open with the poker.

My father would hold the paper he was reading in front of a flagging fire to quickly perk it up. This wasn’t always successful. A dark patch would appear in the middle of the newsprint before the hastily dropped paper burst into flames. Occasionally we’d use a toasting fork to dangle bits of bread in front of the fire but conditions had to be just right. Too soon after the addition of fresh coal and you had a brittle piece of bread with smoked edges; wait until it was too hot and the bread itself would flame and char. There was also a knack to balancing the bread on the fork so that as large a flat surface as possible presented itself to the heat. I lacked this knack. The bread would tear around the prongs and slide down towards the handle or I’d have it so delicately balanced that it would fall off into the gritty ashes or the blaze itself

Paraffin heaters were also popular; ugly great brutes that reeked and smoked but put out an impressive bit of heat. When I first heard ‘Smoke Gets in Your Eyes’ I thought of these heaters and even now I can see the blue ring of flames that had to be set at just the right height to balance heat against pollution. And if you’ve lived in a house with a paraffin heater you won’t need me to remind you of that all-pervasive, oily smell.

The non-smelly heating involved electric bar fires. Virtually everyone I knew had at least one of these in the home. They ranged from those of impressive size which stood proudly in the fireplace as a soulless coal substitute, to small, portable ones. These consisted of one or two tightly-wound bars of wire in front of a shiny concave area designed to reflect heat back into the room. You’d flick a switch at the side to turn on one or both bars and then you’d wait to see if either began to glow red. Eventually they’d click and creak and produce a vicious belt of radiant heat from bright-orange elements which were ‘protected’ by a few widely-spaced strips of thin steel. From a Health & Safety perspective these were a nightmare by anyone’s standards. On the other hand, as few families of our acquaintance used fireguards for their coal fires – or their paraffin heaters, for that matter – I suppose it points to a time when Darwinism ruled; parents warned offspring of the dangers and, if they didn’t want to end up as a Cautionary Tale, children kept fingers and other bits at a safe distance.

In the winter, when houses which had never heard of double glazing shivered and quivered, sash windows rattled and draughts moaned through closed doors, the family snuggled up in front of the heat source. Those old advertisements of parents and children in a compact group do reflect the times, but the togetherness was often down to a primitive need to be warm rather than a desire to spend time with each other. Anywhere further than six feet from a fire was as foolhardy as a penguin trying to go it alone in the Antarctic Those of us who got as close to the heat as was possible, without actually spontaneously combusting, suffered from chilblains. I don’t know if anyone in this country still gets chilblains but for me it was an expected accompaniment to the cold weather. My feet were affected more than my hands and I can remember stamping them hard on the ground on my way to school in an attempt to calm the dreadful itch of them.

It goes without saying that when the downstairs was cold, the upstairs was colder. In a time before electric blankets and duvets all we had to protect us was a sheet, blankets and a hot water bottle. Some expensive hotels still use sheets and blankets in preference to duvets but they have the benefit of centrally heated rooms that make them an affectation rather than a necessity. It didn’t seem to matter how many blankets were heaped on the bed, the only bit that felt warm was the bit right next to you that had leached the heat from your own body. Hot water bottles were very welcome but imperfect. Unimaginative relatives knitted weird, lank, garter-stitched covers for them but I never used mine because they absorbed some of the heat intended for me. This meant that at first the bottle was too hot to touch and I’d put my foot against it for as long as I dared before snatching it off at the last moment (exacerbating the chilblain situation). For the briefest of times the temperature was perfect, and it was a real comfort. On waking you quickly learned not to move beyond your imprint in the bed. Everywhere else was inhospitably cold and you could watch your breath curl around the room whilst you mustered the courage to get up. The hot water bottle, by now endothermic, was resolutely avoided until the last moment when both feet would dart down, snatch it up the bed and leave it on top for re-filling that night.

Sometimes, presumably after vivid dreams, I’d wake in the night to find myself either entangled in a nightmare of Witney blankets or shivering because one end was still attached at the foot of the bed but the rest were in a heap on the floor. In the latter case, it was impossible to simply pull them up and go back to sleep; they had to be individually replaced in the right order or they’d be sliding off before you could start counting sheep again.
I was a student when I used a duvet (or continental quilt as they were billed then) for the first time. It was synthetic and the filling quickly moulded itself into clumps that refused to even themselves out again. Nevertheless, from that moment on I knew there was no going back to sheets and blankets.

And there’s nothing more irritating than blankets with rucks in them, unless it’s blankets that don’t line up at the bottom of the bed, or blankets that don’t reach your chin. Or blankets.

Heating also leads me to the issue of plugs and sockets.

My grandmother had a friend who would make sure before she went to bed that every socket had a plug in it. She explained it was to stop the electricity escaping into the house. In her day, as in mine, those sockets were round and the plugs that went into them were round-pin plugs. They were usually brown bakelite and the flex that went into them was covered in a woven material that frequently frayed into long wispy bits at the ends. It’s weird but I don’t remember the changeover from round prongs to square. Did I sleep through it? Did it happen so slowly that it crept up in tiny steps until the old was gone and the new already commonplace?

I suspect that when houses were first wired for electricity they were done in a half-hearted way because no one could think of many uses for the stuff and so one socket per room was considered more than ample. Then people decided on table and standard lamps to cast a warm glow on father reading his paper or mother darning the socks, wirelesses that needed wires, gramophones, electric fires, irons. The only way to deal with such a constraint was to buy adapters and stick one into another until there were sufficient sockets to satisfy demand. The weight of the massed plugs vying for space was frequently enough to drag the adapters away from the wall and someone would have to push them back in to restore power. As I write this, one of the public information films of the time has surfaced in my head and it shows such a cluster of adapters smoking in protest before bursting into flames. It wasn’t just my family, then…

The kitchen
The kitchen seems to be at the forefront of change. In the 50s there were rich pickings to be had for anyone with an innovation that was labour-saving or which made the heart of the home look more modern. Into the 21st century, the wheel has turned in the opposite direction and the more modern look involves a return to butler sinks and free-standing shabby chic furniture in place of the streamlining of the fitted kitchen but, like a return to blankets, there is space for these when other things allow them to be decorative features over the practical.

When I was a child, like most of my friends it was assumed that my mother would stay at home and be a housewife whilst my father would go out and work to keep her there. Women were given housekeeping money and were expected to make it stretch to cover all our needs. A housewife wore an apron to protect her clothes that were comparatively expensive in a time before cheap, supermarket-produced goods. To make ends meet she would frequently cook the same things on the same day of the week so Monday’s meal would be something that made use of the leftovers from Sunday’s roast. She would cook the meals on a white, enamelled stove and ours had bluish-black chips showing where pans had knocked against the enamel. There would also be whorls of grey scratches around the rings where spills had been scrubbed clean.

The food was kept in cupboards or, if you had the space, in a pantry. Vegetable racks held greens with yellowing outer leaves and a limited selection of root vegetables that were prepared in the sink. The first kitchen sink I remember was a white, enamelled one with a green stain under the cold water tap. Taps – which invariably had knobbly cross-shaped tops – seemed to drip with a frequency uncommon today.

Milk was kept in a small fridge (and ours was the envy of our neighbours because it had a freezer compartment that was big enough for some ice cubes or a block of waxy ice cream). I knew someone who still put her milk and cheese in a milk-safe. This was a terracotta container that was placed over the items and doused in water. In hot weather the evaporating water kept the contents cool and at a time when milk arrived daily that was usually enough.

Without the benefit of freezers, a lot of our food came in cans and, before we bought our first rotary, or butterfly, can-opener, the lids had to be removed using a metal lever that was used to punch triangular holes around the top until you could bend the jagged edge back and get at the contents. The rotary opener was a vast improvement on this but there always came a time when it would slip its way round without cutting. You’d have to try clipping it onto the can at a rakish angle and grip really, really tightly, praying that it would get far enough round for success. Inevitably there would be a couple of patches that the opener had grooved but not cut and these were now more difficult to reach. We weren’t the first family, I’m sure, that would resort to sliding spoon handles into the gap, trying to prise the lid back.

There were very few kitchen gadgets in our house when I was a child. We did have a rotary whisk which I found mesmerisingly exciting. Chips were cooked in a saucepan with a wire basket to hold, remove and drain them. You’d put a slab of lard into the pan, heat it up until it was smoking, put the prepared chips into the wire basket and lower it, hissing and spitting like a trapped cat, into the fat. It is no surprise that chip pan fires also feature prominently in my memories of public information warnings.

The cupboards were filled with china, and there was always one cupboard that had the best china in it to be used when visitors came. Cups always had saucers, and mugs were unheard of in the home. If I fast forward to the beginning of the sixties I enter a different world of colour and melamine. We thought melamine was cool and trendy and it spun and clattered without breaking when dropped onto the equally colourful Marley tiles arranged checkerboard-style on the floor. We threw out our melamine when earthenware became popular…

As a child it wasn’t uncommon to have three cooked meals a day. Breakfast might be scrambled eggs on toast or a fry-up, lunch would generally consist of something meaty with vegetables plus a pudding and the evening meal would be a more substantial version of lunch. All of these meals were cooked from scratch which generated a good deal of washing up. As a consequence, mothers around the country would be continually reaching for their Marigolds and balancing the washed items on the wire rack on the draining board to be dried with a tea-towel that had a stripe down each side.

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My Review of What’s Left Unsaid by Deborah Stone #TuesdayBookBlog #RBRT



What's Left Unsaid

I was given a copy of What’s Left Unsaid by the author as a member of Rosie Amber’s Review Team #RBRT, in return for an honest review.

I gave this book 5*

Book Description:

Sasha is just about managing to hold her life together. She is raising her teenage son Zac, coping with an absent husband and caring for her ageing, temperamental and alcoholic mother, as well as holding down her own job. But when Zac begins to suspect that he has a secret sibling, Sasha realises that she must relive the events of a devastating night which she has done her best to forget for the past nineteen years.

Sasha’s mother, Annie, is old and finds it difficult to distinguish between past and present and between truth and lies. As Annie sinks deeper back into her past, she revisits the key events in her life which have shaped her emotionally. Through it all, she remains convinced that her dead husband Joe is watching and waiting for her. But there’s one thing she never told him, and as painful as it is for her to admit the truth, Annie is determined to go to Joe with a guilt-free conscience.

As the plot unfurls, traumas are revealed and lies uncovered, revealing long-buried secrets which are at the root of Annie and Sasha’s fractious relationship.

My Review:

There are some books that grab you from the first page, even the first paragraph. What’s Left Unsaid did just that for me:

“If Annie had just been honest with me, we might have avoided much of the ugliness which followed… but she wasn’t and we didn’t…”

How could I resist? I didn’t! It helped when I realised the story is told in one of my favourite formats; it’s written from different points of view under the name of three characters: the protagonist, Sasha, her mother Annie and her late father, Joe. I especially liked Joe’s objective viewpoint that balanced out the subjective viewpoints of the other two characters as they describe the complex and difficult relationship between them. Even so, the question hovering throughout the text is what is truth and what is lies. It’s a cleverly written narrative and I loved the writing style of Deborah Stone; she moves from character to character, slipping easily into their voices, alternately moving the reader to understand each with empathy, yet being able to see the flaws in them as well.

The plot is tense and tightly woven, moving at different paces to reveal the secrets held for years held by this family. There are many themes: family secrets and deceptions, emotional power struggles between characters, dementia, miscommunications, understandings and forgiveness. All delicately intertwined throughout the text.

I always think that, when we reach a certain age we are formed by the things that we have done, what has happened to us, how we have been treated and how we have treated others. In What’s Left Unsaid the flashbacks to Annie’s earlier life reveal her vanity, her prejudices of others and her jealousy of her own daughter. As a reader I was torn between disliking much of what she was and yet having compassion for what she has become; a woman in the throes of dementia. The flashbacks of Joe’s earlier life show his Jewish family’s struggles to move from a totalitarian Russia at the end of the nineteenth century to the North of England where they face fascism and suffer poverty that they fight to escape, much as they have escaped from an oppressive regime.

The characters are many layered. The protagonist, Sasha is living in a loveless marriage and cannot understand either her husband, Jeremy, who has a secret of his own or her son, Zac, typically a monosyllabic, hormonal teenager. She has no closeness with her mother yet is forced to be deeply involved in her life. The author cleverly and subtly reveals the tensions hidden in Sasha, much as she does in all the major characters.  Her internal dialogue initially shows her timidity, her nervousness, in the way she approaches her family. Yet there is also exasperation and even anger. And this comes out more and more as the story progresses.

Joe’s words, spoken from beyond the grave, are wise and, as I said earlier, objective. I felt they gave a distanced reflective view on human nature as a whole. Yet, through the dialogue and thoughts of the other characters, his personality in life is exposed to have had had the same flaws and weaknesses as their own.

Even without the story being allocated to each character the reader is left in no doubt who is speaking; each have their own distinctive voice.

The narrative describing the settings give a good sense of place and provide an interesting background to the story.

What’s Left Unsaid is a complex and poignant read. Thought provoking and absorbing it left me reflecting on the complexities of marriage and families. I would recommend this to readers who enjoy well-written family sagas

 

 

My Review of Connectedness (Identity Detective Book 2) by Sandra Danby #RBRT #TuesdayBookBlog

Connectedness (Identity Detective Book 2) by [Danby, Sandra]

I was given this novel by the author as a member of Rosie Amber’s Review Team #RBRT in return for an honest review.

I gave Connectedness 4* out of 5*

Book Description:

TO THE OUTSIDE WORLD, ARTIST JUSTINE TREE HAS IT ALL… BUT SHE ALSO HAS A SECRET THAT THREATENS TO DESTROY EVERYTHING

Justine’s art sells around the world, but does anyone truly know her? When her mother dies, she returns to her childhood home in Yorkshire where she decides to confront her past. She asks journalist Rose Haldane to find the baby she gave away when she was an art student, but only when Rose starts to ask difficult questions does Justine truly understand what she must face.

Is Justine strong enough to admit the secrets and lies of her past? To speak aloud the deeds she has hidden for 27 years, the real inspiration for her work that sells for millions of pounds. Could the truth trash her artistic reputation? Does Justine care more about her daughter, or her art? And what will she do if her daughter hates her?

This tale of art, adoption, romance and loss moves between now and the Eighties, from London’s art world to the bleak isolated cliffs of East Yorkshire and the hot orange blossom streets of Málaga, Spain.

My Review:

I enjoyed reading Connectedness. Although it is the second novel in the ‘Identity Detective’ series that features Rose Haldane, journalist and identity detective, who reunites the people lost through adoption, it can be read as a standalone novel. In Connectedness the story revolves around the protagonist, successful artist, Justine King, who discovers her life is, and has been, a web of lies and secrets. She is vulnerable and haunted by incidents that happened in her younger days as a student. The suspenseful plot is revealed through a clever blend of her past and present and has a steadily growing pace after an intriguing prologue.

There are numerous layers to this book, details that are cleverly drip-fed throughout to reveal many themes: of sadness and distress, memories, anger, grief, familial love, discovery, loss and regret.

The characters are well rounded and portrayed to evoke sympathy and understanding in the reader. Both the internal and spoken dialogue add to their credibility.

It is obvious the author has researched the art world that is the basis of the story. Research that adds to the character of the protagonist who uses her emotions, her fears, her pain, both consciously and unwittingly, when producing her work. There is a wonderful sense of art being part of both the human condition and the environment around us,

The descriptions of the settings of contemporary Filey in Yorkshire, Malaga in Spain in the eighties and London are evocative through the use of all the five senses and give a wonderful sense of place. At times I felt I was travelling alongside the protagonist in her journey of discovery.

And the denouement is poignant and satisfying.

Just the one reservation, and I’m sorry to say this, but I don’t like the title. If I hadn’t been intrigued by the book description and if I hadn’t loved the cover on first sight, I wouldn’t have chosen Connectedness. It doesn’t mean anything to me. Suffice it to say I’m glad I did choose this book.

This is the first book I’ve read by Sandra Danby It won’t be the last. The idea of the story itself is intriguing and she has a sensitive yet powerful writing style that I have no hesitation in recommending to readers who enjoy contemporary and women’s’ fiction.

About the author:

An image posted by the author.

Sandra Danby is a proud Yorkshire woman, tennis nut and tea drinker. She believes a walk on the beach will cure most ills. Unlike Rose Haldane, the identity detective in her two novels, ‘Ignoring Gravity’ and ‘Connectedness’, Sandra is not adopted.

 

 

 

My Review of Finding Max by Darren Jorgensen #RBRT #Crime #TuesdayBookBlog

Finding Max by [Jorgensen, Darren]

I was given Finding Max by the author as a member of Rosie Amber’s Review Team #RBRT in return for an honest review.

I gave this book 4* out of 5*

Book Description:

Five-year-old Max is abducted from a playground on a hot summer day while his brother, Gary, has his back turned. Seventeen years later, Max returns to Gary’s life in a serendipitous twist with a disturbing tale to tell. As they learn to love and trust each other, they must outwit and outrun the nefarious Quinn, who seeks to re-abduct Max for his own evil purposes. Killing Gary and his new girlfriend, Jean, to get them out of his way is just part of his plan. Will they escape? And when all is said and done, will Max and Gary ever truly be freed from the shackles of guilt and pain from the past? Amid the gritty, harsh landscape of New York City, Finding Max explores those areas of society we seldom like to look at—homelessness, hunger and sexual abuse—with profound delicacy, brutal honesty and compassion. This thrilling novel will keep you reading long into the night

My Review:

Finding Max is an intriguing and powerful novel; a cross genre of psychological thriller and mystery. It’s a dark plot that is threaded through with themes of violence, abandonment and sexual abuse but these are juxtaposed and balanced by themes of courage, loyalty and love. I liked the writing style of this author and it’s obvious there has been a great deal of research into the deep-seated trauma of childhood mistreatment and cruelty. Darren Jorgensen treads a fine line but it’s done with sensitivity and skill. The reader is taken into the inner lives of the two main characters, two brothers, Guy and Max and their past and present lives.

On the whole all the characters throughout are well-rounded and believable. Both Guy and Max are multi layered. They are portrayed, individually, as damaged by their history but in different ways, Max, by his abduction as a child, and Guy, by his belief that he failed his brother by his neglect and inability to stop the abduction. But, as in all good writing, both are also depicted to grow and change as the story progresses. This transformation is helped by the introduction of Jean, Guy’s new girlfriend. I wasn’t sure, at first, by this character but eventually realised her purpose to the plot; she is an emotional go-between – having a strong impact on both brothers in the short time span

The antagonist, Quinn, is interesting; a psychopathic murderer who is shown to have a disturbing, unnatural love for Max. He stalks him, desperate to reclaim him and dangerously bitter by his belief that Guy and Jean have taken Max away from him. It’s a strong, well written portrayal of an adversary.

I deliberated over some of the dialogue; I’m not convinced by it, especially that of Max. The inner dialogue, on the whole, is excellent, revealing the horror, the terror, the power of the mind and it gives understanding to some of Max’s irrational behaviour and need to hide, to run away. But the spoken dialogue he is given doesn’t always ring true; there is a sophistication there that feels wrong for this naive character. And, without the dialogue tags, it is occasionally difficult to discern who is speaking, Guy, portrayed as an educated and socially competent man, or Max.

The description of the settings: Guy’s office, the shelter where he is based as a social worker, and his apartment; the way homelessness on the streets is shown, give a brilliant sense of place. I could see the world the characters move around in.

Besides my thoughts on the dialogue, I had only a few reservations. Firstly, I felt that the pace of the plot was slowed down, in places, by the unnecessarily introduction of issues not particularly relevant to the story, Secondly, I was never quite sure about the coincidence of Max walking into the drop-in centre where Gary is based. But, for the sake of the plot, I accepted it as possible.

I think it also should be said that there are explicit details of child sexual abuse some readers may find upsetting.

Although Finding Max is a standalone novel it is open- ended and could lead to a sequel.

On the whole this is a powerful and absorbing read. One I would recommend in particular to readers who enjoy a dark physiological crime genre

 

 

My Review of Someone Close to Home by Alex Craigie #TuesdayBookBlog #RBRT

Someone Close To Home by [Craigie, Alex]

I gave Someone Close to Home 5*

My Review:

It’s been quite a while since I read a book in one go but I couldn’t put this one down. Someone Close to Home sent me through a whole range of emotions; delight, sadness, anger, joy, frustration. And this is a debut novel! The writing style of Alex Craigie  is sophisticated, emotive and empathetic.

The start of the story grabbed me straightaway: the image of the protagonist, Megan, watching “each minuscule judder of the hand (of the clock)”, her immobility and her thoughts on her childhood, especially of her selfish and destructive mother who Megan loathed – still loathes, is compulsive reading. There is one sentence that foreshadows all that happens as the story continues: ‘This is all down to my mother… she’s been dead for over thirty years now and still she’s poisoning my life.”

This is a story of two halves: the time that Megan is in the badly-run care home, which lasts around six months and is told in present tense, mainly through the internal dialogue of the protagonist, and the whole of her childhood and younger life.told in past tense as flashbacks. The latter leads the reader inexorably to the point where Megan is lying helpless after suffering a stroke. She is at the mercy of mostly inattentive carers, poorly paid and resentful. Their actions, the way they carry out their tasks on Megan is described simply by her; they are tasks done to her, sometimes carefully, sometimes without heed. And then there is the carer, Annie… I’ll say no more.

The description of  of the protagonist’s days evoke the dreariness. The word, “waiting” is repeated so many times that I, as the reader, also waited with Megan, knowing, with some dread, that something awful will happen.

The main characters: Gideon (childhood friend and later the man she loves. Claire, her true friend in later life, Jordan,  Megan’s husband, egotistical actor and a cruel man, Theo and Camilla, her greedy and selfish children), are many layered and well portrayed; their dialogue identifies them immediately. And, although there are many flat characters,, in the guise of the carers and the owner of the care home, the author also gives them distinguishable voices. 

The descriptions of the settings give a good sense of place. The room Megan is lying in is told in meticulous but confined detail. We see the limited view she has, and only that. (it did give me a sense of claustrophobia, I must admit.). There is “the sturdy chest of drawers topped with shapes that will become a television and some framed photographs”as “the heavy grey light” “pushes into the room” after a long sleepless night”. We hear “the rattle of trolleys” that she knows is “laden with clean and soiled bedding”, the “insistent buzzing” of room bells, the “moans, shouts and cussing from room nearby punctuated by the chivying of staff”. We feel her pain through the roughness of the care, the threat of bed sores. And the details of the places in her childhood, the  houses she lived in, countries she visited as a professional pianist, are full of evocative imagery.

It’s a plot that moves at an even pace but, ultimately, it’s also one that took me by surprise. Even closely following the actions of the characters in the story still didn’t prepare me for the ending.

Someone Close to Home by Alex Craigie is a book I thoroughly recommend to any reader.

Book Description:

Talented pianist Megan Youngblood has it all – fame, fortune and Gideon.

But Gideon isn’t good enough for Megan’s ambitious, manipulative mother, whose meddling has devastating repercussions for Megan and for those close to her.

Now, trapped inside her own body, she is unable to communicate her needs or fears as she faces institutional neglect in an inadequate care home.

And she faces Annie. Sadistic Annie who has reason to hate her. Damaged Annie who shouldn’t work with vulnerable people.

Just how far will Annie go?

Author details:

Born in Sunderland, in the north of England, Alex has wended her way south via Eccles, Bramhall, Histon, Cambridge, Leicester and Market Harborough before finally coming to rest thirty years ago in a peaceful village  in Wales. She lives in an old, draughty house with stone walls 2’ thick that make any DIY a real challenge and she knows she’s really lucky to have all her children and grandchildren living close by. It’s often chaotic and noisy but these are her most treasured moments and she savours them – even if she’s reduced to an immovable heap after they’ve gone.  When not writing, reading or simply enjoying the rural life, she’s in the garden waging a war of attrition against the brambles that she encourages in the hedges for birds to nest in, vicious nettles that support a variety of butterflies, and bindweed that looks lovely but doesn’t share nicely with the other plants.

Amazon.co.uk: https://amzn.to/2JDruLL

Amazon.com: https://amzn.to/2KezulB

 

Books in my Handbag Blog Detective Indie Author Investigates #FridayReads #Editing #Publishing The Crime and Coffee Festival

Detective Indie Author Investigates

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?

The panel discussion with: Thorne Moore, Caroline Oakely and Judith Barrow. Has Judith spotted Jessie?

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.

A good editor is key to success for all authors

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.

The venue – Cardiff Library

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.

Introducing Judith Barrow:

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?

Judith Barrow and Thorne Moore are published by Honno Press

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.

Introducing Thorne Moore

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

Narbeth Book Fair – see Judith, Thorne and Jessie!

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.

Judith Barrow, Caroline Oakley, Thorne Moore will all be at the Narberth Book Festival on 22nd September.

You can book individual session with Caroline Oakley of Honno Press for £35.  For more information visit the Narberth Book Fair website. Children’s writers can book sessions with Firefly Press.

 

Yorkshire Lasses in Wales: When Jessie Met Judith Barrow

Judith Barrow, originally from Saddleworth, near Oldham, and on the wrong side of the Pennines but still in Yorkshire

Judith waited for me in a department store while I waited for her in Cardiff Library.  Would the meeting take place? Neither of us had thought to share our phone numbers prior to the meeting.  

Judith emerged from the lift, in Cardiff Library, wearing a silk purple top that was co-ordinated with her fabulous lilac hair.  I warmed to her instantly! Her beaming smile lit up her face and I knew she’d make me laugh.  She travelled from Pembrokeshire to take part in a panel on agents, traditional and Indie publishing and agents at the Crime Cymru event, and her huge canvas bag bulged with goodies for the day ahead.  I was lucky to grab some time with her.

We almost didn’t meet at Cardiff Library

Judith: At last, I thought you’d got lost in your handbag. I waited in the department store and realised I had no contact details. After I finished my mint tea, I asked three strange women if they were Jessie.  They thought I was mad.

Judith’s Yorkshire accent and mischievous blue eyes instantly made me giggle. Great to meet someone who spoke the same lingo.

Jessie:  I’m so sorry but I thought you’ be able to read my mind. Couldn’t you hear me calling you in my dulcet tones across the streets of Cardiff?  Don’t ask me why I didn’t send you my mobile number and confirm the meeting.  I also approached a couple of potential Judiths but the real Judith is much better. So pleased, I found a representative of Honno Press and she had your number.

We laughed and grabbed some coffee from a coffee station in Cardiff Library.  The staff set up a couple of chairs for us to conduct the chat.  Having spilt the coffee all over my hand, we settled down to chat about Judith. 

Jessie:  Judith, tell me what a Yorkshire lass is doing in Pembrokeshire.

Judith:  We went on holiday to Pembrokeshire, loved it and never returned to Saddleworth.  We bought a half-built house and renovated it.

Jessie:  Do you miss Yorkshire?

Judith Barrow – Secrets

Judith:  Pembrokeshire was a great place for our kids to grow up.  I miss Yorkshire stone, craggy landscape and the meandering moors. I love our house, in Pembrokeshire, but I always expected I’d live in a stone cottage in my old age.  As you can hear, even after forty years in Wales my accent hasn’t changed – I’m still a Yorkshire lass.  People say they can hear my voice in their heads when they read my books.  Lucky them!

Jessie:  Obviously, people love your voice as you have written eight books.  How did the writing start?

Judith:  Well, I hope they do. As for the writing, I’d written since I was a child but never done anything much about it. Then I went to night school with my daughter. I finished A Level English and went on to gain a degree through the Open University. Whilst studying for the degree, I had breast cancer, and this made me see life differently.  I decided to follow my dream to become a writer.  Initially, I had an agent but she wanted me to write as an author of Mills and Boon so I parted company with her.

A place that inspired the setting of Judith’s novels

Jessie: That’s ridiculous; your books are not of that genre.  The books are historical fiction with engaging stories of the Howarth family. The books have complex plots and characters.

Judith:  I write people driven, gritty dramas and wasn’t prepared to adapt my writing.  Eventually, I got a contract with Honno Press – an independent publisher in Wales- and found their approach personal and supportive.  My first book ‘Pattern of Shadows’

Jessie:  What’s Pattern of Shadows about?

Judith:  It’s the story of a nursing sister, Mary Howarth, and her family, during World War Two and is set around a POW camp located in a disused cotton mill in a Lancashire town.  When I was a child my mother was a winder in a cotton mill and I would go there to wait for her to finish work; I remember the smell of the grease and cotton, the sound of the loud machinery and the colours of the threads and bales of material.  Pattern of Shadows was meant to be a standalone book, but the characters wanted me to carry on with their lives. Eventually, it developed into a family saga trilogy. My recent book, the prequel, is A Hundred Tiny Threads. The two main characters, Winifred and Bill, are the parents of the protagonist in the trilogy, Mary Howarth. They wanted me to explain their, how they had become what they are in the trilogy. I was happy to; I think, as we get older, we are made by our life experiences.

Hundred Tiny Threads. The two main characters, Winifred and Bill, are the parents of the protagonist in the trilogy, Mary Howarth

Jessie:  I’m reading One Hundred Tiny Threads. I’m about a third of the way through.  It’s a great read.  The opening is engrossing with Winifred waking up to another day in the shop. The characters are so real, and I love getting inside their heads.  I’m shouting at them all the time. The way you thread the characters’ attitudes towards women is brilliant.  I’m fascinated by the Suffragettes in Leeds.  For some reason, I always imagined the movement to be concentrated in London.

Judith:  Researching the Suffragettes opened up my eyes.  I wanted to tell their story through the voices of the characters and show how women, in the society at that time, were ready for the change. Stories draw people into to the political background of the era, and life was certainly a challenge then.  People say my books are dark.  Have you got to the gory bits?

Jessie:  Well, there has been a murder.

Judith:  No, I’m thinking of scene after that – you wait.  Bill’s a bastard but it’s his background.  I don’t know why Winifred married him.

Jessie:  Oh no, what was Winifred thinking of?  I’m furious with her, as I haven’t read the terrible news yet.  I’m intrigued as to why she didn’t marry the love of her life and scared for her.

Judith: oh ‘eck, hope I haven’t I haven’t spoiled it for you, Jessie.  But, you must understand Bill had a terrible life as a child with his father.  And then he was a soldier in the horrendous First World Wars. He was also one of the Black and Tans when he returned from the Front. He’s a bastard but didn’t have it easy.  As I said, our lives shape us.

Jessie:  I agree and people interest me too.

Judith:  Yes, well your novel, You Can’t Go It Alone, is also character driven and could become a family saga.  I can see it now.  I want to know more about Luke and Rosa and their parents.

Jessie:  I plan to do that, and you have inspired me to complete historical research.  I would have to look carefully into the eras the generations were born into.   Thanks for your advice.

Judith:  No problem, I teach creative writing in Pembrokeshire, so I just can’t help myself (some would say it’s interfering!!).  Writing is like looking at the world through the eyes of a child and I love it. I watch folk walk past my window, at home.  It’s hilarious how people walk. I can’t stop people watching and passing it on through my books.  I never stop watching and am always so busy.

Narbeth book fair – a great book fair for readers and worth a visit

Jessie:  I notice you also organise Narberth Book Fair.

Judith:  Yes, I organise it with a friend, author, Thorne Moore.  It started in Tenby, but we had to move because we outgrew the venue with so many writers wanting to take part. I think it’s so important to attend these events; to get out there and meet the readers.

Jessie:  What advice would you give to fledgling writers?

Judith:  Get a professional editor and be prepared for a slog.  The first draft of the book is the best bit. I always cry when I get my editor’s comments.

Jessie: Tell me, what have you got in your handbag today?

Judith handed me a copy of Pattern of Shadows and a book entitled Secrets; an anthology of short stories of the minor characters in the trilogy. She proceeded to let me in on the secret life of her handbag.  She had some very colourful reading glasses, pens, more pens, bookmarks, a spare blouse, her mobile and an agenda. 

Judith:  As you can see I do love a bit of colour. I try to be organised and I absolutely love writing.  I want you to place these books in your handbag and let the Howarth family keep you company. You’ll love some of the family and dislike some of the other – but that’s life!

Judith is fabulous fun, and I had a blast meeting with her.  Meeting face to face is so much better than communicating on line.  I delighted in her humour, straight-talking and infectious sense of fun.  Judith is a natural storyteller, and this translates in her animated dialogue.  She told me she is ‘living each day’.  She thrives on her writing and engagement with authors.  Her generosity was evident in her willingness to share the benefit of her experience.

 I should add that I will be one of the authors at this year’s Narberth Fair: http://www.narberthbookfair.co.uk/
https://www.facebook.com/narberthbookfair/

About Judith:

Judith Barrow, originally from Saddleworth, near Oldham, and on the wrong side of the Pennines but still in Yorkshire, has lived in Pembrokeshire, Wales, for forty years.

She has an MA in Creative Writing with the University of Wales Trinity St David’s College, Carmarthen, a BA (Hons) in Literature with the Open University and a Diploma in Drama from Swansea University. She has had short stories, plays, reviews and articles, published throughout the British Isles and has won several poetry competitions. She has completed three children’s books.

She is also a Creative Writing tutor for Pembrokeshire County Council.

Contact Judith at:
Email: Judithbarrow77@gmail.com
Twitter: @judithbarrow77 
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/judith.barrow.3

Amazon link to her books:

Secrets
A Hundred Tiny Threads

Secrets

Winifred is a determined young woman eager for new experiences, for a life beyond the grocer’s shop counter ruled over by her domineering mother. When her friend Honora – an Irish girl, with the freedom to do as she pleases – drags Winifred along to a suffragette rally, she realises that there is more to life than the shop and her parents’ humdrum lives of work and grumbling. Bill Howarth’s troubled childhood echoes through his early adult life and the scars linger, affecting his work, his relationships and his health. The only light in his life comes from a chance meeting with Winifred, the daughter of a Lancashire grocer. The girl he determines to make his wife. Meeting Honora’s intelligent and silver-tongued medical student brother turns Winifred’s heart upside down and she finds herself suddenly pregnant. Bill Howarth reappears on the scene offering her a way out.

 

Please see all my interviews at My Guests and my website and blog at JessieCahalin.com.