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Squatters cottage 5 small

The range at the Squatters’ Cottage in Blists Hill

I loved the BBC’s ‘The Victorian Slum’. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a reality TV series in which a group of twenty-first century families and individuals were sent to live the lives of the inhabitants of a Victorian Slum, in the conditions of the 1860s to 1900.

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The Squatters’ Cottage

I was initially interested because of my research for ‘The White Camellia’, which included the campaigns to improve the lives and working conditions for women, which was part of the suffrage movement’s struggle for women to have the vote. I’ve also been researching the Victorian period for the book I’m working on at the moment. It’s all very well reading about conditions, and the struggle to pay the rent each week in a system stacked against you however skilled and hardworking you might be, but watching the struggles – and the anger – of people you get to know as they live the reality week by week really brought home what it must have been like.

A domestic cooking range from New York Cottages Museum, Penmaenmawr

A domestic cooking range from New York Cottages Museum, Penmaenmawr

 

It also reminded me of the inspiration for my own fascination with history, which came from stories of my Victorian great-grandmother, forced, like so many, from a rural life to the industrial heartland of Lye in the Black Country near Birmingham, and who rocked the cradle with her foot while hammering nails to keep the family afloat. This wasn’t a side of history I’d heard from anywhere else, and brought home vividly the realities of women’s complex lives and complex roles at the centre of a family’s survival. Ever since, I’ve loved visiting living history museums like Blists Hill in Ironbridge, and the Black Country Living Museum in Dudley, where I stepped inside a nail-making workshop just like my great-grandmother’s, where women supplemented the family income, being paid half the rate men were paid for making exactly the same nails (unless you could say they were made by the men, of course). You can see the nail shop HERE

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The pantry of the Squatters’ Cottage

Like the inhabitants of the Victorian Slum, this wasn’t the unfair practice stacked against my ancestors, paid the lowest possible piece-rates, so that however skilled, and however hard you worked, you could never make any more than the rent and, if you were lucky, enough to eat. Even in the 1920s, when my father started work at 14, he wore his mother’s shoes, as there were no others.

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The bedroom of the Squatters’ Cottage

Like many such families, mine survived against the odds, and with the help of campaigners, libraries and adult education (not to mention the protection of the welfare state), broke free of the tyranny of the weekly rent. To be honest, I spent much of ‘The Victorian Slum’ in tears, at the unfairness and the total lack of understanding by many of the prosperous, made rich by perpetuating grinding poverty in one of the richest countries in the world. It also gave me added respect for social campaigners like Josephine Butler, who gathered the facts to prove that the true price of cheap hats was paid by the milliners who, even on a 70 hour week, could not make enough to survive, and were forced into part-time prostitution to keep a roof over their heads.

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Blists Hill

Most of all, ‘The Victorian Slum’ brought home the strength of family and community to overcome the odds. It reminded me of my mother’s family, the nail-making side, centred around my aunts, and the slightly eccentric great-aunts who lived in the house with the nail-making workshop at the bottom of the garden until they died.

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The garden of the Squatters’ Cottage

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The pigsty

Many of my memories as a child are sitting in a garden while the menfolk tinkered with their cars and their vegetable patches, and the women ‘gossiped’. What I only began to understand later was that this exchange of conversation between a group of closely-knit women was, as it had always been, the invisible and unheralded glue that held the centre together. And they were making sure that we, the next generation (even the girls), were part of the small percentage at that time who got to university, so we would never dread the rentman’s knock on the door.

 

The Victorian Slum can feel like ancient history, but it’s not. The grandmother who held me in her arms was the baby rocked in that cradle as her mother hammered nails to survive. That close.

I’m not sure I’d have had the stamina to live through the conditions of ‘The Victorian Slum’, and I have the greatest admiration for those who did. And I shall be keeping the DVD at hand in case I ever feel my life is uncertain or hard as a reminder – along with the Victorian nail found when my cottage was being repaired, and which still gives me goose-bumps.

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I love Bodnant Garden, near Llandudno on the North Wales coast. It’s the kind of place you can spend all day, and never grow tired of revisiting. There are winding paths through different plantings, formal gardens, wilderness gardens, and a steep dell with a lake and a river below.

 

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Living so near, it’s easy to not make a special time to visit, and so to miss the changing of the seasons. I’d been meaning to go with a couple of friends for weeks, but you know how it is, with three busy jobs, busy studying and busy lives. Then, this Monday we all happened to be able tobodnant-trees-5-small take the day off. So rain or shine, this was it.

At it turned out, we were incredibly lucky. The day dawned with perfect autumn sunshine, and stayed that way all day, while the late summer flowers were still going strong, and the trees were at their most spectacular. Because it was so unexpected, it was a truly magical day. We wandered around for hours, exploring this way and that, chatting and catching up with news and gossip, and pausing to talk to complete strangers who, like us, were marvelling at the vivid red of the leaves, and bodnant-trees-2-smallthe beauty brought out by the sunshine. And of course I couldn’t resist the opportunity of having a few author pictures taken in such lovely light and glorious surroundings.

 

It was only looking back at the photos afterwards that I realised just how relaxed we’d been, and how great it had been to take time out from our lives and have fun. I didn’t get a thing done on the next book that evening, the intentions didn’t last beyond a cup of tea and falling asleep in the chair, much to Phoebe the collie’s disgust (related to lack of squeaky duck action, rather bodnant-4than her human finishing the next chapter). But then the next morning, that particularly knotty bit in the middle of the soggy middle of the next book (ha!) that I’d been bashing away at for days, de-knotted itself without fuss and neatly fell into place as if it had always been there. Which just goes to show.

bodnant-2-smallI shall definitely be making my way back to Bodnant before long to enjoy another changing of the seasons, to return refreshed and invigorated, and ready to go. Here’s to precious autumn days, good friends, and the deep creative power of sharing the beauty of our world, and pure, unadulterated, fun.

 

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Proud to be on Jill’s blog – and in VERY illustrious (and tempting) company. Off to the nearing bookshop, and I may be some time ….😉

Jill's Book Cafe

Review Copies

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The White Camellia by Juliet Greenwood. Paperback kindly provided by the author. 

1909. Cornwall. Her family ruined, Bea is forced to leave Tressillion House, and self-made business woman Sybil moves in. Owning Tressillion is Sybil’s triumph – but now what? As the house casts its spell over her, as she starts to make friends in the village despite herself, will Sybil be able to build a new life here, or will hatred always rule her heart?

Bea finds herself in London, responsible for her mother and sister’s security. Her only hope is to marry Jonathon, the new heir. Desperate for options, she stumbles into the White Camellia tearoom, a gathering place for the growing suffrage movement. For Bea it’s life-changing, can she pursue her ambition if it will heap further scandal on the family? Will she risk arrest or worse?

When those very dangers send Bea and her…

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Loving this blog post and review from Carol Lovekin!

Making it up as I go along

Island Life, Word Birds & Process #23

I rarely add book reviews here. I don’t have many followers & this is where I tend to rattle on about my own writing. If I can’t support a sister Honno author here however, where can I? Well, yes, on Amazon & I’ve done that – we all know who’s in charge of promotion & stats!

*Curtsies to Amazon*

Juliet Greenwood writes historical mystery stories with a twist. She lives in north Wales, has a penchant for Cornwall (as do I) old houses (me too) & a story with a secret (tick.) She is unswervingly kind to other authors. She also has great taste in frocks.

img-20160917-00366The White Camellia, is published by Honno, the Welsh Women’s Press. It’s fabulous.

My review

This is Juliet Greenwood’s third novel and in my view, her best to date. Her writing has matured, settings are beautifully…

View original post 371 more words

Love this review of ‘The White Camellia’ from Judith Barrow!

Judith Barrow

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                                                                     Genre: Historical Fiction

                                                            Release Date: 15th September 2016

                                                      Publisher: Honno, the Welsh Women’s Press

  1. Cornwall. Her family ruined, Bea is forced to leave Tressillion House, and self-made business woman Sybil moves in. Owning Tressillion is Sybil’s triumph — but now what? As the house casts its…

View original post 1,336 more words

Genre: Historical Fiction              …

Source: | Judith Barrow on WordPress.com


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This weekend I went to beautiful Tenby in Pembrokeshire, South Wales, for the annual Tenby Book Fair, organised by fellow Honno authors Judith Barrow and Thorne Moore. It was very exciting for me this year, as the Fair came just days after the publication of my latest historical novel for Honno Press, The White Camellia. It was definitely a case of one proud author holding her book and not letting it out of her sight!

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I love Tenby, with its wide sweep of coastline and the bright colours of its houses. This is the second dsc_0176time I’ve been, so I’d got my bearings and was able to explore a little more of the winding streets and the sheltered harbour. Tenby is small, bustling and friendly, held inside ancient town walls and overlooking Cardigan Bay, with Caldey Island on one side, and the distant view of the Gower and Worm’s Head on the other. Cornwall and Pembrokeshire share a similar wild coastline and sheltered coves – there are even palm trees on the sea front at Tenby, thanks to the Gulf Stream bringing in a mild climate this far north.dsc_0109

The Book Fair itself is part of Tenby Arts Festival, and was a real buzz. Not only was the hall packed with authors of all different kinds of genres, but quite a few were from my own publishers, Honno Press, and authors I’d met last time. And of course all those lovely friends on Facebook dsc_0098and Twitter who it always great to meet up with in real life – or meet for the first time, finally putting the real person to the photos online.

 

 

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My lovely friend and fellow Honno author Carol Lovekin and her breathtaking debut novel ‘Ghostbird’

The day itself went by with in a blur. I always love meeting readers and chatting about books and stories and the enthusiasm for reading that we all share. It was also fun to have a get together with fellow authors and catch up with news, and the inevitable struggle with the this book or the next. I’m always glad to be reminded it isn’t just me who struggles with the logistics of writing and housework adsc_0178nd not feeling guilty that the housework never wins! It was also good to have a relaxed meal together. Writing is such a solitary business, it’s always a buzz to be sociable, and simply have fun.

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I had a great time at the Tenby Book Fair, and come home tired, but also feeling refreshed, replenished and ready to go. So thank you everyone at Tenby Book Fair – and see you next year!

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