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Interview with Judith Barrow

Author of

The Memory,

Published by Honno Press

19/3/2020  

 

Today I’d like to welcome to the blog Judith Barrow, whose new novel ‘The Memory’ is published by Honno Press on Thursday March 19th 2020. I’ve loved Judith’s Howarth trilogy of historical family sagas, so I wanted to ask her about this new departure in her writing.


Many people have asked what was the inspiration for The Memory and my answer is always memories: memories of being a carer for two of my aunts who lived with us, memories of losing a friend in my childhood; a friend who, although at the time I didn’t realise, was a Downs’ Syndrome child. But why I actually started to write the story; a story so different from my other four books, I can’t remember. Because it was something I’d begun years ago and was based around the journal I’d kept during that decade of looking after my relatives.

But what did begin to evolve when I settled down to writing The Memory was the realisation of why I’d been so reluctant to delve too far into the manuscript. The isolation, the loneliness, that Irene Hargreaves, the protagonist, endures; despite being married to Sam, her loving husband, dragged up my own feelings of being alone so much as a child. That awareness of always being on the outside; looking in on other families, relationships and friendships had followed me; had hidden deep inside my subconscious. And, as a contented wife and mother, with steady enduring friendships, it unsettled me.

Many people (and, as a creative writing tutor I’m one) say that writing is cathartic. Working through Irene’s memories; especially that one memory that has ruled her life, made me acknowledge my own. And that’s fine. I always say to my students, if you don’t feel the emotions as you write, then neither will your reader. In The Memory I’m hoping the reader will sense the poignant, sad times with Irene, but will also rejoice with her in the happier memories.

 

Thank you Judith for your insights into The Memory. This is a wonderfully personal story – just the kind to curl up with!

The Memory is available from the following: 

Kindle UK HERE  

Kindle USA HERE

The paperback can still be ordered from Honno Press HERE

 

 

 

Judith Barrow, originally from Saddleworth, a group of villages on the edge of the Pennines, 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.

As well as a BA (Hons) in Literature with the Open University, a Diploma in Drama from Swansea University and she has had short stories, plays, reviews and articles, published throughout the British Isles and has won several poetry competitions.
Judith is a Creative Writing tutor for Pembrokeshire County Council and holds private one to one workshops on all genres.

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Copy edits are funny things.

 

After months of working on The Ferryman’s Daughter, writing and re-writing, editing, rewriting again and then tweaking, this is the final time I’ll see the book in manuscript form. It’s also the last chance to make any changes. Not major transformations, it’s already too late for that. Copy edits are about consistency, making sure the whole thing hangs together as a whole, with events taking place in the right year with everyone with their right ages all the way through. It’s more about the technical aspects of a story than any previous edits. It’s also where the joins from the different versions (when things like an age change can slip through the net) are smoothed out to make the final whole.

 

I always find it a strangely satisfying process. Frustrating at times. Even irritating, as you hunt down some little detail that then requires changing throughout the book and can drive you mad, as well as zapping all those repeated words you never spotted (may I never use ‘just’ again!). It’s where you have to stand back from the story as a writer and become a proofreader, complete with electronic tracking, with comments on the side to be addressed and corrections in the text. As someone who earns her living as a proofreader (although not for fiction), it’s quite surreal to see my own work this way – and crawl away into a corner at the recognition that I make the same mistakes! Why is it that the brain always adds that missing word, even though you’ve been over that paragraph a hundred times?

The copy edits are a final distancing from any emotional attachment to the story, which is vital to root out any tiny errors that might otherwise slip through, and also a goodbye to the characters and locations that have lived inside your head, 24/7, for the past year or so.

Up to this point, the book is fluid. Nothing is set in stone. It can change, and frequently does. But once you press ‘send’ on this particular email, with the corrected manuscript attached, that’s it. This is where the baby grows up, ready to go out into the world and take on its own life – starting with its appearance in ‘The Bookseller’ (super-proud moment).

The Ferryman's Daughter in The Bookseller

The Ferryman’s Daughter in The Bookseller

 

You could go on with copy edits forever. As with anything, there’s always some tiny mistake, some minor tweak that can be made. But at some point you have to call it a day. Personally, I always know when I can’t do any more. It’s when I loathe the book with a passion you would not believe. When I never want to see another word of it, or have to have anything to do with its dratted characters, ever again, and I seriously question why I thought this was a good idea in the first place.

This may sound disastrous, when there’s promotion just around the corner. But that’s the thing. It’s like childbirth. The moment the book comes back in proof form (okay, even before that), the agony is forgotten. It’s time to fall in love with the story, all over again.

 

Roll on the proofs!

 

Porthgwidden Beach, St Ives, where part of the story takes place

Porthgwidden Beach, St Ives, where part of the story takes place

 

 

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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

Seed cake

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! 

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My room 2November is Novel Writing Month and to celebrate NaNoWriMo, Webucator is asking writers for their perspectives on novel writing and to answer the following questions. I may not be trying to write a novel in a month, but I’m in hermit and no-housework mode as I wrestle with finishing one – so I’m delighted to part in answering Webucator’s questions.

 

What were your goals when you started writing?

When I wrote my first novel at the grand age of ten, it was to create my own version of the worlds I adored in my favourite books. The author I loved most was Rosemary Sutcliff and her vivid historical novels – so perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise that I eventually ended up as a historical novelist.

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The writer’s life …

My room with a view!

My ideal writing room in beautiful Portmeirion. One day …..

When I began to write seriously as an adult, around fifteen years ago, my goal was simply to be published. I knew that what I was actually producing was turgid, pretentious, and dreadful, but somewhere inside me that flame from my childhood passion still burned. As I could feel myself beginning to improve with experience, and even had a few short stories published in magazines, I found a new goal – the one I now know I should have had from the start of my adult writing: to work with an editor.

That chance finally came when Honno Press liked the book that was to become ‘Eden’s Garden’ and gave me the chance to work with the wonderful Janet Thomas. No promise of publication, just to work with an editor. That year working with Janet was the biggest rollercoaster ride of my life. I always say it was like having a personal trainer: I was pushed and prodded and inspired to be more ambitious and explore more depths in my writing than I could ever have believed, and to be more rigorous in my approach. It was the year that changed both my life, and my writing. (And yes, there were times when I wanted to crawl into a corner and for it all to go away – but who said writing was easy?)

You can find out more about my experience on working with an editor HERE and about throwing the best bits away HERE

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The proud moment I first held ‘Eden’s Garden’ in my hands.

 

What are your goals now?

 To earn my living from my writing! It’s begun, but it’s a long, slow process. My two books for Honno Press ‘Eden’s Garden’ and ‘We That are Left’ both reached the top 5 in the Amazon Kindle store earlier this year, so I’m moving in the right direction, but I still earn very little from my writing. I also write serials as ‘Heather Pardoe’ for The People’s Friend magazine, which helps. I find the real problem is time: all writing is speculative unless you have a contract for several books or a serial has been commissioned. Bills arrive come what may! But I’m plodding on. My three month Literature Wales Writer’s Bursary to finish ‘We That are Left’ gave me a small taste. And when I think that only a few years ago just being published seemed an impossible goal and the word ‘bestselling novelist’ was a daydream, to even have this goal feels a miracle!

National Museums of Wales Book of the Month small

Becoming book of the month with ‘We That are Left’

 

 

What pays the bills now?

Some comes from my novels and serials and I have a small amount of PLR (Public Lending Right – the writer’s best friend) each year. But the majority still comes from an admin day job I do for one and a bit days a week, and I also work as a freelance academic proofreader, mainly for students with English as their second language. It’s fascinating – and good training for proofreading my own work.

 

Assuming writing doesn’t pay the bills, what motivates you to keep writing?

I’d die if I didn’t. Like most writers, I sometimes wonder why exactly I put myself through the agony – but I know I couldn’t give it up if I tried. I don’t write to be rich (although that would be nice) but earn enough to be able to write. And I don’t care how long it takes …..

WWI Seed Cake

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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.

 

Derby telegraph allotments 1916

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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we that are left draft 6aug13 smWhen I began creating a book trailer for ‘We That Are Left’, just after Christmas, I thought it was going to be relatively easy.

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In Glynllifon’s grounds

After all, I have iMovie (which makes creating a video as easy as falling off a log, which is my kind of easy), and I cut my teeth on my trailer for my first book for Honno Press, Eden’s Garden. I’d done all the hair pulling out and cursing and wishing computer programs (yes, even you, my beloved iMovie) had better instructions. Well, actually, INSTRUCTIONS, might be a good start. Hey ho.

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In front of Glynllifon house

Luckily, I remembered most of the technical stuff. Even the Ken Burns effect, which still leaves me amazed. And slightly befuddled, but luckily it seems to just work, whatever you do to it.

This time, it was what to put in the trailer that had me scratching my head. Eden’s Garden is about gardens, and I love gardens. I had photographs I’d taken of the main garden inspiration. This time it was about The Great War.

I’d originally been planning to use stock photographs from the war, but I could find very few, and the ones I liked I discovered, with further investigation, I could not use. Or I wasn’t quite sure if I could use, and so felt nervous about using them, if you see what I mean. Particularly in the year of the centenary, the First World War feels a very public event.

So in the end I returned to my own photographs to create the impression I was looking for, with a bit of tweaking of colours, a few effects and a liberal use of sepia to give an aged look. A visit to Glynllifon gave me many of the images, as did my own beautiful washstand that I use as a kitchen unit. My first attempt was lacking in faces and people. I had a look again for photographs of the time, but ended up just as confused by the permissions.

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The original photograph

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With a bit of tweaking (thank goodness for the sepia effect!)

Then I remembered a magical walk in the deep snow last year with a friend who was wearing a beautiful old coat (we hadn’t planned to go that far, but had been entranced by the falling snow and the Narnia effect). And there it was.

I was very lucky to have original music from Silvarco’, a Welsh musician who writes progressive and experimental folk music.  I’d fallen in love with ‘Reverence’ the moment I heard it. Having original music is a real pleasure and a privilege. You can download the track of  ‘Reverence’ here.

In the end, I loved creating the trailer, just as much as I had done the one for Eden’s Garden. And okay, if I had the chance to have a professional trailer like the one for Kate Morton’s ‘The Distant Hours’ , which is my favourite of all time, I’d jump at it. But then I might not have had half so much fun and or the sense of satisfaction when finally (after much tweaking and more than a little cursing) my book trailer for ‘We That are Left’ was born.

You can watch the video by clicking on the picture below from the magical walk in the snow with my friend Jan, who helped me find so many of the recipes for ‘We That Are Left’, as well as playing a role in the trailer.  (Beware an author with a camera …..) 🙂

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Enjoy!

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Bodnant Pool 2013

On May 1st I shall be starting my three month Writers’ Bursary from Literature Wales. Three months in which I will be paid to write. I still have to pinch myself.

Now, I love what I do in my day job. I’ve written before on this blog about  ways my work can inspire and add to my writing. In fact, it was reading an unpublished diary of a young doctor from a local village, as part of  an oral history project on the First World War, that was one of the inspirations for my current book.

It wasn’t the work of a poet, or even meant to be read outside the family. It didn’t even describe the horrors of the trenches. The immediacy came from the entries made as a young man who had never been outside his locality, let alone Wales, setting off to England for his training, and then over to France. There’s the excitement of new places and new experiences, of people cheering them on and of crossing the English Channel for the first time. Then on a summer’s day, walking through French fields, the grenades begin to fall. As part of the project we were working on, we recorded the diary for the Talking Newspaper for the Blind. The descriptions are factual, restrained. There is no attempt to create a picture or create an atmosphere, or even to comment on the horror. By the time my colleague had finished reading, we were in tears.

I don’t want to shut myself in an ivory tower (or ‘crog’ loft, in my case), but I am so looking forward to a few months of not having to fight myself for the time – and most importantly of all –  the headspace in which to write.

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The Bursary is such an extraordinary privilege, I’ve been busily planning everything I’m going to get done in the time. Sitting by my pond last night, watching the newts and the tadpoles and things that looked like wood lice having a right old tussle, I remembered that there was one thing I’d forgotten in all that scheduling. A few things, actually. Meeting up with friends.Tending my poor struggling veg patch (a brain needs spinach, and a heart does nicely on garlic, after all). Getting out and absorbing all the life going on around me. And sitting in any sun going to read. For pleasure. For being so totally absorbed in a story I don’t want it to end. That thing called life. The bit I so often forget about, or feel guilty about doing, or simply put off until another day – and then wonder if my inspiration and enthusiasm flags.

So here’s to life and fiction and inspiration and everything I am going to learn over the next three months.

Let it begin!

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After all the excitement and whirlwind of promotion of Eden’s Garden, I’m now deep in the next book. (Hurrah!)

It was strange at first, having wrestled so long for Eden’s Garden to see the light of day to go back to the beginning again, with a first draft and new characters. Oh and that familiar lurking feeling that perhaps that first book was a fluke. And why is this one so dire, and will I ever be able to get there again? To which the answer is: First draft syndrome. First drafts are always rubbish. That’s what they are there for. The trouble is, by the time you get to the refined end of a book, you’ve totally forgotten (or is that blanked out?) just what garbage you started with.

So now I’ve settled down a bit and my characters have taken on lives of their own  – and getting themselves into all sorts of trouble I’m far too nice to have even considered for them – I’m trying to abandon the computer once a week to do a bit of practical research. Oh, okay: visit lovely gardens. Since gardens seem to appear in everything I write as me, and as my alter ego Heather Pardoe, it’s no secret that a garden appears in the next book. How or why is a secret. But you may be able to guess as my forays into the garden world progresses.

Last week, I took off with a friend to Glynllifon, a magnificent Regency Mansion surrounded by a stunningly beautiful 700 estate. The grounds are now a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest because of the richness of the wildlife and the rare and endangered species it contains. Walking through is a slightly surreal experience. The park has been carefully crafted as a wilderness playground. There are streams and rustic bridges and romantic ruins that clearly weren’t ever anything but a romantic ruin. There’s even a cave that looks suspiciously hand-crafted, and a pretty little hermitage that would send any self-respecting hermit heading for the hills.

The slate amphitheatre

Glynllifon is pretty and charming, but slightly odd, given that the real wilderness of Snowdonia is a few hours away by horse-drawn carriage. It’s wilderness tamed, with the real wilderness beating at the door.

I loved every minute of it, and I shall certainly be going back when the autumn colours are at their best, but the most poignant moment came at the end. We were looking around the exhibition showing some of the workers who kept the estate going, and there amongst the photographs was this one.

They are the agricultural workers, but they could also be the gardeners, the servants, the men from the villages nearby. It’s a glimpse into a lost world. A truly lost world, and a lost generation. Why? Because the date on the photograph is 1913.

It’s harvest time, so it’s summer. Within a year, how many of those men and boys would be facing horrors beyond imagination in the trenches of the First Word War? And the little girls facing the struggle, deprivation and uncertainty of life at home, with the fear of invasion and the telegram appearing at the door.

In the Work in Progress, some of my characters have just headed off to the front in The Great War. Young men and women, full of idealism and a sense of adventure, off to see the world and escape the path their rigid society had laid out for them. And, like the men in the photograph in Glynllifon, with no possible way of knowing what lies in front of them.

The peace and beauty and the safely-contained world of Glynllifon is one that will haunt me for a long time. And I hope that at least some of those young men made it back, however scarred, to pick up their lives again, and forge a new world.

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GUEST BLOG POST FROM CAROL HEDGES, AUTHOR OF ‘JIGSAW PIECES’

Today, I’m pleased and delighted to welcome Carol Hedges as my Guest Blogger. Carol is the  the successful author of 11 books for children and YA, and her  writing has received much critical acclaim. Her YA book ‘Jigsaw Pieces’ has recently been released as an e-book. Carol has a BA (Hons) in English and Archaeology. She has worked variously as a librarian, a children’s clothes designer, a dinner lady, a classroom assistant at a special needs school, and a teacher. She has one grown up daughter, a husband, a pink 2CV, (Pink 2CV envy here!) 2 cats and a lot of fish.

Over to you, Carol!

First, I’d like to thank Juliet for her generosity in allowing me loose on her blog. I promise I will be on my best behaviour, and not spill cake crumbs everywhere. Well, I’ll try.

I write YA fiction, probably because I work with teenagers. When you spend all day in the company of 16 -18 year olds, they kind of permeate your brain, and then sift into your writing. I love them dearly – funny, heartbreakingly honest, they never fail to surprise.

 

Jigsaw Pieces, my first ebook, is so chockfull of personal stuff that I had to put the line “Not all the characters and events in this story are fictitious” at the beginning. The inner story tells of the suicide of a 16 year old boy, and the determination of two fellow students to unravel the events that lead up to his death.

I was on my first teaching practice when a similar event took place. I remember clearly what it was like as the news spread round the school. When you read the first few chapters of Jigsaw Pieces, you are experiencing exactly what I felt and saw. Maybe you think this is not a subject for a novel, but I have had a lot of feedback indicating that sadly, it happens far more than people realise.

The story is narrated by 18 year old Annie, a feisty, trenchant observer of life. She is a mash-up of numerous teenage girls I taught over the years. I decided to give her a Norwegian background as it resonates with the current interest in ‘Scandi-crime’, and accentuates her outsider status amongst her contemporaries – something I experienced myself, growing up in the 1950’s and 60’s as the daughter of German Jewish parents.

Finally, one of my favourite teaching topics is the First World War poets. I never fail to be moved by the tragic waste of young lives. The opportunity to turn myself into a First World War poet was therefore irresistible – and so I became (spoiler alert) Noel Clarke, the haunted young poet who dies, age 19. I wrote all the poems too.

I uploaded Jigsaw Pieces at the beginning of August. It has some 5 star reviews, and I am thoroughly enjoying meeting loads of lovely people, like you, as I go round blogging about it.

JIGSAW PIECES:

‘He had been part of my everyday life. I hadn’t liked him much, nobody had liked him much, but he’d been there. Now, I’d never see him again.’

Annie Skjaerstad had been searching for her identity since being uprooted from her native country of Norway. With a spiky personality winning her no friends, and family members suddenly torn out of her life, she is left seeking comfort from a growing intrigue into the stories of fallen war heroes.

But one day, a boy from her school unexpectedly commits suicide, changing things forever. Confused by the tragic tale of someone she knew, Annie soon finds herself conducting her own investigation into his death. 

What she uncovers will bring her to a dark and dangerous place, as suddenly – her own life is put at risk.

A tense, coming of age crime thriller by the author of ‘Dead Man Talking’.

You can download a copy of ‘Jigsaw Pieces’  here

You  follow Carol at her blog: http://carolhedges.blogspot.co.uk/

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http://www.Facebook Carol Hedges;

www. Shewrites.com (American).

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Recently, I’ve been getting down seriously to the next book.

Having spent months going through the refining process for Eden’s Garden, it’s quite a strange experience going back to first draft and getting to know a new set of characters. Of course, most of them have by now decided to go off and be somebody else entirely, leaving the author stumbling along after them, desperately attempting to maintain some semblance of discipline. On the other hand, the thrill of excitement as a new story (fingers crossed) starts to take shape is the best buzz out there.

Okay, I’m going to have to admit this: I can now spot when I’m not quite sure what I’m doing. My writing goes into long-winded, pompous mode. Kind of like Dickens, but without the Dickens, if you see what I mean. (Deep blush)

So thank goodness for the day job. Filling in funding application forms certainly helps to focus the mind on convincing an audience without deviation, repetition, or general waffle, bombast or flummery. But over the past few months, I’ve also had the privilege of helping with some of the oral history projects I’ve been raising money for.

I’d forgotten quite how much I love helping with the oral history. And how much it can teach you about writing from the heart. This time, we were given the original diary of a local man who had fought in the First World War. This was something not written for publication, nor has it even been published. I think the time it really struck us, was when we recorded it as part of a contribution for the Talking Newspaper for the Blind.

Workman’s books from New York Cottages Museum in Penmaenmawr

The diary was written as it happened. So the first part is a young lad leaving home, going on a big adventure, with the details of the train journey and the new experiences. Then the training, and finally the journey to France, where nothing happens much at first. Then grenades begin to fall. Then come the shells and the snipers. This isn’t a famous battle, just a skirmish on the outskirts. There are no great details, but you can see so much behind the restrained words.

It’s one of the most powerful things I’ve ever read, because it is real. Because it is authentic. It’s not someone being literary or clever, but a human being trying to make sense of being thrust into the truly unimaginable. The language is simple, but to me it still has the same power held in poets like Wilfred Owen. Words stripped down, so that the truth and the humanity comes shining through, alongside the horror.

A domestic cooking range from New York Cottages Museum, Penmaenmawr

And yes, that is what I love about Maeve Binchy’s novels. Not that she is writing about war. But, like Jane Austen, her subject is the human heart, in all its strength, its vanity, and its frailty. And those, in the end, are both the journey to war, and to the rage against war’s senseless cruelty: both the worst and the best at the heart of all of us.

So this morning I am returning to the Work in Progress determined to ditch the flummery (or  B***S**, whichever you prefer) and simply write from the heart.

Which, in the enviable comfort of not being in the middle of a war – surrounded by horrors and in fear for your life – is strangely enough one of the hardest things to do. Well, for me, anyhow.

Deep breath, sleeves up, my First World War soldier and a copy of ‘The Copper Beech’ at my side – here goes!

To be continued …. (I hope 🙂 )

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