8 June 2020

Guest Interview with Rebecca Bryn, Author of The Chainmakers' Daughter

Available  from Amazon UK and Amazon US

“Some make chains. Some wear them.” Rosie Wallace survives on three slices of bread a day. Scarred by flame and metal, she makes her life as her ancestors have: making chains for the rich chain master, 
Matthew Joshua

I'm pleased to welcome author Rebecca Bryn to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book.

I’ve just completed The Chainmakers’ Daughter; it’s historical fiction, set between 1901 and 1910, and is set (loosely) in The Black Country of England. It was inspired by a short TV article about women chainmakers who fought the chain masters for a minimum wage. I love researching the lives of ordinary people and discovering how they lived and the challenges they faced. How the past has influenced our present fascinates me.

“Some make chains. Some wear them.” Rosie Wallace survives on three slices of bread a day. Scarred by flame and metal, she makes her life as her ancestors have: making chains for the rich chain master, Matthew Joshua. There is no hope for a better future. No hope even for a green vegetable on the table. Her life will be making chains, marrying Jack, the boy she loves, and babies every year. But when an assault by the chain master’s son threatens the very fabric of her tenuous existence, Rosie finds the courage and the reason to fight for her survival and the lives of her family and neighbours. Set in the first decade of the 20th century The Chainmakers’ Daughter is a haunting portrayal of abject poverty, ever-present death, and modern day slavery.

This is a lovely review I received from a beta reader:
‘Rebecca Bryn’s The Chainmakers’ Daughter is not only the most vivid and haunting portrayal of the 20th century struggle for workers and women’s rights but it is also timely and a mirror to our own modern struggles. Bryn’s novel is to be lauded for its attention to historical detail and its sharp depiction of true and crippling poverty but it is first and foremost a love story. Rosie Wallace is a woman both out of time and very much in time. Bryn has managed to produce a heroine that is recognizable as a feminist to modern readers and yet not a unicorn to the early 1900s. The Chainmakers’ Daughter is quite simply one of the most compelling and haunting works I have read in years. Characters, vices, and even steel comes alive under Bryn’s fingers and the chain of love she creates is nothing short of miraculous.’
The Chainmakers’ Daughter is available to pre-order and will be released on June 28th 2020.

What is your preferred writing routine?

What I prefer and what actually happens are two very different things. I wake full of good intentions and determined to write a thousand words at least, and may, if I’m lucky, manage five hundred just before bedtime. Promotion of my existing books is time-consuming, social media drags me in, and then are life’s little quirks that distract – like shopping, gardening, and if desperate, housework.

With The Chainmakers’ Daughter, begun in July 2019, the writing process was at snail’s pace, barely five hundred words a week. There was a lot of research to do, some conflicting, and I couldn’t work out how to integrate the necessary politics that were an essential background to the chainmakers’ strike of 1910 into the human story of working-class people who would know nothing of the workings of government. 

I even broke off somewhere around chapter nine, and wrote a how-to book on painting watercolour seascapes while waiting for inspiration. Then Rosie had the bright idea of writing a letter to Mary Macarthur – who was a real-life union agitator and a very influential woman in the Socialist party – and the rest fell naturally into place; the remaining twenty-one chapters were written in three months, which is very fast for me.

What advice do you have for new writers?

Grow a thick skin and have faith in your characters. The thick skin is to allow you to take criticism and that ability is essential. Feedback on your work is the only way to learn what needs changing and how to improve your writing, and constructive criticism is invaluable even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time. The faith in your characters is trusting them to grow, evolve, and react to situations that drive the story – I like character-driven rather than plot-driven tales. All my stories have a beginning and an end in my mind when I begin, but the characters decide how they’ll get from one to the other. So far, they’ve managed very well with little interference from me.

Oh, and join a good writing group. Support and advice from other authors is invaluable. I don’t believe you can create in a vacuum.

What have you found to be the best way to raise awareness of your books?

That’s the million-dollar question, and I wish I had the answer. As an indie author, I have to be all things to all people. The writers who have most success are those who write books along the lines of ‘How to Write and Market a Best Seller’. I use Facebook, Facebook groups, Twitter, Pinterest, and Wordpress to advertise and talk about my books. I do interviews whenever I get the chance and have my books on a few websites like The Independent Author Network, Goodreads, and Bookbub. Word of mouth and book fairs also play a part though I’m very bad at face-to-face promoting, being an introvert, which is the main reason I shy away from traditional publishing. I think a broad approach probably works best.

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research

Um… One of the weirdest things was while writing The Silence of the Stones. One of the characters decided she was into runes and rune casting. I researched runes extensively and discovered that many of the place names in my location – West Wales – may have their origins in Norse mythology. Tyr –Tiers Cross, Freya - Freystrop, and Asgard – Hasguard Cross are three. Intrigued, I began making up rune castings to suit the story. Then, on a whim, I got out some scrabble letters and did an actual casting to see what happened. The result took the story in an interesting direction, and from then on, every time I was stuck, I did real rune castings and wrote the story accordingly. It was quite a spooky process as the castings were perfect for the plot development.

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

That would have to be a scene in Touching the Wire, a story of the women of Auschwitz. It still makes me cry as did researching it. The scene is copied below:

The woman gathered herself for a huge effort. She gripped Miriam’s hands and pushed, and a small body slithered onto the table.
Miriam’s face shone. ‘A girl, Darja. God has given you a little girl.’
He clipped the cord and cut it and then wrapped the baby in a clean rag. Gently, he put his thumb and forefinger over the baby’s nose and his palm over its mouth. Tiny fingers curled around his thumb.
‘What are you doing?’ Miriam swept his hand aside. ‘What are you doing, you monster?’
The woman levered herself up on one elbow. ‘Moy dzіtzya. Dzye moy dzіtzya?’
He glared at Miriam and replaced his thumb and forefinger before the child could take its first breath. ‘You think I take pleasure in this?’ If it took a breath… ‘It must be done.’ The grip of the tiny fingers loosened; the little body went still and limp. He felt for a pulse: nothing. He lifted the child and gave her to her mother. ‘I’m sorry. Your baby’s stillborn.’
Darja’s face shone, but then her eyes widened in understanding. ‘Nye, nye…’ She rocked backwards and forwards holding her baby to her cheek.
‘She must go back to her bunk. No one must know of this.’ He gripped Miriam’s arm. ‘No one. I’ll bury the child myself.’
Miriam helped Darja back to her bunk. Both were sobbing. He carried the small bundle outside. The rats would not have her. He fetched a shovel, left by workers digging out the latrines, and laid the baby in a shallow grave against the back wall of the infirmary. ‘I’m sorry, little one.’ He crossed himself. ‘Father, forgive me.’
A train whistle split the night. Blinding lights flashed on at the sidings. A movement at his side startled him.
‘Why?’ Miriam’s voice was angry, uncompromising.
He wiped away tears with a bloodied hand. ‘Do you realise what would have happened if I’d let the child live?’
Miriam stared at the grave. ‘They’d have sent them to the family camp with the rest of the mothers and children and the old people. I could have sent a message with Darja for my sister.’
He stared at her. ‘But you must know…’
‘Someone could have translated a message. I haven’t seen my baby since we arrived. I want her to know I love her.’ She rubbed the back of her hand across her eyes. ‘We are taught that all men are good at their core. I thought you were a good man, but you’re evil.’
Was she right? Was this a lesser evil, or had he become a monster after their image? She had to be told: the truth must be reported by those who survived. ‘Miriam, mother and child would have been thrown alive into the ovens. This way, Darja will live.’
She stared at him, mouth open. ‘No one would do such a thing.’
‘You think not? Why do you suppose I told you to leave your baby? To say you were well? Resisting in every little way I know is all that keeps me sane and, sometimes, all that keeps us alive. I need you to believe, to help me resist.’ He jabbed a finger at the drab group that had arrived on the late-night transport. ‘Where do you think they are going?’
The lights on the guard towers picked out pale faces making anxious procession along the railway tracks and along the road between the barbed-wire fences. Old men walked with backs bowed and beards jutting forward. Women of all ages, heads covered against the wind, carried babies swaddled in blankets. Children, who should have been asleep in their beds, trotted at their sides carrying cherished toys, or chamber pots, or still smaller children. Behind them, the slow, the lame, and the sick were helped by friends and family, and behind them, driving them on with dogs, whips, and curses, came the guards.
She looked from the grave to the straggle of humanity and back to him. ‘To the family camp. I could ask one of them to take a message.’
The file of people reached the far junction and turned to the left. He put a hand on her bony shoulder and caught at a breath. ‘Miriam, there is no one to take a message to.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘There is no family camp, or only for the Roma and the Jews from the ghetto at Theresienstadt. And I heard the order for the Jews was SB – six months.’
‘What does that mean?’
‘It means the Theresienstadt camp is a sham, a model ghetto to fool the International Red Cross. There’s a visit due soon. That’s why they get better treatment. They’ll all be dead in six months.’ His hands made a helpless gesture. ‘You must have heard about the chimneys – the gas chambers. I know you don’t want to believe it, but it’s true.’
She stared at the smoke that hung over the camp, blotting out the stars. ‘But the Red Cross truck is going there now, look.’
‘Gas? Gas chambers. The chimneys. But you said… No, no! Efah, Grandmother, my little Mary. Oh, God, no.’
‘I’m sorry, Miriam. I’m so sorry.’ He held her as she cried. He had no tears left.
‘And Father?’ Her eyes pleaded for something to hope for.
‘He may be in Buna-Monowitz or at one of the other factories or sub-camps. It may be possible to find out.’
The hope that lit her eyes faded as she watched the people who walked the road to the chimneys beneath the lights of the towers and the watchful eyes at the guard posts.
How many tramped past in the night? Three thousand? More? The chimneys that had belched flame all day smoked blackly. By morning, the uneconomic to feed, the old, the sick, the lame, the anxious mothers, and the little children would be gone: ash to float on the air, to fertilise the fields, and make the paths upon which they all walked. Ash to leach into the waters of the Vistula, fat to make the soap.
‘Mama, Mama,’ a little boy cried as he looked back for something he’d let fall. Mama. Mama. Sometimes, they said, the Nazis used too little gas, and it didn’t quite kill them. Sometimes, they said, the cries could be heard from the flames.
He turned away and vomited. When he looked back, all that was left of their passing was a child’s toy.
Yes, it still makes me cry. I think it must have affected the judges too, because the book won the IAN Book of the Year prize 2019 and a Readers’ Favorite Gold Medal 2019. The research was harrowing, I often had to walk away and try to come to terms with the horror of what I was discovering. The book was written over a number of years, had four different titles, and even more versions. It took a long while and a lot of harsh but honest feedback, some from agents, to get it right. 

When it was finished, I took quite a while to pluck up my courage to press publish – it’s a controversial and highly emotive subject, and I was terrified of not doing the victims of the Holocaust justice. In the end, I trusted my characters. They demanded to have their story told, because it’s the story of all the women of the Holocaust. I’ve had two messages from survivors of the camp who thanked me for writing their story. One said ‘After seventy years, I can at last begin to contemplate forgiveness.’ That one letter has made my whole writing career worthwhile.

What are you planning to write next?

I’m not sure. I have an idea for a horror/mystery, for a change, a loose collection of short stories, called Th1rte3n, or a rewrite of a book I wrote some years ago, called The Thief of Freedom, which is also a mystery. I liked the story but it wasn’t very well written, and I think I can improve on it. I’ve learnt a lot since then. – all that valuable feedback and growing a thick skin… and having great support from fellow authors.

Rebecca Bryn

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About the Author

Rebecca Bryn lives near Britain's smallest city, St Davids, in the far west of Wales with her rescue dog, rescue husband and twenty very sheepish sheep. She says, 'I write fiction under the name of Rebecca Bryn, chosen because I always wanted to call a daughter Rebecca, but had two sons, though I now have a granddaughter Rebecca. And Bryn because I’ve lived in two Pembrokeshire cottages with Bryn in their name. Until recently, I lived near St Davids, but have downsized to a village closer to Newgale, one of my favourite beachesAs I write, my husband and I are in partial lockdown because of the Coronavirus, and I haven’t seen the sea for eleven weeks – I miss it so much. Having been born in the Midlands, as far as you can get from the sea in England, the beaches have never lost their magnetism for me. Also, my little rescue dog loves the beach, and that’s a good enough reason to walk along the shoreline. It’s where I do some of my best creative thinking. I write mainly historical fiction, though I’ve strayed into mystery and post-apocalyptic, and some of my historical novels are inspired by a murky family history – murderers, prostitutes, and thieves, or as my mother once called them, ‘loose-knickered, murdering thieves’. They obviously had little respect for the law, and some, apparently, were violent alcoholics, so I wonder where my law-abiding genes come from? Anyway, they inspired great characters for my tales.'  Find out more at Rebecca's website https://rebeccabrynblog.wordpress.com/ and find her on Twitter @RebeccaBryn1

Books by Rebecca Bryn:
Historical fiction
http://mybook.to/TouchingtheWire – the women and children of Auschwitz and a man who tied to save them. – ‘Outstanding storytelling.’
http://mybook.to/DandelionClock – war changes everything. Lovers torn apart by WW1. Can their love survive the horrors of war? – ‘Totally compelling and unmissable.’
For Their Country’s Good series – three young poachers are convicted of killing a gamekeeper and exiled to Van Diemen’s Land. Ella is the girl who wouldn’t be left behind. – ‘Truly exceptional trilogy from one of the finest writers of our time.’
and the box set of For Their Country’s Good
http://mybook.to/KindredandAffinity – When the man you love marries the sister you hate. Annie Underwood lets faith and family bigotry get in the way of love, and lets Edwin go to prevent escalating their families’ war and to save his heart. She is distraught when she loses him to her estranged sister who has no such qualms. ‘Gritty and realistic.’ 
http://mybook.to/SilenceoftheStones – Can Alana discover the secret written in the stones before her daughter is sacrificed by an eccentric old lady? Perjury, wrongful imprisonment, and a tissue of lies. – ‘Beautifully choreographed tale of murder, deceit, and redemption.’
http://getbook.at/WhereHopeDares – When a young healer is kidnapped to fulfil an ancient prophecy, her husband heads into peril to rescue her and discovers that prophecy can be dangerous. ‘Holy cow!! – What an amazing book.’
Non-fiction by Ruth Coulson
http://mybook.to/WatercolourSeascapes – a how-to book with six detailed step-by-step demonstrations to paint seascapes in watercolour. Tackles the difficult subject of using masking fluid. ‘A lovely book.’
Thank you for reading, and if you pick up one of my books, I’d love to know what you think of it – thick skin and all that.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for inviting me to your blog, Tony. it looks great.


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