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Posts Tagged ‘Historical Fiction’

Today I’d like to welcome Francesca Capaldi, whose debut, ‘Heartbreak in the Valleys’, has just been released by Hera Books. I wanted to ask Francesca about her inspiration and her writing process – and about writing a saga set in Wales.

 

Can you tell us a little of your writing journey and how you came to write ‘Heartbreak in the Valleys’. Did you always want to set a book in Wales?

I’d wanted to be a writer since I was a child, but didn’t send anything for publication until I joined an adult education class. I started with short story sales. After a while I started writing various novels as well, young adult and contemporary romance, none of which were picked up, although three pocket novels were bought by DC Thomson. One of the contemporary novels was set in Ceredigion, but one agent told me that nobody wanted novels set in Wales! Being half Welsh, it made me more determined that there should be novels set in Wales!

Did you find writing for magazines helping in writing your novels?

On the whole, yes. Writing magazine stories helps you to write concisely and I do think it’s easier to start with them and move to novels rather than do it the other way round. It’s also less daunting to start with short stories. Getting a few accepted for publication gave me the courage to try something longer.

I’m interested to see the story of Idris and Anwen was inspired by your own family history. What drew you to explore your history, and do you feel there is anything we can learn from the time of WW1, particularly in the light of the current global pandemic?

I’ve long been interested in my family history, especially with my parents coming from very different backgrounds (my father was Italian). On the Ancestry site, I discovered my great grandfather’s World War 1 military record and the fact he was medically discharged eight months after he enlisted. The novel started life as a short story, but having had a passion for social history since my degree, I was soon researching the records for other information. And so was born Heartbreak in the Valleys.

I have seen quite a few parallels between the current pandemic and World War 1. Food shortages is an obvious one. People have taken more to growing their own now, as they did then with the allotment schemes. In the early stages of this pandemic, nobody knew how long food shortages would last and how severe the pandemic would get, which is much like the war. The Spanish ‘flu pandemic that started in 1918, has already been used as a parallel in the media, though there were many diseases causing widespread mortality before that. These included tuberculosis (‘consumption’), which three women in my family died of and the diphtheria epidemic of 1914. As awful as this pandemic is, it gives us an idea of what people of the past lived with constantly.

I loved the portrayal of the village community, and particularly all the characters. Did you base the village and its characters on specific places and people you know?

The village, which I call Dorcalon (literally, ‘Heartbreak’), is based almost entirely on Abertysswg in the Rhymney Valley. It’s where my mother and her mother were born, and where my great grandparents lived for thirty-odd years. I’ve taken a few liberties with it, which is why I didn’t want to give it its real name. Although the seed for the story was my great grandfather Hugh’s medical discharge, Idris is not based on him at all. The only real person who appears in the story (apart from mentions of historical people like Lloyd George) is a minor character called Mary Jones. She was my great gran, on the other side of the family from Hugh. Everyone else is a product of my overactive imagination!

How did you go about getting the historical details right, and creating the atmosphere of the world of WW1?

Lots of research and reading. I have several social history books, including accounts written by people living at the time. I trawled the 1911 census for an idea of the makeup of households and family size, job descriptions and places of origin. I read through contemporary local papers for types of social activities, shops, court proceedings and so on. I found several websites about the local pals’ battalion. I also looked at the historical OS maps.

It was interesting seeing the mixing of the different classes as the community pulled together to survive the shortages. Was there any particular story, or part of your research that inspired this part of the novel?

I think it was reading something of the Suffragettes that helped form the character of Elizabeth, the manager’s daughter, who I saw immediately as an enlightened woman of her times. The Suffragettes put their activities to one side during this time to help the war effort and I realised that Elizabeth would be the kind of woman who’d want to make a difference, hence her idea for the allotments.

Can you say what are you writing now?

I haven’t long finished another Valleys book, which is due out in the Autumn. I’m taking the opportunity to create a couple of short stories for magazines – I’ve missed writing them!

Thank you for joining me on the blog, Francesca – and I’m looking forward to the next ‘Valleys’ story already! 

 

Heartbreak in the Valleys

You can purchase a copy of the book HERE

November 1915. For young housemaid, Anwen Rhys, life is hard in the Welsh mining village of Dorcalon, deep in the Rhymney Valley. She cares for her ill mother and beloved younger sister Sara, all while shielding them from her father’s drunken, violent temper. Anwen comforts herself with her love for childhood sweetheart, Idris Hughes, away fighting in the Great War.

Yet when Idris returns, he is a changed man; no longer the innocent boy she loved, he is harder, more distant, quickly breaking off their engagement. And when tragedy once again strikes her family, Anwen’s heart is completely broken.

But when an explosion at the pit brings unimaginable heartache to Dorcalon, Anwen and Idris put their feelings aside to unite their mining community.

In the midst of despair, can Anwen find hope again? And will she ever find the happiness she deserves?

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Publication of

The Ferryman’s Daughter!

The bowl is from Cornwall and as for the apples – well you’ll have to read the book to find out!

Today is publication day for The Ferryman’s Daughter, my very first book for Orion. We may be in lockdown, in an uncertain world, and definitely with no opportunities for wild celebrations, but I’m still wonderfully amazed and excited to see my novel sail out into the world.

I loved the time I spent with Hester, the passionate, independent-minded and determined heroine of The Ferryman’s Daughter. The original inspiration for Hester was Rosa Lewis, who in Victorian times rose from a kitchen maid to cooking for royalty and owning her own hotel and who was also the inspiration for the popular TV drama series ‘The Duchess of Duke Street’, which is still repeated now and again.

But when I was writing my story of resilience and friendship overcoming the uncertainties brought to a community facing

St Ives, in Cornwall, where the story is set

WW1, I never thought how much this would resonate in the lockdown life of a global pandemic. On the other hand, it also feels similar because of the way so many of us have been brought together, and that, for the most part, it’s kindness and solidarity that is getting us through.

So I hope you enjoy the story of Hester, who never gives up on her own dreams, while helping the nurses and volunteers nursing the survivors of the battlefield back to health again. I love that Hester remains doggedly positive, whatever life might throw at her. I’m holding onto that too.

The UK edition is available HERE

The US edition is available HERE

To celebrate publication day, here is the recipe from the book for the most delicious apple cake. Simple but tasty – and the very thing to cheer up life in lockdown.

Jan’s Scrumptious Apple Cake (the inspiration for Hester’s mum’s best apple cake)

250 g butter

225 g caster sugar

3 eggs

Half cup milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

260 g sifted self-raising flour

2 lemons

 

For decoration:

Two or three eating apples (coxes or russet are best) unpeeled

One lemon

Sugar and water for lemon syrup

 

Preheat oven to 180c/ 350f/gas mark 4. Grease and line a 23cm/ 9inch springform tin.

 

Combine butter and sugar until pale and creamy. Slowly add the eggs, milk and vanilla extract. Fold in the flour and the grated rind of two lemons. Spoon batter into the tin. Slice the apples and arrange until the top of the cake is completely covered. Bake in the middle of the oven for one hour (or until a skewer comes out clean).

Meanwhile, cut thin strips of lemon rind and boil in water and sugar until crystallised. Roll into curls. As the cake cools, make holes with a skewer and pour in the sugar syrup. Decorate the cake with the crystallised lemon peel.

Serve warm or cold, with a generous dollop of clotted cream

 

And the sea is St Ives in Cornwall, where The Ferryman’s Daughter is set. This was a wild and windy day a couple of years ago. I was planning to go back this summer – maybe next year!

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The copies of The Ferryman’s Daughter have arrived!

The paperback is safely in my hands, and the book is also up on NetGalley

as well as for pre-order on Amazon ready for publication day on May 14th.

It’s well and truly out there!

It’s always and exciting moment, the day your book finally becomes real and there it is, sitting in your hand about to go out into the world and have a life of its own. Receiving a box of boxes in the middle of lockdown was quite surreal. Having my feet photographed instead of signing was a first, and then there was the business of opening it, with much handwashing and hand santiser before I could finally get a glimpse of the beautiful cover.

My lovely editor at Orion had sent me a photograph, so I knew the colours were stunning, but they still took my breath away when I was finally able to liberate a copy from the packaging (with the help of Miss Phoebe, who was under the impression that something so exciting could only be gravy bones, of course).

And since then I’ve been looking at it and taking it everywhere with me – even on the day’s dog walk!

It’s an amazing feeling. I still can’t quite believe it’s actually real! I’m a little sad that I won’t be having the planned party in my garden (which is currently in full bloom and just waiting for a celebration), but I know that will come later.

Meanwhile, I feel incredibly lucky for The Ferryman’s Daughter to have made it out into the world at all. When I was writing the story, I had no idea that Hester’s determination to dust herself down, pick herself up and keep on going, even in the face of panic buying of flour and sugar (no toilet paper at the time of World War One!) threatening to destroy her fledgling business would so soon be reflected in our own world. It made me root for her even more.

So here’s to publication day. I can’t wait to introduce Hester to the world – not to mention her delicious recipes, designed to rebuild the strength of recuperating soldiers and help those she loves to keep up their spirits in a world abruptly changed. Go, Hester!

 

Review copies of The Ferryman’s Daughter are available from NetGalley HERE

It can be pre-ordered from Amazon UK Here  and Amazon US HERE

 

 

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Today, I’m delighted to welcome Mollie Walton, and her alter ego Becca Mascull, to the blog to talk about her work and how she is surviving lockdown. Mollie’s second book in her gripping Ironbridge series is published on April 30th. Congratulations Mollie, and take it away, Becca!

 

 

I’m Becca and I’m surviving lockdown.

Of course I am. I’m not an NHS frontline worker or any other kind of key worker who are essential to the running of the world. So, I can do my bit and stay at home. But it is weird being mostly stuck inside the home for weeks on end, isn’t it? There are good days and bad days, right? Some days I get loads of work done, I exercise, I cook great meals and have some fun leisure time with my daughter and yes, I feel like I’m smashing this lockdown thing. Other days I feel like I barely want to get out of bed or engage with anyone or anything.

I’ve never been a person to say I’m bored, because there are always books and TV and movies and music and people to talk to. But some days, I feel so low, I can’t get joy from a thing. I know I’m not alone though. If I’m truly honest, the main thing that’s kept me going through this is Facebook. I share a lot of edgy memes with a twisted humour every day; they make me laugh and I know others enjoy them, as they tell me so often! I’ve also been playing the piano a lot and sharing these pieces in daily mini concerts on Facebook too. I’ve had people tell me that the soothing piano music has helped with their anxiety, but even one lady said it calmed down her nervous dog! That’s a win-win for me.

But in lockdown, the most difficult thing I’ve found is that my brain isn’t always working as I want it to. I’ve spoken to many other writers about this phenomenon and almost all have agreed: our creative brains are not braining. I’m not sure the precise reason for this, but it’s something to do with the general anxiety and malaise that surrounds us in this worldwide.

So, instead of fighting it, I’ve decided to go with it. Instead of forcing myself to try to write my current book (deadline July!), I’ve spent my time instead doing further, deeper historical research and I’ve found some wonderful stuff, about pit bank girls, strawberry picking, coal mining accidents, Londonhotels in 1875, how to wear a bustle etc etc.

My brain can cope with research. I’ve now finished that and I’m hoping my brain will play ball next week when I continue with drafting chapters. Wish me luck…

 

Becca at her piano – prepare to be calmed!

The Secrets of Ironbridge

 

A dramatic and heartwarming Victorian saga, perfect for fans of Maggie Hope and Anne Bennett.

1850s Shropshire.

Returning to her mother’s birthplace at the age of eighteen, Beatrice Ashford encounters a complex family she barely knows. Her great-grandmother Queenie adores her, but the privileged social position of Beatrice’s family as masters of the local brickworks begins to make her uncomfortable.

And then she meets Owen Malone: handsome, different, refreshing – and from a class beneath her own. They fall for each other fast, but an old family feud and growing industrial unrest threatens to drive them apart.

Can they overcome their different backgrounds? And can Beatrice make amends for her family’s past?

 

You can buy the paperback:

UK edition HERE

US edition HERE

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Today, I’m delighted to welcome the author of the popular Pennington’s series, Rachel Brimble. The Pennington stories, with their strong heroines making their way in a world in which women were generally expected to stay at home, are a perfect escape from the current restrictions – and who can resist the drama of the Titanic?

Welcome to the blog, Rachel!

A Shop Girl At Sea and The Titanic

 

Thank you so much for having me here today, Juliet!

For as long as I can remember I have been fascinated with stories of the Titanic sinking and the fates of those who lost their lives and those who survived.

Once I started on my journey to publication, I vowed that one day I would write a book featuring the Titanic and—fourteen years and twenty three books—later, I’ve finally upheld that vow with A Shop Girl At Sea!

This book is the fourth instalment in my popular Pennington’s department store series (all books can be read as stand alone stories) and it was while I was writing book 3 (A Shop Girl’s Christmas) that I discovered the heroine who was destined to head to New York on the fated ship.

Amelia Wakefield is Pennington’s head window dresser and she is sent by the store’s owner, Elizabeth Pennington to America to see what the department stores there are doing and how Bath’s finest store can compete. Perfect! I had my reason and my main character… now I needed to find Amelia’s love interest.

My first problem was finding a way of placing the hero in the romance on the ship, but also have him survive so that he and Amelia might find their happily ever after. As we know, it was women and children first when the Titanic started to sink and many of the men who survived were badgered and villainised for having escaped.

Eventually I found Samuel Murphy, a seaman and dock worker who is seeking his own destiny by heading to America in a bid to escape the constraining responsibilities of his family life. Once aboard, he and Amelia meet, and their journeys become intertwined. When disaster strikes and the Titanic hits the iceberg, Samuel is ordered to row one of the lifeboats and this is how he and Amelia manage to survive.

About a third of this Pennington’s story takes part on the fated ship and the rest in the store with a second strand of the story safe and away from danger in England.

This is probably my favourite Pennington’s book so far because I managed to achieve so many of my writing goals within its pages. Readers and reviewers have been so fabulously generous with their 4 and 5 stars reviews, I honestly couldn’t be happier!

Happy Reading…

Rachel x

 

A Shop Girl at Sea

 

Bath, 1912.

Amelia Wakefield loves working at Pennington’s, Bath’s finest department store. An escape from her traumatic past, it saved her life. So when Miss Pennington sets her a task to set sail on the Titanic and study the department stores of New York, she couldn’t be more excited – or determined!

Frustrated with his life at home, Samuel Murphy longs for a few weeks of freedom and adventure. Meeting Amelia on board the Titanic, Samuel can’t help wonder what painful history has made the beauty so reserved. But he already has too many responsibilities for love.

Ruby Taylor has always kept her Pennington co-workers at a distance. Making sure her little brother is safe has always been her priority. But when that means accepting Victoria Lark’s offer of sanctuary, more than one of Ruby’s secrets is under threat of being revealed…

A riveting and uplifting saga, perfect for fans of Elaine Everest and Fiona Ford.

Click below for purchasing links.

Amazon UK: HERE

Amazon US: Here

Kobo: HERE

Barnes & Noble HERE

 

Rachel Brimble

 

Rachel lives with her husband and their two daughters in a small town near Bath, England. She is the author of over 20 published novels including the Pennington’s department store series (Aria Fiction) and the Templeton Cove Stories (Harlequin).

Her next project is a Victorian trilogy set in a Bath brothel which she recently signed with Aria Fiction. The series will feature three heroines determined to change their lives and those of other women. The first book is due for release in Autumn 2020.

Rachel is a member of the Romantic Novelists Association and has thousands of social media followers all over the world.

To sign up for her newsletter (a guaranteed giveaway every month!), click HERE:

Website: https://rachelbrimble.com/

Twitter:  @RachelBrimble

Facebook:  RachelBrimbleAuthor

Instagram: RachelBrimbleAuthor 

 

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Hester’s Comfort Food Corner

Perfectly delicious Poppy Seed Cake

(from a First World War recipe)

 

Hester, the heroine of The Ferryman’s Daughter, is a passionate cook, whose fledgling cake-making business is put in jeopardy by the panic buying and hording of sugar (no toilet paper in those days!) at the start of WW1. Instead, she spends the war cooking the best comfort food she can manage with limited ingredients for recuperating wounded soldiers and the volunteer nurses looking after them – many of them well-brought up young ladies faced with the shock of their lives in a world changed forever.

So, welcome to Hester’s Comfort Food Corner. Some are traditional recipes I came across in my research, others are simply favourites. The idea is that they are fun, easy to make – and above all comforting! And since sugar and flour are once again available in our modern changed world, I think it’s safe to dispense with exact historical accuracy (including the delights of potato flour) in exchange for good, solid, old-fashioned comfort …

 

To start off, it has to be my WW1 seed cake, my comfort cake for all occasions, including celebrations. It’s the one I’ll bake when I can finally hold a physical book launch for Hester and The Ferryman’s Daughter. It’s easy to make, fail-safe, and simply delicious!

 

WW1 Poppy Seed Cake

 (This is a scaled down version of the original, which, in true Edwardian fashion, demanded ten eggs. There are also modern oven settings, instead of the instructions to let the fierceness of the oven be over before putting the cake in to prevent scorching – unless anyone has an old-fashioned range handy, that is).

Ingredients

8 oz         227g         Butter

8 oz         227g         Sugar

2 ozs        57g          Caraway or poppy seeds

8 oz         227g         Self raising flour

2oz           57g          Candied peel

Rind and juice of one orange

Rind and juice of one lemon

3 eggs

Small cake tin (mine is 7″/18cm, which works really well)

 

Method:

Cream butter and sugar, add eggs one at a time with flour alternately, then add rind and juice of one orange, and the rind of one lemon, caraway/poppy seeds, and candied peel.

Cook at 170C Gas Mark 3 for forty-five minutes then down to 150C Gas Mark 2, and finally 140C Gas Mark 1 till cooked. (I find it usually takes just under an hour in total)

While still warm, pierce the cake with a skewer and drizzle in the juice of the lemon.

The original would probably have been served as it was, but I’ve found it goes really well with lemon butter icing with a few drops of vanilla added, for a really luxurious treat (edible butterflies optional!).

The fancy version …

 

 

 

 

 

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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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Today I’m delighted to welcome fellow Honno Press author, Pembrokeshire-based Judith Barrow, to the blog. I’ve long been a fan of Judith’s brilliant historical family sagas, the ‘Patterns’ trilogy, which follows the story of the Howarth family. So it’s great to be part of the blog tour for Judith’s latest saga, ‘One Hundred Tiny threads’.

Hello Judith, and welcome to the blog.  ‘One Hundred Tiny Threads’ is a gripping prequel to your ‘Patterns’ trilogy that sets the scene for the stories that go down the generations. What drew you to write a prequel? Was it to delve further into the background of your characters, or was it the time in which ‘100 Tiny Threads’ is set?

I’ve said many times that these two characters wouldn’t leave me alone when I’d finished the trilogy; they wanted to explain themselves; to tell their stories. And I have to admit I didn’t resist too much; the era of the first decades in the twentieth century have fascinated me all my life.

It was the time of the most horrific devastating war; of loss of men and women; something that haunted me for a long time after the first time I saw images and read of it and since I studied the first World War poets.

And, socially, these were the years of dreadful hardships even through the weakening of class divisions that had been so rigid in the past.Then there was the political unrest between the UK and Ireland. My grandparents came from Ireland. My grandfather was a particularly angry man and I never knew why until I was older and I was told of his reluctance – and resistance – to moving to the UK until eventually being persuaded by my grandmother and the fact that he couldn’t get work to feed his ever growing family in the village where they lived. He hated it and, I think, always resented my grandmother. He loved the outdoors and spent much of his working life underground in the coalmines. And he was a strongly political man and a Union leader.

The story of the book is set against dramatic political upheavals. Was there a particular reason that you set part of the book against the background of conflict in Ireland?

I think I partially answered this in your previous question, Juliet but I would like to explain more. When I knew I was going to let Winifred and Bill tell me about their lives I knew I would have to do a lot of research about Ireland at the time that my grandad was a young man because I had the feeling that Bill had been there at the same time. Mind you, it’s no hardship to research; I love and spend hours (more than I should, by the way) researching for my books. Although, for some reason I didn’t have to do as much research for Living in the Shadows set in nineteen sixty-nine – ha-ha!! Sorry, I digress.

The research gave me a greater understanding of the reasons for the fight for Independence. I never knew that the Easter Rebellion had such little support from the rest of Ireland; that it was the execution of fifteen rebel leaders, ordered by General Sir John Maxwell, the Commander of the British troops in Ireland, that turned those leaders into heroes and established Sinn Fein so firmly in the hearts and minds of so many Irish people. Nor did I know an awful lot about the Black and Tans initially. There was violence on both sides but the Black and Tans became notorious for the killing and torturing of men and the burning and looting of property. For a man such as Bill with his unstable childhood, his mostly solitary life and experiences in the first World War, it felt inevitable that, coming out of the uniform of a soldier to unemployment and homelessness, he would succumb to the bribery of ten shillings a week and a familiar home of army barracks; he would join the Black and Tans

I know what you mean about research! That is fascinating. Can I also ask how  you went about your research into the actions of the Suffragettes? Was there a particular reason you were drawn to that side of the story?

I wanted to show that Winifred was a feistier woman when young, even if for such a short while. Growing up under her mother’s thumb she rebelled only in her thoughts. And it took the backing of her new friend, Honora to encourage her to break through the natural reticence and timidity that is shown in Pattern of Shadows. I think, with the loss of the people in her life that believed in the inner person (giving nothing away here!) it became easier for her to acquiesce and accept what she was given as she grew older.

You tell much of the story through the eyes of a complex male character. Did you find it more difficult to get inside his head that inside the head of your female characters? And did you find it difficult to balance the two sides of the story?

It’s never been difficult for me as a writer to get inside the heads of my male characters. I do ‘get on’ with men in real life… (Hmm, perhaps I should rephrase that?). In my working life I mixed mostly with men; I learned to stay quiet and listen to their conversations and how they felt about various subjects. That environment stood me in good stead in many circumstances and I’ve used those emotions to round out even the most difficult of my male characters. And, as I said, I also had a most vocal grandfather. And, by the way, a most difficult father so I had lots of memories to fall back on. As for the mellower, ‘nicer’ side of Bill I have my husband to study (but don’t tell him that). Oh dear it does sound as if I’ve studied men from an empirical slant doesn’t it.

For female characters I’ve used my imagination … well, I’m not going to say I’ve used my friends and their reactions to anything , am I? And, being a woman, it does help me to know how I generally feel about situations – and that can be turned on its head.

Keeping the balance in the story was quite difficult. I hope I succeeded… mostly.

I won’t mention a thing! (I’ve met Judith’s husband, and he’s lovely). I’m glad you’ve got such good research subjects. I liked the way your male characters were rounded human beings rather than heroes or villains, which can be the temptation! Can I also ask ifyou plot your novels in detail, or do you find they evolve as you write them?

Oh, I do try so hard to plot! But usually they evolve as the story continues; either because I realise a character wouldn’t do as I want them to or because a certain thread of the book isn’t working.

Do you have one thing you enjoy (and/or) hate about the editing process?

I enjoy, oh so much, the last draft of the book, when I know it’s the best I can do. Then I hate the editing when I realise it’s not the best I can do and I have to rework and alter until it really is finished.

That made me laugh – I totally agree. That’s the feelings I have too, and we have such really good editors at Honno, who don’t let us get away with a thing! So, I have to ask, what are you planning to write next? Will there be another story connected to the Howarth family?

Well, that’s a question! I have written eight short stories of the minor characters in the trilogy. Two of them are shouting out for me to write about them. But the book I have almost ready to go to the editor is different. It’s still about a family but it’s more contemporary and examines a different aspect of life. Still, I’m not sure I’ve completely left behind the Howarth family.

Thank you, Judith, and happy writing (and editing) – I’m already looking forward to the next book!

If you would like to meet Judith in person, she will be at the Narberth Book Fair on September 23rd.

A Hundred Tiny Threads

You can buy a copy of the novel from Honno Press HERE

And the Kindle edition from Amazon HERE 

You can learn more about Judith and follow her blog HERE

It takes more than just love to make a marriage… It’s 1911 and Winifred Duffy is a determined young woman eager for a life beyond the grocer’s shop counter. The Great War intervenes leaving her facing difficult choices in love and life.

Praise for previous novels in the Howarth family series:
“Not… an ordinary romance but a book that deals with important issues which are still relevant today” Historical Novels Review

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As I now live in beautiful Snowdonia, in North Wales, I always feel a bit sad that conventional wisdom states that no one wants to read stories set in Wales. So I’m delighted that my alter ego, Heather Pardoe, currently has a historical serial set in Llandudno, just up the coast from me, and famous for its connection with Lewis Carroll and Alice in Wonderland.

‘Together We Stand’, currently being serialised in ‘The People’s Friend’, the longest running weekly women’s magazine, is a serial that I (or rather Heather) had great fun writing, with a suffrage ladies’ tearoom, an intriguing inheritance and a touch of low-down skullduggery reaching back to the Crimean War.

The view from the pier

It’s funny where your ideas come from as a writer. I’d been toying with the idea of the picture wagon (an early mobile photographic studio that has been used by one of the first war journalist in the Crimean war) on and off for years. When I trained as a photographer in London, it was (I have to confess) before the days of digital, when we used studio cameras that had changed very little from 1904, when the serial is set, and it was darkrooms and chemicals and never being quite sure what you had taken until the print began to develop in front of your eyes.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my digital SLR, and I never go anywhere without my little compact camera in my bag, and I wouldn’t go back to using those eczema-inducing chemicals if you paid me. But it has left me with a fascination of just how such unwieldy cameras were used. So it’s no coincidence that Tanni, the heroine of ‘Together We Stand’ is left an inheritance that encourages her set to up as a studio photographer, just as Bea, the heroine of my novel ‘The White Camellia’ becomes one of the first female photojournalists, covering the campaigns of the suffrage movement in London.

Unlike Bea, Tanni doesn’t have to dodge the police when using her camera, as 1904 was before the more militant campaigns began. But she does have her own brush with danger, and an unknown foe who is determined to prevent her from succeeding, all against the backdrop of Llandudno and the Great Orme, which I had great fun in researching.

The other inspiration for ‘Together We Stand’ was a night I spent in one of the old hotels on the edges of Llandudno, where I’ve placed the guesthouse in the story. The hotel was old and atmospheric, and from my tiny room at the top I had a view of the bay. I’m usually dashing round Llandudno, or taking my dog for a walk round the Orme, so it was a real treat to simply be able to wander around in the evening, and parade along the pier, searching out the locations (including the pier) that play a vital role in ‘Together We Stand’. That night, there was a stunning full moon over the bay – a truly magical memory!

The view from my room

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So now I’ve set historical serials in Coed y Brenin, famous for its cycling trails and its goldmine, in Conwy, famous for its medieval town wall and castle, and in Llandudno. Time, I think, to start looking for another great Welsh location.

Mind you, I had a wonderful time last year in picturesque Tenby

 

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When I first read Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, many years ago, it scared me witless. Watching the recent adaption for TV through my fingers, I’ve found it even more unnerving. After researching the conditions for women in Victorian and Edwardian England the world of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ feels all too recent and too real, and the rights women have won all too precarious.

But I’ve also learnt about an amazing heroine, and a courageous group of women who, although powerless, without even a legal existence of their own, fought the many injustices of such a system, and won.

 

If you’d asked me a few years ago about Millicent Fawcett, the leader of the suffrage movement in the UK, and now the first woman to be honoured with a statue in Parliament Square in 2018, I wouldn’t have had a clue. I’d vaguely heard the name, but until I began researching for ‘The White Camellia’ I’d never (to my shame) thought to find out more about her, or even the difference between the suffrage movement and the suffragettes. Although main story of ‘The White Camellia’ centres on a crumbling mansion in Cornwall, and a feud that has torn two families apart, one of the characters becomes an early female photojournalist who finds herself inadvertently drawn into the transition point between the suffragists and the suffragettes.

It was when I began researching the background for Bea’s story that this new and riveting story of the suffragists had me transfixed. It’s a history that’s barely noted, but it is one of women (many proudly supported by the men in their lives) successfully outwitting, out-arguing, and out-manoeuvring politicians to establish so many of the rights we take for granted today.

What is even more remarkable is that when they began their campaign, around the 1860s, these women had no legal existence whatsoever. They were the property of fathers, then husbands. Even the richest woman lost any rights over her money and property once married, and even after a divorce, all her earnings still went to her husband, whose only obligation was to keep her out of the poorhouse (as in, the responsibility of the state).

 

It’s a long and fascinating story, of working-class girls risking everything to fight for a living wage for their work, for education and training. Of middle class women fighting for the right to take a degree and follow a profession, and proving such things didn’t send them mad or shrink their wombs to nothingness. Of the right for a woman to keep her children after a divorce, instead of being forced to flee abroad or lose contact with them forever. Of a recognition that prostitution was not a means of idly living in luxury, but rather a result of desperation and abuse, and of pitiful pay that forced even fully employed and skilled women to resort to the most desperate of measures to survive.

The suffragists were supported by many leading figures of the day, including Florence Nightingale (whose pioneering use of statistics to prove a point was adopted by many of the suffragist campaigns), Josephine Butler, and pioneering doctor Elizabeth Garrett Anderson.

And then there was the question of the vote, as underlying the position of women as rational human beings, rather than as being childlike, in need of guidance and protection. Again, I had no idea that, until the 1860s, very few men had the vote, or that the battle was such a long-fought one for both sexes, with the argument only finally won in 1928, when all men and all women achieved the vote. That’s a long time ago – but still within living memory, which, in the context of all of human history, is no time at all.

Single women (the only women subject to paying tax) braved the bailiffs being sent in, under the banner ‘No Taxation without Representation’, and the campaign gradually moved the idea of women voting from being laughable to MPs (all male, voted in by men) voting twice for women to have the vote, the first being passed by 100 votes, and the second private member’s bill in 1911 by 255 for to 88 against. Okay, so both times the democratic process was overturned, but that also puts quite a different slant on the direct action of the suffragettes. Women didn’t start their campaign for the vote by throwing stones and chaining themselves to railings, but such actions (along with the destruction of property) were the furious response to the democratic process being denied. Whether you agree with direct action or not, men have been known to have a similar reaction, too – and no one ever called them a bunch of raving hormonal hysterics whose real motive rested in being too ugly/old/clever to find love!

So hurrah for Millicent Fawcett, and the many and varied battles of the suffrage campaign battling to be the ones to walk in the sun, rather than as mere handmaids to their overlords. As a woman with a degree, who can vote and earn her own living, take part in sport, walk down the street unchaperoned, and live a fulfilled and independent life, I shall be cheering as loud as can be when that statue to my heroine, Millicent Fawcett, goes up in Parliament Square next year.

A woman Doctor. Now there’s a thought … 🙂

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