Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Guest Interview with Judith Barrow
Today, I’m delighted to welcome back saga author, Judith Barrow. Those of you who read my blog regularly will know that I’m a big fan of Judith’s Patterns trilogy. Patterns of Shadows and Changing Patterns are set during and just after WW2, with Living in the Shadows set in 1969. Her latest book, A Hundred Tiny Threads was published by Honno in August.

Judith, welcome back. Please tell us a little about A Hundred Tiny Threads.
A Hundred Tiny Threads is the prequel to the Haworth trilogy. It’s the story of the parents of Mary Haworth, who is the protagonist in the trilogy. Her mother, Winifred, is a young woman eager to find a life beyond her parent’s grocery shop. She battles against her domineering mother. When her new friend, Honora, an independent Irish girl, persuades her to join the Suffragettes, Winifred defies her mother and seeks a life away from home. But her head is turned by her friend’s brother – and she finds herself in more trouble than she can handle.
Unbeknown to Winifred, she has another admirer, Bill Howarth, a troubled man who bears the scars of a difficult upbringing. Despite his determination to make Winifred his wife his experiences in WW1 and his time in the Black and Tans in Ireland make him bitter and his ability to find trouble wherever he goes affects his life, his work, his relationships and his health.

After completing your highly acclaimed trilogy about the Howarth family, why did you feel the need to write the prequel that tells us about the early lives of the parents, Bill and Winifred ?
Well, with the two characters screaming out at me to tell their stories, I felt I needed to write more about the Howarth family. I knew I wanted to explain why Bill and Winifred are as they are in the first of the trilogy, Pattern of Shadows. I think that, when we reach a certain, say, mature age, we are what we have lived through as much as what we are through our genes definition. Does that make sense? Bill is mostly not a nice father; he certainly is a hard man. I wanted to show what he has endured in his early life; what has caused him to be so hard. As for Winifred – I think she has used up all her spirit, all her determination to change her life by the time we meet her in Howarth trilogy. She just accepts her lot and any defiance she has is turned inwardly, against herself.

What challenges did that pose for you?
The only real challenge was the time line; everything needed to fit into the timings within the trilogy; the ages of Bill and Winifred, the births of Tom (Winifred’s illegitimate son) and Mary (the first born of Bill and Winifred). But, as a writer this was an exceptionally exciting challenge to be able to research and write about the world events that is the background of A Hundred Tiny Threads.

When I was reading your novel, that's what struck me - how well you've researched those events. And that brings me on to my next question. Because the book is set in Lancashire in the 1900s and Ireland at the time of the Black and Tans, how much research did you have to do for the novel?

As with all my novels I have huge files of each era I write about on the shelves in my study. It’s important to me to immerse myself in the world my characters move around in, so I have folders on the politics of that time, the world situation, what was in the news. The research for the setting of A Hundred Tiny Threads was both fascinating and time consuming; so much was happening at that time. And quite a lot of it was so distressing I sometimes found myself crying; for the dreadful situations those young men endured during the First World War; for the awful injustices and cruelty that the people in Southern Ireland had inflicted on them. And, as a woman, and knowing these were the years when women were fighting for the vote, I felt it important I show their struggles as truthfully as possible.
On a more prosaic level, it’s the kinds of houses, furniture, fashions, hairstyles, children’s’ toys and games played, music and films, radio or television programmes depending on the times, even the weather if I have a scene where I’ve also put the dates in a certain chapter. The list is endless but necessary, I think.

Well, it certainly paid off. Your novel has been described as ‘gritty’, 'laid bare in a language which is forthright and at times, brutal'. Even though you've said how you were often distressed as you were writing some scenes, how important was it for you not to shy away from those horrors of WWI, the atrocities of the Black and Tans or the violent punishment of the Suffragettes?
My genre is family sagas and what I try to show is that in fiction, as in real life, none of us live in a vacuum. What is happening in the world around us, affects us in one way or another. The beginning of the twentieth century was a brutal and horrific time in so many ways. I have to be true to myself with my novels; to put down what I feel, to portray the truth of the world backdrop of my characters. If I don’t do that, how can I show their feeling, their reactions as people dealing with real life? It’s the only way I can write.

Your characters are very real and come alive on the page. How do you feel their experiences of life at the time and the awfulness of what they saw influenced the kind of parents they were to become?
I think Bill is a father of his time; the parenting of the children is the mother’s responsibility. But his upbringing, his time in the army, his involvement in the Black and Tans, has instilled in him a sense of angry inferiority; of questioning the unfairness of life. Although he knows that it is his duty to obey, ultimately he can’t help rebelling – often without thinking of the consequences. And this is what he struggles with as a father; he demands absolute obedience and when it is not forthcoming he acts on his frustrated reactions. He uses his fists. It isn’t that he doesn’t love his children in varying degrees (depending on which one it is) but they have to fit into his life the way he wants them to – and when he wants them to. Basically his innate sense of inferiority makes him defensive, even in his relationship with them and he is forever striving to be seen as the head of the family, whatever the circumstances.

And, as Bill is a father of his time, so is Winifred the mother of her time. She has borne the children, looks after them to the best of her ability, given her limited influence on them and the financial situation. She especially strives to be the opposite of her own mother, a bullying, self-centred woman, trying instead to emulate her loving grandmother. But, at was often the case in that era, she knows it is in her (and even her children’s) interest to put the well-being of her husband first before anything else. If he is satisfied his needs are being met then there is relative peace in the house. It’s a fine line that Winifred treads. And not one her children always appreciate.

I have to ask. Is this the last of the Howarth family?
Hmm, I’m not sure; there is one of the younger generation who keeps mithering me to tell her tale. And I have written eight short stories of the minor characters in the trilogy whose lives seem to be taking up a lot of my thoughts. So the Haworths could pop up as supporting characters there, I suppose.

What are you currently working on? Another family saga?
For a long time I’ve been working on a book that is slightly different. It’s a story of a mother and daughter – so is a family saga in a slightly different way - and more contemporary rather than historical. It keeps drawing me back. But at the moment I’m actually writing the life story of one of the minor characters in the trilogy. Where it will lead I’m not sure (which is rather unusual for me) but I’m going with it for now.

Thank you so much for taking time to chat to me, Judith. I wish you good luck and lots of sales with your wonderful book.

A Hundred Tiny Threads is published by Honno Press  http://www.honno.co.uk/

Links to all books on Amazon: http://amzn.to/2klIJzN
Blog and website: https://judithbarrowblog.com/
Twitter: @barrow_judith

My thoughts on A Hundred Tiny Threads: 5*
As a lover of family sagas, I eagerly awaited the arrival of A Hundred Tiny Threads. I had thoroughly enjoyed all three of Judith's books in the Patterns trilogy and I was not to be disappointed! The story gripped me from the first page and I couldn't put it down. For me, the strength of the writing is the creation of memorable characters who come alive on the page. These are real working class people. I can hear the authentic dialogue in my head; I can imagine meeting them and having conversations with them. I particularly warmed to Winifred who wanted so much more than her sheltered life in her father's grocers's shop with a mother who clearly didn't love her. Although hard to read at times, I admire the way that the harsh reality of the violence and brutality Bill experienced wasn't glossed over. Getting both viewpoints throughout the novel allowed us to enter the psyches of both Winifred and Bill. This was a time of social and political unrest and, through what I know is very thorough research, Judith takes us right into the midst of it. I have no hesitation in recommending this novel that's raw, gritty and makes an excellent read. A superb 'must' for lovers of family sagas and historical fiction!

Thank you for reading. Do enjoy reading or writing family sagas and historical fiction? What is it about the genre that appeals to you?

You may also follow me on @JanBayLit and on my Jan Baynham Writer Facebook page. Thanks.


  1. I can see that the more you write about characters, the more you discover there is to tell.

    1. I think that’s true, Patsy. Your characters become so real that you have to tell everything you know. I feel I know Judith’s characters really well, now.

  2. Another really interesting interview, Jan. I loved reading 'A Hundred Tiny Threads' - Judith has created a wonderful character in the young Winifred.

    1. Thank you, Sara. Yes, I think Winifred is my favourite and as she faces all that life throws at her, her strength of character shines through.

  3. How fascinating to take your story arc back in time and explore the young lives of the parents and show how they became the characters everyone is familiar with. I was interested in what Judith said about having to be careful to get all the details correct, so as not to trip over existing story information. This must have been a challenge - but such a rewarding one, I'm sure. And I agree with Judith about the importance of those tiny details that add so much colour to a scene - getting the clothes, furniture, music correct, things like that. I think readers love those details. Thanks for an interesting interview, Jan and Judith.

    1. Thank you, Sue. Judith had an interesting story to tell about tackling writing the prequel, didn’t she? I think it definitely paid off. Her attention to detail is one of the things I loved about the book.

  4. I enjoyed reading your questions, Jan, and hearing the background to your latest novel, Judith. I haven't yet had the pleasure of reading this one but hope to do so before long. Many thanks to both of you.

    1. Thanks, Sandra. Yes, do read 'A Hundred Tiny Threads' - it's great!