How my book came to be written

 

Mum and me2

Mum and me.

“Shadows on the Grass” came out as an e-book in January and after the first flurry of excitement, there’s time now to sit back and reflect on the whole process.

This book has taken many, many years to write. Not because I am a slow writer, quite the opposite in fact, but because it started out life in a very different form.

Back in the day I was interested in writing historical novels, I was also, at more or less the same time, researching my family history.

My parents came to England after WWW2 and settled in a country that was totally foreign to them. Because at that time Poland was behind the Iron Curtain they had very little contact with any of their relatives and neither did we. Curious to know more about my family background I began asking questions and listening to the stories my mother told about her childhood.

Some of this material was incorporated in the original version of “Shadows on the Grass” a long shambling novel that had no real centre, or any particular theme. I remember finishing it one snowy December day and rewarding myself with a glass of vodka, then putting the manuscript away in the box along with all the research I had done on Polish history.

Of course what I should have done was to get feedback and start on the next draft, but somehow I had lost impetus. Life got in the way and it wasn’t until some years later that I took it out again, decided there was something in what I had written and decided to give it another go.

The first thing that went was the structure. Instead of following a chronological narrative, I went for a series of flash backs so that the story of the Dzierzanowski family would be told through the view point of three main characters. Grandmother, mother and daughter. And so a theme emerged, the relationship between the three of them became the focus of the book.

I have always been fascinated by how the generations interact, in particular mothers with their daughters. This pivotal relationship in a woman’s life can give her the confidence to grow into her own person, or prove incredibly destructive.

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Mum at ninety

 

In my own case I was lucky. My mother was a nurturing parent who was only concerned to do the best for her children and we’ve all grown up as fairly well-adjusted people. I hope I’ve done the same for my children, but other people I have known have not been so fortunate.

In “Shadows on the Grass” seventeen year old Kate is a rebellious teenager who both loves and despises her ever patient mother, Hannah. Who in her turn is struggling with her feelings for her mother Mimi and trying to find her way in a foreign country where she feels she will never quite belong.

The paperback is now available and if you would like a copy of either format here’s the Amazon LINK

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Ash Wednesday (extract from Sussex Tales (c) )

A perfect Ash Wednesday Piece

Jan Edwards

Ash Wednesday  by Jan Edwards

I slowed by the small shaw that separated our lane from the main farm road,  dropped my bike on the verge and surveyed the woodland’s edge. Fortunately for me this section of frith[1] had yet to be cleared and there were plenty of saplings to be raided. I jumped across the ditch and grabbed onto a young ash standing proud from the mass. It took only a moment or two to select a couple of growing tips; slender and smooth and grey, their foliage still encased in cool black buds that looked for all the world like the hooves of tiny goats.

I tucked both sprigs into my bag and knotted the string carefully. Losing them was not an option. It was Ash Wednesday, when every Sussex school child would arrive at the gates armed with the Ash. These short lengths of twig were…

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Declaring Independence – celebrating independent book shops: Belgravia Books

The more independent bookshops there are , the better.

From First Page to Last

In what I hope will be a new, though granted likely to be rather sporadic, Friday feature, I want to highlight some of the many independent book shops that are out there waiting to be discovered. Whilst there are the usual online book retailers and big name high street shops there are also some wonderful independent bookshops with a treasure trove of literary delights to uncover. There is nothing quite like browsing in a book shop, seeing the books, being able to actually look at them before deciding and of course the booksellers and owners are often a mine of information, a much underused resource.

The sad thing is that unless they are used they will vanish from our towns and villages. The childhood (and to be fair, grown up) delight of visiting a book shop and being able to sit amongst so many books, deciding which new unearthed treasure…

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#Friday Favourites: War in the Val d’Orcia by Iris Origo

War in Val d'Orcia

 

I’d never heard of this book or the author and am indebted to my friend Heather for introducing me to both.  Looking at the title and reading “An Italian Diary 1943-1944” I was half inclined to leaving it on my to-be-read pile. I’ve read enough harrowing accounts of war not to be particularly inclined to start on another, but there was something about Italian landscape on the cover which drew in me.

I was also intrigued to read that the book was a factual account of those years and had been hidden buried in tin boxes along with the writer’s jewellery to hide it from the retreating German army.

Reading a diary, the expectation is of an emotional life laid bare. “War in the Val d’Orcia” is not like that. The style is sparse, very matter of fact. Talking about a very sick young man Iris Origo writes

“We discuss what is best for him. What he needs is proper nursing at the clinic, but he is at the crossroads, the first place the Germans would search. In the end we decide to leave him where he is.

“And so I go to bed, my heart full of the murdered workmen and the young partisan, who soon must die.”

If this sounds dry, then it belies the courage it took to harbour wounded soldiers, escaped prisoners as well as over twenty refugee children, all the time knowing that if they were caught Iris and her husband could be shot. But even though they had two very young daughters they felt they could not abandon anyone who came to them for help. Together Iris and her husband, Antonio, fed, clothed and interceded with the Germans on behalf of desperate people, who had nowhere else to turn.

Throughout it all, Iris is conscious of how the Italians are being perceived by the rest of the allies and is keen to put the record straight. This and the history of that part of WW2 was new to me.

Shadows On The GrassAlthough I had a lot of research into that period for “Shadows on the Grass” I knew next to nothing about the war in southern Europe. I had no idea, for example,  about the number of political factions and their various stances on surrendering to the allied forces, or continuing to fight with their Nazi allies, nor of the complete exhaustion of the general population who could only hope that the long drawn out campaign would soon be over.

The book was a fascinating insight into a short period of history. More diaries have recently been discovered and I look forward to reading them too.

Thank you Heather.

 

My Secret Weapon

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Over the years I’ve tried many ways of becoming more efficient. When I was a stay at home mum with three young children I would wait until the kids were all at school, or play group and snatch those hours to get on with my writing. Later, as a full time teacher, I put aside time in the evening, or the school holidays.

What I really wanted, however, was to be a full time writer. To be able to get up in the morning sit down at my computer and work uninterrupted until supper time. This was surely ultimate bliss.

A half-term dedicated to just that taught me that this was not the best way for me. The kids were away, so was Mike. The house was mine. My only responsibility the cats and the Water Spaniels. I wouldn’t see friends, or go out, I would write.

The first two days were fine. I got a lot done. I felt pleased with myself. By day three however I was definitely lagging. I couldn’t settle to work, I needed stimulus. A brisk walk helped, a little, but not enough to keep me going. Day four I hardly wrote at all, even housework was preferable, and by day five I was desperate for company and conversation. (This was the days before Social Media when interaction with people meant seeing them face to face.) I gave up. I called a friend.

What I learned was that given all the hours I could wish for I simply could not concentrate and keep focused on the writing.

Many writers have butterfly minds. It’s part of being creative. There are so many ideas out there, so many things to see, to hear, to experience that channelling creativity is hard. But if you don’t sit down and write then nothing gets written. Maybe challenging myself to write a 1000 words a day would work.

It didn’t. As always I started off well. The 1000 words, unedited spewed onto the page day after day. The trouble was that most of it was rubbish and had to be re-written. Did re-writing count as part of the 1000 words? If it did then I simply couldn’t keep up with my schedule as editing is a very different process and takes far more time than a first draft.

I switched tactics to a set period a day. I would write/work/edit for at least one hour. Fine. Except life got in the way of that and when it did I felt guilty that I hadn’t managed even so short a time.

Reading books on how to write a best seller in a week, or maybe a little longer, I came across the idea of grabbing whatever time you could, five, ten, fifteen minutes anything. This was definitely not for me. By the time I’d got myself in the zone, caught up with where I was in the novel/short story the five minutes would be over.

Back to sitting at the desk, an activity that is apparently so bad that some experts reckon it takes years off your life, as well as impacting on heart health, causing back problems and generally being a bad thing.

What one should do is sit for a while then get up and move around. Tried it. It didn’t work. Either I was too engrossed in what I was doing, or I was too busy watching the clock to see if it was time to stop.

At which point I came up with my secret weapon. I bought a timer.

20 minutes of concentrated work. No more no less. The moment the buzzer sounds I stop. Even mid-sentence. Knowing that is all the time I have, I concentrate fully. There’s no need to clock watch because the timer will tell me when to finish.

Working like this I’ve certainly written more and an unexpected consequence has been that when I am stopped by the timer I can’t wait to get back to what I’ve been doing. Somehow that arbitrary cut off point makes me want to do more rather than less.

I do wonder, now that I’ve got into the habit, whether the time will come when I simply won’t be able to work without a steady ticking in the background, but even if it does it won’t matter because I will just take my faithful timer with me, so that the next book will be written, edited and published in record time.

At which point the buzzer sounded.

 

 

#Friday Favourites: “Tiny sunbirds far away” by Christie Watson

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Set in Lagos, Nigeria, “Tiny Sunbirds Far Away” tells the story of what happens when Blessing’s Mama found Father lying on top of another woman.

In the aftermath, the family lose their apartment and have to move away, swopping their Westernised lifestyle for life in their grandparent’s compound. The cultural shock is huge and at first Blessing feels that she will never be able to cope without running water, indoor sanitation, or proper schooling.

Gradually, however, she begins to see that there are good things about living out in the Delta. The land and air might be being poisoned by the oil companies, but her relationship with her grandmother grows ever stronger and she finds what she wants to do with the rest of her life.

Although the novel deals with serious issues, such as FMG, the desecration of the environment and government corruption, it is also full of humour and joy.

The characters are vividly drawn, the language lyrical, the sense of the countryside so intense that you can almost feel the heat, smell the outhouse, taste the food.

A thoroughly recommended read.

Shadows On The Grass

Thank you Barry for this great review.

Being Britalian

In November I was pleased to asked by Misha M. Herwin to be part of her blog tour following the launch of her third novel, Shadows On The Grass. For those of you unfamiliar with Misha’s work, she’s a prolific writer who writes both young adult literature and mainstream novels. She’s better known for her YA trilogy, Dragonfire and the popular Clear Gold series. Her mainstream work has included the time-slip novel House of Shadows and the keenly observant Picking Up The Pieces and this month saw the release of her third novel, Shadows On The Grass..shadows-on-the-grass

My first observation of this new novel is that it’d be foolish to assume this is solely women’s literature, it’s most definitely not. Yes, the action is centred around several women but that’s where the similarity with other women’s fiction ends. Set in 1960’s Bristol the story segues easily from 1965 to…

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