Sunday 26 July 2020

A 'First' from Author, Judith Barrow

I first met Honno writer, Judith Barrow, at a local library event about eight or more years ago and we have been in touch ever since. I hadn't started writing novels back then and was just dabbling in a few short stories. I fell in love with her first saga that was being promoted at the event, Patterns of Shadows, set during WWII. Since then, she has written many more novels so you may wonder what is a 'first' for her. I'll hand you over to the author herself to tell you more. 

Judith, I'm delighted to welcome back to the blog! Your recent book ‘The Memory’ is very different from the sagas we’ve come to expect from you. Can you please tell us a little about the novel and how this is a ‘first’ for you?
The Memory is the story of Irene Hargreaves who lives with her husband, Sam, and her mother, Lilian, who has dementia. For a long time, the relationship between the two women has been a difficult one. And, over the last few years, this has been exacerbated by Irene's mother's illness. Irene is trapped by the love and compassion she has for Lillian which vies with the hatred she feels because of something she saw many years ago.

The book runs on two timelines: in past tense, Irene's life from the age of eight, after her sister, Rose, a Downs Syndrome child, is born and when her grandmother comes to live with the family, with flashbacks to happier times with Sam, and, in present tense, over the last twenty-four hours when Irene knows she needs to make a decision.

Although, in a way, The Memory is still a family saga, it’s the first contemporary book I’ve written. And it had been on the back burner for a long time. To be honest I wasn’t sure whether I would ever submit it to Honno, my publishers, for consideration, because it is so different from my previous books.

 What was the inspiration for The Memory?
There were quite a few reasons that instigated the story, I suppose, but the main inspiration came from memories. I think most, if not all, authors have something of themselves in their books; we can’t help it; the words emerge from who and what we are, where we come from.

The idea of portraying a character who suffers from dementia did develop from personal experience; of my being a carer for a relative with the illness. Although I must hasten to add, that’s where the similarity ends. The relationship between Irene and her mother bears no resemblance, thankfully, to the one I had with my aunt, who lived with us, after we were married, for many years. Eventually, my aunt succumbed to dementia and I became her carer. A social worker suggested I keep a journal to monitor my aunt’s needs and the things we were able to do together. I used some of the notes I’d kept as the background to this dreadful disease. But it also reminded me of the fun times we’d had, even though an hour later she wouldn’t remember.

Other parts of the story were equally difficult to write. The character of Rose grew from remembering a childhood friend who died at the age of eight. She was a Downs Syndrome child. I knew she was different than me, but I didn’t understand in what way. And I knew she was often ill in some way. But it was frightening that one day we were sitting on her doorstep laughing and chattering, the next she was gone. The incomprehension, the blankness I felt at the time, resurrected itself in The Memory.

The two characters, the protagonist, Irene and her mother, Lil, had simmered in my mind for a long time, even as I was researching and writing my other books. It was many years before they came to the surface. With Irene there is one memory, one moment in her life that has prevailed and controlled the way she sees her mother. But her mother also has her own memories that, in her mind, forced her onto the path in life that she took, and formed the relationships she has with those around her.

When my aunt died, I found some letters between her and my mother that brought back a memory for me that I’d rather hoped I’d forgotten. I knew then why these characters had been nagging at me and what the story was I needed to write.
the type of terraced house where
Irene and Sam may have lived
As a reader, I felt I was being taken on a roller-coaster of emotions. How did you feel when you were writing it?
The same. I found it an extremely emotional story to write. I think this is why it took me so long to finish the book; there were times when months passed before I could pick it up again.

Told over two timelines, the present day one takes place over twenty-four hours. What was your thinking behind such a structure? Also why did you choose to write the novel in the first person and the present tense? Was this a ‘first’ for you?
Yes, it is a first for me. It just felt right to tell the timeline that follows Irene over the twenty-four hours preceding each chapter in present tense. And that it should be written in first person point of view. As I was writing and living right alongside Irene during that day, feeling all those emotions, I also wanted the reader to experience how she thinks and deals with what happens between her and her mother. 

But, by changing to past tense in the main body of each chapter, yet staying with Irene’s point of view, I’ve tried to show the same kind of distancing we all feel when recalling memories. We judge ourselves, our decisions; sometimes we relive those times, wonder whether they were right or wrong. Inevitably those recollections engender a variety of emotions. And so it is with Irene. I’ve left it to the reader to decide if she could have made different choices.

Irene and Sam went on honeymoon
to Pembrokeshire
A view Irene and Sam may have seen

The reviews for The Memory have been amazing and very well deserved. As this book was so different from your Haworth sagas, how did you feel on publication day before you knew how it would be received?
I was extremely nervous, Jan. As you said at the beginning, The Memory is so different from the sagas that many of my readers expect from me. I had no idea how it would be received.

I know The Memory has been a chosen text for reading groups. What do you think would be a good question for readers to discuss and get to the heart of what the novel is about?
Perhaps – “Who or what has been the biggest influence in Irene’s life? And what have been the consequence of that influence?”

You are a creative writing tutor and a reviewer as well as an author so what is a typical writing day for you?
I’m usually up early in the morning because that’s when my brain works. I try to resist looking at any social media until I’ve put 1000 words on the page or when two hours have passed. If I have classes on that day, I’ll make notes in the hope it’ll help me to pick up where I’ve left off when I get back home. If no classes, I’ll carry on writing until I run out of steam or the domestic trivia of the day forces me away from my desk. 

All this goes out of the window if I have a review to write; it’ll play on my mind until I get it done. It can take hours for me to put together a fair and honest review from the notes I’ve made on the book as I’ve been reading it.

And then there are the nights when I can’t sleep, and a typical day’s writing is just wishful thinking. I’ve learned, over the years, when plagued with insomnia I give in and get up to write. And, surprisingly, when I look over what I’ve done during those hours, it’s not always complete rubbish.

What are you currently working on?
I’m working on two books at the moment - which may be three any week now because I’m waiting for the edits to come back on my next book, The Heart Stone. It’s due to be published by Honno in February 2021 and reverts to my usual genre, historical family saga, set in the early decades of the twentieth century. It’s strange; I now feel nervous about this one, probably because The Memory has been so well received. But I suppose most writers feel the same; always wondering if the next book might disappoint readers. I’ve gone right off topic, haven’t I!  Sorry, Jan. 

Right, the WIP I’m currently writing is a story set in the 1950s and is the story of three women who work in a cotton factory during the declining years of the industry. It’s told from the three points of view; they each have disparate and difficult home lives. As friends, they come together in their place of work to share the troubles within their families. Problems that will be worsened by the crisis within the cotton trade and their inevitable unemployment.

My other WIP is a more contemporary book again and is the story of two sisters who grow up sharing a lie, and the subsequent consequences that brings

What has been your proudest writing moment to date?
I’ve loved so many moments in my writing life. And I’m always thrilled when the manuscript I’ve been toiling over for months (or years!) is accepted by HonnoBut, probably, my proudest moment was when I was able to hand my first book, Pattern of Shadows, to my mother. I’d written short stories and poems and had them published; even won competitions and small prizes. I’d had a play performed. And I’d written five books (well-hidden and destined never to see the light of day again). So I think she didn’t quite believe I would ever get one accepted by a publisher. Mind you, I was soon brought down to earth when, turning over the book in her hand, she said, “Well, it took you long enough”. I agreed, mind; I hadn’t had the courage to send out any of the other books. I was so glad I was able to let her see I finally managed publication by a “proper” publisher. She was more impressed when I gave her the second of the trilogy, Changing Patterns; “Not a fluke, then, the first.”, was her reply to that book. She didn’t get to read the last of the trilogy, Living in the Shadows; by then she had dementia.

Perhaps I’ve made her sound a little harsh here, but I was brought up at a time when it was believed too much praise spoiled the child and she stuck to that premise ( even though I’d been a grown-up for a very long time by the time Pattern of Shadows was published). And she did always say these things with a smile.

Thank you, Judith. It's been fascinating to hear more about the story behind The Memory and how you felt compelled to write it. I look forward to reading your new books when they're published.

One a dark evening in 2001 Irene stands by the side of her mother's bed and knows it is time. For more than fifty years she has carried a secret around with her; a haunting memory she hasn't even confided to her husband, Sam, a man she has loved and trusted all her life. But now she must act before he arrives home…

About the author:
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, a BA (Hons) in Literature with the Open University, and a Diploma in Drama from Swansea University. 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.

Links to her book on:

Personal links:
Blog and website:
FB Author page:

Thank you for reading. I hope you found Judith's interview as interesting as I did. How do you cope when reading or writing extremely emotional scenes? Do you have to stop for a time as Judith did? Do you have to be in the right mood in order to read them? We'd love it if you commented. Thank you. 

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

Monday 20 July 2020

Guest post from Natalie Normann
I first met Natalie when she joined the local RNA Chapter and very soon she became a very active and popular member of the group. 

Natalie, welcome. Please introduce yourself and tell us a little about you as a writer.
I'm a Norwegian writer. My first book was published 25 years ago, so I've had a long career. I became a full-time writer about thirteen years ago, when I started writing historical romance series. Before that, I wrote serials and short stories for magazines, and also published thrillers and children's horror books. So quite a change of genres and a lot of different stories. 

You have written so many books. Where do you find your inspiration and ideas to keep your novels fresh and appealing for your readers?
I'm on my third series now, and the total of historical romance books I have published is 51. Because I write six books a year, it adds up surprisingly quickly.

I don't think inspiration is something you can wait for. I think it comes through writing. When I write historical novels, I find a lot of inspiration in the research. I love digging around for interesting details and always get surprised. It's half the fun of writing historical. Also, my readers sometimes suggest things that I can use, which I really appreciate. 
For contemporary romance, like Summer Island, I look at something that I love, something I feel connected to for a setting. And I love islands. My inspiration here comes as I develop the story.

My debut novel was a romantic thriller, published in 1995. Including my series, I have published 59 books as of June 2020.

How much planning did you do for each of your novels? Planner or pantser?
I do both. I never write a synopsis for a novel because I know that the story will change during the process, but I do a lot of groundwork before I start writing. I play with settings, letting characters and plot develop in my head and in my notebook, so I have an idea about where it should start and where it should end. And then, during the writing process, I have a grid where I fill in what happens. I use a pencil for this because there's an awful lot of changes that happen. Ideas tend to pop up and usually, they are better than the ones I started with. Stories develop while I work and I have learned to trust what happens.  

I’m full of admiration that your new novel, Summer Island, coming out soon, is written in English. It’s a first for you and it will be published by One More Chapter on 24th June. Please tell us about that.
The last thing I had imagined when we came to stay in Cardiff for two years, was to write for One More Chapter. I've had to pinch myself more than once. The short of it is that I met Julia Williams from Harlequin and she later put me in touch with Charlotte Ledger. I sent her some of what I already had in English on my computer. She didn't really like any of it and asked me if I wanted to write a contemporary romance set in Norway. I jumped at the thought, not having clue what to write. I had so much fun finding the story and characters.

What were the main challenges you faced when writing in your second language?
I have to watch myself from using words I'm not totally comfortable with. I don't want it to sound like I have used Google translate or picked vocabulary out of a dictionary, and at the same time it shouldn't be repetitive – it can easily be flat. One problem is that I'm always confident what's American and what's British English. Luckily I have a wonderful proofreader who helps me. I love the challenge.

Can you say which came first, the characters or the story you wanted to tell?
I'm never sure what comes first when I start a story, to be honest. Sometimes I have a character in my head, sometimes I have a setting and look for a story that will fit. It's a puzzle and I like the process of putting it together.

How important was setting your novel on an island off the coast of your home country of Norway?
The setting is so important in this book. I wanted a romantic setting, but I didn't want to set

in a city or a town. I wanted the Norwegian nature to be a big part of the story, and where I come from it's all coast, fjords and islands. Summer Island is a fictitious island, but it's put together by parts of real islands where I have spent summer holidays or long weekends since I was a little girl. Also, there has been so much Nordic Noir, and I wanted to share the beauty of a Nordic summer. It's not dark and grey all year round. We have beautiful summers, even when it rains.

I know you now have an agent. How crucial was her role when pitching to publishers and the novel being picked up by One More Chapter?
I already had the contract with One More Chapter when I got my agent, Lina Langlee. She has been so helpful and encouraging, and I think it's a good idea to have an agent in the UK, who understands the market and how things work. Because I'm still pretty clueless.

Where does the book fit in with your other novels?
It doesn't really fit with my Norwegian novels, because even if it's romance, it's a contemporary romance and that's a new genre for me.

What are you currently working on?
I am working on Christmas Island, the sequel to Summer Island. I'm trying really hard not to get it to noir since it's set in December. We'll see how that plays out. I love Christmas and it's the most important holiday in Norway. After weeks of nights getting longer and the days getting shorter, we fill our houses with Christmas lights and comfort food, and the celebrations usually start in November and last until after the New Year.
West coast view
I know you write late into the night, so do you have a particular routine when writing?
Writing in two languages can be confusing. I had one incident where I was working on my Norwegian book and wrote a whole paragraph in English. My routine is mostly sitting in front of the computer and hammer away for as long as I can. I do a strict word count and stick to it, for both the English project and the Norwegian. It works better if I write on one during the day, and the other at night.

Where do you write?
When I write at night, I sit in my office behind a very messy desk. During the writing process, the piles of post-it notes grow and notebooks seem to appear and disappear on a regular basis. And I always loose papers, usually the ones with the most important information.

During the day, I write in a coffee shop. I miss my local Costa in Cardiff something awful, and because of the lockdown, there haven't been many coffee shops open in Oslo. Now it's slowly getting back to some kind of normal and I'm finding my way outside again.

What would be the biggest compliment a reader could give you after reading Summer Island?
That they fell in love with the island and the people living there, and that it gave them a break from the real world.

Thank you, Natalie. It's been fascinated to find out more about you and your writing. I'm reading Summer Island at the moment and loving it. Good luck with the sales of this wonderful book.

He never meant to stay.
He certainly never meant to fall in love ...

Summer island off the coast of Norway was the place London chef Jack Greene should have been from. he's an outsider in the community that should have been his family, and now he's setting foot on the strange land he has inherited for the first time.

Ninni Toft, his nearest neighbour, has come to the island to mend her broken heart. With her wild spirit and irrepressible enthusiasm, she shows city-boy Jack the simple pleasures of island life - and what it means to belong. To a place. To a people. To one person in particular.
Home is where the heart is, but is Jack's heart with the career he left behind in London, or on the wind-swept shores of Summer Island, with Ninni?

Twitter: @NatalieNormann1

Instagram: natalienormann

Thank you for reading. I'm sure you'll have enjoyed reading Natalie's answers. Do any of you write or read books in more than one language? We'd love it if you left a comment below. Thank you. 

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

Monday 13 July 2020

Firsts For Christina Courtenay 

This week I'm delighted to welcome author, Christina Courtenay, to the blog as part of my series of Firsts. Her wonderful novel, Echoes of the Runes, was published recently and captivated me when I read it. I asked her to tell us why this novel is a first for her

Christina, welcome and over to you.  

Echoes of the Runes is a first for me in several ways – when it was sold to a publisher, it was the first time I’d had an agent representing me. It was wonderful to have someone fighting my corner, especially since my agent is Swedish and therefore totally on board with the Scandinavian theme. It was also my first book with Headline Review and working with the lovely team there was an absolute joy. 

And it was my first published book with a Viking setting. So a lot to celebrate there! I deliberately said first Viking book published though, because actually it wasn’t the first one I ever wrote. A very long time ago, when I decided I wanted to be an author, the very first thing I tried my hand at was a historical novel set during Viking times. I had never written anything at that point, but naively thought it couldn’t be that difficult, so I sat down and wrote a Viking story aimed at the Mills & Boon Historical line … and OMG was it bad!
I can laugh about it now and I have kept it as a reminder of how far I have come, but at the time I thought it was absolutely fine. I had no idea about plotting, characters, setting or head-hopping. No concept of writing style or misuse of adverbs. I hardly did any editing at all before sending it off, and as for researching the historical period – er, what? I was a complete novice and got just about everything wrong … and yet, I had such fun writing it! In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I kept on writing, even when I received a rather brutal (and well-deserved) rejection of that story. It didn’t matter, because by then the writing bug had well and truly bitten me.

Add caption
All these years later, I have learned a thing or two (I hope!) and I have definitely done an awful lot more research into the Viking period. These days I try to get the setting and details right, and I can’t tell you how many fact books and articles I’ve read, as well as watching programmes and visiting museums and sites. In the name of research, I went to Denmark last year to see some wonderful Viking museums; I attended the York Viking Festival (great fun – can’t wait to go again!); I took my husband on a journey to the north of England in order to follow in the footsteps of the ‘heathens’ who attacked these shores a thousand years ago; and I’m hoping to visit Iceland and Dublin when the virus pandemic is finally over. These were all (or will be) firsts for me too and probably places I may not have considered going to otherwise, but they all proved hugely enjoyable.

Finally, like Jan, I am extremely grateful for the support of the writing community and all the lovely readers out there – they helped get Echoes of the Runes into the Top 100 Kindle chart, definitely a first for me! All in all, this book and my journey towards its publication has been a truly unique experience and I’ve loved every minute!

Many thanks for inviting me to the blog, Jan!

It's been my pleasure, Christina. I'm not surprised at the response to your novel and the amazing reviews it's receiving. I thoroughly enjoyed it and am looking forward to The Runes of Destiny out in December.

When Mia inherits her beloved grandmother's summer cottage, Birch Thorpe, in Sweden, she faces a dilemma. Her fiance Charles urges her to sell and buy a swanky London home, but Mia cannot let it go easily. The request to carry out an archaeological dig for more Viking artefacts like the gold ring Mia's grandmother also left her, offers her a reprieve from a decision - and from Charles.

Whilst Mia becomes absorbed in the dig's discoveries, she finds herself drawn to archaeologist Haakon Berger. Like her, he can sense the past inhabitants whose lives are becoming more vivid every day. Trying to resist the growing attraction between them, Mia and Haakon begin to piece together the story of a Welsh noblewoman, Ceri, and the mysterious Viking, known as the 'White Hawk', who stole her away from her people in 869 AD.

As the present begins to echo the past, and enemies threaten Birch Thorpe's inhabitants, they will all have to fight to protect what has become most precious to each of them...

About the author
Christina Courtenay is an award-winning author of historical romance and time slip(dual time) stories. She started writing so that she could be a stay-at-home mum to her two daughters but didn't get published until daughter number one left home aged twenty-one, so that didn't go to plan! Since then, she's made up for it by having eleven novels published and winning the RNA's Romantic Novel of the Year Award for Best Historical Romantic Novel twice with Highland Storms (2012) and The Gilded Fan (2014), both published by Choc Lit.

Christina is half Swedish and grew up in that country. She has also lived in Japan and Switzerland but is now based in Herefordshire, close to the Welsh border. She's a keen amateur genealogist and loves history and archaeology.

Author links/social media:

Echoes of the Runes purchase links:

Thank you for reading. I hope you enjoyed Christina's post. Do you look back on your first novel and, like her, realise how much your writing has improved or was your first ever novel published?

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

Monday 6 July 2020

Introducing Claire Sheldon
Throughout July, I shall be continuing with my series of 'Firsts'. Today I'm delighted to welcome another debut author onto the blog. A fellow novelist with Ruby Fiction, Claire Sheldon is a crime writer whose book, Perfect Lie, was published on June 16th. I asked Claire to tell us something about her own life that's linked to her novel.

Welcome, Claire. Congratulations on the publication of Perfect Lie. Over to you!

Why Jen runs so much in my novel….
Back in December 2015, I took my son Alex to his first Parkrun. He managed his first 2k in 17 minutes and 13 seconds. I was so proud of him that day! It was something I wanted to do myself but thought it would just make me more ill. Alex continued to do junior Parkrun and finally, when Melanie turned four she was finally able to join in after watching her brother do for years!

Having spoken to my neurologist about taking part and the impact on my fatigue, the wheels were set in motion for me to start Parkrun. Almost a year after I had made my son take part in junior Parkrun, I did my first event and proceed to walk the whole thing. I knew with my health it wouldn’t be the easiest thing. I first started with C25K (Couch to 5K) which didn’t suit me as I was only running once a week. Then my mum told me about an app for my phone that you can set interval timers on, so I started to set it. I did X minutes running and X minutes walking. It also meant I could listen to my music without having the annoying woman in my ear and that was how I continued happily for quite some time believing I would need to build myself up to run solidly for 5k.

But one day I found myself without my phone, so without the intervals, and I decided to give it ago and just jog and see how I went. Somehow I did a whole 5k without having to stop to walk! I can quite happily say that this has continued to be the case. My personal best is 40.51 and though Parkrun has been cancelled due to COVID-19, Podrick (my dog) and I are still running once a week around the park near where I live. Sometimes Alex comes too if I can drag him out of bed. Both my kids have sadly lost interest in junior Parkrun and if I can stay in bed on a Sunday I will as this has turned to be my only lie-in day. They can both look after themselves with TV and breakfast in the morning! I kind of miss Parkrun but at least now I can get up and go when I wake up and not need to be there for 9 am!!! I have also become an advocate for Parkrun and I’m always telling people they should join and take part. I am not sure how much success I am having though!

Jen runs so much in my books because in my head that’s me! My daydream is of being faster than everyone else and running with such elegance and style as the faster runners seem to do. The record for the female runner in Long Eaton is 15min 51sec and I’m a very long way off that goal!

Thank you, Claire. What an inspirational post for people wanting to run, especially for those with health problems. Good luck with the sales of Perfect Lie. The reviews are amazing.

About the author
Claire lives in Nottingham with her family, a cat called Whiskers and a dog called Podrick. She suffers from Multiple Sclerosis and as a result of the disease had to reduce her hours working in insurance for an Insolvency Insurer. This spare time enabled her to study a creative writing course which inspired her to write her debut, Perfect Lie. 
When Claire isn't working she enjoys reading crime novels and listening to music - the band Jimmy Eat World is her biggest muse! Claire is also an avid reader and book blogger.

Blurb for Perfect Lie
What is 'perfect' trying to hide?
Jen Garner tries her best to be 'wife and mother of the year'. She helps organise school plays and accompanies her husband to company dinners, all with a big smile on her face. 

But Jen has started to receive strange gifts in the post ... first flowers, and then a sympathy card. It could be just a joke; that's what she tells herself. 

Then the final 'gift' arrives, and Jen has to question why somebody is so intent on shattering her life to pieces ...

Links to the book
Google Play:
Barnes Noble:

Claire's Links
Twitter: @ClaireEESheldon

Thank you for reading. What have you done in your life that happens to your main character? I studied art and specialised in pottery and ceramics just like Alexandra in Her Mother's Secret. 

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