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Writing my recent post for Novelistas Ink on using storytelling as inspiration led me to think again about the time I earned my living from running storytelling and puppet-making workshops.

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As with my more recent work as a writing tutor, I found I learnt as much from the sessions as the children and adults taking part. One of my greatest lessons from the puppet storytelling was spontaneity. I love the fact that I studied English at University, but it also made me excruciatingly analytical and feeling that my own writing needed to be of Deep Significance to Future Generations. Something I rather suspect was the last thing on Mr Dickens’ mind as he beavered away to hit the next deadline for his magazine serial and pay the bills.

Working with children – some of whom had been through some horrendous experiences – brought back the playfulness and the delight in creating that had overwhelmed me as a child and sent me writing endless stories (and one or two novels) in a completely unselfconscious manner. If in doubt, throw on more sequins!

The children's version!

Working with ancient myths, from King Arthur to Japanese folk tales, was also a reminder that even the simplest of tales can hold the deepest truths and touch the heart. It’s still there in ‘Shrek’ and ‘Despicable Me’ – simple tales that look like ‘children’s stories’ but still contain morality tales and poke fun at cultural assumptions. And children’s stories are never simple – the puppet plays revealed emotional conflicts beneath the surface that surprised us all. It didn’t have to be an extreme – one story was of two princesses working out where they were going to live when the kind and queen separated, as two sisters were absorbed for hours in this safe reflection of the intricacies of their own parents’ divorce.

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I suppose what I learnt most from the puppet storytelling was to let go and to have faith in my story. Simply write from the heart and the things that resonate deeply inside. It makes you vulnerable – like the two princesses, the deepest truths that you wouldn’t reveal in an ordinary conversation tend to slip out. But then we are all vulnerable. It’s our fears, our dreads, our strengths and our weaknesses – and yes, our vulnerability as human beings, both emotionally and physically – that storytelling is all about. And, looking back, it’s perhaps no surprise that my first novel for Honno Press, Eden’s Garden, was inspired by the ancient Welsh myth of Blodeuwedd, the woman made of flowers who didn’t remain the passive creature of sugar and spice she was supposed to be …

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You can read my post for the Novelistas HERE

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There are always two sides to a story. The arrival of Valentine’s Day reminded me of these love letters, sent between my parents when my mum was seventeen and my dad was in his early twenties.

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On the one hand they are wonderfully idealistic and romantic letters, sent between a couple who were to be together for over sixty years. They are also the story of two people born into utter poverty in the first decades of the twentieth century (my dad had to borrow his mother’s shoes for his first day at work at fourteen), who against all odds got themselves an education and made a good life for themselves, able to travel and do the things their own parents could not have dreamed of.

On the other hand, they are terrifying. Why? Look at the postmark. August 14th 1939.

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Within weeks of these letters, my dad would be watching the barrage balloons go up over London, and know that war had been declared. Far away near Paris, a teenage girl would be setting off on her own in a desperate attempt to get to Calais and a boat to safety, waitisc000e0c54ng for trains carrying troops to pass, watching the families goodbye for the last time, as a country imploded into the inhuman horrors of war that the older generation remembered so well.

My mother made it safely back, but only just. I still have the postcard hastily written in pencil reassuring everyone that she was safe after a nightmare journey and her ship being stalked by a German submarine as it crossed the Channel.

It’s often the smallest things that tell the largest stories. I love these letters, but I still get the chills when I look at that postmark, not only for my own family, but for all those, in all countries, who were both with, or far away, from their loved ones that day.

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Western Mail smallBeing interviewed recently by ‘The Western Mail’ about historical fiction on TV made me really think about the whole process of writing historical fiction. The article was based around the serialisation of Hilary Mantel’s ‘Wolf Hall’. I love the description in Dove Grey Reader’s recent post of Hilary Mantel quoting David Starkey’s description of Thomas Cromwell as Alistair Campbell with an axe, and saying that although Wolf Hall is not an attempt to discuss today’s politics it still resonates.

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The Squatters Cottage in Blists Hill open air museum in Ironbridge. More my ancestral home than Wolf Hall …..

 

One of the reasons I love historical fiction is that it explains how we got here. It’s what I always loved about history. Nothing ever appears in isolation and it’s fascinating to trace back to the lives and attitudes of parents and grandparents and see where things come from. It’s surely why the TV series ‘Who Do You Think You Are’ is so popular.

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The bedroom of the Squatters Cottage

In my own family, the women have always been independent and determined to make their own living. If you look back, you can see that this stems from my grandmother who, in the 1920s, was left destitute with three small daughters when her husband attempted to find his fortune in the goldmines of Australia (and, like so many others, failed spectacularly). Her determination that her daughters should all get to grammar school, despite being working class, and gain a profession so that they would never have to depend on a man for an income is something that has resonated down the generations.

Grandmother Pardoe’s story still resonates more widely as well. Because she had no opportunity for education or training, or the welfare state to fall back on, her story is more extreme and the issues crystalised – but it is still the dilemma of any mother who finds herself on her own with small children and the attempt to both care for and provide for them.

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I love this pantry!

 

And I suppose part of what I love about historical fiction is the distance and the greater extremes that focus on dilemmas that still exist. The women I’m currently writing about in the early twentieth century are very different from me, but they are still part of the ongoing struggle to find financial independence and respect as a human being who is not defined by her sex. On one level, it feels like a different world. But on the other, as a young woman in the 1970s, many of the attitudes towards women working and being out on their own – and even the expectation that being a wife and mother was what women were for and they shouldn’t worry their pretty little heads about anything else – were very much the same.

I loved the first part of ‘Wolf Hall’, and can’t wait to sit down to the next. And meanwhile, I’m returning with renewed enthusiasm to writing my story of women in the early twentieth century – and I think my alter ego, Heather Pardoe, named in honour of my indomitable grandmother, might have a story up her sleeve as well …

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How many stories have been told around this fireplace?

 

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Loving seeing a similar kitchen in my alter ego Heather Pardoe’s serial ‘Daughter of Conwy’

 

Juliet Greenwood:

A thought-provoking piece from fellow Honno author Alys Einion about a first novel being overtaken by world events – and storming up the kindle charts to #16

Originally posted on A Writing Life:

Taking it to the Next Level

Well, this has been a roller-coaster of a week. It started off with a January low, the post-festive energy dipping and the darkness and cold shrinking my world to the daily necessities. After an initial burst of enthusiasm, it felt as if the tasks ahead – including working on the next novel, finishing and writing up research – seemed more like insurmountable mountain peaks than simple life tasks. Add to this the continuing shock of the daily early morning start, and you end up with one struggling author.

Then came the bright star in the dark night of winter. This week, my novel Inshallah was a Kindle daily deal. I was not allowed to advertise it beforehand, so rose early on the 15th to start sharing it on social media. At work, I engaged in some shameless self-marketing by sending an email to…

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Top Reads 2014

Juliet Greenwood:

I love this!

Originally posted on Word by Word:

It’s tough to have to choose one, and all the books below have been excellent reads, but the one standout for me was Prayers for the Stolen, because I haven’t stopped thinking about it all year,  it’s always top of mind when anyone asks me about a good book I’ve read recently, just as I still recommend Caroline Smailes The Drowning of Arthur Braxton from 2013 and Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child from 2012, all outstanding reads.

The Stats

This year I read 57 books, basically one book a week, 79% of my reads were fiction, 16% non-fiction and 5% poetry. I managed to read books by authors from 18 different countries and this year 40% of what I read was translated from another language. 54% of the books I read were printed books and 46% I read on a kindle. 63% were written by a female author.

Outstanding Read…

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Christmas Blog Hop party

This Christmas party is one with a difference. It was held on Christmas Day 1914 for Belgium refugees living in England after their villages had been overrun by the invading German army.

Like many women of the time, Elen, the heroine of ‘We That are Left’ had watched the men march proudly away in the summer of 1914 to rescue gallant little Belgium. By Christmas 1914 it was beginning to sink in that this was not going to be so simple, and the world would never be the same again – not least for women like Elen, taking over work they had once been considered to frail to even attempt, and embarking on a journey of self-discovery from which there was no return….

So come and join the Belgium refugees, who have lost everything, being taken to the hearts of their hosts in an English moat house for a Christmas of joy and tears.

And if you want to join in their celebrations, there’s nothing better than the legendary WW1 Seed Cake from ‘We That are Left’ – delicious at all times of the year!
  You can find the recipe HERE

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And I’m giving away a signed copy of ‘We That are Left’. Leave a comment on this post to be entered into the draw – winners to be announced on Monday 23rd.

A Christmas Day reunion at the Moat House for Belgium Refugees – Christmas 1914

By a happy inspiration it was decided to extend an invitation to Belgians resident in the Borough who have passed through the Moat House Reigate, to partake of dinner at the Moat House on Christmas Day. A happy party numbering about 24 were enabled to respond to the invitation so kindly given and no efforts were spared to give them a right good time. Their happiness was contributed to in every way and everything possible was done to obliterate the sorrows of the past in the kindly hospitality lavishly dispensed. The Moat House was appropriately decorated for the occasion and the reunion proved of a most happy character. A Christmas dinner of good old English fare was served about 5 o’clock.

 

 

 

 

 

You can find a copy of ‘We That are Left’  published by Honno Press here:

UK     US

We that are left

 

Thank you for joining our party
now follow on to the next enjoyable entertainment…

 

1. Helen Hollick : You are Cordially Invited to a Ball

http://ofhistoryandkings.blogspot.co.uk/2014/12/you-are-invited-to-party_17.html?

2. Alison Morton : Saturnalia surprise – a winter party tale

http://alison-morton.com/2014/12/20/saturnalia-surprise-a-winter-party-tale-and-giveaway/

3. Andrea Zuvich : No Christmas For You! The Holiday Under Cromwell http://www.andreazuvich.com/history/no-christmas-for-you-the-holiday-under-cromwell/

4. Ann Swinfen : Christmas 1586 – Burbage’s Company of Players Celebrates http://annswinfen.com/2014/12/christmas-party/

5. Anna Belfrage : All I want for Christmas

https://annabelfrage.wordpress.com/2014/12/20/all-i-want-for-christmas-the-christmas-party-blog-hop/

6. Carol Cooper : How To Be A Party Animal http://pillsandpillowtalk.com/2014/12/19/how-to-be-a-party-animal/

7. Clare Flynn : A German American Christmas http://www.clareflynn.co.uk/blog/a-german-american-christmas

8. Debbie Young : Good Christmas Housekeeping http://authordebbieyoung.com/2014/12/20/christmas/

9. Derek Birks : The Lord of Misrule – A Medieval Christmas Recipe for Trouble https://dodgingarrows.wordpress.com/2014/12/19/christmas-blog-hop-the-lord-of-misrule-a-medieval-christmas-recipe-for-trouble/

10. Edward James : An Accidental Virgin and An Uninvited Guest https://busywords.wordpress.com/an-accidental-virgin/
and https://busywords.wordpress.com/the-birthday-party/

11. Fenella J. Miller : Christmas on the Home front http://fenellamiller.blogspot.co.uk/2014/12/christmas-on-home-front-and-giveaway.html

12. J. L. Oakley : Christmas Time in the Mountains 1907 https://historyweaver.wordpress.com/2014/12/19/christmas-time-in-the-mountains-1907/

13. Jude Knight : Christmas at Avery Hall in the Year of Our Lord 1804

http://judeknightauthor.com/2014/12/20/christmas-at-avery-hall-in-the-year-of-our-lord-1804/

14. Julian Stockwin: Join the Party http://julianstockwin.com/christmas-bloghop-join-the-party/

15. Lauren Johnson : Farewell Advent, Christmas is come” – Early Tudor Festive Feasts http://laurenjohnson1.wordpress.com/2014/12/19/farewell-advent-christmas-is-come-early-tudor-festive-feasting-christmas-party-blog-hop/

16. Lucienne Boyce : A Victory Celebration – http://francesca-scriblerus.blogspot.co.uk/2014/12/a-victory-celebration.html

17. Nancy Bilyeau : Christmas After the Priory http://nancybilyeau.blogspot.co.uk/2014/12/blog-hop-christmas-after-priory.html

18. Nicola Moxey : The Feast of the Epiphany, 1182 http://nickymoxey.com/2014/12/19/the-feast-of-the-epiphany-1182/

19. Peter St John: Dummy’s Birthday http://jennospot.blogspot.fr/2014/12/dummys-party.html

20. Regina Jeffers : Celebrating a Regency Christmas http://reginajeffers.wordpress.com/2014/12/19/celebrating-a-regency-era-christmas/

21. Richard Abbott : The Hunt – Feasting at Ugarit http://richardabbott.authorsxpress.com/2014/12/19/the-hunt-feasting-at-ugarit/

22. Saralee Etter : Christmas Pudding — Part of the Christmas Feast http://saraleeetter.wordpress.com/2014/12/19/christmas-pudding-part-of-the-christmas-feast/

23. Stephen Oram : Living in your dystopia: you need a festival of enhancement… http://stephenoram.wordpress.com/2014/12/19/living-in-your-dystopia-13-you-need-a-festival-of-enhancement/

24. Suzanne Adair: The British Legion Parties Down for Yule 1780 http://www.suzanneadair.net/2014/12/19/the-british-legion-parties-down-for-yule-1780/

25. Lindsay Downs http://lindsaydowns-romanceauthor.weebly.com/lindsay-downs-romance-author/o-christmas-tree-o-christmas-tree

Thank you for joining us

Happy Christmas! Nadolig Llawen! 

Juliet Greenwood:

This is Rosie Amber’s lovely review of ‘We That are Left’ in Fleetlife

Originally posted on Rosie Amber:

Here are a list of books I’ve had featured in my local magazines for the month of December 2014, with links to the magazine on-line versions and Goodreads links to all the books.

http://www.fleetlife.org.uk click on the online directory and once loaded, find my reviews on page 36.

Dec FL

The Immortal Greek by Monica La Porta

Britannia Part 1: The Wall by Richard Denham

We That Are Left by Juliet Greenwood

Romancing My Love by Melissa Foster

BackPacks and Bra Straps by Savannah Grace

Dec EHD

Books that made it in to my reviews in the Elvatham Heath Directory http://www.ehd.org.uk. Click on the online directory and once loaded go to page 13

How I Changed My Life In A Year by Shelley Wilson

Echoes In The Darkness by Jane Godman

Fairy Tale In New York by Nicky Wells

Midnight Sky by Jan Ruth

Craving by Sofia Grey

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