Honno: “Great Women, Great Writing, Great Stories.” Today with Wendy White #FridayReads #Honno

My greatest support has come from the group of authors published by Honno. We have a Facebook group where we can chat and ask for help, information and generally boost moral when it’s needed. And we’ve met up in real life on many occasions. About three years ago I shared interviews with some of them. Since then there have been other women writers who have become Honno authors. So this is the first of a new set of interviews and today I am with the lovely Wendy White, author of both adult and children’s’ book

Please tell us a little about yourself.

I was born in Llanelli on the south west coast of Wales and still live in Carmarthenshire now. My favourite bands at ten years old were The Osmonds and Bay City Rollers, so from that you might be able to deduce my age (I like to think my musical taste has improved a lot since then). Sara Gethin is the name I chose for myself when my first novel, ‘Not Thomas’, was published, and I’m often asked why I opted for a pen name. It was for a very practical reason ‒ alongside writing for adults, I write children’s books using my everyday name of Wendy White. While my writing for children is light and humorous, ‘Not Thomas’ is a dark story of child neglect, and so having separate names helps to differentiate between the two types of book. Plus, having a nom de plume finally satisfies my childhood ambition!

When did you start writing?

I started writing late. I was ambling along, being a teacher, mother and child-minder, until some major events shocked me into taking the path I’d longed for since I was a child. In 2001, after 9/11, I decided to sign up for a ‘writing for children’ course, figuring the one thing I’d die wishing I had done would be to have written a book. I sent out a story to a publisher a couple of years later. The editor said they liked my style and if I made some changes they’d consider publishing it. Instead of being encouraged by that reply, I put the story aside and forgot about it. Then, a few years later, my lovely sister passed away very suddenly, and through the fog of grief I could very clearly hear her urging me to push for my dreams as life is short. The following year I reworked the story and sent it again to the publisher who, thankfully, this time accepted it. That became ‘Welsh Cakes and Custard’, the first of my children’s books, and was published in 2013.  

What genre do you write in and why?

Ah, genre is such a difficult thing, especially when books don’t fit neatly into one category. What I can say is that I tend to write for or about children, so ‘Not Thomas’, is about a neglected five-year-old called Tomos who narrates his own story. I guess if someone enjoys reading Cathy Glass books, which are about real-life children in difficult situations, then they might find ‘Not Thomas’ interesting too. But my novel is fiction and not autobiographical. It sometimes gets compared to ‘Room’ by Emma Donoghue, as it has a very young narrator. I suppose I write about children because I enjoy seeing the world from their point of view, and I strongly suspect I’ve never properly grown up.

How important is location in your novels?

Not Thomas’ was set in my home area of Carmarthenshire ‒ using places where I grew up or worked ‒ and I could visualise the streets and parks I was writing about. The novel I’m working on at the moment is set in Connemara, Ireland, somewhere I’ve holidayed many times. Having personal experience of the locations my novels are set in has been extremely important to me. I’m not the most descriptive writer, yet being able to imagine Tomos turning a certain corner as he runs away from bullies, or imagining Claire and Emmet charging over a particular hill in their escape from school has certainly helped to get those scenes onto paper. My novel set in Ireland features industrial schools, and my chosen setting reflects the fact that one of the most notorious of these institutions was in Connemara, so setting is very important for me in that way too.   

Who is your favourite (non Honno) author?

I have a real love of Irish writers, probably because Ireland has been my favourite place to visit for the last twenty or so years. My son went to university in Dublin, stayed after he graduated and has lived there for almost ten years now, so my visits have become even more frequent. Among my best-loved Irish writers are Emma Donoghue, Roddy Doyle, Sebastian Barry, John Boyne and newcomer, Sally Rooney. As for non-Irish writers, I’m a huge fan of Ian Rankin’s Rebus series, of Alice Munro’s short stories and Donna Tartt’s (very long) novels.  

Where do you write?

In winter, at the kitchen table, near the radiator, kettle and biscuit tin. Once the weather improves, I move my laptop out to the little shed I have in the garden. Its window once had a distant view of Carmarthen Bay, but now it mostly looks out onto some new houses. (I do appreciate that the town was short of housing, but if only they could have built them slightly to the right!)

Who is your favourite character in your books?

That would have to be five-year-old Tomos from ‘Not Thomas’. I always joke he’s the third child in our family, along with my daughter and son. It took me over 13 years to write that novel, so my own children were growing up and all the while Tomos stayed five. He’s an amalgamation of the neglected children I knew when I worked as a primary school teacher in a very deprived area. I hope, through him, I’ve given those children a voice and portrayed what it’s like to be so young and not properly cared for. It’s a terrifying situation for a child to be in.

What was your favourite bit of research?

I’ve spent years researching the latest novel I’m working on about children brought up in an industrial school in 1960s Ireland. Reading first-hand accounts really brings home the cruelty of life in those places. The book I return to again and again is an account by Peter Tyrrell of his time as a boy in Letterfrack Industrial School. ‘Founded on Fear’ was created after his death from letters he wrote and the details are harrowing, so it’s hard to say that it’s my ‘favourite’ bit of research, but the book is certainly compelling. Peter campaigned as an adult to put a stop to the abuse that went on in these institutions but sadly, at that time, his accounts weren’t believed by the people who could make a difference. In despair, he ended his life by setting fire to himself on Hampstead Heath in 1967. His body would never have been identified had a corner of a postcard with a Dublin address on it not been salvaged from his jacket. The postcard was to a TD (the Irish equivalent of an MP) who was supporting him with his campaign. Peter Tyrrell’s whole story is very sad, and he’s never far from my thoughts as I write about Claire and Emmet, the children in my work in progress.    

  What do you like most about being published by Honno, an indie press

When I was writing ‘Not Thomas’ I knew exactly where I wanted to send it when I’d finished, and that was to Honno. I’d long admired their work and I loved the fact that they’re a female-only press and have a committee of women who decide what to publish. Added to that was my huge respect for Caroline Oakley, a Honno editor who had worked closely in a previous role for a number of years with (the aforementioned) Ian Rankin. I was absolutely delighted when I heard from Caroline that Honno were going to publish ‘Not Thomas’ and my whole experience of being part of the Honno family has been fantastic. All the staff and other authors are extremely supportive and go out of their way to make everyone welcome. I’m constantly recommending Honno to my female friends who are writers. It may be a small indie press but it commands huge respect and publishes wonderful books.

Thanks for being with us today, Wendy..

Thank you so much for your questions, Judith ‒ happy writing!

Links to Wendy’s page on Honno:

https://www.honno.co.uk/authors/g/sara-gethin/

Sara Gethin Social Media Links:

Website & Blog: saragethin.com

Facebook: @SaraGethinWriter

Twitter: @SGethinWriter

Instagram: www.instagram.com/saragethinwriter

Brook Cottage Books Presents Not Thomas by Sara Gethin.

Not Thomas Tour Banner

 

sara brook cottage

ABOUT SARA GETHIN

Sara Gethin is the pen name of Wendy White. She grew up in Llanelli and studied theology and philosophy at Lampeter, the most bijoux of universities. Her working life has revolved around children – she’s been a childminder, an assistant in a children’s library and a primary school teacher. She also writes children’s books as Wendy White, and her first, ‘Welsh Cakes and Custard’, won the Tir nan-Og Award in 2014. Her own children are grown up now, and while home is still west Wales, she and her husband spend much of their free time across the water in Ireland. ‘Not Thomas’ is her first novel for adults.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SaraGethinWriter/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/sgethinwriter

Blog: www.saragethin.com

Website: www.saragethin.com

Not tomas brook Cottage

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Honno Press

Tomos lives with his mother. He longs to return to another place, the place he thinks of as home, and the people who lived there, but he’s not allowed to see them again. He is five years old and at school, which he loves. Miss teaches him about all sorts of things, and she listens to him. Sometimes he’s hungry and Miss gives him her extra sandwiches. She gives him a warm coat from Lost Property, too. There are things Tomos cannot talk about – except to Cwtchy – and then, just before Easter, the things come to a head. There are bad men outside who want to come in, and Mammy has said not to answer the door. From behind the big chair, Tomos waits, trying to make himself small and quiet. He doesn’t think it’s Santa Claus this time.

 When the men break in, Tomos’s world is turned on its head and nothing will be the same again.

EXCERPT

The lady’s here. The lady with the big bag. She’s knocking on the front door. She’s knocking and knocking. And knocking and knocking. I’m not opening the door. I’m not letting her in. I’m behind the black chair. I’m very quiet. I’m very very quiet. I’m waiting for her to go away.

I’ve been waiting a long time.

‘Thomas, Thomas.’ She’s saying it through the letter box.

‘Thomas, Thomas.’

I’m not listening to her. I’m not listening at all. She’s been knocking on the door for a long long time. I’m peeping round the black chair. I’m peeping with one of my eyes. She’s

not by the front door now. She’s by the long window. I can see her shoes. They’re very dirty. If Dat saw those shoes he’d say, ‘There’s a job for my polishing brush’.

She’s stopped knocking. She’s stopped saying ‘Thomas’. She’s very quiet. The lady can’t see me. I’m behind the big black chair. And I’ve pulled my feet in tight.

‘Thomas?’ she says. ‘Thomas?’ I’m not answering. ‘I know you’re in there. Just come to the window, sweetheart. So I can see you properly.’

I’m staying still. I’m not going to the window. I’m waiting for her to go back to her car. It’s a green car. With a big dent in it. If I hide for a long time she’ll go. She’ll get back in her car and drive away. She’s knocking. And knocking again.

She’s saying ‘Thomas.’ And knocking and knocking again.

‘Thomas.’ 

That is not my name.

 My Review: 

 Every now and then I read a book that sets all my senses tingling with the brilliance of it.

And this is why I wanted to write my review in a different way than normal.

 I don’t just mean that the characters are so multi-layered and rounded that I can empathise with them. Or that the descriptions give a wonderful sense of place that make the settings easy to envisage.  Or that the plot makes a story that is innovative and original.

I mean a book that holds all these… and more. And this novel does just that

 Not Thomas is narrated through the point of view of the protagonist, Tomas. He’s five years old. And, because of this, the narration and his dialogue are simplistic and poignant; the words jump off the page as those of a five year old child. And it works so well.  

We see his world; his home, his school, the people around him, through his eyes. We learn of his perception of himself, the capabilities of his body; often described in almost a third person, personification kind of way; “my ear is listening “, ” my teeth are hurting my tongue”

 Sara Gethin has an usual talent for seeing through the eyes of a child and I love her style of writing.

 Without giving any spoilers to this superb novel I will say that, despite the simplicity of a lot of the narrative, this is a dark, compelling story with a gripping plot. I could see this as a television drama.

 I thoroughly recommend Not Thomas. I’m not ashamed to say there were moments when I cried reading this story, sometimes in  a sad way but sometimes, as Tomas would say, when “my mouth was laughing”.

BUY LINKS

http://www.honno.co.uk/dangos.php?ISBN=9781909983625

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Not-Thomas-Sara-Gethin/dp/1909983624/

https://wordery.com/not-thomas-sara-gethin-9781909983625

 GIVEAWAY

3 e-copies (International) & 3 paperbacks (UK only)

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/4be03017240/

 

new honno_logoNot Thomas Tour Banner

 

My Series of Interviews With the Authors #authors and Poets Who Will be at the Narberth Book Fair #bookfairs. Today with Sara Gethin.

Over the last few weeks and through the next month or so, I’ll be posting interviews with the authors and poets who will be taking part in our Book Fair:  http://www.narberthbookfair.co.uk/.

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.   

All free!!

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 through our raffle; The Harriet Davis Seaside Holiday Trust For Disabled Children: http://bit.ly/2sNyeKQ . 

Today I’m really pleased to be chatting with Sara Gethin 

Wendy White

 

Please tell us, Sara,What do you love most about writing?

 I love the creativity of writing and the way it connects you with others. It’s wonderful to be able to make up a story in your own little corner of the world and then know that someone miles away will read it and feel something. That’s what I love most about writing – and the fact that you can do it sitting down.

What book that you have read has most influenced your life?

If you’d asked me that question seven years ago, I’d have said ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’, which was the first book I truly fell in love with. Or ‘Wuthering Heights’, which we read for our O’Levels, and which taught impressionable girls like me that falling in love with a complete rogue was a wonderfully romantic idea.

But now I would have to say, without a doubt, that the book which has most influenced my life is ‘Room’ by Emma Donoghue. She published it in 2010, and it was the first novel for adults I’d read that was written from a five-year-old’s viewpoint. It was hugely important to me, as I’d been writing my own book with a five-year-old’s viewpoint since 2001, and I never believed it could be published. ‘Room’ gave me hope that one day I might find a publisher for it. And this year my novel ‘Not Thomas’ was published by Honno.

Not Thomas

Are your characters based on real people or did they all come entirely from your imagination?

I used to teach in quite disadvantaged areas and Tomos, the little boy who’s the central character in ‘Not Thomas’, is based on a number of children I taught over the years. None of them had a story quite as awful as his, although some came close, but plenty suffered badly from neglect. I think it’s hard to imagine the lives of these children if you’ve never come into contact with them.  

What do you think makes a good story?

I think a good story draws you in and makes you think like the person you’re reading about. Sometimes I find myself so taken with a book that I begin to talk in my head (do I mean think? I’m not sure!) just like the protagonist. When that happens, I know I truly love that book.

How many books have you written? Which is your favourite?

I’ve written three children’s books as Wendy White, all with a Welsh dimension, and a novel for adults. My favourite is ‘Not Thomas’, which is my adult novel, although my first children’s book, ‘Welsh Cakes and Custard’ comes a close second, because it won me the Tir na-n’Og Award in 2014.

Welsh cakesthree cheersSt David's Day

What genre do you consider your books? Have you considered writing in any other genre?

‘Not Thomas’ is one of those books that fails to neatly fall into a genre, so it comes under the banner of ‘Contemporary Fiction’. I’ve tried writing short stories for women’s magazines in the past, and even started writing about a detective many years ago. I love reading detective novels – Ian Rankin is my all-time favourite – but I don’t think writing crime is my strong-point.

Could you tell us a bit about your most recent book and why it’s a must read?

I think I might let others decide whether it’s a must read or not, but Not Thomas is about a five-year-old boy called Tomos who’s been taken away from his beloved foster father and sent to live with his mum who’s hiding a drug addiction. She badly neglects Tomos, and we follow him from Christmas to Easter, seeing life through his eyes as he tells his own story.  

What is your favourite part of the book?

The section called ‘Not Remembering’ where he’s having conversations with his supply teacher in her car. It’s a part of the story where all the threads begin pulling together and hopefully start making sense for the reader. And there’s one line in that section that, even though I must have read it a thousand times by now, still makes me cry.

How long did it take you to write Not Thomas?

Fourteen years. I’m not exaggerating. I began it as part of my coursework for a creative writing class and just kept writing more and more stories about Tomos in a random order. I had the whole novel outlined in my head – the very last line was almost the first thing I wrote – and the last scene I wrote immediately after writing the first one. But I didn’t pull the whole thing together and put the plot in until after I’d read Emma Donoghue’s ‘Room’. That was when I began working on it seriously.

If you could spend time with a character from your book who would it be? And what would you do during that day?

Without a doubt it would be Tomos and I’d take him wherever he wanted to go – he’d probably ask to go to the zoo, and he’d want Dat to come too.

Do you have any hidden or uncommon talents?

I used to be a very good sprinter. I may still be a good sprinter – who knows?! (I’m not about to investigate.) I used to win all the races in school and then, when I grew up, on Sports Day I would win the teachers’ races and mothers’ races too. It’s a talent that might come in handy if I’m ever faced with a charging elephant.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?

The fact that I don’t actually like writing. I guess I’d better qualify that – I don’t like the particular point where I’ve got the story all straight in my head, and it’s perfect and wonderful and the best story I’ve ever imagined, and then I have to physically start putting it down on paper.

It’s at that point I discover whether the story I’ve been imagining for a year or more has a real chance of existing outside my head, or whether my ‘perfect’ novel idea is just a load of drivel. Scary.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I read, read, read. And I browse book shops – I could do that all day. I love going to the theatre, especially when I’m in Dublin – there’s so much culture in Ireland, you’re thoroughly spoilt for choice. I love walking too.

What is the most amusing thing that has ever happened to you?

 I was roped in at the very last moment to play the piano in a school concert when I worked in Bracknell.

I had to learn all the East End favourites – ‘Roll Out the Barrow’ and ‘My Old Man Said Follow the Van’, you know the sort of thing. I was like Les Dawson (no apologies if you’re too young to remember who he was!) and played one wrong note for every five correct ones. The teachers and parents were weak by the end of it.

And to cap it all, they’d arranged for a child to present me with a huge bunch of flowers to thank me for stepping in at the last minute. I had to walk out to the centre of the stage to collect them. Mind you, we were all laughing so much by that point, I didn’t care. 

Give a random fact about yourself.

When I was seven, I was chased by Kevin Allen (the lesser known actor / director brother of actor Keith Allen) into a large clump of stinging nettles. I’ve never forgiven him.

links as Wendy White
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