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Author Interview: Judith Barrow

March 1, 2016

About the Author:
Judith Barrow has an MA in Creative Writing, B.A. (Hons.) in Literature, and a Diploma in Drama and Script Writing. Her short stories, poems, plays, reviews and articles have been published throughout the British Isles, notably in several Honno anthologies. Her play, It’s Friday so it must be Fish was performed at the Dylan Thomas Centre in Swansea. A short film was made of her play, My Little Philly, and toured the Indie Festival. She is also a Creative Writing tutor and runs workshops on all genres.

When she is not writing she spends time doing research for her writing, walking the Pembrokeshire countryside or organising the letting of their holiday apartment Saddleworth House.

judith headshot

 

 You come across to me as a person who really loves to write and want to make people write. Have you always been this way? I am especially trying to refer to your childhood and teenage years.

For various reasons I was rather a solitary child. From the age of around eight I walked with my dog around the hills and fields where we lived. The scenery was inspirational and I I would write short poems and pieces of descriptive writing in a notebook that I always carried in my coat pocket. I shared them with no one; my family wouldn’t have thought them any particular interest. It was only later, in my teens, in the school English lessons that I felt able to read out anything that I’d written.

Can you please give my readers a brief description of your academic and creative writing achievements?

I have an MA in Creative Writing, B.A. (Hons.) in Literature, and a Diploma in Drama and Script Writing. I’ve had short stories, poems, plays, reviews and articles published throughout the British Isles, three books published by Honno, an independent publisher and I’ve Indie published one book. I’ve had one play performed on stage and one made into a short film.

You have got a great foundation in literature and creative writing from various institutions. Can you tell me of a few professors, teachers or coaches who really influenced you to write the literature you write till this day?

There was one English teacher who taught me in my teens, a man called Leslie Ellenore, who always said that, one day, he would be reading my books. He left to live in New Zealand and I never heard anything about him after that. I’ve often thought of him. I didn’t stay on in school for higher education so I was an adult when I took my A level English Literature over one year. I’d totally forgotten how to approach critiques of writing so I managed to write a whole piece on T S Elliot’s The Love Song of J.Alfred Prufrock without one single quote. I think if the tutor, a lovely lady called Lindsay Radion, had made even one derogatory remark at my attempt I would have walked away. But she didn’t and I went on to get one of the highest marks in Wales that year. I was voted Pembrokeshire South Adult Learner of the Year. That was a proud moment. But I was soon brought down to earth by my young children who told everyone I’d learned to read and write. It was later I gained my higher qualifications.

What came first:

  • Judith Barrow the writer
  • Judith Barrow the author or
  • Judith Barrow the teacher?

Judith Barrow the writer, for sure.

Which is the book you have recently written and how is this book special for you?

Living in the Shadows is my last book of the trilogy. It’s special because I managed to round off the Howarth family’s story in a way I felt was right.

Living_in_the_shadows+final+front+only+%282%29

Can you please give my readers a glimpse into the world of your main female protagonist Mary, and what she means as a character not only to you but also to every reader who wishes to read your books about her?

I like Mary Howarth; she evolved even before my first novel, Pattern of Shadows, began to emerge in my thoughts. She’s a civilian nurse in the hospital attached to the prisoner of war camp in WW2 and loves the work there; she only sees the prisoners as injured men and is a compassionate caring woman. And she’s strong; despite the hatred of her job by one of her brother and her boyfriend, Frank Shuttleworth, she refuses to leave. Besides she has no real choice; she’s the main breadwinner of her dysfunctional family, the one they expect to always be there to pick up the pieces when things go wrong. All her life she’s been loyal to them; she accepts the weight of their demands. She toes the line. But then she meets and works alongside Peter Schormann. Peter is a German prisoner and also a doctor who has been seconded to the hospital. For once Mary throws off the edicts of her life. The following years are harsh, even brutal for her. But she remains a caring, strong woman. And still the one that the rest of her family depends on.

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When you wrote your first book Pattern of Shadows where Mary Howarth was your main character, did you know that you were going to make a series of it or not?

No, not at all. In fact the first draft ended completely differently. It was only when the final edit was complete that I knew her story wasn’t complete; I needed to go on.

How do you feel now that it has become a series?

Very, very happy. Satisfied. Yet also sad. I didn’t feel I could let go of the family. Which is why I’m now writing the prequel.

In Pattern of Shadows there is a mention of a character called Frank Shuttleworth who turned out to be Mary’s worst nightmare come true. Have you ever had to encounter any ‘Frank Shuttleworth(s)’ in your life or career?

Yes I have, and writing about Frank Shuttleworth really helped to put an old situation into context. Sometimes it’s possible to hold on to bad memories because you don’t want to confront them just in case they affect the place your life is in at the moment. Seeing the words that evolved in some of the scenes between Mary and Frank actually on the screen and then in the book helped me to reconsider and recognize I will never have to deal with those bad memories again.

You seem to be very influenced by the medical stream in most of your books. Why is that so?

As far as the trilogy goes I think I answer this in your next question.

For Silent Trauma my answer is completely different and, I’m afraid, very long.

Contemplate woman in dark

Portrait of woman contemplating in dark

In 1938, DES (Stilboestrol/ Diethylstilbestrol) was created by Charles Dodds. It was expected that his synthetic oestrogen would help prevent miscarriages. At the time it was not known how dangerous this drug would be to developing foetuses. Years later, he raised concerns about DES but by then very few in the medical field were listening. In the early 1970s cases of a rare vaginal/cervical cancer were being diagnosed in young. Now researchers are investigating whether DES health issues are extending into the next generation, the so-called DES Grandchildren. As study results come in, there is growing evidence that this group has been adversely impacted by a drug prescribed to their grandmothers.

The mission of DES Action groups worldwide is to identify, educate, provide support to, and advocate for DES-exposed individuals as well as educate health care professionals.

I wanted to reach as many people as possible so I knew I needed to make the story as absorbing and as interesting as I could without it being completely didactic.

I first heard a piece about the drug on the radio and realised a relative of mine was affected by the drug.  The damage it causes is very personal and, as private person, she didn’t want anyone to know, so I contacted them on her behalf. To cut a long story short I wrote an article for the UK based DES Action. Many women contacted me after that and I heard some heart-breaking accounts of their lives. In an attempt to reach more people, I wrote a short story which eventually resulted in my eBook, Silent Trauma.

I wrote the book, not only for the people who know about DES and have been affected by it but for everybody and anybody who will listen. It was difficult to write and I found myself going through a whole gamut of emotions from day to day. I have to say it took over my life. But before it was published I sent the manuscript to the then Executive Director of DES Action USA, and a few of the DES Daughters I’d been in touch with, and I asked them to tell me whether there was anything in it that was either incorrect or inappropriate. Fortunately, there was little I needed to alter. Many of the DES Daughters who have read it have contacted me to say they can empathise with the women in Silent Trauma.

I am constantly made aware of the lack of knowledge of Stilboestrol in this country. Whenever I begin to talk about the drug most people assume I am talking about Thalidomide. When I explain about the damage the drug has caused the response is almost always amazement and disgust that consecutive UK Government have been reluctant to help – or, I’m afraid, acknowledge, that  the consequences of Stilboestrol continues.

Once I’d collated as much research as possible I knew I needed to try to write the story in my own way; to make the characters as rounded as possible. But I was also aware that, unlike the characters in my other books, it was the story of the drug, rather than the characters themselves that led the way. I would have liked to give them more of a backstory but I think they came alive in their own way in the end. I was also lucky to be given permission from ‘The Independent on Sunday’ to use an article they had written about two DES Daughters in the UK, as a Foreword. By combining that and the quotes at the beginning of the chapters with the fictional story I hope I have achieved what I set out to do; to bring the information about the drug to the reader and to give them a good story.

I think, if anything, it has helped me to be a better writer; to dig deeper into my emotions.

Unfortunately, DES Action UK folded due to lack of funds and support but DES Action USA helps and advises anyone who contacts them. They have a website: http://www.desaction.org. The charity also has a newsletter, Voice, to which anyone interested can subscribe.

And there is also a wonderful DES Daughter in the UK who has a website – http://diethylstilbestrol.co.uk/des-daughters – which is constantly updated with the latest news. She also has a Facebook page which can be found by just typing in DES daughter

In America there is been a huge campaign to prove that some DES daughters who developed breast cancer did so because their mothers were prescribed Diethylstilbestrol. The first DES Breast Cancer trial was settled out of court by the drug company after the opening arguments. The company did not have to admit guilt for making and promoting DES as an anti-miscarriage drug that causes cancer and the DES Daughters, who accepted the settlement, cannot disclose the amount. But there are many other lawsuits filed. So, even though there was no actual guilty verdict against the drug company there is still a feeling of satisfaction in the DES community.

I heard some heart-breaking accounts of the lives of the women affected by Stilboestrol and I was always aware that I was representing them, so I needed to know all my facts were correct.

I did approach my own publishers and four others. The reasons for the rejections were twofold. One was that ‘they wouldn’t be able to sell “issue-led” novels’. And two, I was told, was the worry of being sued by the drug companies. To my mind, if any of them decided to sue, they would be accepting culpability. But just in case any of them are reading this, the house is in my husband’s name only and I have no assets.

Silent Trauma is the story of four women living in different parts of the UK but drawn together in friendship because of the consequences of Stilboestrol. The story opens in 1989 when eighteen year-old Lisa Matthews is diagnosed as having clear cell adenocarcinoma of the cervix. The treatment is a radical hysterectomy. Unable to face that prospect she commits suicide. After the death of her daughter Meg Matthews spends years investigating the drug. But it isn’t until 2001 that Meg tells Lisa’s story to the local radio station.

Exposed to the drug in utero and having suffered a fourth miscarriage Rachel Conway hears the interview and contacts Meg.

Rachel then confides in her friend, Jackie Duffy, who is shocked; she herself has been affected by Stilboestrol, she has suffered with endometriosis since puberty and has never told anyone. Jackie has a destructive relationship with her mother Mary who refuses to accept that the drug she took caused the problems. Her rejection of Jackie stems from her guilt and her homophobic revulsion of Jackie’s gay relationship with Hazel, an older possessive woman.

Rachel discovers that her husband, Stephen has been having an affair and his lover has given birth to a son. Two months after he leaves her she realises she is pregnant again. This time she carries the child, a girl, to term.

Like Meg’s daughter, Lisa, Avril Breen, a writer, developed cancer in her late teens. She underwent a hysterectomy and vaginectomy after which her fiancé called off their wedding. Unwilling to form another close relationship Avril isolated herself in a cottage in the Pennines. She hears about Meg’s interview through relatives in Wales and contacts her, consequently becoming friends with Rachel and Jackie.

As the friendships grow we follow the women’s lives and their determination to make public the devastating results of the drug. Avril persuades them to collaborate in writing a play about it.

The story ends as the curtain rises.

You have based your first two books of the Mary Howarth series, that is, Pattern of Shadows and Changing Patterns directly on the Second World War. How did you manage to research on this topic and how long did it take?

I never intended to write about the Second World War. It’s something I’ve talked about a lot. I was visiting my mother who lives in the North of England and was researching in the Oldham Archive Library for a story I intended to write. As is usual for me, my research led me from one thing to another and I discovered that one of the first prisoner of war camps for German prisoners in Britain was a disused cotton mill in Oldham called Glen Mill. It was then I realised I’d found a perfect setting for my nurse, Mary, my strong character who’d lived in my head for such a long time.

Who has been your greatest support where your career as a writer and teacher is concerned?

My husband, David. He’s supported me in all I’ve decided to do. I had breast cancer twenty years ago and, once recovered, decided I wanted to gain some qualifications and then to write full time.

What will be your future ventures? What is the next book you are working on? Let my readers know your plans.

I now tutor five classes for Adult Lifelong Learning for Pembrokeshire County Council; this next year we’re writing memoirs and short plays. It’s great fun. And I’m writing the prequel to the trilogy, working title, Foreshadowing. I’m also on the final (hopefully!) edit of a book entitled The Memory, the story of a woman who lives with her mother, an Alzheimer’s sufferer. It’s a novel with a twist at the ending.

Describe your own writing style in five sentences.

Hmm, difficult! I write in the only way I know how. I’m often told by readers that know me say they can hear my voice as they read. My style has been described as poignant, gritty, with detailed observations and true to sense of place and era. I think, perhaps, I should leave it to the readers to decide.

Thank you ma’am for enlightening insaneowl.com and its followers about your work as a writer. Continue the good work and all the best for your future ventures. I do hope that we may be able to speak through the medium of my blog once again in the near future. Warm regards from Fiza Pathan.

To connect with the author, click on the links below:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/judith.barrow.3

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/judith-a-barrow-02812b11

Twitter: https://twitter.com/barrow_judith

Pinterest: https://in.pinterest.com/judithbarrow/

Google Plus: https://plus.google.com/+JudithBarrowauthor/about

About me: https://about.me/jbarrow

Blog: http://judithbarrowblog.com/

Her books are available at:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Judith-Barrow/e/B0043RZJV6/

http://www.amazon.com/Judith-Barrow/e/B0043RZJV6/

Copyright © 2016, Fiza Pathan

 

10 Comments
  1. An excellent interview with Judith. It was through Judith’s blog I discovered you, Fiza!
    I’ve read and thoroughly enjoyed Judith’s trilogy and am looking forward to the prequel. I have also read Silent Trauma, which was a real eye-opener as I’d never heard of the drug or its appalling effects.

  2. Ah, thank you, Mary, what lovely comments. I’m particularly impressed you read Silent Trauma. Many people shy away from ‘issue-led’ novels, So, hearing that it made an impression on you means a lot. I give many talks on the drug and most people haven’t heard of it either. Fiza has been so kind by giving me so much space on her site

  3. Reblogged this on Judith Barrow and commented:
    I’m so grateful to insaneowl.com for allowing me so much time on her page today.

  4. Reblogged this on Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life and commented:
    Fiza Pathan interviews Judith Barrow and as always a great pleasure to read more about her.

  5. Judith is a fascinating woman and I’ve enjoyed this interview immensely. I haven’t had a chance to read your books, but do hope to. I am captivated by these reviews.

  6. Judith, I have found that many writers had solitary beginnings. I could see you walking the countryside- thinking and pondering about things. Time to reflect brings about great writers and thinkers. Thank you for sharing your story, Lynn

  7. Great to get to know a bit more about you, Judith! You are such an accomplished lady! And very inspiring. Your book Silent Trauma sounds amazing. I admit I’ve never heard of that drug. How terrible that such things are swept under the carpet by the govt rather than admitting it and offering help where needed. I’m sure your book will help to raise much needed awareness.

  8. Great interview. I love reading about this period in history. I think it was a very pivotal time.

  9. That was a wonderful interview with Judith, Despite being such a busy woman with her writing and teaching, she is also a tremendous supporter of her fellow bloggers.

  10. Indeed, Judith is generous in her support of fellow bloggers. I hope to read her books as I am fascinated by the stories. Wonderful interview, Fiza and Judith. 🙂

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