Elizabeth Jane Corbett

writing her way home

Tag: #amwriting (Page 2 of 3)

Blog twenty-seven o Gymru – completing the Howarth family circle

I have blogged about Judith Barrow's books Pattern of Shadows and Changing Patterns in earlier posts. Imagine my pleasure therefore on visiting the Honno office in Aberystwyth to be given a reviewing copy of Barrow's latest book Living in the Shadows. Commencing during the Second World War, the first two novels told the story of the marvellously flawed Howarth family as they navigated the social and emotional landscape of wartime and post war Britain. This third book, set in 1969 and therefore not strictly an historical novel, is primarily told from the viewpoints of the original Howarth childrens' offspring, Victoria, Richard, William, Jacqueline and Linda. It brings the events put into motion during Pattern of Shadows to a shattering conclusion.

The setting of the story alternates between Ashford, a suburb on the edge of Manchester, and the fictitious (as far as I can tell) village of Llanroth in North Wales. Here are some of the things I liked about Living in the Shadows.

  • Meeting the same characters some eighteen years down the track
  • The way the old mill features in each of the novels
  • Getting a sense of how the war continued to shape people's lives in an ongoing sense
  • Especially in relation to people of German heritage living in post war Britian
  • An attempt to map changing perceptions in relation to gender roles and sexuality
  • Ditto the various reactions to rape and domestic violence
  • The detailed descriptions of sixties clothing and fashions (particularly Victoria's)

It is not an easy task for an author to skip some eighteen years and to pick up the story through thirteen (by my count) different points-of-view, about half of which are completely new, and to tell a story that follows a host of characters simultaneously and, at times, in different locations. Let alone to somehow make it work as a coherent whole. To meet this challenge, Barrow uses detailed chapter headings, giving us viewpoint characters' names, their location, day, date, and at times even the part of the day in which the action is set. She also employs the technique of introducing the character on a particular day and time and then telling what has happened in between by using flashback. Ordinarily, this would detract from the dramatic tension of the story as the reader already knows the character survived/coped/remained undetected (whatever the issue at stake) before the event actually happened. But with the enormous cast of viewpoints, storylines and locations, it is difficult to see how Barrow could have done it any other way. Although I hadn't read the earlier books for some time, I was able to easily identify the main characters and their back-stories without having to refer to the earlier installaments. Which means the story somehow worked in its own right. However, on another level, prior knowledge definitely made the book more satisfying to read. I would therefore recommend tackling this novel as part of a series, not as a single instalment.

In each of these novels, Barrow ends with her main characters living in Wales or heading back to Wales. A fact that I am acutely aware of as I approach my own return to Australia. Some of her Welsh characters use Welsh words though, I didn't get a clear sense of whether they spoke the language. Perhaps, this is an accurate depiction of being raised by parents from dros y ffin. Whether they did speak Welsh is, of course, irrelevant to the average reader and probably has no place in the story. But as I have a slight (cough) interest in the Welsh language, I wouldn't have minded knowing. Maybe Barrow will consider slipping me this piece of information? You know, just on the sly. 😉 I have absolutely no doubt that she knows the answer and could furnish me with a host of other background details about her characters. Perhaps, whilst she is at it, she could also reassure me that this will not be the last we hear of the Howarth family.

 

Blog Twenty-one o Gymru – a thought for the New Year

We have a miniature Italianate garden on the hill above Corris. There are no sign posts to mark its existence. The gates are locked, entry forbidden. Yet, somehow, everyone finds their way up the narrow rutted path to see the hotchpotch of miniature concrete structures. I am one of them. The garden path being part of my regular afternoon walk. I never fail to stop, mesmerised by what lies beyond the padlocked gates.

IMG_5082

Started in the late 1970’s the garden is the work of Mark Bourne a retired chicken farmer and one time caravan park owner who went to Italy and, upon his return, begun constructing a garden from photographs. A folly, some have called the garden, or outsider art, at once lovely and ugly. It is a fairy grotto of twisting paths, miniature buildings, and statues, the tallest of which is about two and half metres in height.

IMG_5080

I am not an artist. So, I cannot comment on the artistic merit of Mr Bourne’s work. Yet, on another level, the garden speaks to me. I imagine a man, an ordinary every day man, like you or me, who married a woman and did a mundane job, maybe raised children, who went on an annual seaside holiday and admired miniature villages and dolls houses and mini-golf courses (hey, I’m a writer, I’m allowed to make stuff up). A man who somewhere deep inside him might have dreamed of being an artist. But he came from a working class family and there were bills to pay. So the dream lay dormant, until one overseas holiday fired his imagination and he began to create.

IMG_5083

I imagine the days leading up to the construction of his first statue. Perhaps discussing it with his wife, over boiled eggs and toast, of a morning? He would have made drawings, measurements, purchased steel and cement. Then, one day he would have started, not knowing whether the project was going to work. Maybe he was terrified, making that first statute? Filled with self-doubt. This was not for the likes of him. Only clever, artistic people were allowed to create. But then the first stature looked okay. So he made another one and another. Until he filled the whole garden.

IMG_5076

Mr Bourne passed away in 2009 so I have missed my opportunity to ask how it felt. But as we go into the New Year, I can’t help thinking, about my own dreams, one of which was to live in Wales. The other being to write a novel. Ten years down the track from when I first started, I am almost there. I have two more months left in Wales and I intend to finish this draft before I leave. Will it be good enough for publication? The jury is still out on that one. But I think, if my imagined Mr Bourne was still alive, he would say don’t worry about not being good enough. Don’t worry about what other people think. Just create, in wild, reckless, abandon, and let the world find its way to your gates.

Blwyddyn Newydd Dda i chi!

 

Blog fifteen o Gymru – making headlines in West Wales

Stiwdio Maelor is a residency stiwdio in Corris, mid Wales – a place where artists and writers can take time apart from their busy lives in order to create. It has no permanent gallery space, or events budget. However, occasionally an artist on an extended residency, will express the desire to exhibit new work. Then, depending on space and timetabling the Stiwdio will host an exhibition.

Now, in case you haven’t realised, I do not have a visual arts background. When Veronica left, within twenty four hours of my arriving in Wales (yes, unavoidably bad timing) I began to realise the challenges I would face. Within days, I found myself taking down an exhibition, part of which involved dismantling delicate glass-domed landscape reproductions with white gloves and re-packing them into numbered polystyrene layers of protection. Driving home in the car afterwards, Jonathan Syltie, the artist who’d been roped into helping me, said:

‘You don’t know much about art. But you seem to have a fair amount of common sense which is almost as good in the long run.’

The comment filled me with a ridiculous level of pride.

I used the same common sense a few weeks later when the ‘organiser’ of Jonathan’s exhibition flew to Portugal, without telling us, on the morning of the opening.

Setting up for Helfa Gelf – Gwynedd’s open arts trail – was decidedly tricker. Two of our Stiwdio artists had cancelled at the last minute leaving me alone with a big empty house and an American artist, Cindy Steiler. Fortunately, Cindy was more than adequate to the task. Between us, we managed to fill the house with art-work and people. After going through the Stiwdio one elderly gentleman said: ‘I haven’t seen anything this good in years.’

‘Seriously,’ Cindy said, when I mentioned it later. ‘That old guy needs to get out more.’

She was right. But that didn’t stop me feeling blue ribbon proud of what we had achieved.

When Mita Solanky, our British born artist in residence with a Gujarati heritage, expressed an interest in showing her new body of work, Veronica came up with the idea of asking, Mayur Raj Verma, a former Bollywood actor who now lives in Dolgellau to open the exhibition. He agreed and, as the dates of Raj’s availability, coincided with Diwali – the Hindu Festival of Lights – we decided to run with a Diwali theme – complete with candles, rangoli lights and Indian nibbles.

My job was to set up the Facebook publicity and to write the press releases. Stiwdio Maelor hasn’t hitherto enjoyed much success with the local papers. This time we hit their sweet spot. I like to think it had something to do with my excellent turn of phrase but, more likely, the name Raj Verma provided the entry point. Whatever the case, we were in there, on page twenty six right after the headlines: Boss hits employee on head head with broom, and, Police make arrest after part of man’s ear bitten off. Indeed! It’s all happening in West Wales.

In the lead up to the exhibition, we stripped the wallpaper and re-painted the common room. Found out the framers could not get our donated works ready in time for the exhibition. Spent a day framing them ourselves and another day hanging them. The latter was a serious business, involving hammers, nails, and plumb lines.

‘Damn!’ Veronica said, soon after she arrived. ‘I have forgotten my drill.

‘No, you haven’t,’ I replied, pointing to a big orange drill on the bench.

‘That’s not my drill. It’s Inge’s.’

At which point , I realised I had missed out on one of life’s foundational experiences. Drill ownership. ‘I’ve never had a drill.’ I confessed.

‘Every woman needs her own drill.’ Veronica replied, with a disbelieving shake of her head.

We planned a rough program for the afternoon:

2pm – doors opened

2.30 – Veronica welcomed everyone

2.35 – Raj made a speech and opened the exhibition

2.45 – Mita’s work was open for viewing

3.00 – artist talk by Mita Solanky

3.30 – readings by writers in residence Justin Wolfers and Elizabeth Jane Corbett

4.00 – short documentary on the Bollywood film industry

The afternoon went without a hitch – apart from floods making the Machynlleth Bridge impassable, Mita’s sister’s car breaking down, the Stiwdio doors getting accidentally locked so that people were standing in the rain, and Veronica announcing she lived in Dolgellau with Raj. Fortunately she corrected her error – perhaps it had something to do with the startled look on his wife’s face? Otherwise, Stiwdio Maelor may have enjoyed an altogether different headline in the local paper. Something like: Bollywood star’s wife hits stiwdio owner over head with broom.

Blog Fourteen o Gymru – in preparation for an exhibition

An exhibition

The artist is keen

She’s been here two months

Has new works to show

Autumnal works

A Gujarati heritage

I wonder! would Raj open the show?

Raj, you mean, Raj Verma?

The Bollywood star?

The event now getting

Big as Ben Hur

We’ll have readings

Readings!

Yes, why not?

You – and the other writer

You’ll have something, surely?

Yes, you do – but

Twenty minutes each

Will that be enough?

We’ll need posters

And invites

Facebook event

Oh, yes, and, I think

We should paint

Paint?

Yes, nothing, fancy

Over the wallpaper

Although

On second thoughts

I have a steamer

And a sander

We’ll do the lot

Together

It’ll be fun

You write a press release

Print posters

Your name is on everything

But what to read?

A short story?

Part of your manuscript?

No! You can’t

Your work is sh*t!

Perhaps, no one will come?

But – wait, no

That’s why you’re here

To grow

Take your work seriously

Besides

This isn’t about you

It’s about the other artists

And Maelor

And the exhibition

Which will be wonderful

With

Or without

Your contribution

 

Blog thirteen and a half o Gymru – an invitation

Blog twelve o Gymru – don’t judge a book by its cover.

When a reviewing copy of The heart remembers arrived at Stiwdio Maelor, I ripped open the postal package, saw the cover – burnt orange and black with a group of modern, trail-rider type horsemen – and thought there must have been a mistake. The story was mean to be set in the fourteenth century Europe, wasn’t it?

I checked the author’s name: Margaret Redfern. The subtitle promised an incredible adventure across fourteenth century Venice, Ypres and Wales. So what had happened? I opened the cover, saw the familiar mediaeval frieze across the first chapter heading. I began to read. Found familiar beloved characters, Redfern’s poetic prose, a tactile evocation of setting. I thought, the first thing I will write in my review is: don’t judge this book by its cover.

Right. Having established that important detail, let’s move onto the review.

Late autumn, 1336, Welsh trader, Dai ap Heddwyn ap Rickert, and his band of travellers approach a fog bound Venezia, in a cargo ship ship under the command of the ruthless and ambitious Marco Trevior. The journey from Attaleia has not been without tension. Even so, the group of travellers are not prepared for the vicious quarrel awaiting them on the quayside. Or the violent train of events this quarrel will set in motion – events that will see them scattered from Attaleia to the English Fens, and across the Welsh Marches to the Mawddach in North Wales.

In keeping with Flint and The storyteller’s granddaughter, The heart remembers celebrates the universal nature of faith and humanity in a way that makes you want to start believing all over again.

‘We are a family now. Not through blood but through love and pain and struggle.’ Mehmi looked down at the cradled tanbur, his long lashes casting little shadows onto his sharp cheekbones. ‘I shall sing songs of this time, of the terror and storm of sea, and of how we escaped, each one helping his brother, whether Christian or Muslim.’

Throughout the narrative, Redfern shifts viewpoint with dizzying regularity. This could be disconcerting if you were looking for a recognisable main character with a clearly defined story arc. But if you bear in mind that ‘the group’ is protagonist in this story you will not be disappointed. For although, Dai, the picaresque leader of the group does not change greatly, his companions do. Their actions force a final decision on him that is quite out of character. This leads to a climax that is both devastating and ultimately satisfying.

The heart remembers is a beautiful book – a celebration of life and faith and all that is good in humanity. It is a fitting sequel to The Storyteller’s granddaughter and the narrative Redfern so beautifully set in motion in Flint. And although Will the Wordsmith’s tale comes a full circle, I wonder whether the author may not be finished with this rich Welsh story seam. It may simply be wishful thinking but I fancy she may have hinted at a continuation of this family’s story towards the end of the novel:

‘There’ll come a day,’ he said, ‘when there’ll be a man to lead us. A man of courage and honour. When that day comes – and come it will – all who long to be free from tyrants, all the little men and women of this country will rise with him, and follow him.’

I for one hope that is a hint and that Redfern is up to her elbows in research as I write this blog. But whatever the case, we can look forward to future novels that celebrate goodness and human brotherhood in singing prose as The heart remembers does so beautifully. This book is worth reading, despite its modern trail riders and burnt orange and black cover. In fact, if you haven’t already done so why not start at the beginning of the series. Gwasg Honno, the Welsh women’s press has a number of its titles on sale this month.

If you are in a Australia and reading this, Honno is having a massive Amazon Australia Spring sale.


Blog ten o Gymru – creative writing for Welsh learners

At one stage, during a difficult phase in my life, I read The Artists Way by Julia Cameron. The book is a little bit new-age-power-of-positive-thinking. But life was pretty tough and, in my desperation, I did every darn exercise in the book. One of which, was to set up a Wish File. An exercise I had all but forgotten, until I spent the weekend at Tŷ Newydd.

Tŷ Newydd, is a sixteenth century manor house in the North Wales village of Llanystumdwy. It was once the home of Lloyd George, a Welsh man, and incidentally the only British Prime Minister to ever speak the language. Twenty five years ago, Tŷ Newydd became the National Writers’ Centre for Wales. And for some reason, back in that wounded, struggling place, filled with false positivity, I stuck a picture of Tŷ Nweydd in my Wish File, along with the words:

Do a writing course here.

I
 

Six years hence, I find myself living Wales and my days are no where near as difficult as they once were. So, when I saw an advertisement for: Ysgrifennu Creadigol i ddysgwr (creative writing for Welsh learners), at Tŷ Newydd, I knew it was time to make my wish come true.

The course was weekend course, completely in the Welsh language, with tutors Aled Lewis Evans and Bethan Gwanas. In our workshops we used childhood memories, postcards, and inanimate objects (such as flickering candles) as a stimulus for free writing. The writing exercises were familiar but, let me tell you, there was no absence of talent on the room and, as for the Welsh language, I had to paddle like a pup to keep my head above the water.

One of the writing exercises involved responding creatively to a piece of artwork and, because Aled, the tutor was a poet, I decided to break out of my comfort zone and try my hand at a bit of barddoniaeth (poetry). The result a rather basic piece (which is no doubt full of grammatical mistakes), of which I am ridiculously, new-mother proud.

The Widow’s House

Tŷ yn unig, tŷ tawel,

Tŷ sy’n sefyll ar ei ben ei hunan,

Lawr y bryn ar bwys yr afon,

Ble mae’r wlad yn priodi y mor.

 

Tŷ yn unig, tŷ tawel,

Tŷ tystio’r blyneddoedd hir,

Ysgythru straeon ar y wal,

Ble mae’r hen wraig yn fyw.

 

Tŷ yn. unig, tŷ tawel,

Tŷ sy’n gwylio y tymhorau heibio,

Cyrfri y tonnau ar y tywod,

Ble mae’r cwch yn trigio wag.

 

Tŷ n unig, tŷ tawel,

Tŷ sy’n clywed y dagrau gweddw,

Synth io ar y llwyd carreg llithrig,

bel mae ei gwr wedi boddi.

 

*

Lonely house, silent house,

Which stands by itself,

At the bottom of the hill by the river,

Where the old woman lives.

 

Lonely house, silent house,

Which witnesses the long years,

Etching stories on the wall,

Where the old woman lives.

 

Lonely house, silent house,

Which watches the seasons pass,

And counts the waves on the sand,

Where the boat stands empty.

 

Lonely house, silent house,

Which hears the widows tears,

Falling on the slippery grey rocks,

Where her husband drowned.

 
Cheerful? Not! Don’t blame me. Blame the artist. But isn’t the image striking? It hangs on the wall of the Tŷ Newydd library.

I drafted four more short prose pieces over the weekend and developed a character I hope to one day use in a novel. I also wrote and performed a short mock-radio drama with two other learners using the word plu (feathers) as a stimulus.

At times, the writing life can be so serious, the rewards so distant and unattainable. Writing in Welsh gave me a chance to play and experiment without seeking a measurable (or marketable) outcome which, incidentally, was also one of Julia Cameron’s recommendations. So, maybe some of that new-age-power-of-positive-thinking stuff has value. If nothing else, the exercise forced me to identify my desires. Which is the first step towards attainment. So, who knows? Some of my other wishes might also come true.

 

Blog nine o Gymru – life in the stiwdio

I have been in Wales two months. It’s time I told you a little about my role at Stiwdio Maelor. Established in 2014, the stiwdio provides low cost accomodation for artists and writers to take time out of their busy lives in order to be refreshed and inspired to create. Situated in the historic slate mining village of Corris, Maelor has three apartments – each with a bedroom and a studio – a shared bathroom, kitchen and a common room. It also has a single bedroom room for the volunteer coordinator (which is me).

As an introvert, I wasn’t sure how I would like living in what is effectively a shared house. But sharing a house with artists and writers has its benefits. Firstly, they are not here to socialise. Secondly, when they do come out of their rooms, it is normally to talk about the creative process. The remainder of the time, they are roaming the hills looking for inspiration or holed up in their studios painting, writing, drawing, stitching or sculpting.

We have had six artists through the stiwdio since I arrived at the end of July. The last two, Cindy and Erin from Florida, helped me revamp my web page, design new business cards and put up with me ruminating about whether or not to buy a yoghurt maker. Sometimes, of an evening, we would go to the pub and anti-socialise together. It was like having a holiday with two best friends I didn’t know I had. The place is quiet without them.

Speaking of WIFI, let us move onto my daily routine. It starts, with what I have now dubbed the seeking signal pose, a stance half way between supplication and a Kundalini yoga sequence. It involves bracing myself, leaning out of my bed and holding my phone up to the window in order to get a signal, then ducking back down beneath the covers to check my Facebook feed. Of course, standing on the pavement would be more effective. But I’m not sure if Corris is ready for me in full length thermal underwear (yes, and, it’s only summer), my tufty morning hair, and a plum coloured satin dressing gown that I picked up from the local charity shop.

My studio work involves cleaning and changing the bed linen when new artists arrive, receiving enquires from future residents, sending out information, and keeping the webpage updated. In between, I have been working on my manuscript and trying to speak Welsh with a many people as possible. We have a Welsh chat group every Tuesday morning in the local Institiwt, and have started a Welsh language dinner for the learners in the village. I am also attending Merched y Wawr twice a month. Joining a Welsh chapel is also on my list of priorities. But it hasn’t been easy to get away during our month of open studios. Meanwhile, I have been attending the church in the village. This week. Welsh classes have resumed after the summer break. I now have weekly homework to complete and, as Veronica has re-claimed her car, my trip to Machynlleth (closest town) also invloves a bus ride with my dirty washing.

This week, I did the bus run for the first time. I borrowed a small suit case and got my clothes to the laundrette, then dashed across the road to the supermarket. I quickly worked out that my groceries we’re going to be heavier than my clean laundry. I loaded the suitcase up with food, my three reusable shopping bags with clean clothes, and turned up at my first Welsh class looking like a bag woman. Trudging back through Corris that later evening, bags bugling, suitcase over-loaded and my back pack stuffed to the brim, the local cafe owner said: ‘Let me guess, it’s washing day?’

I have been trying to exercise regularly since arriving. So far the weather has been kind. I have been doing a short jog to Aberllefeni (go on, say it) every couple of days and some longer walks in the hills around Corris. Today, for the first time, I rode my borrowed bike to Machynlleth. I’m not sure how practical this will be as a transport option when the weather sets in (not to mention, the hills). But this evening’s ride was glorious. I had to stop half way along the route while a farmer herded his sheep into a new field. I got chatting to his wife while we watched them pass. I told her I was from Australia and that I was a Welsh learner.

Yn wir!’ Dwedodd hi wrtha i. ‘O’n i’n meddwl dy fod ti’n Gymraes.’

Ann her name was. She keeps ieir (hens) and, from that kind utterance, I am claiming her as my new best friend.

 

We that are left – an interview with Juliet Greenwood

Those who know me, won’t be surprised to hear me confess I have a slight (cough) interest in Wales. The landscape fills me with a sense of rightness, the language enchants me, Wales’ history both saddens and inspires me. When I get a chance to read Welsh historical novels by Welsh authors set in Wales, my enthusiasm knows no bounds. This is how I came across Gwasg Honno, the Welsh Women’s Press and, in this instance the novels of Juliet Greenwood.

Those who follow my every blogged word will know I reviewed Greenwood’s, Eden’s Garden, a few weeks ago. If I were to set you a quiz, I hope you would remember it is set in both North Wales and Cornwall and that it was tactile enough to make me feel I had visited both places. Well, guess what, I’ve read Greenwood’s second book, set primarily in Cornwall, with just touch of North Wales, and despite being a World War One book, and handling a host of grim issues, it somehow managed to be hopeful, inspiring and even enjoyable. I decide a review wasn’t enough for this one. I’d see if the author would answer a few questions. Greenwood was gracious enough to agree. Before we proceed. Let me give you the cover blurb for We that are left:

Elin lives a luxurious but lonely life at Hiram Hall. Her husband Hugo loves her but he has never recovered from the Boer War. Now another war threatens to destroy everything she knows. With Hugo at the front, and her cousin Alice and friend Mouse working for the war effort, Elin has to learn to run the estate in Cornwall, growing much needed food, sharing her mother’s recipes and making new friends – and enemies. But when Mouse is in danger, Elin must face up to the horrors in France herself.

And when the Great War is finally over, Elin’s battles prove to have only just begun.

We that are left, has won Waterstones Wales Book of the Month, Wales Independent Bookshops Book of the Month and Wales National Museums Book of the Month, March 2014


See, I’m not the only one excited.

I asked Greenwood how she came to write a World War One novel. She confessed the idea had come to her while researching Eden’s Garden, parts of which were set at the end of the Victorian era. She had studied the war poets and read novels set in that era, but realised she knew very little about the experience of the women. In the end it was just a small paragraph about a women who discovered her own skills as manager and businesswoman, that jumped out at her.

“My strongest feeling from the very start was that I wanted to see the experience of the war through the eyes of one woman. Part of that was that I didn’t want the story to be the horrors of the trenches and the battlefields. I felt that focussing on such visceral horror would overwhelm the civilian’s experience that I wanted to tell, and effects of war on the men who survived.”

As the blurb indicated, We that are left tells the story of Elin a naive young woman with a blind acceptance of her less than ideal marriage who grows into a young woman with ideas of her own and a destiny of her choosing. Her voice is innocent, almost child like, in the beginning of the story, and somehow matures without loosing a sense of her being the same person. Greenwood said she took ages to find Elin’s voice. Though she knew from the outset that the novel needed to be written in the first person. I asked her how her own life lessons had a bearing on Elin’s journey.

“I didn’t realise it when I was writing the book, but I definitely drew on my own experience of being a naïve and idealist teenager, and the knocks and experience that have made me grow along the way. I grew up in the 60s and 70s, when women were still not seen as capable of achieving much beyond marriage and a family. That image was just as insidiously corrosive as the size zero one today. Like many women of my generation, Germaine Greer’s ‘The Female Eunuch’ was a bombshell that put into words many of frustrations I had assumed was just me being a failure, and finally gave me permission to be what I wanted to be, sending me on a rollercoaster of a ride towards becoming my own woman. The experience of Elin’s generation is not really that far away!”

We that are left is a war book that somehow remains light without skirting around the major issues. From reading Greenwood’s blogs on the Novelistas site I gathered this is something of a personal philosophy. I asked Greenwood to explore this philosophy with me.

“I think sometimes books are only seen as ‘serious’ and worth reading if they are full of horror and doom and gloom, as if it’s the author’s solemn duty to educate the reader, and the reader’s humble duty to listen and learn and be dragged kicking and screaming to face the terminal tragedy of existence. And women, of course, are only capable of writing (and reading) the fluffy bunny version of life known as ‘domestic’. Sigh…

“…Reading might be the only few minutes in a day – maybe even in a week – when the reader is not juggling grown up children going through a divorce along with parents growing frailer and frightened, and maybe also caring for a husband with Alzheimer’s.”

Greenwood maintains her readers doesn’t need educating in the big issues of life. They are living them. That doesn’t mean she insults them by only writing about ‘fluffy bunnies.’

“I think women are the great survivors, who make a life whatever the circumstances, and that should be celebrated rather than seeing them as passive victims of circumstance. I’ve also found that it’s when facing the most difficult circumstances that you not only learn just how vile a small minority of human beings can be, but also the strength, empathy and supportiveness of the vast majority. And it’s also when you learn the most about yourself and become more understanding of others’ experiences.”

Finally, apart from my slight (cough) interest in Wales, I love to hear about the writing journeys of other authors. I wanted to know whether Greenwood was a first draft, no holds barred person. Or one who plots carefully not commiting a word to the page until she has it all worked out. I also wanted to know about the re- drafting process (here, is where you hear my own deep sigh).

“I find this a fascinating process. As my alter ego, Heather Pardoe, I write serials for magazines. There the story is set out and agreed, and I then write it instalment by instalment with little room for manoeuvre. When it comes to writing a novel, I usually have an idea of a setting, and I know the beginning and have an idea for the end, and generally have a focus for the story. I start with a sort of family tree of the interconnecting main characters linked around the setting. So I end up with a piece of paper with circles with names inside them, and with lines connecting one to the other. I usually can’t read any of it by the end, but I know where it is in my mind. I then draw up a rough timeline just to make sure mothers aren’t younger than their daughters and that sort of thing.

“I usually write the very first paragraph by hand, just to get going, then type straight onto the computer. I start off knowing exactly where I’m going. Then by the third paragraph I realise I need a new character to have a conversation with the heroine – who then has a family and a story of their own. And after that a whole host of characters muscle in from somewhere in the ether, and I’m off on a rollercoaster ride of discovery. For the first draft I tend to just go with the flow. I don’t revise. Characters change name, age, and even sex. I just keep going until I have the story. Mouse in We That Are Left was originally a male pilot. After two sentences I realised that was just a cliché and we all know where that one’s going. As I stomped off to walk my dog in frustration, Mouse appeared, out of the blue, and the story took on a whole new dimension.

“I finding it is the redrafting, once I’ve got the story down and know where it is going and who the characters are, that is the exhilarating stage where it all starts to come alive. I draft and re-draft, until I no longer know if the reader will make any sense of it at all. That’s where an editor comes in. Having the first outside view is terrifying, but also inspiring. I don’t always go with her suggestions, but I know in my guts when she is right, and I often find a solution that neither of us have come up with. It’s like having a mediator between you and the reader. It’s almost impossible for a writer to see the story from the outside. Having those bits points pointed out always inspires me to dig deep find a solution.”

What more is there to say, apart from adding a short, about the author blurb:

Juliet lives in a traditional Welsh quarryman’s cottage between Anglesey and the mountains of Snowdonia. As a child, Juliet always had her nose in a book. She wrote her first novel (an epic inspired by Rosemary Sutcliff and set in Saxon times) at the age of ten. After studying English at Lancaster University and King’s College, London, Juliet worked in a variety of jobs to support her writing, before finally fulfilling her ambition to become a published author.

 

You can buy a hard copy of the her books through Honno. Or an eBook in all the usual places. Greenwood can be found on all the main social media channels. She blogs on the Novelistas site and at: julietgreenwoodauthor.wordpress.com

 

Hard drive issues – both personal and computer related

What causes a common cold? Who knows? I'm putting this one down to:

  1. The stress of a mammogram call back (everything is fine, thanks)
  2. Not getting enough time to work on my manuscript
  3. The excitement and challenge of doing an interview on Radio Cymru
  4. Working the weekend though I knew I had a cold brewing
  5. Taking my mum to a medical appointment with the said cold hanging over me
  6. Not getting enough time to work on my manuscript
  7. Finding out that the promised replacement Welsh teacher had not materialised
  8. Realising I would be taking two groups of learners at different stages and each learning a different dialect
  9. Knowing I would need to make the corresponding resources
  10. Not getting enough time to work on my manuscript
  11. Doing a software upgrade on my Macbook while feeling distinctly below par
  12. Finding I could no longer log in
  13. Realising I had not done a back-up for AGES

Not a bad list of minor stresses, when you look at it in black and white. But how knows? Maybe someone sneezed and in was in the wrong place?

Whatever the reason, I've got a cold.

I went to work on Thursday because I wasn't sick enough to stay home. Half way through the day I knew I would be sick enough by closing time. I slept all day Friday. Spent a miserable Saturday hunched in front of the gas heater. Mum told me I should go to the Doctors. I resisted the temptation to tell her I was more worried about my computer. I mean, what could the doctor do? Apart from tell me to rest and drink plenty of fluids? Whereas I'd been on the online forums. I was pretty sure they would have to do a factory reset of my Macbook. I would have to restore my apps and data from my back-ups which … as I mentioned earlier, had been sorely neglected .

I booked an appointment at the Apple Store.

Don't get me wrong, the Apple Store is one of my favourite places. Apart from the fact that I only ever go there when something is wrong. I like:

  1. The buzz
  2. The Genius Bar staff in their signature blue TShirts.
  3. The opportunity to look at new products
  4. Like, how cool is the new Apple watch!
  5. The fact they always show an appropriate mount of sympathy for my dilemma
  6. Without making me feel stupid for doing a software upgrade without first doing a back-up

The Genius Bar guy tried to open my computer without having to do a factory reset. But in the end, the online forums were right. A clean start was the only way forward. Fortunately, we were able to back my data up to a removable hard drive before wiping it.

'Ours are a bit over priced,' the guy said. 'Do you want to slip across to Big W?'

I've got a cold,' I said, 'slipping anywhere is beyond me.'

I bought a new removable Hard Drive. We set to work backing up my data. Documents, pictures, Welsh language televsion.

'This could take a while,' the guy said. 'Do you want to go for a wander?'

I didn't have the energy for wandering either. I made straight for the nearest cafe and ordered a coffee. Then another. It didn't help. Hmm…maybe mum was right? Maybe I should book a doctor's appointment. I went onto HotDoc. Made an appointment for Monday morning. I was pretty sure the doctor wouldn't be able to do anything, apart from making the rest and fluids official. But the appointment would keep my mum happy. Meanwhile, the Apple guy would back up my data and wipe my computer. If only that was the cure for the common cold? Wipe us clean and restore our factory settings? Alas bodies are more complex than computers. But at least, once I'd restored my Macbook, I'd be able to start making the new flash cards for Welsh class. Once my head cleared, I would also be able to work on my manuscript. Meanwhile, I've learned one important lesson. Never do a software upgrade without backing up your computer.

 

Page 2 of 3

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén