Today is cover reveal day for the latest novel in Francesca’s Wartime in the Valleys series
Today I’m delighted to present the cover and blurb for the latest in the Valleys series, Trouble in the Valleys.
Can Polly finally escape her haunting past?
Spring 1919: WW1 might be over, but the inhabitants of Dorcalon in the Welsh Valleys still feel the pain of the war that took so many of their men.
Polly Smith is trying to survive her own battle at home. Since her abusive husband, Gus, was finally jailed, Polly has been raising her two-year-old son, Herby alone.
But being a single mother isn’t easy, and Polly finds it harder still as Gus’s criminal activities leave her with a bad reputation. Lonely and struggling for money, Polly retreats as she becomes the subject of cruel gossip.
A job offer throws her a lifeline, and as she grows closer to soldier, Henry Austin, it seems that Polly might finally be changing her life – until dark secrets from her past emerge, threatening her new happiness. Can Polly clear her name? Or will the mistakes of the past ruin her future?
Trouble in the Valleys is out on 5th May and ready to pre-order now:
With the publication of Hope in the Valleys today, Francesca is celebrating with a competition in which you can win copies of the various Valleys books and other goodies.
What an exciting day, with Elizabeth’s (and Gwen’s) stories the next to be published in the third episode of the Wartime in the Valleys series.
To celebrate, there’s a chance to win signed books, ebooks and other goodies in a simple to enter competition. The first prize is signed paperbacks of all three books, plus a basket of goodies. Second prize is all three ebooks, with a box of goodies. Third prize is an ebook of Hope in the Valleys, plus a bag of goodies. The items selected are either retro or connected in some way to World War 1.
Did you know that ginger nut biscuits, Garibaldi, custard creams, Nice, Bourbons and shortbread were all around a hundred a years ago? So were wine gums, aniseed balls, jelly babies, humbugs, pear drops and chocolate limes, a mixed bag of which has been included in each prize.
And a prize to do with novels set in Wales wouldn’t be complete without a pack of Welsh cakes, would it?
To enter the competition, head over to my Facebook page and either like or follow it. Then go to the post headed *Competition Time* and answer the simple question there in the comments.
It’s August 1917 and WW1 continues to take a toll. The villagers of Dorcalon, a mining village in the Rhymney Valley, try to keep hope alive; but every day brings fresh tragedy as more of their sons and fathers are killed on foreign battlefields.
Elizabeth Meredith, daughter of mine manager Herbert, enjoys a privileged position in the village, but she longs to break free of society’s expectations.
Falling in love with miner, Gwilym Owen, brings more joy to her life than she’s ever known… until she’s forced to choose between her love and her disapproving family. Seeking an escape, Elizabeth signs up as a VAD nurse and is swiftly sent to help the troops in France, even as her heart breaks at leaving Gwilym behind.
Separated by society and the Great War, can Elizabeth and Gwilym find their way back together again? Or will their love become another casualty of war?
Francesca explains the Welsh expressions used in her Wartime in the Valleys books
Someone asked me a while ago about the Welsh phrases used in the Wartime in the Valleys series. Although it’s implied that my characters are speaking Welsh much of the time, as many would have in the Valleys a hundred odd years ago, I’ve been careful to use only a few expressions, to add a flavour of the area.
I think some people have struggled with these expressions so, as the third in the Valleys series is going to be published in a week, I thought I’d write a blog post including all the phrases used and their translations. I’ve been through all four books (as there’s another, Trouble in the Valleys, due out in the spring), so hopefully have found them all.
I’m not a Welsh speaker myself, as my Welsh mother wasn’t either, only speaking a few phrases, but I’ve been endeavouring to learn some on Duo Lingo. Whether I’ll ever feel proficient enough to talk to a native seems currently unlikely. Unless it’s to say ‘Bore da,’ to my Welsh speaking friend Angela Johnson (author of another novel set in Wales, Arianwen) as we meet for a coffee. It’s been an interesting experience, learning the language of my past ‘fathers’. I think my mum would have enjoyed the opportunity to have a go at Duo Lingo too, if such a thing had been around in her time.
My favourite Welsh phrase of my mother’s? Ych y fi! You have to hear it said to appreciate how much it evokes what it means, which is Ugh! But to give you an idea, it’s something like ‘uh-ch ah vee‘, where the ch is a guttural sound at the back of the throat.
As Truman Burbank (sort of) said in The Truman Show , ‘Bore da, and in case I don’t see ya, prynhawn da, noswaith dda a nos da!’
Diolch yn fawr
Thank you very much
Bach (m) / fach (f)
An endearment (literally ‘little’)
An endearment (meaning ‘love’ / ‘sweetheart’
Ych y fi!
Diolch i Dduw!
A singing festival
A competition including poetry and music
‘Y Delyn Aur’
‘The Golden Harp’
‘A Pure Heart’
‘Ar Hyd y Nos’
‘All Through the Night’
Hope in the Valleys is out on 20th January, currently available as an e-book and paperback, and can be pre-ordered from these outlets:
It’s the first anniversary of the publication of War in the Valleys, and Francesca explains how you can win a signed copy of it, along with Heartbreak in the Valleys.
I can’t believe it’s been a whole year since the publication of War in the Valleys, the second instalment of the Wartime in the Valleys saga series, set in Wales in the First World War.
To celebrate, I’m holding a competition to win signed copies of this novel, along with the first in the series, Heartbreak in the Valleys. Although all stand-alones as well as a series, this is a good opportunity to catch up with the stories before the third book, Hope in the Valleys, is released in January.
All you have to do is click on my Facebook author page and either like or follow it, then answer a simple question in the post pinned at the top of the page.
Francesca is pleased to announce the imminent arrival of a third book in the Wartime in the Valleys series, called Hope in the Valleys, which will be published on January 20th next year.
It’s been a year since the last Valleys’ book, War in the Valleys, was published, so it’s with great excitement that I can announce the publication of Hope in the Valleys in January, by Hera Books/Canelo. There’s also a fourth book in the pipeline, Trouble in the Valleys, but more on that in the coming months.
Hope in the Valleys opens in August 1917, and this time follows the fortunes of both the mine manager’s daughter, Elizabeth Meredith, and miner’s daughter, Gwen Austin. From seemingly opposite ends of the village’s social order, both suffer from the misfortunes of the continuing war. When disaster strikes Gwen, what will her future hold? And when Elizabeth is faced with a choice, will she choose love or duty?
The hub of the action takes place, as in the previous two books, in the fictional mining village of Dorcalon (based on Abertysswg in the Rhymney Valley), though the reader is also taken for a while into the action in France. And for those wondering what fate has befallen the characters from Heartbreak in the Valleys and War in the Valleys, there is also a glimpse at how their lives are progressing.
Hope in the Valleys is available to pre-order now, in either paperback or as an ebook (though there’s also talk of audio and large print at some point). And if you’re a book blogger or reviewer, you can request it from NetGalley.
Meanwhile, if you haven’t caught up with what’s been going on in Dorcalon so far, Heartbreak in the Valleys and War in the Valleys are available in paperback, ebook and audio. Or return tomorrow to see how you could be in with a chance of winning signed copies.
Francesca has a look at all the different topics she might end up researching during one day’s writing, for her historical novels set in World War 1 Wales.
It occurred to me recently, as I was writing the fourth novel for my Valleys series, that it’s amazing what diverse topics you can find yourself researching in just one day.
For instance, if I want a character to go out on a trip outside of the village, there are a few things to find out. Although my village of Dorcalon is imaginary (albeit heavily based on Abertysswg, in the Rhymney Valley), all of the towns and villages around it that I mention, are real. My characters have visited Rhymney, Tredegar, Bargoed, Cardiff, Monmouth, Barry Island and even a couple of places in London.
Under normal circumstances, it would be easy enough to go onto Google maps and have a look around the streets to see what a town looks like, and what kind of shops it has. I could look up train journey times on Network Rail journey planner.
The times they are a-changing
But of course, none of these would give me an accurate picture of what was in the towns, or how to get to them, in, say, 1918. I’ve managed to find train line routes at this time on Wikipedia, so know, by comparing them to today’s rail maps, that many of the stations, and branch lines, no longer exist. Then it’s a case of making a rough estimation of how long the journey might have taken. Rhymney to Cardiff, for instance, had about ten fewer stations.
If I want my character to walk down Castle Street in Cardiff, there’s no point at looking at a photographic map of the street today. Luckily, with most of the towns I’ve mentioned, I’ve found lots of photographs of the time, in books and online. Cardiff, I discovered, had a tram system, and the shops had wonderful canopies, the likes of which we never see nowadays.
A bit of local colour
As for the shops themselves, not always obvious on photographs, there are the marvellous Kelly’s Directories, and also local papers of the time. I’m particularly blessed where Wales is concerned, as the Library of Wales has the most wonderful catalogue of newspapers online. In fact, the newspapers have furnished me with information on many subjects, including theatre and cinema programmes, court proceedings, café menus and jobs. There’s also the census which, apart from revealing people’s occupations, tells you what names were popular, and the size of families.
Less is More
While all the above is just touching the surface, I only ever end up using a fraction of what I learn while I’m researching. For instance, I mostly don’t need to mention how long a train journey took, but I need to know, so that I don’t have the character leaving early afternoon on what should be an hour’s journey, and arriving late evening! Much of the information used is ‘set dressing’, to give a flavour of the time and the people, not to overwhelm with it.
An example of some of the items I had to research for one scene in Cardiff:
I’ve visited the city many times (my mum was brought up there), and some things are the same, but I had to assume I knew nothing, so, among other queries, I needed to know:
What was the train route? (Direct from Rhymney, as it is today.)
Where was the station? (Queen Street station was where it is today.)
What were the major stores etc Gwen would likely visit? (Marments, David Morgan’s, and Howell’s department stores and the arcades.)
What fabrics were available to buy in 1918? (Linens, cottons, silks, organzas, chiffons, crepes and even the new artificial rayon.)
What did the market look like back then? (A lot like it does today!)
Was there a well-known café and what did it look like inside? (I could have made one up but finding The Dutch Café on Queen Street meant I could have something authentic.)
What you would have seen walking down Queen Street and Castle Street? (Old shops on Queen Street, not the modern ones of today, the castle, the tram.)
Could you visit the castle? (No. It wasn’t open to the public then.)
It’s three weeks now since we were saddened to hear of the death of our friend and fellow author, Rosemary Goodacre
Rosemary had been ill but was recovering and looking forward to the release of the third novel in her Derwent Chronicles series, Until We Can Forgive. She was busy getting started on her blog tour questions, when she was sadly taken from us. Here we recall times we’ve spent with Rosemary, and take a look at her latest novel.
Francesca: I first met Rosemary in an Adult Education class for creative writing, run by Elaine Everest, back in 2006. We’d been in various classes together since that time, as well as both attending Writers’ Holiday weeks and many Romantic Novelist Association events. Often she wrote things that were a little different, like a novel she was working on several years ago that involved chemistry classes and poisonings!
She was a well informed and cultured woman, with knowledge of foreign languages, yet never blew her own trumpet. She was great fun at social events. I recall the last RNA conference we were at, one evening, sitting around our flat’s kitchen table, playing a game which involved singing various songs, and Rosemary joining in as enthusiastically as the rest of us (I dare say a little alcohol was involved!). She will be sorely missed by me, and there’ll be a Rosemary-shaped hole in our group of friends for evermore.
Elaine: I first met Rosemary at The Write Place in 2012. I will always remember Rosemary as a well read and intelligent person. Her interests were quite diverse, as indeed was her reading. I know she loved playing bridge, going to the theatre and having some more unusual holidays. However, she also had a scatty side to her unassuming nature. She was a lovely lady that would never want to offend anyone and was also someone you couldn’t get cross with.
When we were travelling to Romantic Novelist’s Association events together, like the conferences, she was often waiting for everyone in the wrong place. We all worried about losing her when we were going anywhere as a group. I remember arranging to meet her just inside the doorway of a summer party we were both attending and I waited for sometime before I was told she was already upstairs. She was very apologetic when she realised but it was just another moment where you just thought ‘that’s Rosemary’, she didn’t have a malicious bone in her whole body.
I will miss her more than words can say, as I’m sure everyone who knew her will.
Until We Can Forgive
Spring 1919: WW1 is over and a fragile peace has descended over the country. Now living in Cambridge with husband Edmond, Amy Derwent is settling into her new life as wife and mother to little Beth. But the shadow of the Great War looms large, particularly as the injuries Edmond sustained at Ypres still take their toll on him today.
Edmond’s cousin, Vicky, has now grown into a fine young woman, eager to help her country. Throwing off her privileged background to train as a nurse, she spends her days tending to the many soldiers still suffering the after-effects of their time on the battlefield.
Meeting MaximDuclos, a young Frenchman who has arrived in Larchbury, fills her heart with joy – but when it is discovered that Maxim may be hiding the truth about his past, Vicky is faced with an impossible choice. Follow her heart’s desire and risk her family’s disapproval or keep her family – but deny herself the chance of true love?
The war may be over, but Edmond, Amy and Vicky must all face a new battle, finding their own peace in a country wounded by loss.
We welcome Judith Barrow today, talking about her research and settings
Hello Judith, and welcome to the blog. First of all, could we ask what kind of research you do?
Writing historical family sagas necessitates a lot of research. It’s what I enjoy. It’s fun discovering the fashions of an era, the hairstyles and cosmetics. The toys, the games that occupied the children tell a lot about the times. Mostly I research late nineteenth and early twentieth century when children had less time to play; childhood often ended before the age of twelve, with chores and work to bring in money for the family. I researched the kind of employment given to them, unbelievable in this days and age. And it has made me see how far society has changed when it comes to the houses built: from terraces to high-rise flats to housing estates. And how there are differences in the furniture, the ways people cooked, the food, the way clothes were washed. How life was lived.
The Haworth Trilogy
But of course, there is also the background to those lives, the environments: the state of the towns, the countryside, the country I’m researching. And that’s when politics play a huge part in the lives of the characters that have formed in my mind. Because I mostly write about early twentieth century, I’ve explored the time of 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 effects on populations, on ordinary people, I read as many memoirs I can find and, so often, when I read about life in the past, I realise that little has changed in the human psyche. Emotions don’t change; we react to situations, to others’ actions, in much the same way now as they did in the past, depending on our own personalities. On our own memories.
Often these memoirs are the hardest to read. It’s difficult not to feel, to empathise with the emotions of the women who fought and suffered for the right to vote, the soldiers in the trenches and battlefields, the women left behind to worry, to fill in the gaps in the workplace and to run a home, with the despair of unemployment and despair. But then there are also the success stories, of overcoming all the odds, of adventures, of peace and fulfilment to lift the spirits.
Tell us about your settings and why you chose them?
My books are mostly set between a fictional Yorkshire town and a fictional place in Wales because I feel the closest affinity to both areas. I grew up in a village on the edge of the Pennines and have lived in West Wales for the past forty years.
For me, the settings are a character in themselves.
The setting which was the inspiration for my earlier work, the Haworth trilogy, was Glen Mill, one of the first POW camp to be opened in Britain. It was a disused cotton mill, built in 1903, that ceased production in 1938. At a time when all-purpose built camps were being used by the armed forces and there was no money available for POW build, Glen Mill was chosen for various reasons: it wasn’t near any military installations or seaports and it was far from the south and east of Britain, it was large and it was enclosed by a railway, a road and two mill reservoirs.
The earliest occupants were German merchant seamen caught in Allied ports at the outbreak of war. Within months Russian volunteers who had been captured fighting for the Germans in France were brought there as well. According to records they were badly behaved and ill-disciplined. So there were lots of fights. But, when German paratroopers (a branch of the Luftwaffe) arrived they imposed a Nazi-type regime within the camp and controlled the Russians. Later in the war the prisoners elected a Lagerführer; a camp leader who ruled the inner workings of the camp and the camp commanders had to deal with them.
Prequel to the Howarth series
The more I read about Glen Mill the more I thought about the total bleakness of it and the lives of the men there. And I knew I wanted to write about that. But I also wanted there to be hope, to imagine that something good could have come out of their situation.
Which is why I introduced Mary Haworth, the protagonist of the trilogy. All POW camps had to house a hospital to care for the prisoners. Mary is a civilian nurse. I was originally informed that only Alexandra nurses could work in the hospitals but, through research, I discovered that there was one civilian nurse, so I decided there could be another: Mary. Haworth.
Thank you for dropping by, Judith, and the best of luck with all your books
Judith’s latest book is The Memory
Mother and daughter tied together by shame and secrecy, love and hate.
I wait by the bed. I move into her line of vision and it’s as though we’re watching one another, my mother and me; two women – trapped.
Today has been a long time coming. Irene sits at her mother’s side waiting for the right moment, for the point at which she will know she is doing the right thing by Rose.
Rose was Irene’s little sister, an unwanted embarrassment to their mother Lilian but a treasure to Irene. Rose died thirty years ago, when she was eight, and nobody has talked about the circumstances of her death since. But Irene knows what she saw. Over the course of 24 hours their moving and tragic story is revealed – a story of love and duty, betrayal and loss – as Irene rediscovers the past and finds hope for the future.
Although I was born and brought up in a small village on the edge of the Pennine moors in Yorkshire, England. for the last forty years I’ve lived with my husband and family near the coast in Pembrokeshire, West Wales, UK, a gloriously beautiful place. I’ve written all my life and have had short stories, poems, plays, reviews and articles published throughout the British Isles. I had the first of my trilogy, Pattern of Shadows, published in 2010, the sequel, Changing Patterns, in 2013 and the last, Living in the Shadows in 2015. The prequel, A Hundred Tiny Threads was published in 2017. The Memory was published in March 2020. My next book, The Heart Stone is due to be published in February 2021. I have an MA in Creative Writing, B.A. (Hons.) in Literature, and a Diploma in Drama and Script Writing. I work as an interviewer of authors for an online TV company; Showboat tv. I am also a Creative Writing tutor for Pembrokeshire County Council’s Lifelong Learning Programme and give talks and run private workshops on all genres.
Francesca shares the dates for the upcoming blog tour for Heartbreak in the Valleys
Only one more sleep and it’ll be publication day for my debut saga, Heartbreak in the Valleys. Despite all the short stories and the three pocket novels I’ve had published, this marks a new chapter in my writing life.
The blog will be a mixture of interviews and reviews. Do pop in if you have time and say hello.
In the meantime, Heartbreak is available for downloads by reviewers and bloggers on:
Francesca has a look at a coal miner’s life a hundred years ago, ahead of the publication of her novel, Heartbreak in the Valleys on Wednesday
In the post a couple of days back, I had a look at a working-class woman’s life a hundred years ago. Today, I thought I’d look at the life of a working-class man, a coal miner, to be exact. While it’s true women worked double the hours in the home, the life of pitmen was no bed of roses, but a backbreaking, health compromising slog.
Big Pit at Blaenavon, as it is today
Shift patterns varied a little, so these are all examples, but they tended to be eight hours a day by this time. In previous years, they’d have been longer. There were often three shifts, the morning (around 6am till 2pm), the afternoon (2pm till 10pm) and the night shift (10pm till 6am). Those who worked underground, which would have been the majority, faced eight hours in a cramped space, their immediate area lit only by a lamp, breathing in cold dust and noxious gases, among them black damp (including carbon dioxide), white damp (including carbon monoxide) and firedamp (which was highly flammable and caused many explosions).
Any food or drink they took down would have to be consumed in these gritty conditions. One account I found described taking bread and dripping (a staple of working-class diets at this time) in newspaper. To drink, they’d often take a tin water bottle containing tea (which presumably went cold quickly).
The chances of an early death were high. The local newspapers of the time are full of reports of fatal accidents. I came across over 20,000 results searching over only the four years of World War 1. Being knocked over by a runaway tram was extremely common, as was being crushed by a roof fall. Pit cages (in which men travelled down to the shafts) were occasionally known to crash and kill the occupants. Then there were the explosions, caused by the gases that accumulated, particularly firedamp. If you survived an explosion, but didn’t get out of the pit quickly, afterdamp, the toxic gas left, would quite likely see you off.
If you managed to avoid or survive the many misfortunes that could befall you in the mine, your health would likely still be compromised by an inflammatory skin condition or a respiratory disease. The latter could include pneumoconiosis, asthma, emphysema and lung cancer. One of my great grandfathers had emphysema recorded on his death certificate, and he hadn’t worked in the mine for forty years.
In 1902, there was an explosion in the McLaren Colliery in Abertysswg, Monmouthshre, the place I based my fictional village in Heartbreak in the Valley on. Sixteen men were killed, half of whom were under thirty, the youngest being seventeen. The worst ever mining accident in the United Kingdom took place at Senghenydd Colliery, near Caerphilly, in 1913. The explosion killed 439 miners.
A few years ago, on a trip out from the Writers’ Holiday in Caerleon, I visited Big Pit at Blaenavon. It’s been closed as a mine for forty years and is now a tourist attraction. Going down to the tunnels gave only a tiny taste of what it was like to have worked there. At one point our guide, a former miner, turned off the lights to give us some idea of what being trapped in real darkness would be like.
It’s not something I’d want to experience for more than a few seconds.
The world was crumbling, but her love stayed strong
November 1915. For young housemaid, Anwen Rhys, life is hard in the Welsh mining village of Dorcalon, deep in the Rhymney Valley. She cares for her ill mother and beloved younger sister Sara, all while shielding them from her father’s drunken, violent temper. Anwen comforts herself with her love for childhood sweetheart, Idris Hughes, away fighting in the Great War.
Yet when Idris returns, he is a changed man; no longer the innocent boy she loved, he is harder, more distant, quickly breaking off their engagement. And when tragedy once again strikes her family, Anwen’s heart is completely broken.
But when an explosion at the pit brings unimaginable heartache to Dorcalon, Anwen and Idris put their feelings aside to unite their mining community.
In the midst of despair, can Anwen find hope again? And will she ever find the happiness she deserves?
“Heartbreak in the Valley is a fabulous debut. Rich with well drawn characters, twists and turns, sense of history and place… it was hard to put down. I loved it!” Author Rosie Hendry