I have a new guest on my blog today. I “met” Judith Barrow through Story Empire, then invited her to share her latest release The Memory. Please make her feel welcome as she gives us a behind the scenes look at what inspired her to write the book.
Thank you so much, Mae Clair, for hosting this guest post and promotion for my new book, The Memory.
Many people have asked what was the inspiration for The Memory and my answer is always – memories: memories of being a carer for two of my aunts who lived with us, memories of losing a friend in my childhood; a friend who, although at the time I didn’t realise, was a Downs’ Syndrome child. But why I started to write the story; a story so different from my other four books, I can’t remember. Because it was something I’d begun years ago and was based around the journal I’d kept during that decade of looking after my relatives.
But what did begin to evolve when I settled down to writing The Memory was the realisation of why I’d been so reluctant to delve too far into the manuscript. The isolation, the loneliness, that Irene Hargreaves, the protagonist, endures; despite being married to Sam, her loving husband, dragged up my own feelings of being alone so much as a child. That awareness of always being on the outside; looking in on other families, relationships and friendships had followed me; had hidden deep inside my subconscious. And now, as a contented wife and mother, with steady enduring friendships, it unsettled me. Many people, and as a creative writing tutor I’m one, say that writing is cathartic. Working through Irene’s memories; especially that one memory that has ruled her life, made me acknowledge my own. And that’s fine. I always say to my students, if you don’t feel the emotions as you write, then neither will your reader. In The Memory I’m hoping the reader will sense the poignant, sad times with Irene, but will also rejoice with her in the happier memories
Today has been a long time coming. Irene sits at her mother’s side waiting for the right moment, for the point at which she will know she is doing the right thing by Rose.
Rose was Irene’s little sister, born a chromosome short, an unwanted embarrassment to their mother Lilian but a treasure to Irene. Rose died thirty years ago, when she was eight, and nobody has talked about the circumstances of her death since. But Irene knows what she saw.
Over the course of 24 hours their moving and tragic story is revealed – a story of love and duty, betrayal, and loss – as Irene rediscovers the past and finds hope for the future.
Extract from The Memory
There’s a chink of light from the streetlamp coming through the vertical blinds. It spreads across the duvet on my mother’s bed and onto the pillow next to her head. I reach up and pull the curtains closer together. The faint line of light is still there, but blurred around the edges.
Which is how I feel. Blurred around the edges. Except, for me, there is no light.
I move around the bed, straightening the corners, making the inner softness of the duvet match the shape of the outer material, trying to make the cover lie flat but of course I can’t. The small round lump in the middle is my mother. However heavily her head lies on the pillow, however precisely her arms are down by her sides, her feet are never still. The cover twitches until centimetre by centimetre it slides to one side towards the floor like the pink, satin eiderdown used to do on my bed as a child.
In the end I yank her feet up and tuck the duvet underneath. Tonight I want her to look tidy. I want everything to be right.
She doesn’t like that and opens her eyes, giving up the pretence of being asleep. Lying face upwards, the skin falling back on her cheekbones, her flesh is extraordinarily smooth, pale. Translucent almost. Her eyes are vague under the thick lines of white brows drawn together.
I ignore her; I’m bone weary.
I wait by the bed. I move into her line of vision and it’s as if we’re watching one another, my mother and me: two women – trapped.
‘I can’t go on, Mum.’ I lift my arms from my side, let them drop; my hands too substantial, too solid to hold up. They’re strong – dependable, Sam, my husband, always says. I just think they’re like shovels and I’ve always been resentful that I didn’t inherit my mother’s slender fingers. After all I got her fat arse and thick thighs, why not the nice bits?
I’ve been awake for over a day. I glance at the clock with the extra large numbers, bought when she could still tell the time. Now it’s just something else for her to stare at, to puzzle over. It’s actually twenty-seven hours since I slept, and for a lot of them I’ve been on my feet. Not that this is out of the ordinary. This has been going on for the last year: long days, longer nights.
‘Just another phase she’s going through,’ the Irish doctor says, patting me on the shoulder as she leaves. ‘You’re doing a grand job.’ While all the time I know she’s wondering why –why I didn’t give up the first time she suggested that I should; why, by now, I’ve not admitted it’s all too much and ‘Please, please take her away, just for a week, a day, a night. An hour.’
But I don’t. Because I have no choice. Mum told me years ago she’d sorted it out with her solicitor. There was no way she’d agree to our selling this house; as a joint owner with Sam and me, she would block any attempt we made. There’s no way we could afford to put her into care either; over the years, we’ve ploughed most of Sam’s earnings into the renovation and upkeep of the place. So here I am. Here we are.
I was born and brought up in a small village on the edge of the Pennine moors in Yorkshire, but, for the last forty-three years I’ve lived with my husband and family near the coast in Pembrokeshire, West Wales, UK, a gloriously beautiful place.
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 by Honno , the longest-standing independent women’s press in the UK. They then published, the sequel, Changing Patterns, in 2013 and the last, Living in the Shadows in 2015. The prequel, A Hundred Tiny Threads was published in August 2017.
The Memory was published in March 2020, and my next book, The Heart Stone, is due to be out in February 2021.
At the moment I’m working on two books; a story set in the 1950s of three women who work in a cotton factory during the declining years of the industry. It’s told from the three points of view; each have disparate and difficult home lives. As friends, they come together in their place of work to share the troubles within their families; problems that will be worsened by the crisis within the cotton trade and their inevitable unemployment.
My other WIP is a more contemporary book again and is the story of two sisters who grow up sharing a lie, and the subsequent consequences that brings.
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 researching for my books, walking the Pembrokeshire coastline or reading and reviewing books for Rosie Amber’s Review Team #RBRT, along with some other brilliant authors and bloggers.
Again, my thanks, Mae Clair, for hosting this guest post and promotion for my new book, The Memory. It’s been great fun and I appreciate your generosity.
It was my pleasure to host Judith today. Thank you for visiting and making her feel welcome. Please don’t forget to use the sharing buttons to help spread the news about The Memory! 🙂