Family sagas and contemporary fiction
|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
I’ve written all my life and have 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. Four novels safely stashed away, never to see the light of day again, I had the first of my trilogy, Pattern of Shadows, published in 2010, the sequel, Changing Patterns, in 2013 and the last, Living in the Shadows in 2015. The prequel, A Hundred Tiny Threads will be published in August 2017. Hopefully then the family in this series will leave me alone to explore something else!
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.
When I’m not writing or teaching, I’m doing research for my writing, walking the Pembrokeshire coastline or reading and reviewing books for Rosie Amber’s Review Team #RBRT, along with some other brilliant authors and bloggers.
The Howarth Family trilogy follows
the life, loves and tribulations of Mary Howarth and her family.
A review of Pattern of Shadows, by Cathy Murray:
"Pattern of Shadows is a wonderful story set in the latter days of World War Two somewhere in the north of England. Mary Howarth is a nurse who is part of a medical team given the unenviable task of caring for sick and injured prisoners of war at the prison camp hospital. Mary starts a relationship with one of the guards at the camp, Frank Shuttleworth. The relationship proves difficult for Mary but Frank is persistent. Meanwhile, Mary’s home life is far from easy and she finds solace in her work.
As the novel evolves Mary’s life becomes increasingly fraught and complicated. To say more would be to give away an extremely well constructed plot which explores some challenging issues of the day. I’ve already read Silent Trauma by this author and know that Judith Barrow can write about difficult subjects with sensitivity and honesty. The writer displays that same talent again in this novel. The novel is well researched and the sense of time and place is established securely.
The author has created a group of characters who are very real and the dialogue and interactions between them are a strength of the writing. The romance element of the novel has a degree of predictability but when the concluding chapter is reached there is a sense of relief that what was anticipated has occurred. Pattern of Shadows is the first of a three part set which takes the story on further and it’s going to be fascinating to see what happens next."
Judith's latest book, to be published this year by Honno, is A Hundred Tiny Threads, the prequel to the trilogy, covering the First World War and the years following.
Extracts from A Hundred Tiny Threads.
The first is set around Bill Howarth (the father of the protagonist in the trilogy, Mary Howarth and is part of the Prologue.
*“The whistling in his ears faded. He listened to the silence as the seconds passed, measured by the laboured breath from his lungs. Slowly the sounds surrounded him; a hollow drip of water, faint groans, a shifting of props holding up the roof. And then a scream, a yell, echoing along the tunnel.
Despite the pain of the weight on his shoulders, pressing him into the ground, Bill Howarth knew he should stay still. He ran a gritty tongue around his dry mouth and swallowed, trying not to cough.
Squeezing his eyes tight against the dust, he then stretched them wide, staring in front of him. Nothing. Blackness.”
This second is from Winifred Duffy’s point of view (Mary Howarth’s mother)
*“Before she could turn away he stopped her, still holding her hand. ‘So? So, I hear ya joining the Suffragette. Honora, thought ya ma had stopped ya.’
‘Winifred lifted her head, her face flushed with embarrassment. ‘I’m a grown woman. I can do as I please.’
‘Well I’m glad to hear that. And you’ll put yourself forward as a speaker at one of their meetings?’
‘I will.’ Winifred spoke without hesitation. ‘I’ve not done anything like that before but I’ll try. The thought terrified her but, after today, she was determined.
‘Will ya with us come to the next protest march?’
‘You go?’ Winifred felt her jaw slackens in surprise.
‘It’s not just women who think ya should have the vote, ya know. There’s some of us men believe we’re all equal.’ His mouth formed a tight line. ‘Believe all men are equal an’ all.’
Winifred recognised the frustration in him. Didn’t she feel it often enough herself? It must be just as bad, maybe worse to be a man who felt himself seen as lower than other men.
She’d barely acknowledged to herself the way he made her feel by his close presence; her stomach tied in knots. How she stopped herself from gazing at his handsome face, even from touching him, she didn’t know. She knew it was wrong to feel like that; it was sinful. But now she surprised herself; she realised that, in seeing a different side to him, as well as all those feelings, she actually liked Honora’s brother.
‘So?’ he said, ‘Ya will be there?’
She surprised herself by her forwardness when she squeezed his fingers and smiled at him.
‘Yes, she answered. ‘Yes, I will.’
Judith is also the author of Silent Trauma, a contemporary novel based on a true-life medical scandal.
A review of Silent Trauma by Terry Tyler.
"Judith Barrow wrote this book to bring attention to the trauma sufferered by the victims of the drug Diethylstilboestrol (DES), given to women between the years 1949 and 1971. It was prescribed to prevent miscarriage, but had a devastating effect on the daughters – and possibly the granddaughters – of the women who took it, meaning that they had miscarriages, too, cancers of the reproductive organs usually associated with older women, and other problems to do with that part of the body. Unlike with Thalidomide there has been very little publicity about it, and the women who campaigned for what they had been through and why to be recognised, faced many brick walls.
I think writing a novel about it is such a good way of letting people know about the ongoing tragedy; I would not read an article about it, but I read this. Silent Trauma follows the lives of four women affected by the drug, and the friendship that forms between them: Meg, whose daughter Lisa took her own life; Rachel, whose husband left her because of the change in their marriage due to her depression caused by several miscarriages; Avril, a recluse whose life was shattered by cancer in her teens; and Jackie, caught in a difficult and violent relationship with a woman, herself a product of a difficult upbringing.
Aside from the main purpose of the book, I enjoyed reading about the four women very much; it’s a well written, well planned story. The characterisation is terrific, and the situations so real. I’ve read Judith Barrow’s nostalgia orientated, warts and all family sagas set in the north of England during the 40s, 50s and 60s, but actually liked this more. I read it in one sitting. Speaking as one who has never had the urge to have children I cannot imagine how it must feel to want them so badly that you feel like less than a woman if you can’t reproduce, but all the emotions were painted so vividly that I felt everything the characters went through, and the situations were met with great understanding and sensitivity.
Jolly well done."
Questions for Judith
Are you working on another book?
I’m actually working on three books at the moment. I’m editing the prequel to my Patterns trilogy: A Hundred Tiny Threads, to be published in September by Honno, I’ve almost finished the first draft of another novel, The Memory and I’m putting together an anthology of short stories. (Hopefully to be published in August)
What is your preferred genre?
Oh, family sagas.
What do you love most about writing in your genre?
I love writing about the complexities and trials and tribulations of family life.
What is your writing style?
My work has been described as gritty. I just think I write about life.
What gives you inspiration for your books?
People. History. Life in general.
Of all the characters you have created, which is your favourite?
Mary Howarth, my protagonist throughout the trilogy. She’s a strong, determined woman who holds the family together, whatever happens.
What character in your book are you least likely to get along with?
Frank Shuttleworth. He’s a bully of the worst kind.
What is the biggest surprise that you experienced by becoming a writer?
At first it was the thrill of knowing that readers liked my novels. Now it’s being able to talk about my books and creative writing to audiences of any size. Believe it or not I once wouldn’t have said boo to a goose. (Yes, I know that’s a cliché – just hope none of my students are reading this!)
What has been the best compliment?
It was this one from my husband when we were on holiday in Croatia, last year. I didn’t even realise he’d packed them to read:
“‘I like your writing.’ he says. We’ve known one another for almost fifty years, been married for forty-six. But he’s looking at me as though he’s never seen me before. He’s just finished the last book of my trilogy, Living in the Shadows. He sits back and says it again. ‘I do, I like your writing.”
Tell us a little about your plans for the future?
To carry on writing and teaching creative writing. And to avoid as much housework as possible!
Judith Barrow's interview