Today’s interview is with Judith Barrow, fellow Honno author, whose new book with Honno ‘Changing Patterns’ is published today, and is the Welsh Books Council’s Book of the Month for June. More about ‘Changing Patterns’ in my next post, but first of all I wanted to ask Judith about her her experience of publishing her own book, and how it differed from being traditionally published.
Hello Judith, and welcome to my blog. Congratulations on the publication of ‘Changing Patterns’! You published your novel ‘Silent Trauma’ as an ebook yourself last November, so I’m sure the experience must be fresh in your mind, too. Could you tell us the differences between the two kinds of publishing? Were there parts that you enjoyed better in one experience than the other? Did you learn different things?
Where to start? The two are so disparate. With self-publishing, unless you have a beta reader, or employ an editor and proof-reader, you are totally on your own. It appears to come easily to many writers whom I’ve met through Facebook but I found it hard. I had a good reason for publishing Silent Trauma myself; traditional publishers were wary of taking on the manuscript as it’s what they call an ‘issue-led ‘story. It’s fiction built on fact; so it’s a novel. But it also includes true facts about a drug called Stilboestrol that was given to pregnant women between 1945-1972, ostensibly to prevent miscarriages. It didn’t, but it did cause internal damage to the unborn children (the facts of which are given in the form of the Introduction and Footnotes). This was why traditional publishers were cagey. So I chose to put it out as an eBook. And I was impatient; I’d been researching it for nine years altogether. I thought it was time.
I did have someone who formatted it for me for Amazon but I had to do a lot for myself and spending so much time on something I found so boring, when all I wanted to do was write, was frustrating. And it took ages for me to hit on the right cover for the book. To be honest writing the story was the only part I enjoyed – that and the satisfaction that I might help to bring publicity to all the women I’d met that were affected by this awful drug.
I doubt I’ll ever write another eBook.
On the plus side, through Create Space, I have printed copies that I can sell. And ten percent of all sales go to the charity: http://www.desaction.org
Being published with Honno meant I got a lot of feedback from the editor. And they found two or three covers for me to choose from. I’m very happy with the result. And, unlike with Silent Trauma, where again I’m on my own, I’ve had advice and help with the promotion of the books.
As you say, the issues in ‘Silent Trauma’ are clearly something you feel passionate about. What prompted you to write the novel?
I’d known for many years that a relative of mine suffered with chronic endometriosis, and that she had anatomical deformities.
Then I heard a Radio Four programme called ‘You and Yours’ which included an article on DES and I realised that a lot of the content applied to my relative. She asked if I could research it for her. Des Action UK was still extant then (they folded last year due to lack of funds and support. From an original twelve DES Daughters, only two stalwarts were left and, after so many futile years of appealing to successive Governments for help and recognition, they couldn’t carry on anymore).
I sent for their newsletter and went online. The more we read, the more we were convinced that my relative had been exposed in utero to Stilboestrol. The more research I carried out the more aware I was of the damages Stilboestrol ((Diethylstilboestrol) had caused. One of the difficulties is that unlike Thalidomide, where you see the damage the minute the baby was born, women who took DES had healthy babies. The problems were hidden until the teens and twenties, by which point they were forgotten about. Many mothers didn’t even remember the name of the drug they were prescribed.
I kept in touch with DES Action U.K and, after a year was asked to write an article for them appealing for DES Daughters and Mothers to come forward and tell their stories, in the hope that the group would get more members and that, if more voices were heard, then perhaps the British Government would listen. The stance of the Government is twofold; that those pregnant women who were prescribed the drug were given it so far in the past that to raise it as an issue now would only cause ”unnecessary concern” – and that it is a problem to be resolved only between the mothers and the drug companies.
Following the article, many women contacted me to tell their stories. Some were heart breaking; one DES Daughter had six miscarriages before giving up the struggle to conceive (she then, happily, adopted a lovely little girl). Another had too many health problems to list but amongst them she suffered from endometriosis, uterine fibroids, and paraovarian cysts. It was no wonder she was depressed. Her mother wrote many letters to the Government. Ultimately the reply came back – “Thank you for your letter, future correspondence will be noted and filed but not responded to…” The mother cried when she told me. I was so angry for her.
Many in the UK are totally unaware of this drug. The more I discovered the angrier I became. That these women are still fighting for recognition; acknowledgement from the Pharmaceutical companies after so long, is a disgrace.
As I’ve said, it took almost nine years to research, to contact many women from different countries; to piece together a story that was an enjoyable read, factually correct, but without being didactic.
I have kept in touch with many of the women. Many of them allowed me to use their quotes at the beginning of the chapters
On a personal level, I was brought up in a patriarchal household where what my father said was the rule. I know the feeling of helplessness, of the unfairness of not being listened to, of being ‘invisible’ if you like. I carried the frustration of having no voice into my adulthood. Luckily (or perhaps by wise choice) I married a man who believes in the equality of the sexes, who gave me a voice. We are still together after forty-five years.
Hurrah for sensible men! Thank you Judith. I had no idea about DES until ‘Silent Trauma’. Good luck with your ebook. I look forward to our conversation about ‘Changing Patterns’ next time.