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