Blog tour: The Heart Stone

Welcome to the blog tour for The Heart Stone by Judith Barrow, who generously dedicated some of her time to join the Q&A you’ll find below.

Hi Judith! First of all, I would like to congratulate you on the publication of The Heart Stone! Can you please briefly tell us what it is about?

A: Thank you, Silvia, launching a new book is an exciting time.

The Heart Stone begins in 1914, on the day the First World War is declared in Britain, and the story centres on sixteen-year-old Jessie Jenkins. Her friend, Arthur Dawson, lies about his age to enlist in the local Pals Battalion. Before leaving he and Jessie become lovers and Arthur places a love note under a heart-shaped stone, on the wall of the field where they meet, for her to read until he returns. The note plays an important part in the story. Jessie’s widowed mother, Dorothy, marries Amos Morgan, a vicious, spiteful man. In 1915, Jessie becomes a vulnerable outcast after finding herself pregnant and being made homeless by her stepfather. Arthur is declared dead. Taking control of her life Jessie marries Bob Clegg to gain respectability for her and her baby son, Harry. But the marriage brings dangers she never imagined. She needs to find a way to escape.

Did you have the plot entirely figured out when you started writing the book or did it take an unexpected turn as the characters grew on the page?

A: I began with an idea of the story, but I didn’t know which way the plot would evolve. This was mainly, as happens with almost all of my books, because, as each of the characters grow and take on a life of their own, the plot changes. In The Heart Stone, it’s when the protagonist, Jessie, realises that she must become stronger and take control of her life. From that moment, I knew how the plot would end.

What kind of research did you have to carry out to write this novel? In general, is research something you love or a means to an end?

A: I have files that contain information for each of my books. For The Heart Stone I concentrated on the beginning of the twentieth century; the First World War and the Pals Battalions - and the effect of both these on Britain. I had already researched the lives of the Suffragettes for a previous book, so was able to use that. Also, because Jessie originally lives in a baker’s shop with her mother, I explored the consequence of the war on that trade. Then, for a certain section of the book, it was important to learn about the growth of the sewing machine industry.

I love researching the era I’m going to write about. Discovering the fashions, the hairstyles, and cosmetics is fascinating. And the houses I want my characters to live in: terraced, cottages, flats, housing estates, must equate to the differences in the furniture, the ways they heat their homes, cook their food, the way they clean, wash their clothes. Their employment also reveals the background to their lives. This reflects the politics that play a huge part in the characters’ environments: the state of the towns, the countryside, the country I’m researching. In the past I’ve studied the years of the two major world wars, of smaller but no less dangerous conflicts between maybe two or three countries, of internal strife in Britain, in Ireland. And, trying to understand the impact on populations; on ordinary people, I read as many memoirs as possible.

If this novel was going to be turned into a film, who would you cast in the roles of Jessie and Arthur?

A: For Jessie, I think, Michelle Dockery who played Lady Mary Crawley in the drama series Downton Abbey, but she’d need to lose that upper class accent!  And Arthur? Josh O'Connor. He played Prince Charles in Season 3 of Netflix’s The Crown, but I first saw him in 2017, in God’s Own Country.

Without giving too much away, can you tell us about a scene in the book that you love or that was particularly difficult to write?

A: The scene that was most difficult to write is the chapter when Jessie and Arthur’s mother, Edna, receive the telegram, confirming his death – and the letter that comes a few days later from the Commanding Officer of his regiment I’ve copied the letter here:

“...I regret very much to inform you that your son Pte Arthur Dawson of this Company was killed in action. I and all the Company deeply sympathise with you in your loss. The Company was taking part in an attack which was successful, and all guns reached and established new positions. Your son always did his duty and now has given his life for his country. We all honour him, and I trust you will feel some consolation in remembering this. Lord Kitchener expresses his sympathy. In true sympathy...”

This is how many relatives were informed of the death of their beloved sons, husbands, brothers, fathers – and it brought home to me what devastation the war caused to so many, whichever country they belonged to. And even though I’ve described some of that in the text of The Heart Stone, I have to admit, when I discovered that telegram and official notification, I cried.

Is there anything that didn’t make it into the final version of the book?

A: Oh, so much! What is that saying?  ‒ “kill your darlings” ‒ and I did; some of my own choice, and some after much discussion with my editor. But it made the storyline stronger. And I always keep those sections; you never know, ideas might spring from them for another story.

If you are already working on your next writing project, would you mind giving us a little anticipation of what we are to expect?

A: I’m working on a more contemporary book with the working title of Sisters. It’s the relationship of two sisters, both affected by an event that happens in their childhood and which completely changes their lives. The story is how this is dealt with and how, years later, as women, they become reconciled (or not) to that event.

What are you reading at the moment?

A: I’m actually reading two books at the moment, one to review as a member of a review team, and I’m re-reading Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain – a book I discovered years ago ‒ and rediscovered lately at the back of one of my many bookshelves.

Due to the popularity of social networking websites, interacting with readers – be it via Twitter, Facebook Instagram etc. – is becoming increasingly important. How do you cope with these new demands on authors and do you think that they somehow disrupt your writing schedule?

A: Over the years I have attended many book events: festivals, book fairs, talks, book signings in ‘real life’. Together with another friend and author, Thorne Moore, I organised an annual book fair. But, in the light of the present situation (and probably in the future), social media has indeed become more popular. And it has an important place; somewhere to communicate with readers and other authors. But definitely interrupts my writing schedule. And it’s my own fault; I cannot resist checking the platforms I follow. I usually write early in the morning, so am able to get a couple of hours in before I succumb. The problem then is coming away from social media. It becomes a source of guilt that I haven’t answered, shared, re-posted, retweeted another writer’s news about their work, their books, their successes. In the end I begin to panic that I haven’t written as much as I set out to do. I know some writers are more disciplined, have set times to network, even turn off all social interacting until they have written the quota of words they have set for themselves. I do try… it’s just that, so far, I’ve failed.

What one piece of advice would you give to aspiring writers?

A: To remember that there is only one first book that they reveal to the world. It’s a writer’s chance to put their stamp on the literary world. So to make sure that book is edited, edited, edited, and then proofread. Your first book will either encourage readers to return… or not. This is the advice that an established author gave to me years ago.

Thank you for your time!  

A: And thank you for your excellent questions today, Silvia, and for giving me the space to share my thoughts here.

Comments

  1. Many thanks for your support with the blog tour for The Heart Stone, Sylvia. It was lovely chatting to you. xx

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  2. Thanks so much for the blog tour support Silvia x

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