26 September 2015

Living in the Shadows, by Judith Barrow

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It's 1969 and Mary Schormann is living quietly in Wales with her ex-POW husband, Peter, and her teenage twins, Richard and Victoria. Her niece, Linda Booth, is a nurse - following in Mary's footsteps - and works in the maternity ward of her local hospital in Lancashire. At the end of a long night shift, a bullying new father visits the maternity ward and brings back Linda's darkest nightmares, her terror of being locked in. Who is this man, and why does he scare her so? There are secrets dating back to the war that still haunt the family, and finding out what lies at their root might be the only way Linda can escape their murderous consequences.

Sequel to the acclaimed Changing Patterns and Pattern of Shadows.

I think that a strong setting in a novel, the creation of a unique environment that the characters move around in, one that sets the atmosphere and tone of the narrative, is imperative in creating a convincing story. It should be so convincing that it maintains the suspension of disbelief; be consistent and yet unreliable at the same time. Giving the reader a recognized framework allows them to understand the motivations, the capabilities of the characters and to empathise with them during your narrative.

With the consistency of the setting the reader can identify a structured world, understand it. With the element of surprise, of unfamiliarity of the background to the story, the reader will stay interested in the characters.

And, I think, setting should be one of the first things established; using all our five senses, sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste (this last is sometimes difficult but should be kept in mind).
Yet it should also be unstable rather than fixed, constantly in a state of change, much like the characters. Ultimately the goal is to persuade the reader to become immersed in the setting to the point of complete familiarity.

The background setting I use in my trilogy, beginning with Pattern of Shadows, is a German Prisoner of War camp during the Second World War. The camp is crucial throughout; in the sequel, Changing Patterns, and finally, in the last book, Living in the Shadows. I’ve explained my reasons for using this setting quite a few times.

I was researching for another novel when I came across records of a disused cotton mill, Glen Mill, in Oldham, a town in Lancashire in the North of England, and its history of being one of the first German POW camps in the country. This brought back a personal memory of my childhood and I was sidetracked.

My mother was a winder in a cotton mill (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.
 And so the background of the trilogy was set against the camp, the fictional Lancashire town of Ashford, and a small village in Wales, Llamroth.

Every story has to have a beginning. And for every action, there is a reaction. Although each of the books in the trilogy stands alone, in Living in the Shadows it is the next generation that has to live with the consequences of the actions of the characters in Pattern of Shadows and Changing Patterns

 Judith Barrow

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03_Judith Barrow_AuthorJudith Barrow has lived in Pembrokeshire for thirty years. She is the author of three novels, and has published poetry and short fiction, winning several poetry competitions, as well as writing three children's books and a play performed at the Dylan Thomas Centre. Judith grew up in the Pennines, has degrees in literature and creative writing and makes regular appearances at literary festivals. Find out more at http://www.judithbarrow.co.uk/  and follow Judith on Twitter @barrow_judith.


  1. Sorry I'm late with the thanks, Tony. Thanks Tony, I had a bit of a job finding this.Jx


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