My guest today is author of the family saga that takes us from war torn Britain through to the 1960s following the story of Mary Howarth as she falls in love, marries and experiences drama and danger over the period of the series. I have read all three books and can highly recommend… I am looking forward to the prequel which is being released later in the year. Please welcome the lovely Judith Barrow who has been a great supporter and friend for the last four years. She is looking forward to answering your questions and please leave them in the comments.
Firstly here is the official biography.
Although I was born and brought up in a small village on the edge of the Pennine moors in Yorkshire, for the last forty years I’ve lived with my husband and family near the coast in Pembrokeshire, West Wales, UK, a gloriously beautiful place.
I’ve written all my life and have had short stories, poems, plays, reviews and articles published throughout the British Isles. But only started to seriously write novels after I’d had breast cancer twenty years ago. Four novels safely stashed away, never to see the light of day again, I had the first of my trilogy, Pattern of Shadows, published in 2010, the sequel, Changing Patterns, in 2013 and the last, Living in the Shadows in 2015. The prequel, A Hundred Tiny Threads will be published in August 2017. Hopefully then the family in this series will leave me alone to explore something else!
I have an MA in Creative Writing, B.A. (Hons.) in Literature, and a Diploma in Drama and Script Writing. I am also a Creative Writing tutor for Pembrokeshire County Council’s Lifelong Learning Programme and give talks and run workshops on all genres.
Along with friend and fellow author, Thorne Moore, I also organise a book fair in September. This year we’ve changed venues. Here’s the link that tells all!! Narberth Book Fair
When I’m not writing or teaching, I’m doing research for my writing, walking the Pembrokeshire coastline or reading and reviewing books for Rosie Amber’s Review Team #RBRT, along with some other brilliant authors and bloggers.
The Mary Howarth series by Judith Barrow
The latest review of for Pattern of Shadows.
Pattern of Shadows is a wonderful story set in the latter days of World War Two somewhere in the north of England. Mary Howarth is a nurse who is part of a medical team given the unenviable task of caring for sick and injured prisoners of war at the prison camp hospital. Mary starts a relationship with one of the guards at the camp, Frank Shuttleworth. The relationship proves difficult for Mary but Frank is persistent. Meanwhile, Mary’s home life is far from easy and she finds solace in her work.
As the novel evolves Mary’s life becomes increasingly fraught and complicated. To say more would be to give away an extremely well constructed plot which explores some challenging issues of the day. I’ve already read Silent Trauma by this author and know that Judith Barrow can write about difficult subjects with sensitivity and honesty. The writer displays that same talent again in this novel. The novel is well researched and the sense of time and place is established securely.
The author has created a group of characters who are very real and the dialogue and interactions between them are a strength of the writing. The romance element of the novel has a degree of predictability but when the concluding chapter is reached there is a sense of relief that what was anticipated has occurred. Pattern of Shadows is the first of a three part set which takes the story on further and it’s going to be fascinating to see what happens next.
Read all the reviews and buy the series https://www.amazon.co.uk/Judith-Barrow/e/B0043RZJV6
and Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Judith-Barrow/e/B0043RZJV6
Also by Judith Barrow
One of the top reviews for the novel.
Judith Barrow wrote this book to bring attention to the trauma sufferered by the victims of the drug Diethylstilboestrol (DES), given to women between the years 1949 and 1971. It was prescribed to prevent miscarriage, but had a devastating effect on the daughters – and possibly the granddaughters – of the women who took it, meaning that they had miscarriages, too, cancers of the reproductive organs usually associated with older women, and other problems to do with that part of the body. Unlike with Thalidomide there has been very little publicity about it, and the women who campaigned for what they had been through and why to be recognised, faced many brick walls.
I think writing a novel about it is such a good way of letting people know about the ongoing tragedy; I would not read an article about it, but I read this. Silent Trauma follows the lives of four women affected by the drug, and the friendship that forms between them: Meg, whose daughter Lisa took her own life; Rachel, whose husband left her because of the change in their marriage due to her depression caused by several miscarriages; Avril, a recluse whose life was shattered by cancer in her teens; and Jackie, caught in a difficult and violent relationship with a woman, herself a product of a difficult upbringing.
Aside from the main purpose of the book, I enjoyed reading about the four women very much; it’s a well written, well planned story. The characterisation is terrific, and the situations so real. I’ve read Judith Barrow’s nostalgia orientated, warts and all family sagas set in the north of England during the 40s, 50s and 60s, but actually liked this more. I read it in one sitting. Speaking as one who has never had the urge to have children I cannot imagine how it must feel to want them so badly that you feel like less than a woman if you can’t reproduce, but all the emotions were painted so vividly that I felt everything the characters went through, and the situations were met with great understanding and sensitivity.
Jolly well done 🙂
Read the reviews and buy the book: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Silent-Trauma-Judith-Barrow-ebook/dp/B00AFZ8CLO
Read more reviews and follow Judith on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3295663.Judith_Barrow
Now it is time to sit Judith down and find out more about her life and work. Please leave your questions in the comment section of the post and Judith will respond over the next couple of days.
Welcome Judith and can you tell us about your chosen genre of books that you write and why?
I write family sagas mainly because the intricacies and varieties of families have always intrigued me. And also because there is so much scope when dealing with generics of families. I suppose they are also a cross genre with history because they are set in the past. My books have been described as gritty
What appeals to you about writing short stories?
I love writing short stories. I write both humorous short stories and dark tales. Getting the ‘feel’ of a story in so few words, compared to a ninety-five thousand-word novel, is a brilliant challenge. It’s like poetry; every word counts to create the plot, the characters, the setting, the ending.
What would you tell your 16-year-old self that might benefit them?
Ah, I would say, ‘have courage, believe in yourself. And leave home; make your own way in life.
Do you have a dream that is waiting to be fulfilled?
Yes, I do. Speaking as a member of my family, I would love for everyone, scattered far and wide through geography or temperament, to get together in harmony for one day and have a huge party.
Speaking as an author, and like many other authors, I would love for my trilogy to be filmed as a drama on television.
Judith has chosen two extracts from her upcoming prequel to the trilogy A Hundred Tiny Threads to share with us.
The first is set around Bill Howarth (the father of the protagonist in the trilogy, Mary Howarth and is part of the Prologue.
“The whistling in his ears faded. He listened to the silence as the seconds passed, measured by the laboured breath from his lungs. Slowly the sounds surrounded him; a hollow drip of water, faint groans, a shifting of props holding up the roof. And then a scream, a yell, echoing along the tunnel.
Despite the pain of the weight on his shoulders, pressing him into the ground, Bill Howarth knew he should stay still. He ran a gritty tongue around his dry mouth and swallowed, trying not to cough.
Squeezing his eyes tight against the dust, he then stretched them wide, staring in front of him. Nothing. Blackness.”
This second is from Winifred Duffy’s point of view (Mary Howarth’s mother)
“Before she could turn away he stopped her, still holding her hand. ‘So? So, I hear ya joining the Suffragette. Honora, thought ya ma had stopped ya.’
‘Winifred lifted her head, her face flushed with embarrassment. ‘I’m a grown woman. I can do as I please.’
‘Well I’m glad to hear that. And you’ll put yourself forward as a speaker at one of their meetings?’
‘I will.’ Winifred spoke without hesitation. ‘I’ve not done anything like that before but I’ll try. The thought terrified her but, after today, she was determined.
‘Will ya with us come to the next protest march?’
‘You go?’ Winifred felt her jaw slackens in surprise.
‘It’s not just women who think ya should have the vote, ya know. There’s some of us men believe we’re all equal.’ His mouth formed a tight line. ‘Believe all men are equal an’ all.’
Winifred recognised the frustration in him. Didn’t she feel it often enough herself? It must be just as bad, maybe worse to be a man who felt himself seen as lower than other men.
She’d barely acknowledged to herself the way he made her feel by his close presence; her stomach tied in knots. How she stopped herself from gazing at his handsome face, even from touching him, she didn’t know. She knew it was wrong to feel like that; it was sinful. But now she surprised herself; she realised that, in seeing a different side to him, as well as all those feelings, she actually liked Honora’s brother.
‘So?’ he said, ‘Ya will be there?’
She surprised herself by her forwardness when she squeezed his fingers and smiled art him.
‘Yes, she answered. ‘Yes, I will.’
What originally inspired you to write your series and particularly to set the first book in World War II?
Pattern of Shadows was inspired by Glen Mill, a disused cotton mill that became the first German POW camp in Britain which brought back a personal memory of my childhood. My mother was a winder in a cotton mill. Well before the days of Health and Safety I would often go to wait for her to finish work on my way home from school. I remember the muffled boom of noise as I walked across the yard and the sudden clatter of so many different machines as I stepped through a small door cut into a great wooden door. I remember the rumble of the wheels as I watched men pushing great skips filled with cones alongside the winding frames, or maneuvering trolleys carrying rolls of material. I remember the women singing and shouting above the noise, of them whistling for more bobbins: the colours of the cotton and cloth – so bright and intricate. But above all I remember the smell: of oil, grease – and in the storage area – the lovely smell of the new material stored in bales and the feel of the cloth against my legs when I sat on them, reading until the siren sounded, announcing the end of the shift.
When I thought of Glen Mill as a POW camp I wondered what kind of signal would have been used to separate parts of the day for all those men imprisoned there. I realised how different their days must have been from my memories of a mill. There would be no machinery as such, only vehicles coming and going; the sounds would be of men, only men, with a language and dialect so different from the mixture of voices I remembered. I imagined the subdued anger and resignation. The whole situation would be so different, no riot of colour, just an overall drabness. And I realised how different the smells would be – no tang of oil, grease, cotton fibres; all gone – replaced by the reek of ‘living’ smells.
And I knew I wanted to write about that. But I also wanted there to be hope somewhere. I wanted to imagine that something good could have come out of the situation the men were in.
I actually didn’t intend to write a trilogy but this family wouldn’t leave me alone; the characters insisted on continuing their stories. So Changing Patterns, set in 1950/51 is the sequel. Then, a generation later, in 1969, Living in the Shadows reveals the consequences of the last generation on their grown up children.
And , still insisting on being heard, the first generation of the Howarth Clan clamoured for words on paper. So I wrote the prequel, A Hundred Tiny Threads, which is to be published by http://www.honno.co.uk/ in August this year, 2017.
What are the key elements to consider when writing an evolving family drama over multiple books?
Well… definitely a family Tree complete with dates of birth for everyone, marriages, divorces and deaths.
Who had relationships with whom.
Making notes of what happened to whom and the repercussions and results of those events.
How characters evolve as they grow older as people do in real life.
All this besides keeping to the correct era of each book; the ever-changing background of society, politics, World news, fashions in all things, all means of transport and technology. In other words lots and lots of research
Can you tell us about the Book Fair that you are organising on 23rd September 2017 and how we can get involved?
I can. I started the book fair as part of the Tenby Arts Festival six years ago. It grew in success with many authors taking part. Initially Alex Martin, an Indie writer and Thorne Moore, a friend and fellow Honno author joined me after the first couple of years to help with the event. Alex, unfortunately, has had to drop out but we have a small group of volunteers now.
This year we had so many authors applying for spaces we decided that we needed a larger venue. We were lucky to obtain the Queens Hall in Narberth, a nearby town, renowned for its arts platform. We have around forty authors attending of all genres.
We will be having book talks, workshops and activities for children, writing workshops for adults, panels of authors of various genres for people to join in with, a book trail around Narberth shops, and various competitions.
What has really pleased me is that various authors who attended our original book fairs have taken up the challenge and organised book fairs in their own areas. Could I mention John and Sarada Thompson who had their first book fair in Carmarthen last year, as did Colin R Parsons who organised the Rhondda book fair? And also Christoph Fischer, who actually ran his first two book fairs last year and with the help of a voluntary committee, bravely organised an Arts Festival in Llandeilo. So much going on in Wales!
May I also give a mention to the people who run the Queens Hall in Narberth? Their support and help has been outstanding for this, our first year with them. We hope to be holding our book fair there for many years to come. Here are some links for those of you who would be interested in visiting the fair.
My thanks to Judith for sharing all her news with us and you can connect with her on these links.
Thank you for dropping by and don’t forget those questions for Judith…thanks Sally