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Author Q&A: Judith Barrow

Posted on 08/28/2018 at 08:00 AM by Sadye Scott-Hainchek



Appropriately enough, the writing of a family saga was set in motion by author Judith Barrow’s family memories.

Barrow had been learning about the United Kingdom’s first German prisoner-of-war camp, which was a disused cotton mill, when she started reminiscing about her childhood.

Both parents worked at cotton mills in the 1950s and 1960s, and the young Barrow would often wait for her mother at the mill after school.

The sounds, scents, sights — all of it came flooding back. And it set Barrow to wondering about the workers at that repurposed mill.

What were those men thinking about? What noises were they hearing to segment their day? What did they smell and see, going about their routine?

Barrow had been itching to write a story, and it seemed, as she speculated on those long-ago workers, that she had found her source.

Once she’d completed Pattern of Shadows, set at that mill-turned-POW-camp, though, she realized she wasn’t actually finished.

Two books followed to complete the trilogy ... except there were threads still waiting to be tied up. (Sewing puns definitely intended.)

Now that Barrow has the trilogy's prequel done as well, we pulled her away from her many other writing endeavors to answer a few questions about it all.

SADYE: Which of your stories’ eras — and I’m thinking both time and place — would you most like to find yourself in, and the least?

JUDITH: For my Howarth trilogy, and A Hundred Tiny Threads, the prequel, I needed to do a tremendous amount of research, so I feel that I have "lived" in all these eras at some time or another.

I was actually living in a village in the north of England in the sixties, the time of Living in the Shadows, the last book of the trilogy, but wasn’t old enough (even if I’d been allowed, having a controlling father) to be part of the scene, as it was so-called.

I think I would have loved to have lived as a teenager then, in Manchester, the nearest city to the town in my trilogy; it was such a vibrant and exciting time for young people.

In contrast, the second decade of the twentieth century was horrendous and certainly not a time I have yearned to have lived.

The continuing struggle of women in all parts of the country of the suffragist/suffragette movement and the treatment dealt out to them was harrowing. I doubt I would have been as brave of so many of them.

And then there was the “war to end all wars,” World War I: The loss of lives, the disfigurement; facial and bodily injuries, caused by mortar fire, flamethrowers, rifles; and, afterwards, the total destruction of a way of life must have been so difficult to cope with.

Also I can only imagine how frightening it was to have lived in the Republic of Ireland at the time of the fight for independence from the United Kingdom and of the Black and Tans, the time and setting of some scenes in my prequel.

Such contrasts of these eras made me realize how the human race can cause such diversities.  

SADYE: You said that characters Bill and Winifred wouldn’t leave you alone once you’d finished the original trilogy — tell us more about that.

JUDITH: It was odd; they haunted me for weeks after I’d finished the last of the trilogy.

I always think that, after a certain age, we are what we’ve experienced, how we’ve lived, what we’ve done, how we have treated the people around us down the years, how we have been treated and how we reacted to that.

Bill and Winifred both turned out differently from what they expected (there I go again; they actually are real in my mind – sometimes I do wonder).

Anyway, both of them are so different in the first of the series, Pattern of Shadows, and they wanted their stories told; to explain why this is. … Who was I to deny them their story?

I have to say, I’m now having the same trouble with Mary Howarth, the protagonist in the Howarth trilogy. She wants the story of her later life to be set down for posterity. Hey-ho!!

SADYE: Well, then what’s up next for you, writing-wise?

JUDITH: At the moment I have a manuscript with my publishers, Honno, waiting for editing, and I’m fifty thousand words into my next family saga.

When I’d finished the prequel (and when I thought I’d finally finished with the characters that populated the trilogy), up popped eight minor characters from the three books, mithering and pecking at my head.

So I wrote and indie-published a set of short stories for them in my anthology, Secrets.

Then one of them still buzzed around, and so I’m writing her story. I have the feeling they’ll outlive me!

I’d like a forty-eight-hour day, please.

SADYE: You’re part of a book review team and also an author yourself. Is this common? And were you nervous about it at all?

JUDITH: I should say here that I also teach creative writing to adults, both in private one-to-one workshops and in classes for the local council under a Lifelong Learning Scheme.

It’s a tremendous privilege to help someone achieve an ambition to write a book, a story, a poem or two. Even more thrilling if they have their work published.

And I believe that, as a writer and even more so as a tutor, one reads books differently if reviewing.

I see many authors throughout social media who are also reviewers; there is a great sense of community and support.

Rarely do I see any signs of “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.” And if there is, it’s soon discovered.

So I wasn’t nervous about being part of the Rosie Amber review team. Honesty is the underlying thread we all work by.

It’s all about constructive criticism and, above all, kindness; we writers are sensitive souls!

All that being said, if I am reading a book only for the sake of enjoying it, I just sit back and wallow in the story.

SADYE: Tell us about starting the Narberth Book Fair — what inspired it, what the early experience was like before it became more established, etc.

JUDITH: The first book fair I organized alone was in 2012. I wanted authors to be part of a local Arts Festival and persuaded the committee to let me host an event.

I knew quite a few writers and asked if they’d like to be involved. Some of them did — and that’s when I panicked; I really hadn’t a clue what was needed.

Luckily there is always good old Google to research for information! And friends. I muddled through (or I thought I muddled – everyone said it was a great success).

So, the following year, I approached the next book fair with greater confidence and much less trepidation. Over the years I’ve made many mistakes but, thankfully, learned from them.

That’s not to say things don’t go wrong, or that something that seemed a great idea at the planning stage, turns into a disaster or, at the least, something to be avoided next time. ...

It has flourished into such a successful event with an increasing amount of talented authors eager to participate — so much so that, in 2017, we needed to move to a bigger venue!

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Learn more about Judith Barrow on her website, where her books can also be purchased; like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter.

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Categories: Author Interview

Tagged As: Author interview, Historical fiction

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