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Suffragette at Blists Hill

One of the highlights of this year’s RNA Conference was definitely the historical author’s event at Blists Hill, the reconstructed Victorian town at Ironbridge, the birthplace of the industrial revolution. As you can see, I went as a suffragette (what else?).

There was a great atmosphere, being there in company with so many talented historical novelists and meeting the visitors coming through on their way to experience times gone by. In a brief lull in proceedings, I took myself off to visit my favourite cottage, the squatter’s cottage.

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It’s so hard to remember, even in times of recession, the reality of life for the majority of people at a time that – in terms of human evolution – is only a breath away. The squatter’s cottage, at the edges of existence outside the Workhouse, in an age before the Welfare State, is a poignant reminder of just how little our forebears had. Ten people lived in this cottage. The beds crammed together, with more than one child to each. The single change of clothes hung up. The tiny kitchen and living area. No room (let alone light) to study for the chance to escape such poverty. No privacy. No running water and the outside toilet at the bottom of the garden next to the pig stye. And always just a broken leg or a lung infection away from losing any kind of income, and the shame of the Workhouse where families were split up and might never see each other again. And yet the cottage is warm and homely, as I’m sure it would have been, crammed to bursting with the family making the most of what they had. It was also the world that shocked the recruiters of soldiers for WW1 at the appalling state of health of so many of the inhabitants of one the richest nations in the world.

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The pig style and privy

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The bedroom

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The kitchen

I’ve been here several times before, but this time I found myself part of the exhibits. Well, I was a bit hard to miss with my extravagant hat and my ‘votes for women’ sash. The policeman on his bike was a bit uncertain meeting an unscheduled suffragette, and despite the heat peddled off rather fast, and possibly hanging on to his hat. But next to the pig stye of the squatter’s cottage I had a lively discussion on universal suffrage with a 21st century gentleman entering into the spirit of the thing. It wasn’t exactly an argument, as we both, in the end, agreed. Because, of course, all that window smashing was not where the the suffragettes began, but with the long, peaceful struggle, in the face of appalling brutality, for universal suffrage to give a voice to both men and women –  and eventually even to the inhabitants of the squatter’s cottage.

I shall be wearing my hat again – and with pride!

 

If you would like to learn more about the squatter’s cottage (which was inhabited until the 1970s), there is an excellent blog post here. And if you would like to know more about Blists Hill Victorian Town the website is here.

 

 

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The pantry – with a spot of poaching?

 

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A window into a lost world.

 STOP PRESS! The Kindle edition of ‘We That Are Left’ is currently only £1.99 – you can find the link HERE or click on the cover below.

 Buy Me

 

 

 

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So much has been written about The Great War, but it has only been recently that the full of the women who kept the country going at home, and worked to save lives both on the battlefields and behind enemy lines, has been rediscovered.

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If you are in Conwy on June 18th, I shall be at Hinton’s of Conwy from 7 – 9 talking about the women and civilians caught up in WW1, and the inspiration behind We That are Left. Entrance is free, and there will be refreshments, including cake inspired by the recipes of the time.

Places are limited, so please contact Jenny at ‘Hinton’s of Conwy’  Tel: 01492 582212  Email: jenny@hintsonsofconwy.co.uk

It will be great to see you!

 

 

And just because there are some things an author can never quite see enough of – here’s We That Are Left in its recent promotion, at number 4 in the Amazon Kindle store. I might just mention that, too … (still pinching myself)

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Thank you!

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Thank you to everyone who downloaded, posted on Facebook and tweeted and retweeted – and took We That are Left not only into the top 10 best sellers on the Amazon Kindle charts, but to the dizzy heights of number #4. Not to mention being #2 in Sagas, Family Sagas and Historical Romance.

One very proud, and slightly bemused, author here.

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WTAL 2 in Sagas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thank you to my brilliant publishers Honno Press, shouting encouragement from the Hay Festival whenever there was a spot of Internet reception. And thank you to the lovely supportive Novelistas of Novelistas Ink, and especially Louise Marley, who was cheering me on all day, and told me I’d make it to the top 100, then the top 10, and like in the true Oscar speech this is turning out to be, I didn’t believe a word of it! I’m honoured to be up there with real (not just for a day!) best selling Novelista Trisha Ashley.

I have a feeling the next Novelistas meeting is going to involve cake.

The WW1 poppy seed cake from We That are Left seems to be the order of the day!


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Old wellies never die – they become growers of garlic!

Today I’m blogging on the Novelistas Blog about how I’ve loved seeing the gardens in this year’s Chelsea Flower Show commemorating the First World War. You can read the post HERE, and you can find my favourite garden, the Potter’s Garden HERE.

As I learnt in my research, many grand gardens were abandoned during the war, as the men left. But many new gardens were created to grow much-needed food, by women, schoolchildren and conscientious objectors, along with men too old or too young, or otherwise unable, to fight on the battlefields.  As WW1 dragged on, and shortages increased, many discussions appeared in the newspapers of the time, like this one from 1916, expressing a very modern outrage at NIMBYism (Not in My Back Yard), but with a chilling twist, that brings home the reality of daily life for its first readers: ‘We are living in the 20th century in the time of the greatest war ever known …‘ You can read the original HERE.

 

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Derby Telegraph December 1916 Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED Image reproduced with kind permission of The British Newspaper Archive (www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk)

 

By 1918, the arguments had settled down into a dealing with the practicalities. Here,  in 1918, home grown food supplies are discussed alongside home rule for Ireland and the exchange of prisoners. You can read the original HERE

 

Liverpool Echo allotments 1918

Liverpool Echo May 1918 Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED Image reproduced with kind permission of The British Newspaper Archive (www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk)

Also in May 1918, the newspapers announced that Britain was almost self-sufficient in bread – alongside a report of a recruiting rally for the Women’s Land Army in Exeter – the delicate creatures of the pre-war world (excluding the Suffragettes, of course, who didn’t count as real women at all) have clearly gone forever! You can read the original HERE.

Land army 1918 Western Times

Western Times May 1918 Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED Image reproduced with kind permission of The British Newspaper Archive (www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk)

Where I get my delicious veg box each summer – this must have been a familiar sight in WW1, wherever you lived.

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Penrhyn Castle, with a view across Anglesey

It’s exactly a year since my three months as a full time writer, thanks to my wonderful bursary from Literature Wales, when I worked to complete We That Are Left, and learnt some invaluable lessons.

 

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Today I’m blogging on the Novelistas’ blog about my experience, and the unexpected lessons.

It was a life-changing time, and one for which I will always be grateful and will never forget!

You can read my post on the Novelistas Blog here

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In The Spotlight Guest Blog Author Juliet Greenwood….

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My interview with the lovely Roy Noble for ‘The Roy Noble Show’ on BBC Radio Wales is being aired on Mother’s Day, Sunday March 30th, between 10.30 am and 12.00 pm.

I’d only been interviewed on radio once before, so I was very nervous sitting in my little room in the BBC studios in Bangor, waiting for the voices from Cardiff to begin. But everyone was great, and Roy Noble put me instantly at my ease, so I have a feeling I chatted away like anything.

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I shall be talking about my research for ‘We That are Left’, including the brave women of WW1 who kept life going at home, and also worked on the front line, driving ambulances and picking up the dead and the dying between battles. Along with the inspiration of my own mother’s terrifying journey on the day WW2 broke out, when, as a teenager, she had to make her way on her own across France in a desperate bid to get home, including being stalked by a German submarine as her ferry crossed the Channel …..

You can find the programme by clicking on this link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03zq8yy

This is the WW1 poppy seed cake that I made for the staff of the BBC . Since I was in Bangor and it was vanishing fast by the time I left, I’m afraid I don’t think any of it quite made it down to the Cardiff studios! The recipe is the one I’ve posted earlier, and is also included amongst the recipes in the book.

 

WTAL at BBC Radio Wales

And this is me and my mum in more peaceful times, in our cottage in the hills in Snowdonia when I was a baby (my dad’s the one taking the photo, you can just see his shadow)Juliet and her mum at home in Snowdonia

Happy Mother’s Day!

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Today is the official publication day for We That are Left 

we that are left draft 6aug13 smI set out this morning for the usual dog walk, telling myself that this was just another day, and I had plenty of work to do, and there would be time to party later, and anyhow Amazon had jumped the gun and has been selling the paperback for nearly a week, so it was really no big deal.

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Well, that didn’t last very long.

It was a bitterly cold morning, with bright sunshine over Anglesey on one side, and dark clouds over the mountains on the other. We met up with dog walking friends and walked and chatted, and removed Harri the Labrador from An Incident with the remains of pizza in a bin, watched by next year’s prize rams-in-waiting in one field (the ones Phoebe tried to round up under the nose of the shepherd when he left the gate open while serving their hot breakfast, but thankfully came back while he could still remark that she was just being playful, gulp) and the first lambs having a mad race around in another.

P1010404At the point where I would usually go back to my computer, I found I just couldn’t. It might not be the first time I’ve launched a baby out into the world, but it’s still as exciting. Maybe even more so. And I’m still amazed that it has happened. I didn’t quite dare look inside my author’s copies until today, just in case it was a mistake and I hadn’t written it at all. But it’s okay. It’s there. It’s the same book that appeared in my manuscript, so it must be mine!

This morning  I wandered off in a wonderfully aimless way, popping in on friends for coffee and even a celebratory bit of cake.

So this wasn’t the industrious day that I had planned, or the deep and meaningful post I’d been intending to write. But it was a lovely day, all the same. Like most writers, I spend most of my time plotting or writing or social networking or heading off to the day job. Today I didn’t do any of that. I even sat down during daylight hours with a book that had nothing to do with research and just took pleasure in reading.

Now the sun is back, the frogs are sitting in my pond, and I’m throwing caution to the winds and heading off for a glass of something bubbly with a friend this evening.  The parties will come later. Today might have been a very sedate kind of publication day – but for me it was perfect!

Tomorrow I’ll be rolling up my sleeves for the excitement to begin …… :-)

Juliet With We That are Left

One proud author, who can’t stop smiling!

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Today I have great pleasure in welcoming fellow Honno author, Jo Verity, to the blog.

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Jo is an award-winning writer of short stories, novels and poetry. Her stories and articles have been  broadcast on Radio 4, and she has been a finalist in the Mslexia International Short Story Competition . In 2003, she was the winner of the Richard & Judy Short Story prize.

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A very warm welcome to the blog, Jo.  Can I start by asking how you began writing? Did you always want to be a writer?

I’ve always been a reader but, until 1999, it had never crossed my mind that I might be a writer.

That year, I’d planned to fly to Budapest to link up with Ruth, an American acquaintance – an eccentric Jewish zen-buddhist sculptor whom I’d first met in Prague when I was Inter-railing several years earlier – but, at the last moment, she cried off. At the time I was working as a medical graphic artist at the Dental School in Cardiff. I’d booked a week’s leave and I decided to use the week to get to grips with my new PC – a daunting task for a non-techie in those days. I needed a document to practice saving, copying etc. and my husband, bless him, suggested I ‘write something’. I was cheesed off at missing my trip, cross with Ruth for letting me down, and I got this off my chest by writing a story with her as my central character. By the end of that week I knew I wanted to write – but I never dreamed I would get ‘stuff’ published.

2. Do you feel there were advantages to not having your first novel published until you were older? Did you feel you benefitted from more life experience, or were you afraid you had started too late?

My first novel – ‘Everything in the Garden’ was published in 2005. I’d been writing for 6 years by then which is probably pretty average for novelists. The fact that I started writing late (I jo-verity-656477782was 54) seemed like no big deal. It certainly didn’t cross my mind that it was ‘too late’. And there were many advantages. My free time was pretty much my own to do with as I pleased. As a daughter, wife, mother and grandmother, I’d seen life from lots of angles. Having first-hand experience of the events that shape everyone’s life has enabled me to write (perceptively, I hope) about birth, death, marriage and parenthood. All that ‘ordinary stuff’ that becomes suddenly extraordinary when it affects us.

51E3FaUFqUL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX385_SY500_CR,0,0,385,500_SH20_OU02_I choose my protagonists carefully. It’s horses for courses. For instance I would be crazy to attempt to write a novel from a teenager’s point of view. On the other hand, if you want to know what it’s like being responsible for a teenager, you might like to read ‘Not Funny, Not Clever’.

There is one disadvantage to being an older writer. I don’t want to sound bitter here but I’ve come to the conclusion that some agents and publishers are age-ist. To them the author is a commodity. And it’s easier to market a glamorous young thing than a ‘more mature’ person.

3. Do you prefer writing novels or short stories? Or do you enjoy the different discipline each brings?

I love writing both. I recently finished writing a novel – ‘Left and Leaving’ – and before embarking on the next, I’m writing a short story as a sort of palate cleanser cum brain shaker-upper. It’s a mistake (for me, anyway) to try and do both at the same time because I need to stick so closelyto my characters – take my eye off them for a moment and they might wander off.

A novel is a long haul. You have to like your characters because you’re going to spend a couple of years with them. When I start writing a novel I begin with a character or two and a ‘what if’. (In ‘Bells’ it was ‘what if’ a reliable husband stumbles out of his banal routine and into the life he feels he should be living.) I never plot my novels. I let my characters dictate where the story goes and who we might meet on the way. I definitely have no idea how it will end. This keeps it fresh for me, but this organic way of writing means that my characters often lead me down blind alleys and I have to back-track. It makes writing slow. I’m delighted if I can produce five hundred new words in a day.

Short stories are totally different. You have pretty much to have the whole thing in your head before you start. In a few thousand words you must transport the reader to a different world; give them a glimpse of something that might illuminate their own life. There has to be a point to it. There’s no room for waffle. Every word must earn its place. It can be great fun, too, as it allows you to play around with structure and style.

4. And finally, I have to ask what it felt like to win the Richard and Judy short story competition in 2003, and do you feel it helped your writing career. And on a more frivolous note – did you get to meet them?

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 My writing career has been shaped by two pieces of what seemed like bad luck. Firstly, my cancelled holiday and secondly a bout of food poisoning. Were it not for the latter I wouldn’t have been off work lying under the duvet watching the Richard & Judy Show. It was the last call for entries to their short story competition. I happened to have recently finished a story which I thought was okay so I stuck it in the post and forgot about it. Three months later, I got a call saying that my story – ‘Rapid Eye Movement’ – had made it to the last fifteen and inviting me to the show when the winner would be announced. I was thrilled to get that far and had no idea that my story had been judged best (of 17,000!). When Judy read out my name, my only thought was that I was going to have to speak ON LIVE TV. That part is all a bit of a blur. I do remember afterwards, in the green Room, chatting to the judges – Martina Cole, Tony Parsons and Suzy Feay, the then literary editor of The Independent on Sunday. I was incredibly excited to know that three such respected members of the literary world rated something I’d written. I got to meet Richard and Judy, of course, who were EXACTLY as they come over on the TV. Judy would fit in fine with a crowd of women on a shopping weekend. And Richard was, how shall I put it, pretty sure of himself. 

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My prize was a trophy and publication of my story in the Independent.

The best thing about winning was confirmation that someone thought I could write. I naively assumed I would be inundated with offers from agents wanting to take me on. But after a few weeks I accepted that that wasn’t going to happen. Around then I received a letter from Honno Welsh Women’s Press. Had I, by any chance, written anything longer? (‘Short stories by unknown writers don’t sell.’) I had, that very week, finished the first draft of ‘Everything in the Garden’ which Honno published in 2005.

Thank  you for your insight, Jo, which was fascinating. And good luck with your latest novel, ‘Left and Leaving’

51yBOE8soUL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX385_SY500_CR,0,0,385,500_SH20_OU02_“Humane and subtle, a keenly observed exploration of the way we live now… I am amazed that Verity’s work is still such a secret. A great read
Stephen May, author of Life, Death, Prizes

The fifth novel from Richard and Judy Award winner Jo Verity, author of Sweets from Morocco a “pitch perfect evocation of childhood and sibling relationships
Marcel Theroux

Photographer Gil is on an extended grey gap-year, working in
the London hospital to which Vivian brings Irene for emergency
treatment; together they try to establish calm amid the chaos.
Irene is thrilled with her ‘guardian angels’, they less so with her ongoing interest in their lives.

Gil has a girlfriend, living in the same building as him, and a troublesome family back home. Thirty-something Vivian has a high- flying boyfriend, an irascible father and a demanding job. But they keep finding reasons to spend time together in the run up to Christmas. And still there is Irene, intent on filling the holes in her life…

Marooned in Tooting by a sudden snowstorm, Vivian and Gil are forced to spend the holiday confronting secrets and responsibilities they’ve been complacent about for too long.

Wales Book of the Month January 2014

Praise for Left and Leaving

her best yet. It is beautifully written… both rewarding and inspiring and I would recommend it unreservedly.
Ian Kirkpatrick

Humane and subtle, a keenly observed exploration of the way we live now… I am amazed that Verity’s work is still such a secret. A great read
Stephen May, author of Life, Death, Prizes

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Thank you to everyone who voted for Eden’s Garden in

The People’s Book Prize!

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I’m delighted to announce that Eden’s Garden made it to the finals! Hurrah!

I’m still pinching myself.

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I have no idea what happens next, but watch this space.

Congratulations to all the other finalists, and I look forward to meeting you.

Thank you, to all my wonderful readers. A glass of virtual Elderflower Champagne, straight from the Snowdonian hillsides, is winging its way towards you all.

Enjoy!

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:-) xx

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