Today, I am delighted to have my fellow author, Judith Barrow, as a guest on my blog. Judith’s new book, A Hundred Tiny Threads, has just been published. It is a prequel to her historical family saga, and I’m sure it will gain her many new fans. So that you can get to know her a little better, I’ve invited her to this interview.
Welcome, Judith. Tell us a little about yourself and your background.
Although I was born and brought up in a small village on the edge of the Pennine moors in Yorkshire, for the last forty years I’ve lived with my husband and family near the coast in Pembrokeshire, West Wales, UK, a gloriously beautiful place. I have an MA in Creative Writing, B.A. (Hons.) in Literature, and a Diploma in Drama and Script Writing. I am also a Creative Writing tutor for Pembrokeshire County Council’s Lifelong Learning Programme and give talks and run workshops on all genres.
Along with friend and fellow author, Thorne Moore, I also organise a book fair in September. This year we’ve changed venues. Here’s the link that tells all!! Narberth Book Fair. http://www.narberthbookfair.co.uk/index.html
You are one busy lady! Have you always written?
I have. I’ve had short stories, poems, plays, reviews and articles published throughout the British Isles. But only started to seriously write novels after I’d had breast cancer twenty years ago. I had the first of my trilogy, Pattern of Shadows, published in 2010 by Honno (honno.co.uk), the sequel, Changing Patterns, in 2013 and the last, Living in the Shadows in 2015. The prequel, A Hundred Tiny Threads, has just been published in August. I thought the characters would leave me alone but it’s not to be; eight minor characters have been clamouring to be heard so I wrote some short stories about them in an anthology, Secrets. Now at least two of them want to be in a novel.
How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
Half finished; dozens that I know won’t go anywhere but I keep to use some parts that read okay that I can re-write and use somewhere else. Finished? Six adult novels, two children’s middle grade books and four picture books. Oh, and an anthology of poetry… mainly bad poetry, I think.
That’s a lot of writing experience under your belt! What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
Actually, I haven’t had many problems with that and I don’t know why. Except that most of my characters have been in my head for the last ten years and they talk to me. And I talk to them (yes, I do get funny looks in shops and other places) I think it’s just a case of walking in their shoes.
Yes, those characters really do take over, don’t they?! What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
I have huge files of each era I write about on the shelves in my study. It’s important to me to of that time, the world situation, what was in the news. 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 and time consuming. But necessary, I think.
There again I have an irritating habit of researching something and coming across facts I didn’t know about and having to find out about those. Before I know it I’ve gone off at a tangent and wasted hours.
I know what you mean. I’ve discovered so many things I’d never have known about because of those tangents! How do you select the names of your characters?
I’ve gone through the generations of my family and worked my way through my husband’s past family. Or I remember someone I once knew and liked the name. In the prequel, A Hundred Tiny Threads, though, I looked up Irish names and chose those I thought fitted to the characters.
I love books with an Irish connection. What was your hardest scene to write?
I wrote a rape scene; it actually was a personal account.
That was courageous of you. The most difficult scenes to write, I think, are those which draw on distressing, personal memories, but writing from the heart produces the best writing.
Does writing energise or exhaust you?
Both; if I’m on a roll the adrenalin keeps me going. But if I’m stuck or plodding through a certain scene that I know really doesn’t work and I’m going to have to alter, I’m drained. Then I try to leave that section and work on editing other parts of the book. That usually boosts me again.
I love your book covers, by the way. They make me nostalgic for that era!
What would be the advice you would give to your younger writing self?
Have confidence, believe in yourself. And leave home when you’re sixteen and see the world.
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
Good grief, I’ve not thought about that… hmm. Okay, the first image that popped into my head was a long white feather. Wonder why that happened? Spirit animal? That would actually be a black swan; I love swans, white or black; the idea of them paddling away under the water yet looking serene is an image I like to think could be me (well, I can hope!). But a black swan it is; there’s something quite royally mysterious about them.
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
Gaining my degree and then my Masters in my forties.
If you didn’t write, what would you do for work?
By choice I would make unusual novelty cakes; I did that for years as a part time job from home but it became economically unviable because people don’t want to pay the price of the hours put in when they can buy ones from the supermarkets at half the price. Or I’d teach swimming; I qualified years ago when the children were in a swimming club. I taught both children and adults; loved it.
Has there been any author’s work you disliked at first but grew into?
No, I’m afraid not. If I haven’t like an author’s work the first time, I tend to move on. If I like an author’s work I’ll follow then and read anything they write.
Me, too! What is the first book that made you cry?
Black Beauty. I wouldn’t mind but I was, and still am, terrified of horses. And I do know that’s stupid but, when I was six, I was walking with my parents through a field and a horse chased us. Climbing over a stile to escape, my skirt got caught on the top of it and I completely panicked. My mother told me a week later that the horse had chased and bitten someone else. Whether that was true or not, I had nightmares about running and getting stuck for ages afterwards.
I’m not surprised you are terrified of them after an experience like that! What do you think is the best way to market your books?
I wish I knew. However, even though it’s not the most efficient way, my favourite is giving talks and book signings. It was terrifying at first but I soon realised people just want to be entertained. And smiling a lot helps. (I usually pick out the grumpiest looking person and keep smiling at them until they break!!)
Love your style! Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?
I’m just glad when I get a review; the good ones make my day, the more critical ones I tend to think about, learn from, or discard. If I had a review from the number of people who tell me they’ll write one, they’d be in their hundreds on each of my novels. Or even from the readers who make a point of coming to me at events and tell me how much they enjoyed them. I think the problem is that people think they have to write something flowery or erudite. Just a “liked this book” would suit me fine… and I’d be most grateful.
Yes, I think many readers are genuinely nervous of writing reviews for the reasons you say. It’s a shame because reviews are so valuable to writers. Would you give us the links where we can find you?
Surely, and thanks for hosting me today, Jenny.
It’s been my pleasure, Judith, and I wish you every success.
You can follow Judith and find her wonderful books via the links below;
Amazon Page: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Judith-Barrow/e/B0043RZJV6
Linkedin : https://www.linkedin.com/in/judith-anne-barrow-02812b11/