Tuesday 31 October 2017

NaNoWriMo Counting Down . . .
Yes, it's that time of year again and many writers all over the world are asking themselves, 'Shall I?' or 'Shan't I?' For some, spending November taking part in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) has become an annual event but for others, it would be their idea of writing hell. Participants try to write a 50,000 word manuscript between 12 a.m. on November 1st and 11.59 p.m. on November 30th. In order to achieve this, they need to write an average of 1,667 words per day. Of course, this means that the emphasis on the length of the work and not on the quality and it is this fact that some writers can't cope with. The saying, 'Don't get it right, get it written', is the philosophy at the heart of  NaNoWriMo. It encourages writers to finish a first draft so that it can be edited later. The project started in 1999 with just 21 participants; by 2010, over 200,000 people took part and wrote over 2.8 billion words! By 2015, this number had risen to 431,626 writers from 633 different regions and of those, 40,000 were winners, achieving the goal of 50,000 words.  
This will be my fourth NaNoWriMo. I've only 'won' once but even on those occasions when I fell short of the magic 500,000 word total, I know I wrote far more than I would have done without the push the event gave me. As someone who takes a long time to write a novel and overthinks things, NaNo works for me in that I get immersed in the story, and really get to know my characters and their actions. By writing the first draft, I have a complete novel to edit. I usually put the draft away for a few weeks and return to it with fresh eyes in the New Year. My current WiP stands at 45,000 words so if I could write the second half during the next month, I would be delighted. Luckily, I have a very detailed plan to follow that I
submitted with my partially written novel to the RNA NWS in August so that my reader would know the whole story. Intending to set my alarm for an hour earlier, I'm hoping I can make a prompt start in the morning. I'm looking forward to supporting and receiving support and encouragement from some new NaNo buddies this year, as well as the lovely writers I've 'met' in previous years. Good luck to everyone! I shall be cheering you all on.

A few weeks ago, saga writer and NaNo buddy, Susanna Bavin, kindly invited me and other writers onto her blog to talk about our experiences of NaNoWriMo. You may read what we had to say HERE .

Have you ever taken part in NaNoWriMo? What did you think? A help or a hindrance to writing your novel?
Thank you for reading. You may also follow me on @JanBayLit and my Jan Baynham Writer Facebook page.

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.

Saturday 7 October 2017

Carol Lovekin talks about 'Snow Sisters'
© Janey Stevens
This week, I am delighted to welcome Honno author, Carol Lovekin, back to the blog. She first appeared when she gave an interview here about her debut novel, Ghostbird, in March 2016. For me, Ghostbird was one of the best books I read last year - I loved it! - and I'm a huge fan of Carol's writing. Imagine how thrilled I was when she asked if I'd like to be part of her blog tour for her second novel, Snow Sisters. The tour has been running since publication day on September 21st and the book has been receiving amazing reviews. Rather than another interview similar to the one we had last year, I asked Carol if she'd like to write a guest post instead and here it is: 

Second Book Syndrome & Ghost Writing
Received wisdom insists the second novel is the tricky one. Since Snow Sisters is the easiest book I’ve ever written I could be forgiven for arguing the point.

With the small success of my first novel Ghostbird, there was an expectation that a second book would at the very least be as good as its predecessor. Telling myself being published at all was sufficient unto itself, I imagined I was resisting the pressure. Right? Wrong! I’m a writer and one of the things being traditionally published did for me was confer a level of validation. It gave me permission to write; I was good enough and there was no reason not to write another book. Nevertheless, it was scary – I scared myself thinking about it – the difficult second novel.

After Ghostbird was released my publisher asked me what else I was working on. I told her, held my breath, concerned she might consider the subject matter too much like Ghostbird. Having been reassured that ‘in a similar vein’ was the way to go, I breathed out and scurried off to carrying on writing the story that was to become Snow Sisters.

But here’s the thing: technically, it wasn’t my second novel. Languishing in limbo was a story I affectionately referred to as ‘River’ book. I’d completed several messy drafts long before Ghostbird was accepted and before Snow Sisters was even a glimmer. The problem with it was, however much I liked the story – and I did – I’d never been convinced of its credibility. Writing it had been challenging and laborious. Text book second book syndrome, right? Right.

With Ghostbird accepted, I’d set River aside, assuming I would pick it up and continue wrestling with it once my writing life returned to normal. Meanwhile, the idea for Snow Sisters came unexpectedly and out of left field. Even before my publisher confirmed it, I sensed it could be the perfect follow-up to Ghostbird. River wasn’t a ghost story and Snow Sisters most definitely was. Janey, my friend and writing co-conspirator, read the outline and insisted it had muscle. To my surprise, I wrote it in record time.

And a small ghost-voice whispered, ‘Why are you so surprised? It’s your third…’
When people ask me if I believe in ghosts I tell them I believe in the possibility of them. The same way I believe in the possibility of magic – the kind found in the everyday, requiring little more than a suspension of disbelief to render my reader temporarily enchanted.
The truth is, I never set out to write ghost stories. When I began conjuring Ghostbird, my ghost was a vague shadow. She was little more than a device; a tenuous link between her twelfth century mythical origin and my contemporary setting. It was only when my mentor, Janet Thomas, insisted the ghost needed to be heard that I began to understand I might be writing an authentic ghost story. And so it proved – as I fleshed out the ghost’s voice I realised how much I was enjoying myself.

How I envisage Angharad
Looking out through a Victorian
window at the snow
When it came to writing Snow Sisters, it was the ghost who came first – insistent and vocal. Angrier than little Dora in Ghostbird, and with an agenda, there was nothing tentative about Angharad’s voice. Woken by an act of kindness, her ghost dominated the narrative from the beginning and her story pretty much wrote itself.
As for River – what can I say? Already another ghost is nudging me – leaving her irresistible, half-voiced agenda in the outer reaches of my consciousness. She ‘keeps up her hauntings by day and night’* and I know who she is; I know what she wants. I know where she lives and who she’s going to haunt. And it’s nowhere near a river.

* Virginia Woolf

Carol reading from Snow Sisters
at the book launch in Lampeter
Two sisters, their grandmother’s old house and Angharad, the girl who cannot leave…
Verity and Meredith Pryce live with their fragile mother, Allegra in an old house overlooking the west Wales coast. Gull House is their haven. It also groans with the weight of its dark past. When Meredith discovers an old sewing box in a disused attic and a collection of handstitched red flannel hearts, she unwittingly wakes up the ghost of Angharad, a Victorian child-woman harbouring a horrific secret. As Angharad gradually reveals her story to Meredith, her more pragmatic sister remains sceptical until Verity sees the ghost for herself on the eve of an unseasonal April snowstorm. Forced by Allegra to abandon Gull House for London, Meredith struggles. Still haunted by Angharad and her unfinished story, hurt by what she sees as Verity’s acquiescence to their mother’s selfishness, Meredith drifts into a world of her own. And Verity isn’t sure she will be able to save her…

Thank you, Carol. I love the fact that, in Snow Sisters, it was the ghost of Angharad who  came first and that there's now another one already waiting in the wings for you in your 'River' book.

My Thoughts on Snow Sisters: 5 *****
Snow Sisters is a superbly crafted novel, written in figurative language that often borders on poetry.  I was captivated with the story from beginning to end. Throughout the book, stunning descriptive settings transport the reader straight into the world of sisters, Verity and Meredith. I loved the sound of Mared's blue garden, with its back story of the blue poppy; the snow-angel scene that takes place there is magical. Carol has created memorable, well-rounded female characters, exploring the relationship between sisters as well as between mothers and daughters. Allegra often exasperated me in her ineptitude as a mother and the effect her selfish decision to move to London had on Meredith, especially. The parallel stories of the present day and that of Angharad, the ghost of a previous inhabitant of Gull House who has a tragic secret, are woven together seamlessly, enabling the novel to flow. Written in the first person, Angharad's story reflects her class and the time in which she lived. This is storytelling at its best, delivered in beautiful prose, by a very talented writer. I highly recommend Snow Sisters and look forward to reading more of Carol's work. 

Honno: www.honno.co.uk/

Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Snow-Sisters-Carol-Lovekin/dp/1909983705/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

Website: Making It Up As I Go Along

Twitter: @carollovekin 

Thank you for reading Carol's post. Do you believe in ghosts or, as Carol says, maybe in the possibility of them? Are you a writer, writing your second novel? I'd love it if you left a comment.

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

Sunday 1 October 2017

Narberth Book Fair 2017

Tenby Book Fair had already become a permanent date in my diary and each year it grew in size and success. Because of that, its organisers, authors, Judith Barrow and Thorne Moore, moved the venue this year to bigger premises. It was held at the Queen's Hall in Narberth, a market town in Pembrokeshire, eleven and a half miles north of Tenby. Appropriately for writers and readers, perhaps, the town plays a high-profile role in Welsh mythology, where it is the chief palace of Pwyll, Prince of Dyfed, and a key setting in both the first and third branches of the Mabinogi.

Judith, Thorne and Honno crime writer, Jan Newton
The day was jam packed with events from the time the fair opened at 10 a.m. until it closed at 4 p.m. These included talks, readings, workshops, a raffle, competitions and a children's corner. Forty authors attended, a number of those offering recently published novels, and each stall had an array of attractively displayed books.

Wendy with her children's books
 alongside 'Not Thomas'
Checking my prompt cards before we begin!
I was very pleased to lead one of the events to interview Wendy White about her fantasic debut adult novel, 'Not Thomas', written under her pseudonym, Sara Gethin. You may read her guest interview on my blog back in July HERE. Since then, 'Not Thomas' has been nominated and shortlisted with the largest number of public votes for the Guardian's 'Not the Booker' prize. I was very nervous but once we started, it seemed to be like an informal chat about the book. After the initial questions about the inspiration for 'Not Thomas' and its road to publication, the conversation turned to being part of the 'Not the Booker' experience.

Sally Spedding
In the afternoon, my writing friend, Helen, and I attended two excellent workshops. The first was a crime writing one, entitled 'Fear is the Key - Creating the darkest places for the darkest hearts' with Sally Spedding. The second was 'Building a Short Story' with Judith Barrow. Both sessions inspired us to come back and get writing. 

It was so good to chat to authors throughout the day and talk about their books. The whole event ran like clockwork and was a testament to the amount of hard work and preparation put in beforehand by Judith and Thorne. Congratulations to both of them!

Roll on 2018!
Thank you for reading. Have you been inspired by a book event lately? Do you have a literary festival you'd recommend? I'd love it if you'd leave a comment. Thank you. 
You may also follow me on Twitter @JanBayLit and on my Jan Baynham Writer facebook page.