Smorgasbord Blog Magazine – Guest Post – I Wish I Knew Then What I Know Now! #Family #Writing by Judith Barrow

I am sure like me, there have been times when you have wondered what difference might have been made to your life, if your younger self had been gifted with the experience and knowledge you have accumulated over the years.

I invited several friends from the writing community to share their thoughts on this subject which I am sure you will enjoy as much as I did.

Today author Judith Barrow returns to her teenage years and the restrictions that at the time stifled her desire to write and to teach, both of which she now embraces wholeheartedly.

‘If only I’d known then what I know now’ by Judith Barrow

If I’d known in my childhood that I could trust someone to help, I would have spoken out about the violent arguments, the troubles at home – but I didn’t. I kept quiet; I thought it was the best thing to do. The way to keep out of trouble. Not to be seen. Not to be heard. Not to be noticed.

And thinking about my teenage years, I often wonder what I would have done differently. I guess my main thoughts are that I wouldn’t be so afraid; that the world wasn’t something to be so scared of, that exciting things had been happening over the last decade beyond the small village we lived in. With the benefit of hindsight, I know I would have more courage to try new things, explore different places. Meet people.

But I lived with a father whose word was law, whose moods ruled the house, who could change the atmosphere in a room by just walking into it. He wasn’t a drinker, he was a man who wanted, who needed, to be in control of anyone who, as he often put it, lived under his roof. I was told that if I left home it would be in the clothes I stood up in, and nothing else. Sounds like something out of Victorian times, doesn’t it? But actually, it was the late nineteen sixties, and that’s how it was.

And yet, in a way it was different for my sister; that rule didn’t apply to her. My father seemed to hold back from his determined control. And I often wondered why. It didn’t help sibling closeness, especially when I saw the way my mother and she was so close; why there appeared to be secrets between them, things I had no privy to. Years later I discovered the truth. My sister was the result of a relationship my mother had during the war. Something my father accepted at the time; something my mother paid the price for in all the years following.

I was a voracious writer in school-often using break and lunchtimes to finish a story or an essay. I always felt I had too many words in my head that needed to be put on paper. Each year I had a poem, an essay, a story in the annual magazine. English classes were the one lesson I lived for, and my need to show each new English teacher that I loved to write (and craved recognition of each piece of work) became almost an obsession.

If I’d known that further education places were funded at the time, I would have been braver and followed my teacher’s urging and apply for teacher training, even if I’ d have to apply in secret. Not just accept that I needed to get a job to bring money into the house, and the Civil Service was the best place for me. But I didn’t. And becoming a teacher became an unreachable wistful longing. Then.

And I would know that it was wrong of my father to read my daily journal, to make fun of my scribblings, my thoughts, my feelings. And, looking back, I would have known that that what I was feeling, was writing, was of value, if only to myself, and I shouldn’t have stopped writing. And not started again until after I left that house.

And I would realise that getting married wasn’t the only way to escape – even though, after fifty years of marriage, I know now it was one of the best choices I ever made.

In those days when Indie publishing was a thing of the future, would I have started writing if I’d known how difficult it was to be published? Yes, because, in those early months of marriage, the moment I put pen to paper again, I felt the release of so much emotion – of tension. It didn’t matter if I saw my words in print, or if no one else saw what I’d written. I wrote for myself. And what was on the page was honesty, the truth of how I felt, my reaction to situations to people, to things said.

So when I turned those thoughts into fiction, they became imbued with memories, memories filled with the sensations that I’d felt in the moment of that time.

And that’s what I think is important for any writer. If a writer doesn’t feel every emotion as they put the words on the page, then neither will the reader

And that’s what I told my students.

Because, yes, dear reader, I became a teacher… at long last. Well, a tutor of creative writer under a lifelong learning scheme for adults with the local council. In the preceding years, I’d gone back to learning, and, by the time I was in my mid-forties, I’d gained a degree in English Literature and Drama, and an MA in creative writing.

But then, in those first years of teaching, I was haunted by imposter syndrome. One day, someone would find me out; I was just a housewife and mother ‒ oh, and I worked in the civil service,”(my so-called proper job). Yes, I’d had poems, stories, books published. But who was I to tell anyone how to write? Can anything except the mechanics of creative writing be taught? It’s a question often asked. And not one I can answer even now. But I’m grateful that I ignored that feeling of not knowing enough when I see a student holding out a published piece of work and saying, “I’ve always wanted to write but didn’t know if I could.”

And it always reminds me that this short phrase, ‘ If only I’d known then what I know now, ‘ is something that most people think.

©Judith Barrow 2022

About Judith Barrow

Judith Barrow,originally from Saddleworth, a group of villages on the edge of the Pennines,has lived in Pembrokeshire, Wales, for over 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. She is a Creative Writing tutor for Pembrokeshire County Council and holds private one to one workshops on all genres.

Books by Judith Barrow

My review for the wonderful novel The Heart Stone February 2021

I have read nearly all of Judith Barrow’s previous novels and was delighted when a new book was announced.

As always the author has created a cast of characters that embody all aspects of human nature and are guaranteed to elicit an emotional response. Combined with the harsh reality of life during this dreadful period in history, Judith Barrow has written a compelling saga .

The book covers seven years in the lives of two young people who face moments of joy but also untold dangers, loss, and at times despair. Arthur at only 16 is thrown into the maelstrom of the first year of the war leaving behind Jessie, his first and only love, to face her own devastating life events on the home front.

Times were very hard and despite the progress made by the suffragette movement, for women it was even tougher. Despite some enlightened men, particularly in this small village, the pressure was applied forcing women into marriages doomed from the start.

I am not going to share any spoilers but I do recommend The Heart Stone as a wonderful story with well drawn characters which will certainly bring you to tears from time to time. The author deals with the heartbreak and trauma with great sensitivity but does not shy away from writing honestly. This includes a thread of hope running through the novel which leads to a fitting conclusion to the story.

As with all the books of Judith Barrow, I highly recommend The Heart Stone. It is a story that will linger in your mind for a long time to come.

Read the reviews and buy the books: Amazon US – and: Amazon UK – Follow Judith: Goodreads – blog: Judith Barrow – Twitter: @judithbarrow77


 Thank you for joining us today and I know Judith would love to hear from you.. Sally.

128 thoughts on “Smorgasbord Blog Magazine – Guest Post – I Wish I Knew Then What I Know Now! #Family #Writing by Judith Barrow

  1. I can relate to so much of what you’ve written here, Judith. It’s such a gift to many of us that you didn’t give up. Congrats on your wonderful review! Hugs and best wishes 💕🙂

    Thanks for sharing Judith’s wonderful words, Sally. Hugs 💕🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  2. This was yet another interesting read and a take on what you know now.
    As a child in the 60’s I can relate to much of this but luckily had a caring family.
    When I said I wanted to be a teacher, like my aunt, I was told it would be out of my grasp.
    But, I did reach out and with encouragement from school teachers I trained to teach.
    For me my proper job, apart from being a mum, was to get involved in playwork and the Playbus.
    I didn’t apply myself very much at college and took it for granted.
    But, I’m certainly glad I had my teaching to fall back on.
    I certainly think the doors are more open now (even in lockdown).

    Lovely read today. thank you for sharing

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you for dropping by and commenting, Sue.. I love how you say being a mum and getting involved in playwork was your “proper job”. You’ve left me wondering what “the Playbus” was?

      Liked by 2 people

      • The Playbus was a bus which was converted for children to play on.
        A mobile play project.
        I painted it, drove it, ran it and shared it with my children as well as many others.
        It stole my heart but it gave me lots of ideas to write about in my children’s picture story books. 😆
        P.S. I also taught and loved reading the children’s stories they had written.

        Liked by 2 people

    • Such lovely comments, Annette, thank you, so much! I wasn’t sure how much to share, but I know many other women (and men) have had harder childhoods and have achieved far more than I have. I’m just glad I’m where I am now. x .

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Well done for achieving your dream of becoming a teacher. I think we all have regrets if we sit and think about it. I’ve discovered the trick is to live in the present and don’t look back, which is pretty hard to do though.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. This is such a great post, thanks, Judith and Sally. I am always in awe of someone who survives a controlling parent. I had such loving, supportive parents that it is hard for me to imagine. But children are very resilient and as they say, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I’m reading one of Judith’s books right now and enjoying it.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. An honest and very moving contribution to Sally’s marvellous prompt. I can’t imagine how hard it must have been to grow up with such a controlling and domineering father. Nor can I fully appreciate that harm he must have done reading your daily journal and ridiculing it. Your strength comes through, though, and you achieved all you wanted to do and last year you were shortlisted for the Welsh Book of the Year Award – a testament to the power of your writing. I can also attest to your natural ability as a teacher having been fortunate enough to be a student of yours! I love that wedding photo. xx

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  6. What an insightful post, Judith. I came from that controling house too. Being criticized over encouraged was more common. What an inspiration that you did follow your dream to teach and write.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I also can relate to very much written here. Sometimes the family is the smallest war area on this world. -) Thanks for sharing, Judith. It is always a good help to see own experiences mirrored in the life of others. It serves the own processing of repressed things. Thanks also to you, Sally! You always have wonderful ideas for great series. hugsx Michael

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Such a beautiful post, Judith. Your courageous journey prompted memories and dreams from times long ago. Thank you for sharing as you have, and thank you, Sally, for featuring Judith. Another wonderful reflection in this amazing series. ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Arg Judith. I know we’ve often talked about our not so happy growing up lives. It’s so easy to see how a parent can ruin a sibling relationship. And I also know how hard it was to never have any encouragement. But your dad snooping in your journal, the line should have ended there. Thank goodness for ‘better late than never’. Hugs xxx

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  10. It’s hard for anyone living in a house ruled by control and fear. It’s heartbreaking to hear that your father made fun of your writing. One of the beauties of life is we get opportunities to change our lives, even if that opportunity doesn’t come until later in life. How great that you became a writing teacher!

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  11. This is a beautiful post, Judith! The beauty of courage and determination. You wanted to become a teacher and you did. I love that you felt free when you wrote for yourself. You made up the lost time as I said about myself in many aspects of my life.
    My childhood hero was Abraham Lincoln. Both his mother and stepmother valued education for him, but not his father. He didn’t talk too much about his father. But his father couldn’t stop him to study law with a borrowed law book, and that he became the 16th president of the US.
    Thank you again for this inspiring and heartwarming series, Sally! ❤

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Congratulations on the wonderful review and what an interesting and thought provoking post about your early home life and desire to overcome obstacles to become a teacher. What an achievement to realise your ambition and as a creative writing tutor! That must be brilliant! Totally deserving of all your success. A big pat on your back from me, Judith. x

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Judith, I can relate to living in an atmosphere, of not being part of the group (family) and stepping on eggshells. I get how children and teens were treated in the 1960s; that’s the way it was. Going for a dream and attaining it is admirable, against the odds almost. Well done and I am thrilled for you. Lots of women in the 1940s had to explain a child to a returning soldier who had been gone 6 years. It happened in our village but then it was Wartime and life was viewed differently going through that period. Live now, damn tomorrow I think. Glad you got your dream and you became a writer. Thank goodness you did not give up. x

    Liked by 2 people

  14. What a wonderful post! I am so happy that your father’s example did not turn you into a bitter person. You sound full of life and love, Judith. Thanks for sharing her piece with us, Sally! 😊

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Judith – a profound and beautiful reflection on your inner journey to thrive within a complex and very unhappy situation. You have inspired us all with your courage and determination to persevere against a seemingly unsurmountable situation.

    Liked by 2 people

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  17. HI Sally, it would not have been easy growing up in a house with such a dominant father figure although it was similar for my mother whose father ruled the family with a rode of iron. All the children were scared of him which is very different from my relationship with my dad. I am very glad Judith pursued writing as she is highly talented. You have reminded me that I have another of her books on my kindle.

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  18. A very moving and very inspiring post by Judith. Parents should encourage their children to spread their wings, but many never experienced it themselves and only felt happy when they exercised their control over their family. But she never gave up, and now she can teach others how to follow their dreams.

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  19. I had to fight back tears reading about Judith’s childhood. I know what a generous person and talented author Judith is. I am sorry she was not loved and encouraged by her parents, as she should have been. Thank goodness she was recognised and rewarded for her writing at school. And, how wonderful that as an adult she was able to realise her dreams to not only write, but to teach creative writing. .A very interesting post and a great blog. Thank you Judith and Sally.

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  20. What a beautiful, poignant, heart-wrenching post, Judith. I’m so glad I finally got here. There’s one thing that came through loud and clear to me… you certainly know how to write. Thanks so much for sharing your inspiring, heartfelt story. Thanks for the icing on the cake of this wonderful series. 😀

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