03 Sep 2013

Judith Barrow: “Pattern of Shadows”

1 Comment Book Reviews

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Mary is a nursing sister at a Lancashire prison camp for the housing and treatment of German POWs. Life at work is difficult but fulfilling; life at home a constant round of arguments—often prompted by her fly-by-night sister, Ellen, the apple of her short-tempered father’s eye. Then Frank turns up at the house one night—a guard at the camp, he’s been watching Mary for weeks—and won’t leave until she agrees to walk out with him. Frank Shuttleworth is a difficult man to love and it’s not long before Mary gives him his marching orders. But Shuttleworth won’t take no for an answer and the gossips are eager for their next victim, and for the slightest hint of fraternization with the enemy. Suddently, not only Mary’s happiness but her very life is threatened by the most dangerous of wartime secrets

 

“Pattern of Shadows” by Judith Barrow is a wonderful gem of a historical novel with a greatly chosen setting.
Mary is a nursing sister at a prison of war camp in the UK during the last years of WWII. Her family often seems at war with each other, particularly Mary and her sister Ellen argue a lot, not least in connection with prison guard Frank, for whom Mary has mixed feelings herself.
The book has really great characters and a complex storyline. Although it is set in war time a lot of the book is about a regular family that has to deal with the loss of one of the family members and it is also about a blossoming but complicated romance. It is my kind of book, rich in plot and different themes while offering a lot of historic facts and insights with a fresh perspective.
The book was an interesting and very compelling read and I’d recommend it to anyone who – like me – likes a good story with interesting characters

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Hi Judith

How did the idea for the novel come to you?  Your story heavily features a Prisoner of War camp. Why did you choose this setting?

Pattern of Shadows was inspired by my research into a disused cotton mill in Oldham, a town in Lancashire in the North of England, and its history of being the first German POW camp in the country.  I was looking for information in the Oldham Local Studies and Archives for general background for a story I was writing. The history of Glen Mill brought back a personal memory of my childhood and I was side-tracked.

My mother 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 manoeuvring 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 until the siren sounded, announcing the end of the shift.

When I thought of Glen Mill as a German POW camp I wondered what kind of signal would have been used to separate parts of the day for all those men imprisoned there. I realised how different their days must have been from my memories of a mill. There would be no machinery as such, only vehicles coming and going; the sounds would be of men, only men, with a language and dialect so different from the mixture of voices I remembered. I imagined the subdued anger and resignation. The whole situation would be so different, no riot of colour, just an overall drabness. And I realised how different the smells would be – no tang of oil, grease, cotton fibres; all gone – replaced by the reek of ‘living’ smells.

And I knew I wanted to write about that. But I also wanted there to be hope somewhere. I wanted to imagine that something good could have come out of the situation the men were in.

How did you come to writing in the first place?

I’ve been a compulsive reader for as long as I can remember. As a child, every Saturday morning I went to the local village library with my mother and carried home a stack of books that didn’t always last the week. My father didn’t believe in the television or radio, so reading was always my greatest pleasure. Books were both my passion and an escape. As I grew older they also became an inspiration for the writing I did in secret. I hadn’t the confidence to show anyone what I was doing; the short stories, plays and poems stayed firmly hidden. And, later again, like many women, work, getting married and bringing up a family was a priority for a lot of years. I didn’t start writing seriously until I was in my forties, had gained a BA degree and a Masters in Creative Writing.

How did you choose the characters for the story?

I know what I want my characters to look like but I need to sort out their personalities first. I don’t think you can be a good writer without empathy for your characters. They can’t be one-dimensional; good or bad. I suppose, initially, they’re a mixture of people I’ve known but mostly they become rounded by their place in the book.  Once I have a clear picture in my head of my character’s personality I can feel free to tell the story. But it rarely finishes up as the one I have in the beginning; the characters lead the way in that; I can sense how they react to the events in the plot, how they feel, what they say, invariably means I change the direction of the story.

Who is your favourite character and why?

Mary Howarth: She lives within the shadows of her family’s expectations of her – a pattern that rules her life. Most of all she lives within the shadow of her own loyalties. I believe we all live within the confines of our own pattern of the shadows that rule our lives – our expectations and those of other people. But ultimately she goes her own way

Are you like any of the characters (and how so)?

I believe we all live within the confines of our own pattern of the shadows that rule our lives – our own expectations and those of other people. On a personal level, I was brought up in a patriarchal household where what my father said was the rule. I know the feeling of helplessness, of the unfairness of not being listened to, of being ‘invisible’ if you like. I carried the frustration of having no voice into my adulthood. Luckily (or perhaps by wise choice) I married a man who believes in the equality of the sexes, who gave me a voice. We are still together after forty-five years.  It’s taken me a long time but I’m more comfortable with who and what I am than I’ve ever been.

What was the most fascinating aspect in the research and the writing for you?

I always carry and explore characters, ideas, a story in my head. So when I knew where and what period of time the events would take place I went back to the Oldham Local Studies and Archive to research Oldham, in the forties and also to a records officer in the county of Pembrokeshire during that decade. It was fascinating. By knowing my settings, the details of the background, I could write in the knowledge that it was a strong and a fitting place for my characters to live in.

How did you research for the book?

 The most important aspect of my research was making sure that the details of a German POW camp in Britain during WW2 were authentic. So I learned as much as I could about the history of the camp and its occupants throughout the war years.

I traced a map of Oldham in the nineteen forties and then renamed all the streets and the town – and did the same for a village in Pembrokeshire.

 Then I read books and researched on the Internet to find out what life was like during that time.

Were the plot and subplots completely planned from the start or did they change during the process, and if so, how?

I had an idea how I wanted the plot to run but there were lots of twists and U – turns when the characters wouldn’t act as I originally intended. I didn’t want to change the personality of the characters so the plot had to be altered. Ultimately the end result was the same though. As for the sub –plots – they just appeared as the story progressed. Oh dear, that doesn’t make me sound very organised – but it worked for me.

This is part of a series. How many books will there be and can you tell us where this will be going – without any spoilers?

Changing Patterns, the sequel to Pattern of Shadows, was published by Honno in May of this year. It follows the lives of the characters, there are continuations of some of the issues raised in Pattern of Shadows – but it’s also a stand-alone book with a story of its own.

I’ve already started to research for the third in the series. It’s set in the sixties and most of the same characters are in it; certainly Mary and Peter will feature quite largely. But the children who were born during Pattern of Shadows will have the major part

Tell us about your other books.

My eBook, Silent Trauma, is awkward to categorize; it’s fictional but based on fact. It’s the result of the anger I’ve felt about an injustice done to many women. It took me a long time and a lot of persistence to get it published but, finally, I succeeded.

 It’s a story of four women affected in different ways by a drug, Stilboestrol, (Diethylstilboestrol, DES, in the USA) an artificial oestrogen prescribed to women between the decades of the nineteen forties and seventies, ostensibly to prevent miscarriages. Not only was it ultimately proved to be ineffectual it also caused drastic and tragic damage to the daughters of the women. I learned about the charity (DES Action UK) some years ago through a relative and became involved. I wrote an article for the annual newsletter and mothers and daughters affected by the drug began to contact me

The characters are a disparate group; their stories are run both in parallel and together and have been described by readers as ‘strong’ and ‘speaking with a true voice’.

I chose to self-publish Silent Trauma initially as an eBook mainly because, after years of research, I was impatient for the story to be told. Luckily, I was given permission to reprint an interview from the Independent on Sunday with two DES Daughters as the Foreword (which lends both veracity and authenticity to the book) and I’ve been given quotes from many women affected by the drug to use at the beginning of each chapter.

DES Action UK folded last year due to lack of funds but http://www.desaction.org  (the USA equivalent) is available to help and advise any DES mothers and daughters in Britain also. A percentage of the sales will go to the charity. People shy away from ‘issue-led’ novels but ultimately the story is fictitious and has been described as’ a good read’ and ‘sad, fascinating and poignant’

What are the best and the worst aspects of writing?

The best aspect of writing for me is that I’m never short on ideas; there so many images and words in my head – I just need to write them down. The worst aspect is time – and that I am a slow writer. I tend to go over and over what I’ve written the day before and need to get it right before I can move on. I envy writers who can speed along getting the whole story down – and then edit it.

Why do you write?

I can’t stop writing. I get tetchy if I ever miss a day – which is rare. I have a motto on the wall next to my desk “You’ll know you should be writing when you hate the world and everyone in it”. When that happens I know I’ve gone too long without sitting in front of my computer and getting words on the screen. I should apologise to my family, at this point, for being irritable sometimes.

How do you balance marketing one book and writing the next?

 With difficulty – on line; I’m not completely on top of things with social media because I resent spending time learning all the ‘ins and outs’ of it all. So it’s my own fault that I find keeping up with everything hard work and time consuming. But I’ve made good friends with a whole host of writers on Twitter and Facebook and I find myself drawn in. I want to read everybody’s blog and look at all the websites and answer all the posts on Facebook and Twitter. So I plod on. My favourite side of marketing is book signings and appearing at events and giving talks. On the plus side, I do manage to balance the two aspects of being a writer these days. I tell myself I was a ‘domestic goddess’ for years – now the house gets a ‘lick and a polish’ most days.

What do you do when you don’t write?

 I paint, walk. potter in the garden, meet with friends and family. I try to ignore ‘domestic trivia’ but it catches up with me eventually and so then have I spend a whole day cleaning.

Who did you have in mind when you wrote the characters?

 I don’t think I should say who I have in mind for the ‘difficult ‘characters. The rest of the them are a disparate mix of people I have met or imagined over the years.

Who would play them in a film?

I’ve never thought of that. I have been told many times that Pattern of Shadows would make a good television drama series. In which case I would love to have Gaynor Faye, from Emmerdale, as Mary.

Who are your biggest influences?

 My husband, David. And then my closest friends – one of whom is Sharon Tregenza, a children’s author, and my greatest critique.

Which are your favourite books and authors?

A Thousand Splendid Suns, Khaled Hosseini: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou. And anything by Pat Barker; I think her writing is so complex; she mixes absolutely exquisite description with dialogue that is so believable the reader lives within the internal lives of each of her characters. I am, and have been for a long time, a real fan of her work.

Which indie writers can you recommend?

 There are so many: If I had to pick names out of a hat – Judith Arnopp, Jenny Lloyd, E.L. Lindley, Eleanor Anders, Regina Puckett, Bert Murray. And I love all the mottos and saying Khaled Talib Tweets.

What would you take to an isolated island?

 My husband and family

What else would you like us to know about yourself and your books?

 I think I’ve said enough!

 

Pattern of Shadows was published by Honno in 2010

http://www.honno.co.uk/dangos.php?ISBN=9781906784058

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Pattern-of-Shadows-ebook/dp/B00940YWKQ/ref=dp_kinw_strp_1

http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/?ie=UTF8&keywords=pattern+of+shadows&tag=googhydr-21&index=stripbooks&hvadid=15209327994&hvpos=1t1&hvexid=&hvnetw=g&hvrand=297622601706156893&hvpone=&hvptwo=&hvqmt=b&ref=pd_sl_30tvv8osf2_b

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Changing Patterns:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Changing-Patterns-Judith-Barrow/dp/1906784396/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1376847892&sr=1-2

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Changing-Patterns-ebook/dp/B00B0STM2I/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1376847892&sr=1-2&keywords=pattern+of+shadows

 

Silent Trauma, published December 2012.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Silent-Trauma-ebook/dp/B00AFZ8CLO

The link to my website:

http://www.judithbarrow.co.uk/

http://www.judithbarrow.com

 Other links:

https://twitter.com/judithabarrow

judith.barrow.3@facebook.com

 

http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3295663.Judith_Barrow

 

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written by
Christoph Fischer was born in Germany in 1970 as the son of a Sudeten-German father and a Bavarian mother. ‘The Luck of The Weissensteiners’ is his first published work. He has written several other novels which are in the later stages of editing and finalisation.
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