I’m absolutely delighted to welcome Judith Barrow to Linda’s Book Bag to stay in with me today and tell us all about A Hundred Tiny Threads. I reviewed this wonderful book here on the blog and have also been privileged to interview Judith in a post you’ll find here when Changing Patterns was released. There’s also information about Judith’s Living in the Shadows here.
If you’re an author who’d also like to stay in with me and tell me about one of your books, please click here for more details.
Staying in with Judith Barrow
Welcome back to Linda’s Book Bag Judith. Thank you for agreeing to stay in with me.
Thank you for inviting me, Linda, It’s always good to have a night in with a friend.
It is indeed. So, tell me, Judith, which of your books have you brought along to share this evening and why have you chosen it?
I’ve chosen A Hundred Tiny Threads because, besides it being my latest book, it’s the prequel to my Howarth trilogy and it’s interesting because it’s set around a hundred years ago this year; the time of the ending of First World War, the fight for Home Rule in Ireland and the increased activity of the Suffragettes. .And, more importantly for me as the author, it’s the era that explains the early lives of the two protagonists, Winifred and Bill Howarth, who appear in the first of the family saga trilogy, Pattern of Shadows, as middle aged people and the parents of Mary Haworth, the protagonist of the trilogy. These are two characters who wouldn’t leave me alone until I’d told their stories because they felt they hadn’t had a fair deal in that book.
I loved hearing about Winifred and Bill when I read A Hundred Tiny Threads Judith and am so glad you listened to them!
What can we expect from an evening in with A Hundred Tiny Threads?
Although the book is written from an omniscient narrator’s point of view, I’d like Winifred to talk with us tonight. Although there is much about Bill’s early life that shaped him into the bitter and difficult man he became, I feel that it is she who most wants to explain the choices she made.
Here she tells us about her friend, Hanora, who is trying to persuade her to join the Suffrage Movement: and how nervous she is:
“I told here,’I can’t get involved in something like that.’
‘But ya’re involved, Win, Hanora told me. ‘Ya’re a woman. I’m a woman. And we have no say in anything. The men have it all their own way. Last year the Liberals called a General Election to put off passing the Suffrage Bill. I believe what the WSPU say—’
‘The Women’s Social and Political Union.’ Honora lifted her eyebrows. ‘Did ya not know that even? They’re fighting for the vote for us all.’ Honora leaned across the table, put her hand on my arm. ‘They are, ya know,’ she said, dismissing my shake of my head. ‘The Government said they would try to get the vote for us but the politicians haggled over it. We think Asquith was against us from the start.’ Honora pressed her lips together and drew in a long breath. ‘They try to make out it’s our own fault, that too many of us have taken action. Been violent, they say,’ she said as I opened her mouth to ask what she meant. ‘But I ask ya, what choice have we had? They’ll all too busy watching their own backs against that other blasted House– the House where all the toffs are. And the trade unions–they’re fighting the unions all the time. And they’re frightened about what’s happening back home; about us, the Irish, wanting Home Rule…’ she stopped, having run out of breath.”
And here Winifred tells us of her first Suffragette meeting;
“The woman on the stage flung her arms wide. ‘We will get the vote. However many of us have to suffer–have to die even. We will get the vote.’
There was a roar of approval throughout the hall.
A raft of placards suddenly appeared in front of me, closing off the narrow view I had. They were twisted around so I could read some of them.
Votes for Women
The Bill, the Whole Bill and Nothing but the Bill.
No taxation without registration.
I glanced towards Honora, The girl’s cheeks were red and she was shouting out the chant with the other three girls, their hands linked and raised above their heads. ‘Votes for women.’ When she returned my gaze her dark eyes were glittering with excitement. ‘We’ll show the beggars,’ she mouthed. ‘We’ll show them’
We? The chill that crawled over my scalp accompanied my thoughts; what had I got myself into?”
But then two things happen; she reluctantly finds herself attracted to Honora’s brother, Conal, who she initially dislikes.
And, here, she learns a little of her grandmother’s history and why she’s living in the hovel that is Wellyhole Terrace.
“’ Your Grandfather left me penniless. Gambled away everything we’d got. I didn’t know how much debt we were in until afterward he died; until I was turned out of the house by the bailiffs. My house.’ Her eyes reddened with the tears she was fighting to hold back. ‘That’s how long I’ve been here.’
I knelt by her side and put my arms around her. ‘I’m sorry. Don’t cry.’ The anger was swift against the man who’d done this to my beloved grandmother. ‘But I don’t understand. If it was your house, how—’
‘When you marry–I think it’s still the same–Winnie–when you marry–everything you have then belongs to the man.’ She stroked my hair. ‘It’s not right and it’s not fair. But that’s how it is.’
I heard the deep breath grandmother took.
‘It’s men that decides what happens with women. Them in the Government don’t want to change that, they’re sitting pretty, all right. They don’t want anything changing. But it has to. We women have rights too.’ She lifted my head and smiled. ‘So–you ask what I know about the Suffragettes? I know they’re right. And if you think they’re right as well, you should join them, never mind what your mother says. You follow your heart.’”
Winifred falls in love with Conal who shows he is committed to the cause for votes for women. But one day her world falls apart:
“I sensed the atmosphere was different from other marches, there was a tension, a pent-up anger amongst the crowd; no organized ranks, the people milled around as if unsure which way to go. I could just see the heads of the police on horseback and two large black police vans.
The crush got worse. Shopkeepers on both sides of the road went back into their shops, closing the doors.
Our new anthem, The March of the Women, rose and fell beneath the shouts and cries of those already being jostled and buffeted.
We linked arms. Honora was already singing but her voice broke every now and then as we were pressed forward by the people behind us. I panicked .Suddenly there were louder screams, the clatter of horses hooves, loud bells rang from somewhere and people were turning, running, scattering in all directions, pursued by the police randomly hitting out with their batons. I heard my own scream, a splintering of glass, a the loud shout of “votes for women”. Shop windows broke. I saw people hitting at the panes of glass.
I tried to hold on to Honora’s hand but her glove was torn from my hand. The last I heard from her was a scream, the last I saw was the fear on her face as she disappeared underfoot.
A horse thundered towards us; women collapsed under blows and hooves. Two women were on the roof of one of the shops throwing broken slates down at the police.
Conal was hit; I heard his gasp of pain, saw him hold his ear, blood seeping through his fingers. ‘
Then the hooves of a horse were over my head. It reared up, eyes rolling. mouth pulled wide in the bit. I saw the angry face of a policeman, whip held high above his head.
Then all I felt was the weight of Conal pinning her to the ground.
When I came to I was in pain and so cold. I called for Conal but he didn’t answer. I rolled onto my back on the cobbles in a narrow alleyway, dark stone buildings crowded in on me, there was only a rectangle of dark starless sky.
A woman, knelt by my side. She was drenched, her hair flattened to her scalp. She wore a white jacket, dirty and wet, the remnants of her long skirt showing ripped stockings, bloodied knee.
I asked her what had happened. She told me that the police had turned the hoses on us. And when I asked her again where Conal was she said she didn’t know where anyone was and that I should get up and go with her.
’There’s nothing more we can do here,’ she said, ‘they’ve beaten us.’
I haven’t seen Conal or Honora since that day.”
That’s wonderful thanks Judith. These excerpts give a brilliant feel for the historical and personal aspects of A Hundred Tiny Threads.
What else have you brought along and why?
You probably didn’t notice but I’ve wheeled a piano into your hall and I have the score sheet for the Suffragette anthem, The March of the Women, written by Ethel Smyth and Cicely Hamilton in 1910. I thought we could have a go at singing it? Here, I’ve got a copy for you…
Goodness me Judith – you really don’t want me singing. When I did as a child my dad used to suggest I went for a long walk… But if you insist I’ll give it a go.
March of the Women
Shout, shout, up with your song!
Cry with the wind, for the dawn is breaking;
March, march, swing you along,
Wide blows our banner, and hope is waking.
Song with its story, dreams with their glory
Lo! they call, and glad is their word!
Loud and louder it swells,
Thunder of freedom, the voice of the Lord!
Long, long—we in the past
Cowered in dread from the light of heaven,
Strong, strong—stand we at last,
Fearless in faith and with sight new given.
Strength with its beauty, Life with its duty,
(Hear the voice, oh hear and obey!)
These, these—beckon us on!
Open your eyes to the blaze of day.
Comrades—ye who have dared
First in the battle to strive and sorrow!
Scorned, spurned—nought have ye cared,
Raising your eyes to a wider morrow,
Ways that are weary, days that are dreary,
Toil and pain by faith ye have borne;
Hail, hail—victors ye stand,
Wearing the wreath that the brave have worn!
Life, strife—those two are one,
Naught can ye win but by faith and daring.
On, on—that ye have done
But for the work of today preparing.
Firm in reliance, laugh a defiance,
(Laugh in hope, for sure is the end)
March, march—many as one,
Shoulder to shoulder and friend to friend.
Well, that was rousing wasn’t it? Must say though, Linda, you’re puffing a bit!
I’m not used to singing (and now you know why)! I notice you have your fingers in your ears. It’s safe to remove them now.
Oh, and Bill’s arrived. Should I let him in later?
Er, maybe when he’s sobered up a bit!
Thanks so much for staying in with me Judith. I’ve really enjoyed it – despite the singing!
A Hundred Tiny Threads
It’s 1911 and Winifred Duffy is a determined young woman eager for new experiences, for a life beyond the grocer’s shop counter ruled over by her domineering mother.
The scars of Bill Howarth’s troubled childhood linger. The only light in his life comes from a chance encounter with Winifred, the girl he determines to make his wife.
Meeting her friend Honora’s silver-tongued brother turns Winifred’s heart upside down. But Honora and Conal disappear, after a suffrage rally turns into a riot, and abandoned Winifred has nowhere to turn but home.
The Great War intervenes, sending Bill abroad to be hardened in a furnace of carnage and loss. When he returns his dream is still of Winifred and the life they might have had… Back in Lancashire, worn down by work and the barbed comments of narrow-minded townsfolk, Winifred faces difficult choices in love and life.
About Judith Barrow
Judith Barrow grew up in a small village in Saddleworth, at the foot of the Pennines in North-West England, UK. In 1978 she moved with her husband, David, and their three children to Pembrokeshire in West Wales, where she is a creative writing tutor. Her short stories have been published in several Honno anthologies. Her first novel, Pattern of Shadows, published by Honno, is a wartime saga, set around the first German POW camp in Britain. The sequel, Changing Patterns was published in May 2013. The last of the trilogy is Living in the Shadows. The prequel to the Pattern series, A Hundred Tiny Threads, is now published. Judith also has an eBook, Silent Trauma that is fiction built on fact and based on the drug Diethylstilboestrol, which has caused devastating damage to unborn women.