As I sort through and organise my files here on WordPress which now amount to over 12,000 since 2013, I am discovering gems, such as guest interviews that I would love to share with you again..
This week an interview from 2015 as part of the ‘A Funny Thing Happened to Me’ series which featured author Judith Barrow. I have read all of Judith’s books and am a huge fan and I hope you will enjoy this early post. I have updated to reflect Judith’s current books and reviews.
About Judith Barrow
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. 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..
She is a Creative Writing tutor for Pembrokeshire County Council and holds private one to one workshops on all genres.
Welcome to the Sunday Interview Judith and looking forward to finding out more about your work.
You swapped the majesty of the Pennines in Saddleworth near Oldham for Pembrokeshire with its amazing coastline at about the same time. What if any were the differences in culture or lifestyle that you encountered initially and now when you return to Oldham which do you consider home?
We found Pembrokeshire by accident. With three children under five, an old cottage half renovated in a village in Saddleworth at the base of the Pennines, and a small business that took off more successfully than we could ever hope for, and now threatened to spin out of control, we decided to get off the treadmill. At least for a fortnight.
Pre children, cottage and business, we holidayed in Cornwall. Too far with three children and an unreliable converted van, we decided. ‘I’ve heard West Wales has wonderful beaches,’ I said.
I borrowed books on Pembrokeshire from the library. Balancing one-year-old twins on each knee, I read as much as I could about the county. It sounded just the place to take children for a holiday. ‘At least it’s not as far as Cornwall,’ I said, packing the van to the hilt with everything the children would need – and remembering at the last minute to throw in changes of clothes etc. for their parents.
It took ten hours. In 1978 there was no easy route from the North of England to West Wales. We meandered through small lanes, stopping for such emergencies as feeding the twins, picnics, lavatory stops. The closer we were to our destination the more we were stuck in traffic jams (which had no obvious reason for being traffic jams whenever we got to the front of the queue) with three ever-increasing fractious children. We got lost. Numerous times.
We arrived at the caravan site in the middle of the night and were relieved to find the key in the door. The owner, a farmer, had given up and gone home.
I woke early. Leaving David in charge of our exhausted and, thankfully, still sleeping family, I crept out. The sun was already warm; a soft breeze barely moved the leaves on the oak tree nearby. Skylarks flittered and swooped overhead, calling to one another. The caravan was one of four in the farmer’s field. We were the only people there. It was so quiet, so peaceful. I walked along a small path. Within minutes I was faced with a panorama of sea.
It seemed so still from the top of the cliff, but the water, blended turquoise and dark blue with unseen currents, the horizon was a silvery line. Faint voices from two small fishing boats carried on the air. The sandstone cliffs curved round in a natural cove. Jagged rocks, surrounded by white ripples of water, jutted up towards the sky. I fell in love with Pembrokeshire.
I’d always liked living so close to the Pennines. The moors, crisscrossed by ancient stone walls, were glorious with wild rhododendrons in summer, heather in the autumn. Even when brooding under swathes of drifting mist or white- over with snow, I was happy there.
But Pembrokeshire has a powerful glory of its own.
Within months we’d thrown caution, and our past lives, to the wind and, that November, moved to a house that was half-built in an acre of land. Much to the consternation of the family, who truly believed we were mad and, as far as they were concerned, were moving to the ends of the earth.
It took a long time to get the house and garden right and a while to get used to the massive changes in our lives. But having the children helped; we became involved in local activities and people in the area accepted us (once they could understand our Northern accents!) We have made many friends here.
All in all, it’s been one of the best decisions of our lives. We called our house ‘Saddleworth House, so we still have a reminder of our roots. But Pembrokeshire is our home.
In one of your interviews you mentioned that you had kept a diary of your experience with mainstream publishing which must have been very frustrating. Perhaps you could share some key points that you learned from the experience and some words of advice for those thinking of going that route?
It took me a while to get where I am today, being published with a small independent publishers. Honno is a Welsh based women’s publisher. I’ve been with them for nearly ten years, first publishing in their anthologies and then with my own novels. It was a conscious choice in the end, after a disastrous period of time with an agent.
It’s a long tedious story, which, to anyone else, would be boring. The long and short of it (oh dear a cliché – I teach creative writing and one of my pet ‘no-no’s with my students is clichés – I add this in case they’re reading the post here) was that she suggested the manuscript went to a commercial editor. With me paying! Being gullible, I did. It came back completely different; not my book at all. I have nothing against chick-lit; my friend writes brilliantly in that genre, but it’s not my style. The agent wouldn’t listen – I sacked her.
To my mind, you only have one first book, you’ll never have another ‘first’ – so it must be the best writing you can do. And you have to be true to yourself.
It was only months afterwards that I discovered this agent was considered to be a liability in the publishing world, one way and another, (cliché, cliché), so I’d done the right thing by breaking off with her.
To backtrack a little; the day I acquired the agent, I also had acceptance from Honno. They were very gracious about my decision and – when I turned to them later, very gracious in accepting my book. I met with their editor, liked her immediately. I was hooked on the idea of a smaller publisher, so, when, that same week. I was approached by a larger publisher I had no hesitation in turning them down. And I am so glad I did. With a small company you know everyone, get more personal attention and care. And you get to take part in the choice of the covers for the books – and I have to say, I’ve been thrilled with those.
I do have one Indie published book; Silent Trauma. This is a fiction built on fact book. I have a relative affected by a drug that was taken by her mother during pregnancy; Stilboestrol, or Diethylstilbestrol in the US – (DES).Silent Trauma was a difficult book to write. I found myself going through a whole gamut of emotions from day to day.
You were obviously personally affected by the subject matter of Silent Trauma and perhaps you could summarise your research and the side effects of the drug Stilboestrol DES ((Diethylstilboestrol in the USA) and the impact it has had on so many women’s lives?
In 1938, Stilboestrol (Diethylstilbestrol) was created by Charles Dodds. It was expected that his synthetic oestrogen would help prevent miscarriages. At the time it was not known how dangerous this drug would be to developing foetuses. Years later, he raised concerns about DES but by then very few in the medical field were listening. .In the early 1970’s cases of a rare vaginal/cervical cancer were being diagnosed in young girls. Now researchers are investigating whether DES health issues are extending into the next generation, the so-called DES Grandchildren. As study results come in, there is growing evidence that this group has been adversely impacted by a drug prescribed to their grandmothers. And then, in later life, those women who became pregnant couldn’t carry a baby beyond the first trimester due to a malformation of the uterus – another effect on this drug.
I was lucky to be given permission from the Independent on Sunday newspaper to use an article they had written, about two DES Daughters in the UK, as a Foreword for my book. By combining that and quotes from the DES Daughters I have been in contact with at the beginning of the chapters with the fictional story I hope I have achieved what I set out to do; to bring the information about the drug to the reader and to give them a good story.
The mission of DES Action groups worldwide is to identify, educate, provide support to, and advocate for DES-exposed individuals as well as educate health care professionals. Unfortunately DES Action UK folded due to lack of funds and support but DES Action USA promise to help and advice anyone who contacts them. They have a website: Desaction.org
And there is also a wonderful DES Daughter in the UK who has a website – Des-Daughters– which is constantly updated with the latest news. She also has a Facebook page which can be found by just typing in DES daughter
In America there is been a huge campaign to prove that some DES daughters who developed breast cancer did so because their mothers were prescribed Diethylstilbestrol The first DES Breast Cancer trial was settled out of court by the drug company after the opening arguments. The company did not have to admit guilt for making and promoting DES as an anti-miscarriage drug that causes breast cancer and the DES Daughters, who accepted the settlement, cannot disclose the amount. But there are many other DES breast cancer lawsuits already filed and waiting in the wings. So, even though there was no actual guilty verdict against the drug company there is still a feeling of satisfaction in the DES community.
I did approach my own publishers. The reasons for the rejections were twofold. One was that ‘they wouldn’t be able to sell “issue –led” novels’. And two, I was told, was the worry of being sued by the drug companies. Which I can understand but, to my mind, if any of them decided to sue, they would be accepting culpability. However just in case any of them are reading this, the house is in my husband’s name only and I have no assets!
You took a Diploma in Drama at Swansea University and gone on to write plays that have been performed at the prestigious Dylan Thomas Centre in Swansea and as a short film. Have you other projects in the works and what do you find most fulfilling about this area of writing?
I have written a play based on Silent Trauma, but have yet to do anything with it. I’ve written about a dozen plays, so far, for both stage and radio and done nothing with them. Mainly through lack of time. And I love teaching this genre. I think this might be that, mostly, plays are about dialogue. I love dialogue in all genres; there’s nothing more satisfying than bringing a character to life in the way they speak.
In fact I love writing and can ramble on for ages. I suppose that is why, whatever I write, there is always so much editing to do afterwards.
As my husband so often; I write as much as I talk – too much. As is proved here.
Judith there is not a problem with everything that you have written today because it has been a fascinating look behind the scenes at your life and a very important subject that has impacted many women and their families.
Perhaps we could now move onto the opportunity for Judith to do some more storytelling in the central theme of the interview. ‘A funny thing happened to me on the way to……’
A Funny Thing Happened to me on the Way Home….I was waiting to turn left into the lane leading to our house. It was a murky grey afternoon in November, cars swished past on the wet tarmac. All at once the passenger door opened and a small woman slid onto the seat and beamed at me.
‘Thank you. Thought nobody would stop,’ she said. It was her little red wellington boots, her red plastic coat and yellow sou’wester that immediately identified her; I’d seen her often over the years; she was a local eccentric who called herself ‘Mad Madge’. Red wellies in winter, flip flops in summer. Always the sou’wester. Always walking. Always thumbing for a lift.
‘You heading for the village?’ She had a dewdrop balancing precariously on the end of her nose. She waggled her head. The drip flew off onto the dashboard
‘Well no—’ I just stopped myself getting the duster from the door compartment and wiping the offending drop.
‘Me too.’ She looked over her shoulder, ‘There’s a queue behind us, you’d better go.’
And I did. Don’t ask me why. A number of reasons I suppose; I knew that, although she was strange, she was harmless, I didn’t want to tell her I wasn’t offering her a lift (yes, yes, weak but it was raining hard and she was very wet.) And she was smiling and thanking me. Anyway, it was only two miles to the village.
We travelled in silence until …’Stop here a moment.’ She pointed. ‘I need to go in there.’
And, before I could say anything she’d hopped out and gone around the back of a house. .
What to do? She’d left a bag in the car – so she wasn’t going to be long – was she? I waited, listening to the soft swish of the windscreen wipers and the low grumble of the engine. After five minutes I turned the engine off and put the radio on. I waited. And waited. Then I sounded the horn – twice. Nothing. I got out of the car, carrying the bag. It was still pouring down. I knocked on the door. No answer. I went around to the back. She was sitting at the table having a cup of tea, still in her shiny red coat.
‘You left this,’ I said, holding the bag out.
‘Oh, you didn’t need to bring it in, I’m ready now,’ she said and, jumping up, rushed past me, leaving the door open. I closed it. If I hadn’t I might have beaten her to the car. We both raced along the path (I can still see those little red wellies galloping along in front of me) I’d forgotten to lock the door and she was in. Beaming!
I drove her to the village. She got out of the car without a word but still beaming. I went home.
I’ve seen her since – and kept on driving. I’ve often wondered how many other people she conned like that. Not so Mad Madge, after all. You have to laugh.
My thanks to Judith for such an indepth and wonderful look at her life and work and also thanks for her tireless support for all of the bloggers that she comes into contact with. A truly delightful person and part of our community.
Books by Judith Barrow
One of the recent reviews for The Memory on Goodreads
Irene is her mother’s caretaker and over a twenty-four period, she revisits the past, allowing long-buried shameful secrets to be brought to light. Years ago, when her sister, Rose, was brought into the world, Irene was overjoyed. It didn’t matter to her Rose had Down Syndrome, she loved and took care of her as if Rose was her own daughter. Her mother, on the other hand, rejected Rose and would have nothing to do with her. Rose’s death, shrouded in mystery even after all these years, bind Irene to her mother. As Irene remembers the past and tries to reconcile it with the present and future, she wonders if her memory is flawed or does the answer lie with her own mother?
The Memory is an emotional story about mothers and daughters, love and loss, raising a special needs child, and the barren canyon of emotions that lay hidden behind grief. The plot is overflowing with feeling as Irene comes to grips with the past. I cried so many times while reading, I needed two boxes of tissues. Judith Barrow framed the story as a 24-hour period but I tend to disagree as there were plenty of flashbacks and flashforwards. I personally couldn’t relate to the characters, but I could relate to being the daughter of a mother with high expectations. The tension is palpable throughout the story, so it took me awhile to read it. The writing is exquisite, the pacing perfect, and the characterizations well-developed. If you’re a fan of family-life sagas, you’ll love The Memory. Fans of Rebecca Wells, this is a must-read.
Thanks for joining us today and I know Judith would love your feedback…thanks Sally.