My Review of A Killer Strikes by Georgia Rose. #FridayReads #WeekendRead #crime #Thriller

Book Description:

The perfect family… The perfect murders…

A family massacred. A village in mourning. Can anyone sleep safely while a killer is on the loose?

Laura Percival, owner of The Stables, notices something wrong at her friend’s house when out on her morning ride. Further investigation reveals scenes she’ll never forget.

While the police are quick to accuse, Laura is less so, defending those around her as she struggles to make sense of the deaths. And all the time she wonders if she really knew her friends at all.

A chance encounter opens up a line of investigation that uncovers a secret life. One that Laura is much closer to than she ever realised.


A Killer Strikes is a gripping domestic thriller. If you like character-driven action, suspenseful storytelling and dark revelations then you’ll love this exciting novel.

My Review:

Well, I wholeheartedly agree with that last sentence of the book description above, this is what is sometimes called an unputdownable read. I loved it!

I’ve long admired Georgia Rose’s writing and really enjoyed her stories ( here’s my review for one of her earlier books: (Parallel Lives: https://bit.ly/3qmQqdg ).

A Killer Strikes is a true thriller and, as I expected, it’s written in this author’s usual evenly paced writing style, with great characters and a riveting plot.

Told in first person point of view by the protagonist, Laura Percival, we are immediately thrown into her life as it begins to be revealed that all is not as she thinks, even if she doesn’t always understand the implications. We get an insight both to the way the plot is progressing and also to the subtle, inevitable changes in the protagonist.

Each character is brought too life, by the depictions of them, and by their dialogue. There are those I instantly loved, those I instantly disliked – those I wasn’t sure of; who gave me an uneasy feeling. I love character led stories, if the book also has an intriguing plot it’s a great bonus. And A Killer Strikes certainly gives both elements.

As with all of Georgia Roses’ books the descriptions of the settings give a good sense of place. In the stables I could almost hear the activity there: the snuffle of the horses – smell their coats, the straw. I could see the vaguely threatening adult club Laura finds herself in, surrounded by strangers. And I wandered through her home with her. The portrayal of the rooms shows the comfort the protagonist lives in, the place she feels most safe – (yet is she ?)

A Killer Strikes is a most satisfying read that had me emphasising with the protagonist every step of the way, with a plot that kept me guessing the whole time. This is a book I thoroughly recommend.

The author:

Georgia Rose is a writer and the author of the romantic and suspenseful Grayson Trilogy books: A Single Step, Before the Dawn and Thicker than Water. Following completion of the trilogy she was asked for more and so wrote a short story, The Joker, which is based on a favourite character from the series and the eBook is available to download for free at the retailer of your choice.

Her fourth novel, Parallel Lies, encompasses crime along with Georgia’s usual blending of genre and its sequel, Loving Vengeance, has now completed The Ross Duology.

Georgia’s background in countryside living, riding, instructing and working with horses has provided the knowledge needed for some of her storylines; the others are a product of her passion for people watching and her overactive imagination.

She has also recently started running workshops and providing one-to-one support for those wishing to learn how to independently publish and you can find her, under her real name, at http://www.threeshirespublishing.com.

Following a long stint working in the law Georgia set up her own business providing administration services for other companies which she does to this day managing to entwine that work along with her writing.

Her busy life is set in a tranquil part of rural Cambridgeshire in the UK where she lives with her much neglected husband.

Links to Georgia:

 Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/georgia.rose.books

Twitter: https://twitter.com/GeorgiaRoseBook

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Places in our Memories: With Teagan Ríordáin Geneviene #MondayBlogs #Memories

There are places that remain in our memories, the details may become slightly blurred, nostalgia may colour our thoughts, but they don’t fade. And how those places made us feel at the time is the one thing that remains.

Today I’m really pleased to welcome Teagan Ríordáin Geneviene, who is going to tell us about what first occurred to her when I invited her to remember one of the places that has remained in her memory, and how it made her feel.

Hi, Judith.  Thanks very much for allowing me to participate in this series.  My mind works in twisting ways.  The kind of memory I’ve chosen to share may seem strange.  However, the first thing that came to mind when you asked me about this topic was old amusement parks.

When I was a small child there was an amusement park in the next town, which was slightly “less small” than my hometown.  To my shock, visitors from real cities scoffed at it.  I thought it was utterly magical.  Not long after that, we visited a carnival in the mountains, and even to my tween self, that one was ragtag.  Getting on the rides was… questionable to say the least.  By the time I was in my teens, back at the local amusement park, I could see the truth of how small, and how rundown it actually was.

The park didn’t create magic for me anymore.  Rather, it gave me a feeling I could only describe as otherworldly.  That sensation stuck with me and I’ve used “strange” amusement parks in two of my books.  One is a work in progress that I’ve stopped and started several times over the past few years.  The defunct amusement park is a central figure of that story.

The other is “Hullaba Lulu, a Dieselpunk Adventure.”  On that magical train-ride, one of the places Lulu and her friends land in is a “sideways” version of Atlantic City in the 1920s.  To Lulu’s surprise, admittance is paid in cheeseburgers.  Although it’s not all whimsy.  In fact, it’s downright sinister.

Here’s a snippet where Lulu and Pearl have gotten separated from their friend Rose.  Pearl found a fortuneteller automaton:

Go ahead, Lulu!  Ask it a question.  It gave me ‘the lovers’ card,” Pearl enthused.

“You always ask about love, and they always tell you that you’ll find it.  I never know what to ask,” I complained.

“Okay, then, gypsy king.  Here’s my question.  How is the Loop the Loop still here when it was taken down in 1912?” I asked in a snarky tone.

The gypsy’s flat mechanical eyes shifted to me with a click.  There couldn’t be life behind those eyes.  It couldn’t really see me… but I felt like he looked right through me.

“Did we go back in time?” I added in a softer voice.

The automaton sat motionless for a heartbeat.  Something about the sudden change in clockwork movement gave me the heebie-jeebies.

The gypsy gathered the tarot cards and spread them again.  It drew out a card with a drawing of a man hanging by his foot.  The fortuneteller moved the card so that the man was laying down.

“Sideways,” was all the automaton said.

“We didn’t move north or south, or forward or backward…” I began.

“Sideways,” it repeated with a mechanical nod.

I gave a frustrated sigh.  Why couldn’t the blasted thing be useful?  I turned to Pearl and asked her where Rose was.  My fair-haired friend shrugged, then she giggled and asked the fortuneteller the question.

“Where is our friend, Rose?”

The gypsy automaton gathered the tarot cards, spread them, and turned over the Three of Swords.  The design on the card was like the leaflet I found in the automat.  There was an image of a heart pierced by three swords.  Pearl and I both shuddered at the gruesome picture.  My worry had rubbed off on her.  She gave her long hair an anxious twist.

“Betrayal,” the fortuneteller said.

The air was split by a loud scream.  The sound echoed around the amusement park.

“Rose?” I yelled.

***

That’s only the beginning of the strangeness Lulu finds at the amusement park.  Wait until she gets to the Tilt-A-Whirl…

Sometimes memories go into our heads.  After they’ve been stored for a while, there’s no telling how they’ll come back out.  They might even get sideways.

Judith, thank you again for inviting me.  It’s been a delight.  I’m including my links.  I hope your readers will check out my blog, and follow me on my Amazon Author page.  Hugs on the wing!

I’m sure they will, Teagan. And thank you for participating in Places in our Memories.

Amazon Author Page:  relinks.me/TeaganRiordainGeneviene

Hullaba Lulu, universal purchase links:

Kindle:  relinks.me/B08JKP1RS4

Paperback:  relinks.me/B08JDYXPZM

Blog (Teagan’s Books):  Teagan’s Books – Founder of the Three Things Method of Storytelling (teagansbooks.com)

About Teagan:

In addition to the “Author Tool Chest” of non-fiction works, Teagan Ríordáin Geneviene writes whimsical and humorous stories.  She also writes high fantasy, urban fantasy, steampunk, and mysteries with historic settings.  Yes, that’s a variety of genres.  However, you will always find a sense of whimsy in what she writes.  It’s just that sometimes it takes a more serious form.

Teagan’s work is colored by the experiences of her early life in the southern states and later in the desert southwest, as well as a decade in Washington, DC.

When did Teagan get serious about writing?  She had always devoured mysteries and fantasy novels of every type.  Then one day there was no new book at hand for reading — so she decided to write one.  She hasn’t stopped writing since.

Places in our Memories: With Thorne Moore #MondayBlogs #Memories #SlightHumour

There are places that remain in our memories, the details may become slightly blurred, nostalgia may colour our thoughts, but they don’t fade. And how those places made us feel at the time is the one thing that remains.

Today I’m pleased to hand over to Thorne Moore. These are Thorne’s memories. Well, they will be, once she’s got the following out of her system!

So, a rabbit walks into a pub and orders a pint of beer.

‘Anything else?’ asks the barman.

The rabbit checks the menu and says ‘Yes, I’ll have a toasted cheese and pickle sandwich please.’

Coming up,’ says the barman.

Next day the rabbit is back. He orders a pint of beer, peruses the menu again and chooses a toasted ham and tomato sandwich.

Third day, ‘What can I get you?’ asks the barman, presenting the rabbit with his pint.

‘A toasted beef and onion sandwich, please.’

Next day, no sign of the rabbit, nor the day after. Finally he reappears, looking very limp and wan.

‘You look rough,’ says the barman. ‘What’s up with you.’

The rabbit wipes his eyes. ‘I’ve had a bad case of mixing my toasties.’

What has this extremely awful joke got to do with anything? Nothing really, except that I was born in 1954, and when I looked up records to discover what important events happened to commemorate my birth, I discovered that it was the year that myxomatosis was introduced into Britain to control the rabbit population. Actually, it now seem to be recorded as 1953, so I can’t even claim that milestone.

I wasn’t actually aware of myxomatosis at the time. I wasn’t entirely aware of anything much for several months, if not years, but when I was, I assumed, as children do, that all around me was permanent. The world was there purely for my benefit so how it was must have been how it always had been. There was a thing called The Past, but it wasn’t real. There had been a war, but it was something black and white, literally and figuratively, that happened in films on our television. It was a fable that had nothing to do with the present that I inhabited.

I was ten when it suddenly struck me that the period between the end of the war and my arrival was actually less than the length of time I had been alive. It had been lurking all the time just behind me, almost within reach. My first real grasp of history. The past was just under my feet and nothing was permanent after all. My parents had not, as I always assumed, sprung fully formed from the earth for the sole purpose of being my parents. They had, in fact, once been ten-year-olds like me, living through a war that must have been terrifying rather than exciting.I became conscious at that time that the physical world I occupied, a housing estate on the outskirts of Luton, was not a permanent fixture on Planet Earth either. Most of the streets I walked along on my way to school, the houses I passed and even the school itself had only been built a year or two before my birth. What had existed there before was farmland, and its ghost still lingered. The huge wild cherry tree breaking through the pavement opposite our house (responsible for all the pretty but inedible cherry tree saplings in our garden), must have been growing in the hedgerow of a field even before my parents were born.

The lane, generally known as The Lane, that offered me a delightfully dirty alternative route to school, was not just a muddy connection between my road and the houses of Ackworth Crescent, but an old farm track, leading presumably to a farm house that had disappeared long ago. The very dark brooding little house near the top of the lane, in an overgrown garden full of bluebells, was probably as old, but to us it was just self-evidently a witch’s cottage. Some of us claimed to have seen the witch.

The lane was dark and unfrequented, overhung with trees and with no houses in sight, the sort of ominous place that no child would be allowed to walk alone along today. But them was innocent days and no one bothered. The lane crossed a brook on a rotting plank bridge, wide enough to have once supported a horse and cart. Beside the bridge ran a huge pitted iron pipe. I imagine the pipe was fairly recent, the sewer for the growing housing estate, but for us children, of course, it was the only possible means to cross the brook. Who would use a boring bridge when you could balance precariously on a curving pipe?

The brook wove through the estate, in several branches, channelled under new roads in culverts that you could walk through if you didn’t mind falling victim to killer leeches that were in there, just waiting to suck your blood. I don’t remember anyone actually coming across a leech, killer or otherwise, but only a few boys ever attempted it. There was a perpetual mystery about the way streams would emerge from such dark culverts, run in deep gullies between houses and then inexplicably disappear again.

Elsewhere, alleys between the new houses crossed the brooks on footbridges, which you had to run across because Coal Black Charlie lurked beneath them and would grab you if you dawdled. I have no idea who Coal Black Charlie was supposed to be, but I am sure every childhood map has a hiding place for such a character. It remained a mystery what he would do to us if he ever caught us – which he never did.

Eventually the brook disappeared into the most sinister culvert of all, round and pitch black, under the railway, to join the “River” Lea, which at that point was a marshy rivulet seeping out from the ugliest possible grating in the middle of a Neolithic campsite. No one ever ventured into the culvert under the railway.

Any illusion of the permanence of my housing estate was swept away in my last years at junior school, when the prefabs at the centre, including the one where my grandparents had lived, were demolished, the land turned into a massive building site.

There is always something sad, insulting, about the demolition of houses, even prefabs, their inner privacy and wallpaper stripped bare briefly, before being reduced to rubble. It wasn’t just structural entities that were being rubbed out, but homes, people’s pasts. The future, as it was then predicted, rose in their place. Walking to school, my sister and I laid bets on which huge tower block of flats would be finished first. They weren’t complete until I was at High School far away (well, a couple of miles anyway). One was called Hooker’s Court. For some reason the name was later changed.

If I needed a reminder that time moves on, leaving an imprint, but also forever morphing into something new, I visited the scene of my childhood many years later, long after moving to Wales, and found everything both the same and changed, the estate no longer on the very brink of town but engulfed in it, so many new roads and houses that I had trouble identifying my old school route at all. The lane is miraculously still there, surrounded by flats amidst the trees and shockingly gentrified with a pretty lamppost and a new footbridge. No one would think now that it had once been a farm track. The pipe is still there, unchanged. Do children still walk across it?

I found myself realising how differently children and adults see everything – people, places, time itself. To us children, the estate was full of secrets, possibilities, opportunities for play and sources of potential nightmare. We saw the brook and its culverts with unfettered imagination, conjuring up mysteries and monsters. Adults saw a logical scheme of town planning and drainage systems. It was that contrast that first inspired me to write The Unravelling, which is largely set in my old estate, though elements have been moved around a little and names altered.

To the best of my knowledge, no murder ever happened while I lived there, so I invented the plot, and my characters are purely fictional, but the place, through a child’s eyes, with all its sinister potential was real enough.

Thorne can be found at…

Website: https://thornemoore.com/

Twitter: @ThorneMoore

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/thorne.moore.7

Walking the Taff Trail – Well a small section of it anyway. And more of a stroll than a walk. #walks #cycling #photos

Put a lovely sunny day, with a dog desperate to go a walk, with a granddaughter who needs to be dragged from her mobile and bribed by the thought of a chocolate brownie and a drink of Sprite, and there was only one place to head for, the cafe in the garden centre at the end of the Taff Trail in Radyr.

The Radyr section of this lovely river walk is one we’ve done often

But this time we decided to meander along various smaller paths, even though we needed to retrace our steps numerous times. I was so glad we did because look what we found:

The tollhouse, once used by the Pentyrch and Melingriffith Iron and Tinplate Works in the late 1800s

Thanks to the Tongwynlais Historical Society ( co-founders,Sarah Barnes and Rob Wiseman) the Tollhouse returns to life. What was once nothing more than a few visible bricks covered in 70 years of vegetation, is now a recognisable shell complete with growing wildflower garden

I thought I’d better seek permission to add some of the photographs from the Tongwynlais Historical Society. I made contact with a very helpful chap, Jack Davies, whose fascinating website also contains an article about the Tollhouse and other history of the village: https://tongwynlais.com/history/

Granddaughter, Seren, with soulful companion, Benji, who patiently waited to continue his walk.

Seren also very kindly leant a hand to point out this lovely heart shaped stone, with a wonderful inscription:

Which immediately brought to mind (well, my mind anyway), my book, The Heart Stone, which was published by Honno, in 2021: So, never one to pass up on an opportunity…

The inspiration for The Heart Stone partly came from research for my degree on The First World War some years ago; a subject that both fascinates and repulses me. At the time I’d found my grandfather’s army records and discovered he’d volunteered to join the local Pals Battalion with two of his friends, although they were all underage.

I only ever remember him as a small man who spent his days in a single bed under the window in the parlour, who coughed a lot, and was very grumpy. He died when I was eight.

There was no conscription at the beginning of the war. The Pals Battalions were formed, to answer Lord Kitchener’s call for volunteers, by encouraging local magistrates to drum up community spirit and patriotic fervour.

 The gist of the speeches used were that young men,”…  should form a battalion of pals, a battalion in which friends will fight shoulder to shoulder for the honour of Britain and the credit of their town and villages.”

 My grandfather was gassed in 1916 near the Somme. He was also shell-shocked and was unemployed for the rest of his life. Once, my mother told me he had never spoken of his experience but had suffered nightmares for as long as she could remember. And that there were whole streets around the house where they’d lived where the men had never returned.

It’s a haunting image.

Four years ago, after my mother passed away and we were clearing her home, I found my grandfather’s army papers again.

 During the following week, whilst my husband and I were walking along the Pembrokeshire coastal path, we found a smooth stone, almost heart shaped, placed on top of a cairn amongst the Marram grass. Picking up the stone to examine it, a folded paper blew from underneath. There had been words on it but were, by then, indecipherable.

 A love note, I thought; a love note under a heart shaped stone.

 A love note, under a heart shaped stone, from a young man who had never returned.

 And so The Heart Stone started to form.

The Heart Stone was published by Honno Press in Feb 2021

And a Review of The Heart Stone:

https://amzn.to/3bCkx8w

And a buying link:

Amazon.co.uk: https://amzn.to/3hupbc1

Also available from Honno

And a little bit about me:

I’m,originally from Saddleworth, a group of villages on the edge of the Pennines, but have lived in Pembrokeshire, Wales, for over forty years.

I have an MA in Creative Writing with the University of Wales Trinity St David’s College, Carmarthen. BA (Hons) in Literature with the Open University, a Diploma in Drama from Swansea University. I’m also is a Creative Writing tutor and hold workshops on all genres.

And here I am:

https://twitter.com/judithbarrow77
https://www.facebook.com/judith.barrow.

My Review of Only May, by Honno Author, Carol Lovekin #Honno #familystory #secrets #magic

Book Description:

A young woman haunted by ghosts, magic and long-kept family secrets in a new novel from the author of the Wales Book of the Year 2021 shortlisted, WILD SPINNING GIRLS.

I give you fair warning, if you’re planning on lying to me, don’t look me in the eye.

It’s May’s 17th birthday – making the air tingle with a tension she doesn’t fully understand. But she knows her mother and her aunt are being evasive; secrets are being kept.Like her grandmother before her, May has her own magic: the bees whisper to her as they hover in the garden… the ghosts chatter in the graveyard. And she can’t be fooled by a lie. She becomes determined to find out what is being kept from her. But when May starts to uncover her own story, she threatens to bring her mother and aunt’s carefully constructed family to the edge of destruction..

My Review:.

Only May is a story that could only have been written by Carol Lovekin. Her writing style is unique, filled with poetic prose that evokes layer upon layer of wonderful imagery, juxtaposed with stories that gradually emerge to reveal fascinating plots, strong characters and atmospheric  settings.

Set in Wales in the nineteen fifties, the narrative portrays seventeen-year-old May as a young woman who has been gifted the power to recognise lies. Even so, she  becomes increasingly and uneasily aware that her family hold a secret about her past that shocks and distresses her.

Throughout the book there is a sense that the freedom that May cherishes in the natural world vies with the restriction of her home life.

The main characters are multi layered: May’s protective but hard-working mother, Esme, who, although she loves her, sometimes irritates May, Billy, her father, a man suffering from both physical and mental disability, but with whom May has a close and loving relationship. And then there is Esme’s sister, May’s unconventional aunt, who encourages her to explore the magic of folklore and the mystery of nature. All ably supported by a community of well-drawn minor characters, each with their own foibles, each adding to the revelation of the central theme – the truth of May’s life. A truth that could mean the destruction of the family. And of her trust in them.

Only May is what I always call a slow burner of a story, with a steady exposé of the plot through a narrative that is Insightful and philosophical. Therefore, this complex and spellbinding novel is one to savour. As such I thoroughly recommend it.

About Carol Lovekin:

Carol is a writer, feminist & flâneuse based in west Wales. She writes contemporary fiction exploring family relationships & secrets, the whole threaded with myth, fairytale, ghosts, Welsh Gothic mystery & slivers of magic.

Buying Links:

Amazon.co.uk: https://amzn.to/3ykGaFY

Carol’s Links:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/carollovekin

Facebook: http://bit.ly/2SVpYaR

Presenting the Authors at the Honno Book Fair 7th May 2022 at the Queens Hall, Narberth, Pembrokeshire. Today with Carol Lovekin #Honno #authors

Introducing my friends and fellow (or should that be sister?) authors of Honno – The longest-standing independent women’s press in the UK – who will be at the Honno Book Fair on the 7th May 2022 , 10.00am until 4.00pm, at the Queens Hall, Narberth, Pembrokeshire. Over the next few weeks I’ll be introducing the each author. I’ll also be showcasing Honno, the publishers.

If you’re in the area,we’d be thrilled if you popped in to say hello.

Today, I’m really pleased to be joined by Carol Lovekin

Hello and welcome, Carol. Lovely to see you here today. 

And glad to be here, Judith

Please tell us, how many books have you written, and which is your favourite?

Four. Favourite is tough. Like my children, I love them all for different reasons. But I’ll pick Wild Spinning Girls as it’s the one everyone says they like best. And it was shortlisted for a prize: the Wales Book of the Year (Fiction Award) 2021.

How did you come up with the title for your book?

During a read through, I spotted it, almost at the end. It was a moment when one of my characters was musing on the essential nature of ‘girls’ and it was perfect.

What part of the book did you have the hardest time writing? Or what was your hardest scene to write, and why?

The opening chapter! It wasn’t until my editor pointed out, during our initial structural edit, that I’d started the story in the wrong place, I realised I had. Once she told me, ‘It begins with Ida’s accident’ (which feeds into the fairy tale element and the story of The Red Shoes), the penny dropped. I was able to draw on my own background in ballet and had the scene written in my head almost before I got home!

What part of the book was the most fun to write?

The scenes involving Olwen – my ghost. I love her. She is my role model and any hauntings I plan will be an homage to her!

If you were to write a spin-off about a side character, which would you pick?

Heather, probably. And some of my readers have expressed an interest in Roni, wanting to know more about her. This is the nature of story however – they are never finished and some threads get left to spin in the wind.

If you’re planning a sequel, can you tantalize us with a snippet of your plans for it? If not, your plans for your next book?

My next book is due out this May. Which is perfect, as the story takes places over the month of May. Only May is the story of May Harper, a girl who can look you in the eye and see your lies. As gifts go, it’s a double-edged sword; May doesn’t always want to know people’s secrets. But at the heart of her family hides the biggest lie of all, one she is determined to see. 

At what point did you think of yourself as a writer?

Before I was published, I was a scribbler with no directions. Once I retired, I decided to take my writing seriously, with a view to publication. And I had an idea I knew could work: if I could write it, it had legs, so to speak. Luckily for me, it had wings. When Ghostbird was published, that was when I knew I was a writer.

What do the words “writer’s block” mean to you?

Get a grip!? In my view and in my writing life, there’s no such thing. Sometimes (mostly) I write, sometimes I don’t. Regardless of any circumstances which may take me away from physical writing, I’m always thinking about my current story. Every aspect of creating a story is a writer’s work.

Are there therapeutic benefits to modelling a character after someone you know?

Absolutely. I did it with my second book, Snow Sisters. Allegra, the mother in this story is a narcissist. While I was writing the book, I finally said ‘No’ to a long-time friend whose narcissism had pushed me to my limit. ‘No’ is anathema to a narcissist and she instantly ended the friendship. Stealing a few of her attributes was a small but satisfying therapy. And the thing about a narcissist is, they will never guess you have modelled a character on them because in a narcissist’s world, everything is about them anyway. They are perfect, and that arrogant, self-involved, manipulative character couldn’t possibly be them!

What is the most difficult part of your writing process?

Beginnings. On every level. Sometimes, even though I know exactly what a chapter is about, I can’t start writing it. Can’t find the perfect opening sentence never mind a paragraph. It can takes hours. And don’t get me started on – well – the start! Once upon a time . . .?   

How do you use social media as an author?

Carefully!

Why did you choose Honno as a publisher?

Although, ultimately, Honno chose me, I always had them in mind. I thought they would be a perfect fit for the first book I submitted. Ghostbird has a quintessentially Welsh feel to it. Added to that was my admiration for Honno as a feminist women’s press supporting women’s voices. I got my debut break with them as a result of taking part in a Meet the Editor session with Janet Thomas. This was life-changing for me. At the age of 71 I became a published author and my fourth book is on the horizon.

Presenting the Authors at the Honno Book Fair 7th May 2022 at the Queens Hall, Narberth, Pembrokeshire. Today with Liz Jones

Introducing my friends and fellow (or should that be sister?) authors of Honno – The longest-standing independent women’s press in the UK  who will be at the Honno Book Fair on the 7th May 2022 , 10.00am until 4.00pm, at the Queens Hall, Narberth, Pembrokeshire.

If you’re in the area,we’d be thrilled if you popped in to say hello.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be introducing each author. I’ll also be showcasing Honno. 

Today, I’m really pleased to be joined by Liz Jones

Hello and welcome, Liz. Good to have you with us here today.

Glad to be here, Judith.

Please tell us, how many books have you written, and which is your favourite?

The Queen of Romance is my one and only (so far…)

How did you come up with the title for your book?

Through a long and tortuous process… My original title, The Many Lives of Marguerite was okay, but didn’t really tell the reader anything. Eventually, I came up with The Forgotten Queen of Romance. The ‘forgotten’ was later dropped… 

What inspired the idea for your book?

It all began when I visited what I thought was just her husband’s grave (that of the controversial Welsh author Caradoc Evans). Then I discovered Marguerite, this incredible woman who had been a bestselling romance author, whose book The Pleasure Garden was became Alfred Hitchcock’s first film, who had appeared in a film alongside the legendary Gloria Swanson, and had run a thriving repertory theatre company in my home town of Aberystwyth. Yet now she lay forgotten alongside her husband, without even her name on the gravestone. I had to find out more…

What part of the book did you have the hardest time writing? Or what was your hardest scene to write, and why?

The scenes about Marguerite’s childhood in India, during the days of the Raj. I have never been to India and knew little about the Raj, so I had to draw heavily on a combination of research and imagination. But I found this research fascinating. The mindset of the British in India was astonishingly racist and elitist. They were also making huge sacrifices for the sake of the British Empire, which they genuinely believed to be a noble project.

What part of the book was the most fun to write?

I enjoy visiting places and getting and writing about them in situ. Visiting Broadstairs, where Marguerite lived and ran a theatre company just before the war, was great fun, as was visiting the site of another of her homes, near Aberdyfi, high above the Dyfi estuary.   

Which of the characters do you relate to the most and why.

Marguerite as a biographical character was eccentric, endlessly fascinating and also infuriating! The men in her life were (with one exception) pretty awful to here. The character I felt by far the most empathy for was Pauline Bloch, the German Jewish refugee who was Marguerite and Caradoc’s live-in maid during the war. The poor woman was traumatised and not receiving the help and support she needed – least of all from Marguerite who was too wrapped up in her own marriage and money problems to care.  

I was privileged to read some of Pauline’s letters, written some thirty years later, where she reflected on her time with Marguerite and Caradoc. She was a strong, determined and remarkably fair-minded woman who had overcome so much.

If you were to write a spin-off about a side character, which would you pick?

Pauline, without a doubt.

If you’re planning a sequel, can you tantalize us with a snippet of your plans for it? If not, your plans for your next book?

All I can say is I’m researching another biography. It’s far too soon to reveal any more!

 At what point did you think of yourself as a writer?

I don’t think you can really call yourself a writer after just one book. Although now I do write most days – features for magazines, mostly.

 Have you ever considered writing under a pseudonym, and why or why not?

With a name like Liz Jones? Of course I have! If ever I write a book that’s completely different (a novel, for instance), I might just dream up a far more exotic name for myself!

 What do the words “writer’s block” mean to you?

Writer’s block is something I experience every day. Sometimes I can overcome it. Other times, I suddenly find that cleaning the sink or organising my bookshelf is suddenly far more pressing than writing… Yet once I’m really in the writing zone, I find it difficult to stop. If only I found it easier to get there in the first place – I’m still working on that!   

What do you need in your writing space to help you stay focused?

Peace, quiet, not too much clutter and, above all, a room of my own. (Virginia Woolf said it all really…)

 Are there therapeutic benefits to modelling a character after someone you know?

As a writer of non-fiction, I’m afraid I can’t really answer this!

 What is the most difficult part of your writing process?

Beginning.

What, to you, are the most important elements of good writing?

That’s a very big question! There are so many different kinds of good writing. If I had to say, I think it’s honestly – writing where the author strips away any ‘show-offy’ bits and tells the story with sincerity and integrity, rather than indulging in writing that draws attention to itself. Having said that, I can’t resist the odd flourish or purple passage, although I try not to overdo it! 

What comes first for you — the plot or the characters — and why? 

As a biographer it has to be character! I have to feel fascinated by a character to want to write about them.

 How do you use social media as an author?

I’m on Twitter, which I’ve found pretty useful, in a low-key sort of way. I know Twitter has a bit of a toxic reputation, but it’s great for connecting with other authors and keeping in touch with Honno and the wider world of books. What I also like about Twitter is that it’s okay to promote your own work there – unlike facebook, where too much self-promotion tends to be frowned upon! 

 Why did you [choose? Honno as a publisher?

The honest answer is because Honno is based in my home town of Aberystwyth. When my idea was still embarrassingly sketchy, I contacted the lovely Janet Thomas (a member of the Honno committee and hugely experienced editor). Thanks to Janet’s unstinting encouragement, I began to feel that my idea really could work as a book. Later, as a first-time Honno writer, I felt supported by the team throughout the whole process – from the initial edits to the marketing. Becoming a Honno author is like joining a very special women’s club! 

Author Bio:

Dr Liz Jones is a prize winning writer of creative non-fiction and journalism, and a creative writing tutor at Aberystwyth University. Her book, The Queen of Romance (Honno), a biography of Marguerite Jervis (aka Oliver Sandys and Countess Barcynska), ‘the most successful author and theatre entrepreneur you’ve never heard of’, was selected for The Independent‘s book choices for May, 2021.

Twitter: @LizJonesAber

The Long and Winding Road. The journey of a Wannabe Writer #MondayBlogs #Writing #EverHopeful

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I wrote for years before letting anyone read my work. If I was self-deluded; if it was rubbish, I didn’t want to be told. I enjoyed my “little hobby” (as it was once described by a family member). But then I began to enter my short stories into competitions. Sometimes I was placed, once or twice I even won. Encouraged, I moved on to sending to magazines – I had some luck, was published – once! But I hadn’t dared to send out any of the four, full length book manuscripts I’d written (and actually never did, they were awful!) That changed after a long battle with breast cancer in my forties and, finally finishing a book that I thought might possibly…possibly, be good enough for someone else to see, other than me, I took a chance.

I grew resigned (well almost) to those A4 self-addressed envelopes plopping through the letterbox. (yes, it was that long ago!) The weekly wail of ‘I’ve been rejected again,’ was a ritual that my long-suffering husband also (almost) grew resigned to.

There were many snorts of exasperation at my gullibility and stubbornness from the writing group I was a member of at the time. They all had an opinion – I was doing it all wrong. Instead of sending my work to publishers I should have been approaching agents.

 ‘You’ll get nowhere without an agent,’ one of the members said. She was very smug. Of course she was already signed up with an agent whose list, she informed me, was full.

 ‘How could you even think of trying to do it on your own?’ was another horrified response when told what I’d done, ‘With the sharks that are out there, you’ll be eaten alive.’

‘Or sink without a trace.’ Helpful prediction from another so-called friend.

So, after trawling my way through the Writers & Artists Yearbook (an invaluable tome) I bundled up two more copies of my manuscript and sent them out to different agents

Six months later I was approached by one of the agents who, on the strength of my writing, agreed to take me on. The praise from her assistant was effusive, the promises gratifying. It was arranged that I meet with the two of them in London to discuss the contract they would send in the post, there would be no difficulty in placing my novel with one of the big publishers; they would make my name into a brand.

There was some editing to do, of course. Even though the manuscript was in its fifth draft, I knew there would be. After all, the agent, a big fish in a big pond, knew what she was doing. Okay, she was a little abrasive (on hindsight I would say rude) but she was a busy person, I was a first time author.

But I was on my way. Or so I thought.

A week before the meeting I received an email; the agent’s assistant had left the agency and they no longer thought they could act for me. They had misplaced my manuscript but would try to locate it. In the meantime would I send an SAE for its return when/if ‘it turned up’?

So – back to square one.

For a month I hibernated (my family and friends called it sulking, but I preferred to think of it as re-grouping). I had a brilliant manuscript that no one wanted (at this point, I think it’s important to say that, as an author, if you don’t have self-belief how can you persuade anyone else to believe your work is good?) But still, no agent, no publisher.

There were moments, well weeks (okay, if I’m honest – months), of despair, before I took a deep breath and resolved to try again. I printed out a new copy of the novel. In the meantime I trawled through my list of possible agents. Again.

 Then, out of the blue, a phone call from the editorial assistant who’d resigned from that first agent to tell me she’d set up her own agency, was still interested in my novel and could we meet in London in a week’s time? Could we? Try and stop me, I thought.

 We met. Carried away with her enthusiasm for my writing, her promises to make me into a ‘brand name’ and her assurance that she had many contacts in the publishing world that would ‘snap her hand off for my novel’, I signed on the dotted line.

Six months later. So far, four rejections from publishers. Couched, mind you, in encouraging remarks:

Believable characters … strong and powerful writing … gripping story … Judith has an exciting flair for plot … evocative descriptions.”

And then the death knell on my hopes.

“Unfortunately … our lists are full … we’ve just accepted a similar book … we are only a small company … I’m sure you’ll find a platform for Judith’s work … etc. etc.”

The self-doubt, the frustration, flooded back.

Then the call from the agent; ‘I think it’s time to re-evaluate the comments we’ve had so far. Parts of the storyline need tweaking. I’ve negotiated a deal with a commercial editor. When she mentioned the sum I had to pay (yes, I had to pay, and yes, I was that naïve) I gasped.’ It’s a realistic charge by today’s standards,’ she said. ’Think about it. In the end we’ll have a book that will take you to the top of your field.’

 I thought about it. Rejected the idea. Listened to advice from my various acquaintances. Thought about it some more. And then I rang the agent. ‘Okay,’ I said, ‘I’ll do it.’ I felt I had no choice; after all she was the expert. Wasn’t she? What did I know?

 When the manuscript came back from the commercial editor, I didn’t recognise the story at all. ‘This isn’t what I wrote. It’s not my book,’ I told the agent. ‘It’s nothing like it.’ The plot, the characters had been completely changed.

‘You know nothing of the publishing world. If you want me to represent you, you have to listen to me,’ she insisted. ‘Do as I say.’

‘But …’

‘Take it or leave it.’

I consulted our daughter, luckily she’s a lawyer qualified in Intellectual Property.

‘You can cancel the contract within the year. After that, you have problems. There will be all manner of complications...

I moved quickly. The agent and I parted company.

I took a chance and contacted Honno, the publisher who’d previously accepted two of my short stories for their anthologies. Would they have a look at the manuscript? They would. They did. Yes, it needed more work but

 I’m proud to say I’ve now been with Honno, the longest standing independent women’s press in the UK, for fourteen years, and have had six books published by them. I love their motto “Great writing, great stories, great women“, and I love the friends I’ve made amongst the other women whose work they publish, and the support amongst us for our writing and our books. In normal times we often meet up . I’m hoping those “normal times” will return before too long.

 Of course, there has been much editing and discussion with every manuscript. But at least, in the end, the stories are told in my words. With my voice

My Review of The Naked Witch by Wendy Steele #TuesdayBookBlog

I gave The Naked Witch 4* out of 5*

My Review:

I enjoyed Wendy Steele’s The Naked Witch. It is an undemanding read with an easy to follow but convincing plot-line which runs smoothly throughout the story. This is a cross genre book, a mixture of romance and mystery threaded through with magic and witchcraft. I was particularly fascinated by these latter themes and often stopped to re-read these sections; to ponder on them and the way the protagonist was epitomised by them. On the one hand Lizzie Martin is a woman who is trying to grapple with all that life throws at her: initially unexplained difficulties within her work life, complicated struggles with her ex-husband, anxieties for an ex, but still beloved, mother-in-law, worries for a teenage daughters growing maturity. All juxtaposed with an intriguing sub plot, the truth about her father’s death. The strength of this character lies with her beliefs in the goddess that guides her and in her ability to take and centre energy in herself from the earth.

And, just as Lizzie is rounded and multi-layered so are the supporting characters. I had empathy and liking for some and instant dislike for others; a true sign of strong characterisation for me.

The descriptions of the settings: Spain, Lizzie’s home, workplace, her Sanctuary give a good sense of place.

The dialogue is believable. It  is clear who is speaking and, mostly, carries the story along. I say mostly because, occasionally, and only occasionally, I felt. It slowed things down by slight repetition. In much the same way that some of the descriptions of food did in parts. I did find myself, every now and again, skipping over the sections where meals were reported. And, in a couple of places the narrative moved a little too quickly from one scene to another.

But these are small grumbles. I loved the lovely conversational style of the author’s writing, the humour that lightens the tone, the interesting insight to white witchcraft and enchanting mystical happenings. Most of all I loved the story.

I recommend The Naked Witch; it’s a good read.

Book Description:

Lizzie Martin’s new boss has asked her to ‘bare all’ and become more corporate.

For Lizzie, swapping paisley for pin stripe is like asking a parrot to wear pea hen.

She has to choose between her job and her integrity, cope with an unexpected stay in hospital, monitor her fourteen year old daughter’s latest crush, continue seeking the truth about her father’s death and juggle two new men in her life.

There is hope though.

At the bottom of the garden is a little wooden shed that Lizzie calls Sanctuary. Within its warm and welcoming walls, Lizzie surrounds herself with magic.

About the Author:

Wendy Steele

In 1972, Wendy Steele came home from the Tutankhamun exhibition and wrote about her experience, beginning a writing journey which she still travels. Since working in the City BC (Before Children), she has trained in alternative therapies, belly dance and writing. Wendy combines these three disciplines to give balance to her life.

Her first novel ‘Destiny of Angels’ was published in 2012, closely followed by two short story anthologies and a non-fiction book ‘Wendy Woo’s Year – A Pocketful of Smiles’, an inspirational guide, offering ideas, meditations and recipes to make every precious day, a happy one.

Moving to Wales, the fulfilment of a 15 year dream, inspired her to write the Standing Stone book series, set in Wales in the countryside she loves.

Writing workshops in Wales widened her writing perspective and the resulting short stories have been published online and in anthologies.

Wendy writes fantasy, with a dollop of magic, exploring the ‘what if…?’ the starting point for all her stories. She lives with her partner and cats, restoring her farmhouse and immersing herself in the natural world on her doorstep.

 

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

 

 

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.

My Review of You Can’t Go It Alone (Sunflower Book 1)by Jessie Cahalin #TuesdayBookBlog #relationships

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Book Description:
 

Love, music and secrets are woven together in this poignant, heart-warming narrative.

Set in a Welsh village, the story explores the contrast in attitudes and opportunities between different generations of women. As the characters confront their secrets and fears, they discover truths about themselves and their relationships.
The reader is invited to laugh and cry, with the characters, and find joy in the simple things in life. Listen to the music and enjoy the food, as you peek inside the world of the inhabitants of Delfryn.

Let Sophie show you that no one can go it alone. Who knows, you may find some friends with big hearts…

My Review:

I really liked You Can’t Go It Alone, there are so many familiar ‘human life’ threads running throughout the relationships of the characters And there are a lot of up and down real life moments throughout, some poignant, some sad, some joyous, some humorous, some unexpected. All thought provoking. There is one sentence that foreshadows the troubles and upsets that will affect them;”The sun was trying to make an appearance but the clouds were dancing in the sky as if they intended to win the dual.”
 
The characters are well drawn and multi layered. From the protagonist, Sophie who, with her husband, Jack, has recently moved to the village in the hope of a new life (in more ways than one), to the owners of the cafe, Rosa, the ever optimist, and Matteo, a quick tempered, jealous husband and their daughter, the talented Olivia.  And then there is the delightful young Daisy.
 
The dialogue is exceptional; the personalities of the characters were instantly revealed to me, as the reader, through both the internal and the spoken speech.
  
It’s the Olive Tree Café  is where most of the action occurs and there is a strong sense of the cafe’s ambience. Indeed, all of the settings have a good sense of place and it’s almost as if the Delfryn itself is personified as a character in the story, with the interweaving, individual lives it holds at its centre.
Initially the story appears to be a lighthearted look at life in a Welsh village but it is soon revealed that, as the book description says, this really is an exploration of “the contrast in attitudes and opportunities between different generations of women”.
Jessie Cahalin has a lovely light touch with her poetic prose; there are numerous sections which immediately evoke wonderful images and emotions and many sentences that made me stop to reread them just for the sheer beauty of the language.
I recommend Jessie Cahalin’s debut novel; You Can’t Go It Alone is an interesting and thoughtful story
Links:
About the author:
 
 

Jessie is a bookish blogger, word warrior and intrepid virtual explorer. She loves to entertain with stories, and is never seen without: her camera, phone, notebook and handbag. Fellow authors have deemed her ‘creative and quirky’ and she wears these words like a blogging badge of honour.

Having overcome her fear of self-publishing, she is now living the dream of introducing the characters who have been hassling her for decades. Her debut novel, ‘You Can’t Go It Alone’, is a heart-warming tale about the challenges women still face in society. The novel has light-hearted moments and presents hope. As C. S. Lewis said, ‘We read to know we are not alone.’
Connecting with authors via her Books in my Handbag Blog is a blast. She showcases authors’ books in the popular Handbag Gallery and has fun meeting authors in her virtual world. Communicating with her authors, still gives Jessie a creative buzz.

Jessie Cahalin hails from Yorkshire, but as a book blogger, she has realised that her country of origin is probably The World. She loves to travel the world and collects cultural gems like a magpie. She searches for happy endings, where possible, and needs great coffee, food and music to give her inspiration.

Visit Jessie’s website at http://www.JessieCahalin.com.
Connect with her at:
Facebook https://www.facebook.com/people/Jessie-Cahalin/100016975596193?fref=nf
Twitter @BooksInHandbag
Contact her at: jessiecahalin@aol.co.uk

Changing Relationships #MondayBlogs #families #relationships

olive

It’s twenty years today since my auntie left our home for the last time to go into care; eight years since she died. I wrote some of the following on each of those occasions. Now it seems almost unbelievable how much time has passed. I remember …

During our lives, Auntie Olive and I had three different relationships.

When I was a child I was told she was ‘someone very important in the civil service.’ She was a spinster in every way. I think I was as much a mystery to her as she was to me and we avoided each other as much as possible. But there was one occasion when we united in gleeful rebellion and it caused the only quarrel I can remember between her and my mother.

 For a long time, when I was a child, my mother insisted on my having ringlets. Every night my hair was twisted into rags and my scalp lifted from my skull. It was sheer torture. Auntie Olive hated those ringlets as much as I did and one day, when I was ten, she put a pudding basin on my head and cut round it. I was overjoyed and imagined that I looked like George out of the Famous Five books. My mother was less impressed. She didn’t speak to my auntie for a whole month.

 As I grew up my auntie took it upon herself to educate me in classical music but gave up the day she caught me gyrating to the Beatles. She then changed tactics and taught me ballroom dancing. We whirled up and down the hall of the tiny terraced house, where she lived and I can still do a mean waltz and quickstep, but only in straight lines; I never learned to turn corners. She showed me how to sew which came in very useful in the 60’s; it was surprising how many mini skirts a couple of yards of material could make. Most useful of all Auntie Olive taught me to drive and trusted my skills enough to lend me her car; which gave me a lot of kudos in our village (even if it was just a little blue Ford Popular). And, although we still didn’t understand each other’s ways, we were fond of one another.

So it seemed natural that, when my Nan died, Auntie Olive came  to live with us in Pembrokeshire.

By that time I was married with children and she was not just my aunt; she had become a dear friend. Even so, with little patience for trivial pleasantries and the possession of an acerbic tongue, she demanded respect wherever she was and I was sometimes a little wary of her. 

This made the adjustment to my next relationship with her very difficult.

                                                ***********

 Thirty years later Aunt Olive lives in the apartment, attached to our house. As she walks past my kitchen window she waves a peeled banana at me, which she intends to eat on the way to the shops. She does this every morning, perhaps to let me know she’s eating properly, perhaps as a joke. But, probably, she doesn’t even realise she’s doing it. All I know is that at one time my aunt would not have done something so ‘unseemly’ as to eat in the street.

  As she walks down the drive I realise she has no skirt on.

‘You can’t go out just in your knickers, you’ll stop the traffic’ I joke and we go back to the house. We laugh. She and I laugh a lot these days; it’s the only way to cope. We both know she is trying to keep some control over her life and, more often than not, fails. When she stubbornly insists on wearing her vest over her cardigan; when I find her washing her soiled pyjamas in an overflowing bath, wearing a woolly hat because she can’t find the shower cap she thinks she should wear; when, for the tenth time, the smoke alarm shrieks because she has burned the toast, again, and we both run to waft at it with a tea towel, we laugh. Who cares?

I do, it’s heart breaking.

 In our discussions on current affairs she pretends that she has read the newspaper, yet I know she can no longer read and after less than five minutes conversation I am repeating myself and she is the echo. She remembers her school days, her work in the War Office during the Second World War, a lover killed at Dunkirk. But she forgets that she has already had lunch and insists that I make her another; I feel chained to that damn cooker. Her nights and days are muddled and I am getting used to grilling bacon and frying eggs at three in the morning. It’s easier than trying to explain.

 Sometimes she calls me by my mother’s name as we sit in the garden, and wonders where her own mother is. I have learned to play the game.

  She loves the sun these days.

  ‘Warms my old bones.’ She says, wearing a floral sun hat, which she wouldn’t have been seen dead in ten years ago.   

 She has the same route around the village each day, paper shop, chemist, Post Office, Co-op. Not that she needs anything, I shop for her, but it’s her routine and at each place they are good enough to make sure she is heading back in the right direction.  Sometimes she walks down the road as far as the cross roads. I watch from an upstairs window. She has begun to wander. She’s very clever at slipping out of the house without me knowing she has gone. I drive around in the car looking for her or I get a telephone call from some kind soul who has ‘captured’ her and is supplying tea and biscuits. And safety.

She’s started to flash her knickers at the man who takes her to the day centre once a week.

                                                ************

 Now there is a third relationship I have with my aunt. I am a visitor. We no longer laugh at the silly things she does. I no longer help her to dress or eat. Someone else does all that now. They do it with love and care but it doesn’t stop the guilt i feel. Our conversations are a monologue. She sits and smiles at me. We hold hands. Sometimes she squeezes my fingers and when I look into her eyes I see the fear. I wrap my arms around her and whisper, ‘you’re safe, I’ve got you. It will be alright.’

 Against my shoulder I feel her shake her head.

© Judith Barrow 2018

My Review of African Ways by Valerie Poore #memoir #TuesdayBookBlog

 

african

 

Book Description:

This is the story of a young woman’s first encounters with rural South Africa. Coming from the all-mod-cons society of Britain at the beginning of the 1980’s, the author is literally transplanted to a farm in the foothills of the Drakensberg mountains in what is now Kwazulu Natal.

Once there, she finds her feet in the ways of Africa
with the help of a charming, elderly Dutch couple, 
an appealing but wily African farm hand, his practical and motherly daughter and a wise and fascinating neighbour who has a fund of local knowledge.

These are tales of a different kind of life, which
include living without electricity, hand-milking cows, drought, veld fires and mad-cap adventures into the unknown.

They are stories told with deep affection and respect, and above all a liberal dose of tongue-in-cheek humour.

 

My Review: I gave  African Ways 5*out of 5*

Valerie Poore’s African Ways is a brilliant memoir that draws the reader in from the first page.

It is obvious from the beginning how much this author opens herself to people, places…and adventures that most of us would back away from.

I was enthralled throughout by her wonderful descriptions of the land where she made her home with her husband and two young children for three years in the 1980s ( a farm in Natal, South Africa). The love she has for the country and for the neighbours and friends that surrounded her (some with such fabulous names!) shines through in  her writing.

Despite everything: the droughts the families endured, the fires ( I was riveted by her portrayal of the unbelievably brave way she, her husband and friends battled against one fire and then, though exhausted, continued their BBQ), the venomous snakes, the swarm of bees that invaded her home and the lack of electricity, it is obvious she embraced the whole experience. 

And, threaded throughout the author reveals her superb  sense of humour; there are some great ‘laugh out loud’ stories and even some chuckles, despite the dangers, recollections.

African Ways is a memoir I can thoroughly recommend. In fact I would say, you should…really you should…read this book. 

Buying Links:

Amazon.co.uk: http://amzn.to/2mYreIN

Amazon.com: http://amzn.to/2mWSp6Y

 

Valerie Poore

 

Val Poore was born in London, England, and grew up in both north London and the west of Dorset. After completing her degree in English, History and French at Bournemouth, she took a further course in the conservation and restoration of museum artefacts at Lincoln College of Art which qualified her for nothing at all really. She then spent two years doing furniture restoration before going to South Africa in 1981 with her husband and small children. 

Valerie left South Africa permanently in 2001 and has settled in the Netherlands, where she shares her time between a liveaboard barge in Rotterdam and a cottage in Zeeland. She teaches academic and business English on a freelance basis and still writes in her spare time, although she admits there’s not enough of that at the moment. In fact, she has been writing since childhood and wrote stories, articles and radio plays for years before embarking on her first book in 2005. Val loves travelling especially when it involves roughing it a bit. She feels that she has better adventures and more interesting experiences that way. 

She has written six books altogether: the Skipper’s Child (teen/kidult fiction), How to Breed Sheep, Geese and English Eccentrics (sort of grown-up, humorous fiction), Watery Ways and Harbour Ways (memoirs of her first years of living on a barge in Holland), Walloon Ways (three years as a weekend Belgian) and African Ways (a memoir her life on a farm in South Africa). Her seventh book (another novel) is in progress but is taking rather longer than she had hoped. This is simply due to real life getting in the way.