When I first started writing, it was fantasy that inspired me, but somewhere along the way, I realised that fantasy works best when it best reflects real life, and that real life can be fantastical enough for me.
I moved to my present home, deep in the wooded countryside of north Pembrokeshire, and during one of my tramps among the surrounding fields, I came upon a cottage, lost in a deep dell, completely engulfed in trees. It was small, dark, derelict and it must have been abandoned at least fifty years before, but the ghost of occupation was still there, fossilised in stone. The upper floor had collapsed, but under the beams and rotting boards, I could just glimpse flagstones, a broken chair leg, the rusting grill of a hearth from which a family had once been fed.
This is what truly fascinates me: the hand of the past on…
Crime Cymru is a diverse collective of Welsh crime writers, spanning crime fiction and non-fiction.
Crime Cymru has three main aims. – To support crime writers with a real and present relationship with Wales – To help in the development of new writing talent – To promote Wales, Welsh culture and Welsh crime writing in particular, to the wider world.
2020, a year that brought us Covid 19, months during which many brilliant books have been produced but have struggled to be found by readers. Here is the list of books by our authors that have arrived this year or are in the pipeline: https://bit.ly/2Q2rqpA. I have read quite a few of them but have been remiss in writing reviews, so have set myself the task of catching up over the next few weeks
I will start the series by my review of The Covenant, byThorne Moore, a prequel to A Time For Silence, and published by Honno only yesterday, the 20th August 2020.
Leah is tied to home and hearth by debts of love and duty – duty to her father, turned religious zealot after the tragic death of his eldest son, Tom; love for her wastrel younger brother Frank’s two motherless children. One of them will escape, the other will be doomed to follow in their grandfather’s footsteps. At the close of the 19th century, Cwmderwen’s twenty-four acres, one rood and eight perches are hard won, and barely enough to keep body and soul together. But they are all the Owens have and their rent is always paid on time. With Tom’s death a crack is opened up and into this chink in the fabric of the family step Jacob John and his wayward son Eli, always on the lookout for an opportunity. Saving her family, good and bad, saving Cwmderwen, will change Leah forever and steal her dreams, perhaps even her life
The first thing I became aware of when reading The Covenant was of being drawn so quickly into the world of Cwmderwen. The immediacy of a sense of place is something I’ve been conscious of before in the work of this author. Thorne Moore has a talent for description: of the changes in nature throughout the seasons, the unpredictability of the weather and in her absolute ability to bring the countryside of Pembrokeshire in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century alive, both in The Time for Silence (her first novel set around Cwmderwen), and in The Covenant.
Told in the first person point of view of the protagonist, Leah Owen, a woman driven by duty, loyalty and love for her family (who always expect too much of her), the story follows her life through the decades. And, though the core of this thoroughly rounded character remains the same, the outward changes in her, wrought by life’s disappointments and regrets are inevitable as the years’ progress. I found myself wanting her to rebel, to question the road she’s forced to follow, not only through the whims and vagaries of the farm’s land; “twenty-four acres, one rood and eight perches” , but by the wishes of Thomas Owen, her father, Tadu, who rules the family through his inflexible translation of the Bible.
This is a man whois unbending: in his control over his wife ( a control that leads to disaster), in his dismissal of his two eldest daughters, in his view of Leah’s younger brother, Frank – the “prodigal” son; a son who goes his own way, despite his father’s violent punishments, and whose story inevitably shapes Leah’s life, In contrast Thomas is unchanging in his love for Leah – but there is a proviso; it is only on his terms. She will be the dutiful daughter, forced to follow his rules. This is a wonderfully portrayed character underlying the basis of the actions of the family. Though Leah is the protagonist and it is her story we follow, it is Tadu who is at the patriarchal hub of the wheel and, like spokes on that wheel, are spread a whole cast of supporting characters.
Even the cottage of Cwmderwen itself becomes a character with its “…solid stones and heavy timber (that) seem to sink themselves into the black earth…” yet there is that crack in the wall of the parlour, the “Death” room, that Leah’s demented sister traces with her finger, peers through – and Leah wonders if Mary can see “all thosewho have passed through, those Leah could not see…”. The crack used as a metaphor for the fundamental weaknesses of each character within the family and the flaws in the determination to hold on to the the “twenty-four acres, one rood and eight perches”
As I previously mentioned, the author has a talent for bringing a Welsh ambience of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century alive,both in The Time for Silence and in The Covenant.This is awareness is equally obvious in the dialogue, where the Welsh language intermingles with English. And there is never any doubt as to which character is speaking.
Subtly threaded throughout the story are themes of duty, love – familial and romantic, pride,despair, loneliness, death and guilt – what more can one ask of a story set around families
As a reader, my favourite style of story is character led rather than plot. In The Covenant, I found the best of both worlds; a gripping story line with really believable characters. I cannot recommend The Covenant highly enough.
Although The Covenant is the prequel of A Time For Silence, both books are also stand aloneand can be read as completely separate novels.
About the author:
Thorne Mooregrew up in Luton, where her father was a Labour councillor and her mother once got the sack for calling her boss a male chauvenist pig, so she developed strong views about the way the world works. Her headmaster advised her to study law, but that implied a career in law, and the only career she wanted was as a writer, so she studied history instead, at Aberystwyth, and nine years later, after a spell working in a library, she returned to Wales, to beautiful and inspiring Pembrokeshire, to run a restaurant with her sister, Liz.
She did finally get her law degree, through the Open University, but these days, she writes, as she had always intended, and when she’s not writing,she makes miniature furniture, through her craft business, Pear Tree Miniatures, and occasionally she teaches family history.
History, personal and social, rather than political treaties and battles, remain a major interest, spurred along by her present home, a Victorian farmhouse that stands on the site of a Mediaeval manor. When she write about crime, as a traumatic turn of events that shakes people’s lives, she is primarily concerned with its causes and far-reaching consequences of actions, even through generations, rather than the thrill of the actions themselves, or the intricacies of forensic detection.
Interesting post here from Thorne Moore, whose new novel, The Covenant, is coming out in August, and is set in West Wales in the late nineteenth/early twentieth century. Set a novel in that period in a city, in London or Manchester, and it wouldn’t be difficult to paint a period that everyone with any knowledge of history would recognise.
My characters would be flag-waving for the Empire and possibly their sons would be out there, carrying our trade and accompanying our adventurers around the world, whether the indigenous people wanted us or not. They might be soldiers embroiled in Afghanistan (plus ça change) or crushing rebellions in China and fighting wars in South Africa and the trenches of Europe. They could be participating in administrations that were starving millions in India, or they could be at home working in the clamour of industry, in cotton mills or ironworks, in banks and shops.
Motorised vehicles were appearing and my characters would travelling around on bicycles or in omnibuses. They would be totally at home with the railways that could carry them to every corner of the land. If they were very daring and very rich, they might even be taking to the air. They would have gas lighting in their houses or, if grand enough, might be installing electricity (although my mother, living in Cardiff in the 1920s and early 30s, still had gas lights in the living rooms and candles upstairs). Their world would have been quite recognisable to the reader, industrialised, confident, profiteering and surging forward.
But a novel set in rural West Wales is going to lack most of those markers that would help a reader place it in time. It’s an area that, until recently, has existed in an alternative time zone out of kilter with the rest of the world. It wasn’t surging anywhere. Even when I moved to the area in the early 1980s, I felt I was slipping into somewhere still marooned in the 1950s, if not earlier. Researching for my first novel, A Time For Silence, set in the 1930s and 40s, I read newspaper articles on the introduction of electricity in the 1950s – and that was just in the towns. Official reports had noted the poor housing, hygiene and malnutrition prevalent in rural Wales at the start of the twentieth century and it was still being blamed for the high level of TB in 1939. A diet of potatoes and tea was not uncommon.
In the 1980s we were told about an old lady, in living memory, who used to live a few doors away in what must have been a traditional long house, with cows occupying one half of the building. Each morning the cows would come in, through her front door and hall, politely tilting their heads so their horns wouldn’t disturb the pictures on the walls, as they made their way into the milking parlour.
The gentry of the area would not have been troubled by primitive housing or malnutrition and they probably had homes in London as well as their country estates. They would have been au fait with everything fashionable, modern and advanced, but ordinary people, who had never moved far beyond their own parishes, were still living in a world only a very small shuffle removed from the world of their ancestors one or two hundred years before.
West Wales was not totally isolated in world terms. Ships were sailing to America from ports like Cardigan, Newquay and Aberystwyth in the 19th century, but inland the area lagged behind. Railways had been threading through the country, expanding horizons spectacularly since 1825, but branches only extended into North Pembrokeshire towards the end of the century – to Cardigan in 1886, and Fishguard in 1906.
Motor cars began to appear in the 1890s – the first one was driven on British roads in 1895. By 1900, when Prince Bertie acquired one, there were still only a few hundred in Britain. Very few would have made their way to West Wales, especially to isolated villages where roads were still mud tracks.
In the big world, agriculture was becoming ever more mechanised, with mowers, reapers and binders, seed drills, steam engines and, finally in the 20th century, tractors. But these were not for the small-scale farmers with a few acres.
In The Covenant, a relatively wealthy farmer acquires a tractor in the course of the Great War, but the Owens, with their 24 acres, 1 rood and 8 perches, continue to rely on sickles and scythes. Partly poverty and partly an obstinate but pious determination to labour as Adam had done.
By 1919, the wealthy farmer has the luxury of a Ford Model T, but the Owens are still using a horse and trap or taking a daring ride on the charabanc from the nearest market town.
Newspapers were in circulation and, like every other community in Britain, from the largest city to the smallest hamlet, my characters feel the impact of the Great War, the shared patriotism and the private grief. But it is their little patch of land that really matters to them, not the fate of the Empire. It’s their minister’s decision to become a missionary that really opens up their horizons and that’s a matter of the next world, not this one.
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?
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?
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).
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 itall 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.
Back in 1816, Jane Austen (yes, I always try to bring her into anything if I can) commiserated with her nephew when he reported that he had lost 2 whole chapters of his own tentative novel. She hadn’t stolen them, she promised. “What should I do with your strong, manly, spirited Sketches, full of Variety & Glow? — How could I possibly join them on to the little bit (two Inches wide) of Ivory on which I work with so fine a Brush, as produces little effect after much labour?”
Being Jane Austen, she was, of course, being ironic, suggesting that her own writing was on such a slight and insignificant scale. Sir Walter Scott recognised that her work was fair more powerful than a little bit of ivory would allow. “The big bow-wow strain I can do myself like any now going; but the exquisite touch, which renders ordinary commonplace things and characters interesting, from the truth of the description and the sentiment, is denied to me.”
And yet critics have dared to complain that Austen’s novels are too limited, confined to “three or four families in a country village,” when all around her, the social upheaval of the industrial revolution, the French Terror, the Napoleonic wars were playing out. She knew well enough what great dramas were happening out there. A cousin’s husband was guillotined, an aunt was hauled off to prison, two brothers were serving in the navy, and yet she chose to concentrate on a small group of people interacting on a tiny stage as if the outside world didn’t exist. But what Jane Austen appreciated was that there is just as much emotional and psychological drama to be found in closed families as on wide battlefields.
I write about crime. My genre has been defined as Domestic Noir and it always focuses on the dark dynamics at work within a family, a neighbourhood, a close circle of friends. Does that mean it lacks the drama of a crime novel set, say, among Columbian drug barons, or the Mafia, or human traffickers or crooked financiers in the city? It probably lacks the extreme gore of a hard-boiled thriller. I work on the assumption that lashing out wildly and causing a loved one’s death with a misplaced blow is just as tragic and dramatic as a gruesome plot involving a victim’s head being chewed off by a bear.
Domestic drama might lack the fast pace of mainstream crime fiction too. It tends to be a matter of a slow burn, rising gradually to a rolling boil, scalding oil and an all-consuming blaze. That’s what I like, because it is what goes on in families – and with isolating lock-down, even more so. You don’t have to look to the scheming world of international crime or the grimy nastiness of the underworld to discover every facet of human emotion – thundering passion, consuming rage, seething jealousy, love, hope, disappointment, despair, joy, triumph, resentment, remorse. They are all there, simmering behind lace curtains.
Judith Barrow’s latest book, The Memory, proves the point exactly. Following the story of Irene from young girl greeting the birth of her beloved Downs Syndrome sister to aging carer of a mother with dementia, it is an exquisite study of how family ties and stresses stir up every possible joy and anguish from deep protective love to long-nursed hatred, with sheer bloody exhaustion nudging inexorably towards a fatal brink.
Read it and tell me a domestic drama can’t shake the reader as much as a shoot-out in bank vaults or torture in a cellar.
Llys y Garn is a rambling Victorian-Gothic mansion with vestiges of older glories.
It lies in the isolated parish of Rhyd y Groes in North Pembrokeshire. It is the house of the parish, even in its decline, deeply conscious of its importance, its pedigree and its permanence. It stubbornly remains though the lives of former inhabitants have long since passed away. Only the rooks are left to bear witness to the often desperate march of history.
Throne Moore’s Long Shadows: Tales of Llys y Garn comprises a trio of historical novellas that let us into secrets known only to these melancholy birds.
The Good Servant is the story of Nelly Skeel, loveless housekeeper at Llys y Garn at the end of the 19th century, whose only focus of affection is her master’s despised nephew. But for Cyril Lawson she will do anything, whatever the cost.
The Witch tells of Elizabeth Powell, born as Charles II is restored to the English throne, in a world of changing political allegiances, where religious bigotry and superstition linger on. Her love is not for her family, her duty, her God or her future husband, but for the house where she was born. For that she would sell her soul.
The Dragon Slayer tells of Angharad ferch Owain in the early decades of the 14th century. Angharad is an expendable asset in her father’s machinations to recover old rights and narrow claims, but she dreams of bigger things and a world without the roaring of men. A world that might spare her from the seemingly inevitable fate of all women.
In these three tales the rooks of Llys y Garn have watched centuries of human tribulation – but just how much has really changed? If you enjoyed the kaleidoscopic sweep of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas you will appreciate Long Shadows.
I have long been an admirer of Thorne Moore’s work and have not been disappointed with these three novellas in Long Shadows: Tales of Llys y Garn
Thefirst, The Good Servant is told from the point of view of the housekeeper, Nelly Skeel; the protagonist, living at the end of the nineteenth century. Well rounded and well portrayed in her actions, there is a vulnerability about this character; as the reader I found myself both can empathising and sympathising with her and yet being exasperated. Yet should I? She is of her time and of a certain status in her world.
And, so, on to The Witch. This story, set in the seventeenth century, takes the reader through the early years of Elizabeth Powell to her adult life. Told mainly from the protagonist’s point of view with the occasional insight to one or two of the other characters from a third person narrator, the emphasis is on the restrictions of the religion at that time. and the class struggles; land versus money. I liked Elizabeth, which is something I cannot say about Anthony, her brother. Always there is hope that all will be well but there is an all encompassing darkness to her story…
The Dragon Slayer is the story of Angharad ferch Owain, living during the fourteenth century. Also told from the protagonist’s point of view we read of her fear of her father, of her future. This protagonist I liked the most. The ending is satisfying. I don’t know why I was surprised, but I was. As with the first two novellas, this tale is dark with themes of the women being mere chattels to be bargained with, used for the progression in society of their families.
I enjoyed the way the women were portrayed as having a strength and internal rebellion. But yet there was always the conflicts of status and money, of land and possessions, of greed and thwarted love. Of patriarchy.
In all three novellas, both the internal and spoken dialogue the author has the tone and subtle dialect that I imagine Rhyd y Groes in North Pembrokeshire to have been in those eras.
And, in all, the descriptions of the buildings, of Llys y Garn and of the ever-changing Welsh countryside are evocative and easily imagined.
Just a comment about the style of the book:
The intriguing Prelude, giving the history of the “rambling Victorian-Gothic mansion” that is Llys y Garn, is fascinating. And I loved the short explanations of the after-years of novella. And then we have the Interludes; told in a conversational tone these are filled both with historical details and those pertinent to the story,. Finally, the Epilogue, giving the continuing, ever-evolving history of Llys y Garn through the following centuries.
It is apparent that the author has researched thoroughly for each of these stories; the themes of Welsh legends, myths, superstitions and tales are woven throughout the history of the decades.
Watch out for the ravens
This is a collection of novellas I can thoroughly recommend to any reader, especially those who enjoys historical literature.
Thorne was born in Luton and graduated from Aberystwyth University (history) and from the Open University (Law). She set up a restaurant with her sister but now spends her time writing and making miniature furniture for collectors. She lives in Pembrokeshire, which forms a background for much of her writing, as does Luton. She writes psychological mysteries, or “domestic noir,” and her first novel, A Time For Silence, was published by Honno in 2012. Motherlove and The Unravelling followed, also published by Honno. She has also brought out a book of short stories, Moments of Consequence. Her last novel, Shadows, was published by Endeavour in 2017. She’s a member of the Crime Writers Association.
Praise for Thorne Moore and her novels:
“Thorne Moore is a huge talent. Her writing is intensely unsettling and memorable” – SALLY SPEDDING, AUTHOR
“Totally had me hooked from page one… Highly recommended if you love a good psychological thriller” – BROOK COTTAGE BOOKS
“I devoured this book. Beautifully written, frighteningly real” – CHILL WITH A BOOK
“A compelling blend of mystery and family drama with a gothic twist… The author’s ability to create an atmosphere is exceptional” – JUDITH BARROW, AUTHOR
“Beautifully told, this really did have me captivated” – CLEOPATRA LOVES BOOKS
“Moore has created a figure who reaches out across the decades and grabs our sympathy… Her character transforms the novel” – BOOKERTALK
I received an ARC of Shadows from the author in return for an honest review. I gave the novel 5* out of 5*
A compelling blend of mystery and family drama with a gothic twist, by the Top Ten bestselling author of A Time for Silence
Kate Lawrence can sense the shadow of violent death, past and present.
In her struggle to cope with her unwelcome gift, she has frozen people out of her life.
Her marriage is on the rocks, her career is in chaos and she urgently needs to get a grip.
So she decides to start again, by joining her effervescent cousin Sylvia and partner Michael in their mission to restore and revitalise Llys y Garn, an old mansion in the wilds of North Pembrokeshire.
It is certainly a new start, as she takes on Sylvia’s grandiose schemes, but it brings Kate to a place that is thick with the shadows of past deaths.
The house and grounds are full of mysteries that only she can sense, but she is determined to face them down – so determined that she fails to notice that ancient energies are not the only shadows threatening the seemingly idyllic world of Llys y Garn.
The happy equilibrium is disrupted by the arrival of Sylvia’s sadistic and manipulative son, Christian – but just how dangerous is he?
Then, once more, Kate senses that a violent death has occurred…
Set in the majestic and magical Welsh countryside, Shadows is a haunting exploration of the dark side of people and landscape.
I have long been a fan of Thorne Moore’s work and, for me, Shadows, yet again, proves what a brilliant tale teller she is.
The author’s ability to create an atmosphere is exceptional. In Shadows the descriptions of the rooms and spaces within Llys y Garn provide an eerie, dark presence and a vaguely distant, though dangerous, affluence in its history. It’s a great background for the novel. In contrast the narratives portraying the surrounding Welsh countryside underline the myths, the legends of the land, the beauty of the settings, to give a wonderful sense of place.
The characters are excellent; believable and rounded they instil either empathy, dislike, or exasperation. I loved the protagonist, Kate, and found myself willing her to make the right choices; to stay safe. In contrast, the character of her ex-husband and even sometimes, the lovable cousin, Sylvia, frustrated me. And I despised the “sadistic and manipulative son, Christian” (even though I hadn’t read the book blurb at the time) – I suppose that’s a sign of as well portrayed, multi layeredcharacter. And there is one character who was a great disappointment for me… saying no more here
The book description gives a good outline of this steadily-paced plot; what it doesn’t say, obviously, is how the reader is drawn into the story from the onset and then, piece by piece, caught up in the twists and turns of the narrative.
This is is a book I recommend, without hesitation.
Praise for Thorne Moore
‘Thorne Moore is a huge talent. Her writing is intensely unsettling and memorable.’ – Sally Spedding
Thorne Moore was born in Luton and graduated from Aberystwyth University and the Open University. She set up a restaurant with her sister but now spends her time writing and making miniature furniture for collectors. She lives in Pembrokeshire, which forms a background for much of her writing, as does Luton. She writes psychological mysteries, or “domestic noir,” including A Time For Silence, Motherlove and The Unravelling.
There are forty of us so, obviously, there are many genres for both adults and children. There will be talks an writing and books, creative writing workshops for adults and fun workshops for children, activities for the children and a fun book trail through Narberth, the gorgeous little market town in Pembrokeshire.
And, of course, there will be the chance to chat with all the authors and to pick their brains on all aspects of writing. Even to buy their books and have them personally signed.
And, as usual, there will also be the writing competition: this year is a poetry competition: Submit a poem, in any form, of 20 lines or less, on the subject of : –
Books and Reading.
Having outgrown our previous venue we have been lucky to hire the Queens Hall: https://www.thequeenshall.org.uk/ who have been very generous in their support of the event.
Although, five years ago, I started organising the book fairs on my own I was soon joined by Alex Martin: http://amzn.to/2hZCgt2 and Thorne Moore: http://bit.ly/2rc5qyA. Unfortunately Alex has moved on to pastures new (although is still a great supporter), so Thorne and I have been joined by Elizabeth Sleight. Elizabeth is involved in the charity we are supporting; The Harriet Davis Seaside Holiday Trust For Disabled Children: http://bit.ly/2sNyeKQ .
So, all the formalities now set out, I’ll be chatting with everyone week by week. Our next author is Thorne Moore. Thorne is also a Honno author and hard working fellow organiser of the Book Fair.
Welcome, Thorne, let’s start by you telling us why you write, please.
Because I’ve never been able to stop myself. I was a chronic daydreamer as a child, and daydreams are the first step towards writing. I invented worlds and peopled them, and then I disappeared into them. Then I learned to read and started disappearing into books. The obvious next stage was to combine the two and disappear into my own books.
What is the ultimate goal you hope to achieve with your writing?
To say something significant, to make people stop and think. For immortality. Which doesn’t mean I write for fame or fortune, though both would be nice. I am my thoughts and, in writing a book, those thoughts get recorded in a form that will survive me, even if it’s only in a few mangled pages at the back of a second-hand bookshop in Mongolia.
Are your characters based on real people or did they all come entirely from your imagination?
Both? I invent my characters, or they invent themselves – sometimes I know the sort of person I need for a book but I have to wait for that character to acquire a life of its own before they really work. I never base characters on actual specific people. But then we all learn about human nature by seeing people, the way they talk and walk and dress and think and agonise and emote. That knowledge has to feed into the makeup of our fictional characters, or they wouldn’t come across as real.
What do you think makes a good story?
Convincing characters, pace that doesn’t send you to sleep, a plot that flows organically, without being too contrived, natural dialogue, language suited to the story, without superfluity and an underlying theme that leaves the reader thinking, if only for a second or two.
What genre do you consider your books? Have you considered writing in another genre?
I write about ordinary people in crisis, dealing with trauma and its aftermath, sometimes through generations. That trauma is often a crime, so I suppose they count as crime novels, and my protagonist is always a woman (write what you know), so they could count as women’s literature, and they sometimes delve into the past, so they could be classified as historical novels, or sagas. Can I settle for Domestic Noir? It could encompass anything really.
Could you tell us a bit about your most recent book and why it is a must-read?
My third novel, published by Honno Press, is The Unravelling. It’s about a woman, Karen, who is a little bit troubled – actually very troubled, with some serious mental issues. A chance and seemingly meaningless event – an apple rolling into a drain – sparks off a memory of a girl she knew at school, Serena Whinn, the angel of the playground, whom she had worshipped at the age of ten. Karen becomes obsessed with finding Serena and the circle of friends who had surrounded her. As she searches, hidden memories of awful events back in 1966 come to life, and as the story of what really happened in 1966 begins to unravel, Karen unravels with it, until, finally, the truth emerges and sets her free.
It’s a story about the secret world of playground politics that adults don’t see, and the damage and cruelty that can result when boundaries are pushed too far and things get out of hand. I imagine everyone will recognise something from their schooldays, even if they don’t remember the sixties.
Does your book have a lesson? Moral?
Not a moral, exactly, but I do delve into questions of evil and its source. And the long-term effects of guilt. I always deal with guilt. It has to be one of the most fascinating aspects of human identity – the ability to feel guilt.
What is your favourite part of the book?
Difficult to say, but I did enjoy some of the scenes where I was drawing on my memories of my own childhood. My characters are all fictional, but Marsh Green, in the book, bears a very close resemblance to the estate where I lived and went to school.
What was the inspiration behind The Unravelling.
It was simply remembering the place where I grew up and where, with a child’s imagination, all sorts of monsters and nightmares could exist, alongside all the fairytales and games. I used to walk home down a wooded lane, crossing a stream on a great iron pipe, running past the witch’s cottage… All sorts of things might have happened. And then in real life, far away, all sorts of things really do happen, and you wonder how it could possibly have come to that.
Do your characters seem to hijack the story or do you feel like you have the reins of the story?
I have the reins, but the horses have minds of their own and often refuse to respond. It’s quite encouraging when I tell them to do or say something, and they turn round and say ‘Yes, but I wouldn’t, would I. Think again, please.’ Then you know you’ve made them real.
Do you have any hidden or uncommon talents?
Far too many to mention. I do make hand-carved miniature furniture.
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
A disinclination to get up and dressed, before starting to write in the morning. I write in bed.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Gardening. Walking. Reading. Watching the broody swallow nesting in my porch.
What is the most amusing thing that has ever happened to you? Not particularly to do with your writing
Needing to relieve myself, in thick mist, while climbing the upper reaches of the Watkin track on Snowdon. I was modestly crouching, pants down, behind a rock, when the mists suddenly parted and I found myself looking straight across to the Miner’s Track, and a band of boy scouts.
Give us a random fact about yourself.
At the age of 10 I won a bronze medal for old time ballroom dancer. Don’t know how – or why.
A collection of short stories by the author of A Time For Silence, Motherlove and The Unravelling. The collection includes comedies, tragedies and histories. What is the true value of an old tea pot? (The Accountant). What happened on an uneventful day in Gloucestershire (It Was Late June). Has anyone stopped to look at a monument in the middle of Haverfordwest? (Dances On The Head Of A Pin). What lies behind the torn wallpaper of an old cottage? (Footprints). The collection also includes three tales that add a little extra colour to the novels of Thorne Moore.
Okay, where to start? True to form I think I’ll work backwards; the short stories linked to Thorne Moore’s novels.
It’s no secret that I am a great fan of this author’s work. (I think I’ve been telling everyone that The Unravelling is one of the best books I’ve read this year. My Review on Amazon:http://amzn.to/2h4HJTC ) The short story that adds background to the book in this collection, Green Fingers, Black Back, is an internal monologue written in the present tense. Through the meandering thoughts of John, the protagonist, the characters spring from the page and reminded me instantly of the plot..
The short story that accompanies Motherlove (My review for Motherlove is on my blog here: http://bit.ly/2hB7AkZ ) is entitled Hush Hush, a poignant taleof the street artist,.Jimmy Crowe, who lives in his own world with a family background that, as the author has written it, could sometimes almost rings true in parts… however far fetched.
A Time To Cast Away is the title of the short story (which made me cry) that adds another layer to A Time For Silence ( My review for this book on Amazon here: http://amzn.to/2hB3HwE )
Part 2 of the book is a introduction, a few reviews and a summary of each of Thorne Moore’s novels. And then a brief introduction to Thorne Moore. I always find it interesting to learn about the authors.
And so to the eight short stories…
All are exceptional but I think my favourites were The Accountant (giving away no spoilers, this sent a satisfactory shiver up my spine), Reason, Truth and God Knows What, which shouldn’t be read in the night (perhaps I’m just in ther mood for all things ghostly at the moment!). But there again I loved Footprints which reminded me of the background for A Time For Silence. Footprints is written in an unusual format and is nostalgic story of people and ‘home’
The Food of Love is a sensuous take on food and its consequences.
The Only Thing To Fear; a psychological chiller that had me holding my breath.
It Was Late June is a comedic story of a village. This one made me laugh out loud.
Piggy in the Middle is a different take on the Bennett family in Pride and Prejudice from Mary’s ironic point of view. Great fun.
Dances On The Head Of A Pin. Hmm… set both in the present and the past this is a clever, casual approach to perceived religious transgressions and religious ignorance.
Today I’m really pleased to be chatting with Thorne Moore: fellow organiser of the Tenby Book Fair, brilliant author and a great friend.
What were you like at school?
Academically bright, socially hopeless. It wasn’t my happiest time.
Were you good at English?
Yes, great at English Language, which involved grammar and what would now be called creative writing. My best O level grade was English Language. However, I very nearly failed English Literature, since it seemed to be about expressing the correct opinions about other people’s writing. I have never been short of my own opinions.
Which writers inspire you?
Iris Murdoch, Barbara Vine, Kate Atkinson – and Jane Austen in a very humble, kneeling-at-her-feet sort of way. I used to use milestones in her life to encourage me not to give up. She was 36 when she first got published. That encouraged me until I was 37. She died at 42, so I gave myself till 42. Seriously annoying when I turned 43. Now I reconcile myself with thinking that she took her time to get going.
So, what have you written?
Well, apart from the 20,000 novels written and discarded since I was about 14, I have two novels published by Honno – A Time For Silence and Motherlove, and a third, The Unravelling, will be published on July 21st. My first published work was a short story, in a magazine, in 2010, which was voted 1st prize by the readers. It gave me the push I really needed to get over the finishing line.
Where can we buy or see the books? (* include American, European and any other relevant links. Free, free promotions or prices can be included)
A difficult question. Crime, but not whodunits. I am not interested in crime as a puzzle, with clues to be followed in order to reach a triumphant conclusion. I am not interested in a duel between goody and baddy, with a clever criminal carefully planning a crime and determined to mislead an even more brilliant detective. The crimes I am interested in are the unintended ones, the ones committed on the spur of the moment by people pushed into a corner, crimes that are just the fatally wrong choice at the wrong moment. The crimes they didn’t mean to commit and wish they hadn’t. It’s the psychological impact that interests me, and the long-term consequences. Even if I write about psychopaths, I am really interested in how it all came about and how people would cope with having a psychopath in their midst. Would they recognise the phenomenon or try to pretend it’s not true? And how would they cope with the aftermath? I could call my genre Psychological Mystery, but I quite like Domestic Noir.
How much research do you do?
Enough to make sure I get details right when necessary. I don’t want any reader to start screaming ‘She’s got that wrong!’although I expect some will, but I try to get dates, procedures, little details right. I don’t want to make any research too obvious, though. Sometimes, research uncovers details that I itch to include, because they are so astonishing and interesting, but if they are irrelevant to the theme or characters, I have to be firm with myself and put them to one side. So I put aside all the fascinating information I discovered about a local POW camp, when I was writing A Time For Silence, because it didn’t add to my theme, but I did read local newspapers and talk to local people in order to get the general background right. In my latest book, The Unravelling, I needed to check small things like the weather on very specific days, or TV schedules from years ago. The internet really is a godsend for that sort of research. Instant answers found at the click of a mouse. How did I manage before? On the other hand, it is about a girl who was 10 in 1966, and I didn’t have to research that. I just had to remember it.
Do you write on a typewriter, computer, dictate or longhand?
Any author worth her salt is supposed to say, ‘Oh I always write in longhand with my trusty Parker fountain pen,’ or ‘Call me old fashioned, but I still tap with two fingers on the Remington Standard 2 I inherited from my great-great-grandmother.’ Rubbish. The word processor, on my laptop, is the best thing since unsliced Granary bread. No more throwing reams of paper in the bin, no more illegible corrections scribbled in margins, and extra bits sellotaped in. No more realising that you’ve used the wrong name and wondering how many times you’ve done it in the previous 300 pages. Cut, paste, find and replace – brilliant.’
Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer just see where an idea takes you?
I have a loose outline and yes, I see where it takes me. I usually have very definite images of the locations, and of most of the characters but sometimes I think I know what they’re going to do and they surprise me. If they have developed in a realistic enough manner, who am I to argue with their choices?
What is the hardest thing about writing?
Writing isn’t hard. Deleting half of what you’ve written because it shouldn’t be there is the hard bit. All the editing – and the endless waiting. “Writer” is only one letter removed from “Waiter.” That’s the most agonising part of the process.
What are your thoughts on writing a book series?
I’ve never wanted to in the past, but a carrot has been dangled before my nose and I’m seriously thinking about it. I can see the appeal.
What are your thoughts on good/bad reviews?
My thoughts on bad reviews don’t bear repeating. But mostly, really bad reviews are by bad tempered people who got out of bed the wrong side, or who are simply the wrong audience for the book. I don’t write bad reviews, because if I think a book is really bad, I can’t be bothered to review it. If someone can be bothered, he or she is probably prompted by hidden issues. Good reviews, on the other hand, really lift the spirits. They don’t have to be five star reviewsto be good. A good review, for me, is one that show the reader has read my book and thought hard about it. That is very flattering.
How can readers discover more about you and you work?
Okay, the deal is, you share your favourite quote (even if written by you) and also inspire people.
As always these challenges come with a few provisos and here they are.
Thank the person who nominated you. Share your favourite quotes (even if written by you) that inspire you and could inspire other people Pass it on by tagging some poor unsuspecting person that you admire (bearing in mind you’ll want them to be your friend afterwards. Hah!) Do we have to post three quotes, or one quote every day for three days? Not sure but mine are all here today…
“Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen.”
— John Steinbeck
“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.’
— Toni Morrison
And finally: – a list of quotes – just to prove I know who I am, where I belong – and that I’m always right.
Now I’m tagging the following three lovely ladies – only if they fancy doing this – no pressure – really!!:
I can’t remember the last time I read the final paragraph of a novel and then immediately turned back to the first chapter and started reading all over again. But that’s what I did with Motherlove by Thorne Moore. I loved this book – I mean I really loved it!
Where do I start? I suppose, firstly, I should say how much I admired the author’s style of writing: the pace is fast but steady, moving seamlessly from one scene to the next. The language, the metaphors, the clever mix of sentence lengths, all draw out the tension of this heart-breaking story. And keep the reader gripped and having empathy for each of the characters
My favourite genres are family sagas and thrillers/ mystery novels. Motherlove is contemporary fiction but holds both these genres within its pages, together with a psychological theme cleverly woven throughout. The title says it all; there are many ways to be a mother, a myriad of ways to show the love that comes with that label. I think this novel reveals the diversity of those ways.
Best of all, for me, the story is written from various points of views, each chapter, subtly and gradually revealing each of the characters; three mothers and two daughters, whose lives are initially inexplicably linked by a dreadful incident in the past.
An incident I won’t reveal here; I don’t like giving spoils in my reviews. And, anyway, the reader is plunged in straight from the beginning, so why spoil things?
But I can speak, briefly, from a constructive criticism point of view.
The intricate plot is skilfully threaded with a number of sub-plots, all intriguing, all necessary to the story..
The descriptions of the settings, from rural Wales to the streets and buildings of a run-down town to a soulless council estate, are subtly drawn and provide a poignant backdrop throughout the two decades that the book travels through, and reveals the social and cultural milieu of these eras.
The characters are strongly drawn to elicit emotions in the reader; from sympathy to fear, to distress, to hatred, to horror, to empathetic understanding.
Both the internal and spoken dialogue cleverly reveals each character, with their different nuances. There is never any doubt whose perspective we are reading.
Anyone who has read Thorne Moore’s first novel A Time For Silence and have been waiting with anticipation for her next, won’t be disappointed; Motherlove is a brilliant successor and if I could give more than five stars for this novel, I would.
I don’t only want to recommend Motherlove; I urge all those who enjoy excellent contemporary fiction to find a copy of this novel. And submerge themselves in it.