River Cleddau and Doveston
Today I am delighted to be interviewing Judith Barrow, author of books, poetry and plays and a teacher of Creative Writing. Her latest book Living in the Shadows is now on special offer on Amazon for the month of February.
Welcome to OAPSchat Judith, it is lovely to meet you.
And you, Jan. I’m glad to be here.
I have made a pot of tea and have some welsh cakes for us to nibble at whilst we chat.
Oh, thank you. No sugar in my tea, please.
My members and I would be very interested to know more about you!
Can you tell us a bit about your childhood and where you grew up?
I grew up in a village called Greenfield. One of a group of villages in Saddleworth, at the foot of the Pennines, between Oldham and Huddersfield. The days always seemed longer then, especially in summer. I had a dog, Rusty; she was a corgi on long legs – a Heinz 57. We walked for miles; sometimes we were out all day, climbing the local hills, sitting by the small streams that trickled through the heather and gorse. I took that freedom for granted. A bottle of water and a jam butty, an exercise book and a pencil to write with and I was in heaven.
River Cleddau and Doveston
Home life was a bit turbulent to say the least; my father liked to be in charge. I learned from an early age to stay out of the way. But I have to say he was a worker, he tipped his wage up to my mother every week. And he wasn’t a drinker.
I’ve written many times about my mother, who was a winder (working on a machine that transferred the cotton off large cones onto small reels (bobbins), for the weavers). Well before the days of Health and Safety I would go to wait for her to finish work on my way home from school. I remember the muffled boom of noise as I walked across the yard and the sudden clatter of so many different machines as I stepped through a small door cut into great wooden gates. I remember the rumble of the wheels as I watched men pushing great skips filled with cones alongside the winding frames, or maneuvering trolleys carrying rolls of material. I remember the women singing and shouting above the noise, of them whistling for more bobbins: the colours of the cotton and cloth - so bright and intricate. But above all I remember the smell: of oil, grease - and in the storage area - the lovely smell of the new material stored in bales and the feel of the cloth against my legs when I sat on them, reading or writing stories until the siren sounded, announcing the end of the shift.
Have you been interested in all types of writing from an early age?
I have. As a child I wrote short stories and, in my teens, I moved on to poetry (I must admit to being a bit melodramatic and full of angst then) After I was married and had children I wrote less fiction for a couple of years but kept a journal that later provided me with a lot of inspiration for longer stories in magazines and competitions. The plays were mostly written during a time when I was studying for a diploma in drama, in between getting my Arts Degree and my Masters in Creative Writing. I’ve written quite a few since then but done little with them.
Which authors have influenced you over the years?
We used to go to the local library every Saturday morning. I was allowed six books and I’d usually finished them by the middle of the week. Like every other girl I knew I was an Enid Blyton reader but I was also obsessed with dictionaries; which I know sounds odd. But I loved to copy words out and try to find a way to fit them into my writing – not always getting them in the right context! The first adult books I can remember were those by Georgette Heyer; I think I was around thirteen and going through a romantic stage. Then it was Catherine Cookson; I read and re-read her books. As an adult I’ve admired many different authors, sometimes for their writing style, sometimes for the way they weave the plots in their novels. And I’ve always loved Dickens, even though the beginnings of his novels are always so ponderous. Other authors? Off the top of my head I can think of Anita Shreve, Anne Tyler, Pat Barker, Amy Tan. I review books for a team headed by Rosie Amber (#RBRT) and I’ve come across some brilliant writers whom may never get the break all authors need but it’s exciting to discover them and to hope one’s review might help them on their way.to fame.
Can you tell us a bit about the play It’s Friday so it must be Fish?
Ah! I’m afraid this play came about because of a couple I once knew. They had a tempestuous marriage and each of them complained about the other for years. When they finally divorced they both gave the same reason for the break up. To cut a long story short, he always liked to have fish for his evening meal on Fridays from the local market. One week she didn’t go into town but bought packet fish from the local shop instead. They both descended on us in the same day but at different times to tell us they’d separated – and why. As he said; “it wasn’t fresh fish”. As she said, “I don’t know why he complained; it was fish in a beer batter”. The absurdity of those explanations were too good not to write about. But I didn’t’ send it out as a play for some years, for obvious reasons.
Living in the Shadows is your third book in a trilogy. Why did you want to write about this type of book and was the research for this and the first and second books, Pattern of Shadows and Changing Patterns extensive?
A family saga is a genre I love to read, and I like characters based books as well. So I suppose it was inevitable that this is what I write. The first book, Pattern of Shadows, was almost written by accident; I was visiting my mother and went to the local history library to research for a different book. Then I came across some literature on Glen Mill; one of the first POW camps for German prisoners to be opened in Britain. It was a disused cotton mill that had ceased production in 1938. At a time when all-purpose built camps were being used by the armed forces and there was no money available for new POW build, it was ideal. To read about it was fascinating, mainly because of my childhood memories of going to the mill where my mother worked. And the more I read about Glen Mill as a POW camp the more I thought about the total bleakness of it and the lives of the men there. And I knew I wanted to write about that. But I also wanted there to be hope; that something good could have come out of the situation the men were in.
Are you a morning or afternoon person and can you describe a typical writing day?
Definitely morning; I tutor creative writing three days a week so I’m usually at my desk writing at about five in the morning until eight, if it’s a working day, or nine o’clock, if not. I also try to fit in some social media for half an hour sometime then. If I’m on a roll and I don’t need to go anywhere, I carry on until domestic trivia demands attention. I flag by late afternoon, so I use the time to research for my books, make notes – and more social media. I try to write a personal post to blog once a week but I share other writers’ blogs every day on my websites.
If the trilogy was made into a film, who would you choose for the lead characters?
What are you working on next?
At the moment I’m writing the prequel to the trilogy; it’s set from 1910 – 1924 and is the story of Bill and Winifred Howarth, who are the parents of the protagonist in the trilogy, Mary Howarth. I’m also three-quarters of the way through a novel about a woman who looks after her mother who suffers from Alzheimer’s. Having been carer for two aunts with dementia I’m well aware of the ups and downs of this. But it’s not a miserable book- at least I hope not. There are lighter moments in it.
Do you prefer to holiday in the UK or abroad?
I suppose I could say both, really. We’ve had long holidays in New Zealand, Canada, and China. All of which led to my writing travelogues. But we also go on short breaks in the UK, walking holidays in mid-Wales or in the Yorkshire Dales. I think it depends on what we want from a holiday at the time.
How do you relax?
Reading, walking, pottering in the garden; my husband is the ‘proper’ gardener but I am allowed to potter – which normally means weeding while listening to Radio Four.
St. Ann's Head and Dale, Pembrokeshire. Copyright David Barrow
FIVE ONE WORD ANSWERS please!
Champagne or cider? Cider.
Animals or people? Both (well you did say only one word answer!)
Reading a novel or poetry? Novel.
Cinema or theatre? Theatre.
Talking or listening? Talking.
Many thanks Judith; It has been lovely talking to you!
No, thank you, Jan for letting me ramble on. I do hope you and your members haven’t been too bored.
All of Judith’s books can be purchased here. Just click on the book titles.