Interview with Rhiannon and Ashley

Interview with Rhiannon and Ashley

Hi, both! Welcome to my author page and blog. I’m currently reading the poetry book you both collaborated on entitled, “A Voyage of Poetic Discoveries (Rhianno & Asley Poetry Collections Book 1).” So far, I can see that you have quite different styles of poetry, yet each poet’s work seems to complement the other. It will be lovely for readers to get to know a little more about you and your work. 😊

1. What gave you both the idea to decide to collaborate on a poetry book together?

RO: I think we both have a mutual appreciation of each other’s poems. Ashley’s really speak to me. Initially, we would joke about putting a book out together but secretly I wanted to.

AO: Our writing styles are very different, but in many ways, we share some common ground in the stories we want to tell and the pictures we want to paint.

RO: We are very different writers but that’s why it works… We touch on similar themes. It would be a pointless collaboration if we wrote in exactly the same style. It’s been a dream working with him because we never argue, there’s no ego clash, we just get on with our books and trust each other’s judgement, and we have a laugh too!

AO: I think the idea of the book initially came from the time when someone in our online writing group made a typing error of my name by dropping the letter ‘h’ from Ashley, and Rhiannon quickly turned it into a poem about some kind of monster called Asley. So I instantly responded by dropping the ‘n’ from Rhiannon and doing a poem about a Rhinoceros called Rhianno, and so Rhianno & Asley came to be. Both poems are in the book.

2. I read at the beginning of your book that you both belong to an online local creative writing group and that’s how you encountered one another, can you tell me a little about your friendship and the group?

RO: I joined the Merthyr online writing group at the very start in October 2019. I hadn’t really written anything since my late teens. I’d decided I wasn’t very good at writing and lost confidence. There was a challenge on the group to write a poem about the moon… So I did and it opened up something inside me and I’ve been writing ever since.

AO:  I’d read somewhere that poetry helps with the craft of screenwriting in terms of writing with brevity. So I joined the group and just got instantly drawn to Rhiannon’s poems and writing. She’s always been very supportive and fun in the group.

RO: Yes, something connected…like a jigsaw piece slotting into place, and our books were born! 😊 The current situation is very frustrating but it’s been such a plus to make a good friend like Ashley and to have shared this little creative journey together. Kept me going over the last year.

AO: And funnily enough, in all this time we still have never met in person due to the pandemic. All our correspondence for this book and those to follow have been via email and messenger or on writing group pages.

3. Do you write anything else besides poetry?

RO: I mainly write poetry but I really enjoy writing short stories too. Also monologues. I’m currently working on a book of horror shorts.

AO: I’ve completed my first feature film screenplay, and I’m half-way through a second, which has been on hold for a while, as the poetry has taken over a little. But I plan on getting it finished soon.

4. Is there a special place where you like to pen your poems?

RO: Not really, although I did enjoy writing them while sitting in the garden over summer. Often an idea pops into my head at silly o’clock in the wee hours and I have to grab my phone and try and get it down – sometimes I’ve woken up and can’t make head nor tail of what I’ve written! I wrote a poem at the bus stop once, and there was one written in the toilets of a pub in town

AO: I just write when and wherever the moment takes me. I mostly write in Notepad on my phone, I used to wake up regularly at 3 am with ideas or sometimes complete poems in my head, so I’m able to quickly type them in.  For my screenplays, I mainly use my laptop on a small desk in my front room.

5. What do you think is the most difficult part of the writing process for you?

RO: I sometimes have to rein myself in as I can get carried away… Have to tell myself that not every poem should be the length of The Iliad/Odyssey.

AO: With poems, I’d probably say the proof-reading mainly. With screenplays, I’d say the research that’s needed to go into the writing. There can be so much to find out just for the small details.

RO: The editing is a bit of a pain but I’m quite thorough with that. We both are.

6. Have you ever suffered from “Writer’s block”?

RO: Yes. There are times when nothing seems to come to me or the words just won’t fit. It’s frustrating but has only ever been temporary touch wood.

AO: Not really as yet touch wood.

RO: Had to laugh at a time when Ashley was freaking out about his so-called writer’s block… Felt concerned for him till he said something along the lines of ‘I haven’t written anything since this morning!’

AO: We do have a laugh and a bit of banter between the writing.

7. What, to you, are the elements of good writing?

RO: Sincerity, heart and feeling. I like stuff to spark an emotion in me… Joy, sorrow, even anger. I want to smile, to laugh, to cry. I love great storytelling and characterisation. I love to find beauty in a piece of writing.

AO: I think the right word choice can give you the ability to touch someone’s heart and soul and make them feel the emotions.

8. Where do you draw your inspiration from?

RO: A lot of it is from my own memories and experiences. Family holidays. My loved ones. Sometimes a song or story catches my imagination. Some of my ideas come from observation, or just a random word or sentence. I get lots of inspiration from Ashley and his work too.

AO: Initially from life events and my feelings to those events, like the loss of loved ones and friends. Now just things I see or feel in life, or from things I read like your book ‘The Workhouse Waif’, Lynette. And as Rhiannon said, we both support and inspire one another.

9. Are you working on any writing projects at the moment?

RO: I have some of my work being featured in upcoming anthologies, and as I mentioned earlier I’m also working on a book of short stories which are quite dark.  There’s also a series of short stories of mine that Ashley is interested in converting to a screenplay so it looks like he’ll have to put up with me for a bit longer yet.

AO: Well Rhiannon and I have two books out at the moment with another three that we are still working on for our Rhianno & Asley Poetry Collections. I’ve got three poetry books of my own planned, one personal to me, one about my hometown of Merthyr and it’s past, and one covering a compilation of poems that I’ve written to date. Oh and I’ve still got my second screenplay to finish.

10. Out of all your poems, which one is the closest to your heart and why?

RO: Oh, there are a few that hold a special place in my heart for various reasons. Ones that have been written to express joy. I have a poem called ‘The Incessant Rain’ which is a bit of a nod to Edgar Allan Poe. ‘Frozen Glass’ is important because it was a sort of starting point for mine and Ashley’s collaboration. There are some pieces I’ve written that are personal and come from a darker place – they are cathartic and help me to process my thoughts. There is a poem I wrote for my husband which means a lot too.

AO:  I wrote ‘Life’s Last Song’ over twenty years ago after my father’s passing. It just means so much to me and got me back writing again. It was read out at his funeral and still brings a tear to my eye. It’s so personal to me.

11. Who is your favourite poet?

RO: Ashley. His work strikes a chord. His poetry is genuine and heartfelt, and I really admire how he can say so much so deftly and succinctly because I tend to write sprawlers 😊

More generally speaking I like quite varied poetry. I love Edgar Allan Poe for one. Really love ‘The Fat Black Woman’s Poems’ by Grace Nicholls… but I tend to read novels more than poetry.

AO: I haven’t read much poetry by famous poets, the most I’ve read is within the Merthyr Writing Group and in a couple of other online groups where there is so much talent. Out of those, my favourite is Rhiannon, whose writings just speak to me, they have from the start which is why she’s my writing partner and we’re sharing this poetic journey.

12. If someone was to ask you to describe to them what a poem is, how would you reply?

RO: I would say that a poem is something beautiful that makes you feel.

AO: I’d say, a poem is a piece of writing that sends out a message while expressing feelings and emotions in various forms.

13. Who or what inspired you to write poetry in the first place?

RO: I had some amazing teachers in primary school who encouraged me creatively and I was fortunate enough to have brilliant teachers throughout secondary school too. More recently, being part of writing groups have provided me with writing challenges and introduced me to different forms of poetry. Ashley has kept me enthusiastic and our collaboration has been inspiring.

AO: I first started writing poetic verse following the passing of my Grandparents, my Father and two close friends. I felt that putting my thoughts, feelings and memories down in writing helped me release some of the pain and grief and was a way of coping with my loss while trying to come to terms with it.

14. You both live in Wales which is described as “The land of poets”, does living here inspire you at all?

RO: There is beautiful scenery and a lot of history which inspires me. I’m from the North West of England but my name is a clue that Wales is a country that resonates with me! It is living here that gave me the opportunity to put pen to paper (and thumb to phone!) again and that has been so important to me.

AO: Very much so, all the beautiful scenery, and history. I’ve had many inspirations and written many poems about our beautiful countryside and its history, especially local history. From The Merthyr Rising and Dic Penderyn to Morlais Castle, amongst them.

15. Do you think there’s such a thing as a bad poem or a bad poet?

RO: Poetry is subjective so hard to say something is bad exactly, but I hate really pretentious writing. Poems that try to be overly intellectual. If I read something that is just wanting to be clever it leaves me cold. By all means, write cleverly but balance it out with humour or emotion or something to make it relatable.

AO: If it means something to just one person then no, I don’t think there is a bad poem or poet.

16. What would be your absolute writing dream?

RO: I have a lot of dreams but at the moment I’m just enjoying the journey. I’m rediscovering myself and I’m falling in love with writing all over again. That’s a dream in itself. It’s great! 😊

AO: That would have to be seeing my screenplays eventually made into films.   

17. Has a poem ever had such a profound effect on you that it’s stirred your emotions in a powerful way? And if so, what happened?  

RO: I can’t think of anything off the top of my head. I do feel very emotional when I’m reading. ‘The Fat Black Woman’s Poems’ which I mentioned earlier and Maya Angelou’s ‘Phenomenal Woman’ make me feel so uplifted. They are just so joyous! Celebrating the beauty and strength and sexuality of women. I love to get really transported and I’ll laugh and cry, and ultimately feel so satisfied. Sometimes I’ll even feel amorous… like with Thomas the Tank Engine…😂

 ‘Wuthering Heights’ and ‘Jane Eyre’ blow me away with the passion/obsession elements and the intensity. Some poems/books have inspired me to write on a similar theme, and some I haven’t been able to stop thinking about.

AO:  When I joined the Merthyr Writing Group there was one poem that just blew me away compared to the others, it just stood out. It just drew me into the story. The atmosphere, the imagery, the sounds of children skating, I could feel the pain of a woman trapped beneath the ice. I just instantly felt, wow! I remember commenting on what I thought it was about and later suggested a change of title to the writer which they were happy to accept. The poem turned out to be ‘Frozen Glass’ which is in our first book, and yes Rhiannon was the writer.

18. And finally, where would you like to see yourself as a poet/writer five years from now?

RO: I hope I’ll still be writing and learning more as I go along. I hope people will enjoy my work, and I hope that Ashley will still be my writing partner.

AO: Still writing poetry but probably at the Oscars collecting the award for best screenplay. We have to dream; we have to believe.

Thank you both for taking the time to answer my questions!

Links to:-

Rhianno & Asley: A Voyage of Poetic Discoveries (Rhianno & Asley Poetry Collections – Book 1)

Rhianno & Asley: Seeking Poetic Lands (Rhianno & Asley Poetry Collections – Book 2)

Additional link for Rhiannon:

Rhiannon has two poems in ‘Beautiful Ways’ a poetry anthology for/by people who have been subjected to abuse. Proceeds go to a Women’s Centre and a Domestic Abuse organisation.

The Ragged Urchin

 

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The Ragged Urchin is currently FREE on Amazon Prime Reading in KINDLE format! [Also available in paperback and audio] This book is the first of a three part series: The Ragged Urchin, The Christmas Locket and [soon to be published – The Lily and the Flame]

To download this well loved book, please click here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Ragged-Urchin-Rags-Riches-Book-ebook/dp/B07FSWRB2B

Will this little orphan boy find a safe haven?

Orphaned at the age of ten-years-old, Archie Ledbetter, is forced to live with his uncle in his very grand house. Uncle Walter seems emotionless, exhibiting little feeling towards the young lad. If it wasn’t for some of the staff at Huntington Hall, Archie’s life would be a complete misery. There’s a dark secret that Cook hints at as to why Archie’s mother left her lavish lifestyle behind and ended up settling in the East End of London, scraping a living selling cakes and confectionery from the back of a barrow in the marketplace. Archie’s never known his father and wonders who he is. Just as he’s settling in at the house, someone comes along and seizes the opportunity to kidnap Archie, forcing him to work as a chimney sweep, navigating searing hot chimney breasts in an inferno of hell. As if life couldn’t get much harder for boy, he cries himself to sleep at night praying for the angels to take him so he can finally see his mother once again in heaven…

Will Archie finally find the love he’s looking for?

A heartwarming saga, perfect for fans of Dilly Court and Maggie Hope.

Christmas pic

Now that Christmas is upon us and we begin reflecting on the festive season from years gone by, what are your memories of Christmas past?

I find myself thinking nostalgically back to earlier times, reflecting on all those feel good memories of yesteryear. One memory that sticks in my mind is a snapshot of collecting holly laden with red berries with my grandfather on the frost-coated canal bank and taking it back to my grandparents’ home, where it was used as decoration above the eaves of the doors and above picture frames.  Back in those days, the winters were freezing cold and we had coal fires and no central heating at our house!  The snow often seemed to be up to my knees when we were sent home from school–the school milk having frozen solid in those tiny glass bottles and the boiler gone on the blink so deemed too cold for us to be there.

We didn’t seem to expect too much from Father Christmas back then either, [maybe a favourite ‘must-have’ toy or two, like a Tiny Tears baby doll which could both cry and wet herself! Or a new bike, toy pram, train set or doll’s house]. We were content with a selection box and a Christmas stocking filled with such delights as chocolate coins covered in gold foil, a chocolate Santa, a tangerine and a few small toys that would fit in the stocking.

Santa arrived at our house during the early hours of Christmas day. I knew he’d arrived as my legs felt heavy as the quilt on my bed was laden with gifts.  In those days we lived near a dairy and the milk floats passed the house on Christmas day.  So I would guess I must have woken at 5 am or 6 am as it was still pitch black outside.  The first port of call would be to wake my brother up and we’d both creep downstairs with our presents and make a start on our chocolate selection boxes, even before eating breakfast.  My parents would still be fast asleep upstairs for another couple of hours until my mother stirred to put the turkey in the oven and make other preparations for the day itself.  My father would have gone to the pub on Christmas Eve, so he’d have quite a long lie in to sleep off the effects. I remember him telling me once he’d see Father Christmas at the pub that Christmas Eve and he’d relay my message of what I wanted for Christmas to the man. Unfortunately, Mother Christmas (my own mother) didn’t realise I wanted a Sindy doll that particular year. So I never received one, but I still had some lovely presents and it was made up for as the following Christmas, I received a beautiful singing/talking and walking doll in a pink lace dress! My mother had ordered her from a newspaper advert and I’d spent ages scouring that advert reading what this doll would look like, the songs she sang (Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star and London Bridge is Falling Down!) and the phrases she would speak. The doll was very tall and almost the same size as myself and she smelled so beautiful, I can still remember that smell. Her brown curled hair was so soft too and her eyes opened and closed. She was a vision of perfection to me and I took her everywhere!

Back then, if we were up early as a child, you watched an old black and white TV where a star like Leslie Crowther, visited a London Children’s Hospital.  The children there would be presented with gifts and the nurses made their uniforms look festive, decking their hats with tinsel. I used to feel so sorry for those kids being in hospital on Christmas day but they seemed to get some great gifts and plenty of attention, so maybe it wasn’t so bad for them after all!

My grandparents were early risers, so we’d run to their house which was just 3 doors away to show them all the gifts we’d got.  My gran usually gave me a Bunty annual every year which she’d sign and my brother got a Beano or Dandy annual.  She’d also give us money so we could buy what we wanted after Christmas. She was quite practical like that. Or other years, she and my grandfather would take us to a big store in Cardiff so we could pick our own presents. I remember having a small Singer sewing machine and my brother had a Liliput typewriter one year. Strangely enough, I was the one who used the typewriter the most as I loved writing stories and still do! But my brother did love the wooden fort our grandfather made for him one year. It was nice to receive homemade gifts as there was so much love, care and time put into them. I remember my uncle made me a lovely wooden doll’s house one year complete with furniture and wallpaper on the walls! It was treasured for many years.

Later on Christmas morning, my mother would get up and light the coal fire and set the table, which was moved into the middle of the room, for Christmas dinner.  We’d have things on the table we didn’t use the rest of the year, like a special red table cloth with festive prints and matching serviettes.  We always got to drink those miniature bottles of Babycham with the meal, which was usually turkey and the trimmings followed by Christmas Pudding, Mrs Peeks in the blue cellophane wrap which was boiled for a couple of hours in the already small, steamed up kitchen.

During the afternoon there’d be Christmas Top of the Pops, playing the Christmas number one for that particular year.  This was followed by the Queen’s Speech.  In the evening, the whole family would settle down to watch The Morcambe and Wise Christmas Show.  They always had a special guest on who joined in the fun, like Shirley Bassey or Tom Jones.  I’ll never forget the year, Ms. Bassey stood there singing ‘Smoke Gets in Your Eyes’ as Eric jammed her foot into a workman’s boot!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Xvln035znM

There would be so much eating and drinking that day we’d feel quite full by the time we got to our beds.  Of course the evening was usually an anti climax because for me the expectation of Christmas on Christmas Eve was always the best part of all.

The Ragged Urchin

 

The Ragged Urchin bookcover

Will this little orphan boy find a safe haven?

Orphaned at the age of ten-years-old, Archie Ledbetter, is forced to live with his uncle in his very grand house. Uncle Walter seems emotionless, exhibiting little feeling towards the young lad. If it wasn’t for some of the staff at Huntington Hall, Archie’s life would be a complete misery. There’s a dark secret that Cook hints at as to why Archie’s mother left her lavish lifestyle behind and ended up settling in the East End of London, scraping a living selling cakes and confectionery from the back of a barrow in the marketplace. Archie’s never known his father and wonders who he is. Just as he’s settling in at the house, someone comes along and seizes the opportunity to kidnap Archie, forcing him to work as a chimney sweep, navigating searing hot chimney breasts in an inferno of hell. As if life couldn’t get much harder for boy, he cries himself to sleep at night praying for the angels to take him so he can finally see his mother once again in heaven…

Will Archie finally find the love he’s looking for?

A heartwarming saga, perfect for fans of Dilly Court and Maggie Hope.

Read a chapter here by clicking on “Free Preview” at the bottom of the page!

Interview with author, Joy Wood

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Hi Joy, welcome my blog.

I’ve read and enjoyed your earlier books so much and now I see you’ve just published your fourth entitled, ‘April Fool’. Could you tell us a little about it, please?

Hi Lynette, first of all thank  you so much for taking the time to interview me, I’m delighted to be here again.

April Fool is a little different from my other books. I’ve purposely tried something different. It’s hard to explain without giving any spoilers away, but suffice to say it still has elements of romance in it, and the usual twists and turns I like to incorporate, but  there is a subtle difference from my other books.  The book is about April Masters, an undercover police officer with a remit of catching the dynamic Dylan Rider who the police suspect is behind the heists of valuable artefacts. April is a strong, determined young woman and I hope that readers admire her tenacity and are willing her on as she navigates her way through the criminal world.

How did you come up with the idea for the book?

I like police dramas when I see them on TV. I didn’t want to write anything too technical about police procedures with forensic detail, I wanted something a bit less intense. I hope this book delivers this.

Does your book have a particular theme?

I think ‘Subterfuge’ says everything!

Who is your favourite character in the story and why?

I love April, but there is a young man in the story, Henry. He is a troubled soul and I feel desperately sorry for him (as April does). He isn’t particularly endearing, but there is a vulnerability about him that tugs at your heart strings.

Is there a villain/antagonist in the story?

There’s Dylan Rider and his brother Victor, neither of them are the type you would cross. April knows that, so she has to tread carefully. She cannot afford for either of them to find out who she really is so has to be convincing as a cleaner working at the gallery.

What was the hardest part of writing this book?

I found the ending a dilemma. It could have gone one of three ways. I hope I’ve got it right!

What was your favourite part of this book to write and why?

Back to April again. I liked developing her. She appears as tough cop, but she has an Archilles heel and I think that’s what the readers will identify with and be willing her on.

How long did it take to write and how did you research for it?

You’d laugh, my “research” was a retired police sergeant I met on a cruise ship! I talked about the idea with him and he was a great help. It isn’t a particularly technical book about policing or anything like that. It’s more about April at the gallery and the interactions with Dylan Rider.

Do you have any plans for any future novels?

I want to write a murder/ thriller. My editor thinks my readers know me as a contemporary romance author (my branding) and readers expect that. So maybe if I write the thriller, I’ll use a pseudonym. The only trouble is, it will be like starting out again as a new author.

If you could give a new writer any advice knowing what you know now about the writing world, what would you tell them?

I’d tell them to stick at it. Writing is solitary so by the very nature of sitting on your own, you have a tendency to doubt yourself.  I actually think ‘doubt’ is a writer’s middle name. It is very easy some days to think, ‘I’m not good enough’ ‘everyone else can write better stories than I can,’ ‘this is rubbish,’ ‘nobody will buy it.’

I think my advice would be to turn those negative thoughts into positive ones i.e., “I’m trying my best to write a story people will enjoy”, “there is room for all of us and each book I write, I’ll improve”, “this has potential, I just need to work on it.”

Could you tell me a little about a typical writing day for you?

The day starts with an early morning walk along Cleethorpes sea front. It not only clears my head and gives me ideas, it also stops me feeling guilty when I’m sat most of the day at the computer! I like to write in the day time really when I have natural light in the conservatory. I don’t write every day, and I’m easily distracted with Facebook and emails!”

Are there any authors who have influenced you?

I’ve loved reading from an early age. I used to love Jackie Collins novels, and I remember a particular book I read when I was very young that certainly influenced me, ‘The Other Side of Midnight’ by Sidney Sheldon’. I’ll never forget the joy of that book and how the author had started it and finished it. Even now all these year later, I can still see the main characters in my head.

Who is your typical reader?

I would say middle aged women, however I’ve received an email from a man today saying he loved April Fool and has read all my other novels so that was rather lovely.

Where ideally would you love to write if money was no object?

The Maldives.

And finally, where can readers buy a copy of your latest book?

It does sell locally in Cleethorpes, but the vast majority buy from Amazon both paperbacks and kindle versions. Paperbacks can also be ordered from Waterstones and WH Smith.

Many thanks for an interesting interview, Joy!

You can purchase April Fool by Joy Wood here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/April-Fool-Joy-Wood-ebook/dp/B07K1MZNKS

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Black Diamonds [Season of Change book 1]

Heartwarming Historical fiction by Lynette Rees: perfect for fans of Iris Gower and Richard Llewellyn.

A tale of passion and compassion and most of all, one woman’s brave heart.

Merthyr Tydfil, Wales, 1865. When Lily Jenkin begins her first day working for the Morgans at their corner shop in the little village of Abercanaid, she has no idea of the calamity that lies ahead of that fateful day.

It is a day of tragedy at the Gethin Coal Pit that brings her into contact with the new handsome, chapel minister, Evan Davies, for the first time.

Although a dark cloud of death passes over the village, Lily and Evan draw close to one another as they help the villagers deal with the tragedy, forming a bond which could lead to love. However, there is a gossiping old crone in the village who will do her best to cause trouble for the pair by hook or by crook.

Lily has the opportunity to escape the valley of the shadow of death to make a new home for herself in Great Salt Lake, America. Will she take the chance to go to ‘Zion’, following her Mormon relatives, and more importantly, will Evan, a Welsh Baptist minister, go with her?

The Seasons of Change Series:

1. Black Diamonds
2. White Roses
3. Blue Skies
4. Red Poppies

Life in the Workhouse

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How I wrote about a young girl’s life at the local workhouse. My thoughts and the writing process.

I wrote The Workhouse Waif after reading old newspaper reports of the goings on at the local workhouse in Merthyr Tydfil, South Wales. It’s a place that’s always fascinated me as I was actually born there on a Christmas time at the end of 1960. By then, it had become a hospital serving much of the community. In those days, they kept women in confinement for a couple of weeks, and so my mother has fond memories of the nurses dressed in those old-fashioned starch uniforms and navy capes, coming onto the maternity wing as they held lanterns to sing Christmas carols to the new and expectant mums.

Only a hundred years previously, things were very different at the St. Tydfil’s Union Workhouse. Those who were lucky enough to be able to manage without being interned there might have struggled outside of it to make ends meet, but they often feared that dark foreboding place with its high walls and strict regime, so much so they’d rather go without then go within.

A Christmas dinner back then, according to newspaper reports I’ve read as research for my book, was the best meal of the year when the inmates were treated to a roast beef dinner with plum pudding! The rest of the year though, their meals were very meagre, often consisting of a thin watery gruel for breakfast, bread and cheese or a thin soup with very little, poor quality meat the rest of the time.

Inmates were expected to attend daily prayers at the workhouse chapel and the walls of the workhouse were adorned with biblical quotes. They were forced into hard labour as after all it was thought that Idle hands made the devil’s work! And as a consequence, women often worked in the laundry, scrubbed floors, worked in the kitchen, etc, while the men bone-crushed, oakum picked or smashed rocks. It was back-breaking work on very poor food rations.

The worst thing for most families who were forced to live at the workhouse, often through no fault of their own, was that they were split up once inside and rarely saw one another afterwards.

What surprised me when I first wrote The Workhouse Waif and self-published it, was that Kindle sales shot up for it within a couple of weeks and it actually reached the number one spot for Victorian Historical Romance during November 2016. Sales remained steady, then in September of 2017, I received a message from someone I didn’t recognise to my Facebook author page. I couldn’t believe my eyes as to what I was reading. Instead of a SPAM message like I thought it was, it was the commissioning editor of Quercus Books who said she’d downloaded my book and had absolutely loved the story! She wanted to know if I was interested in a traditional publishing contract! Was I? I didn’t need asking twice. Quercus is a division of Hachette UK, one of the biggest publishing companies in the United Kingdom. I was floating on air to know that my story of little Megan Hopkins, the eleven-year-old orphan from my hometown, had travelled so far!

It was a story that came to me after reading old news reports about life at the Merthyr workhouse and I have a genuine love of local history, so it all seemed to flow nicely and the story appeared to write itself – I’ve always been the sort of writer who lets my characters dictate the plot! It works for me, so why not? I’m often surprised at the things they get up to!

And the coincidence of being of my being born in the old workhouse itself didn’t end there, as years later I worked there as a young student nurse and I’ve also attended meetings at the place when I worked for two charitable organisations. Maybe somehow the stories from the inmates came to me as their vibrations still existed somewhere within the confines of the old building. Sadly, the building has now been demolished and I hope, with the help of my story, people will appreciate what people in my home town and other towns up and down the country had endure once they set foot through the door.

I am astonished and humbled at the attention my book has received. The Workhouse Waif forms part of a series of standalone books to be published by Quercus over the next year or so: The Workhouse Waif [which has been recently published], The Matchgirl, A Daughter’s Promise and The Cobbler’s Wife.

Publication Day: The Workhouse Waif

As promised, an excerpt from The Workhouse Waif
Available in Kindle and audible formats:

Merthyr Tydfil, 1867

Chapter One

 

In her shabby dress, pinafore and scuffed leather hobnail boots eleven-year-old Megan Hopkins skipped down the road. The thick material of the dress scratched at her skin, but for once, it was the furthest thing from her mind. Matron had entrusted her to go shopping in the marketplace as the Board of Guardians was due to meet later that day. She rarely ventured into Merthyr town and she was excited. She swung her wicker basket back and forth as she skipped, humming softly to herself. Completely in her own world, she stopped to tie up her bootlace, and as she crouched to the floor, the most beautiful, melodious voice she had ever heard drifted to her consciousness. She stood there for a while to listen to the song and wondered where it was coming from, and who it might be. It sounded like it was coming from the Temperance Hall.

Walking in the opposite direction to the marketplace she made her way over, and read the poster which was attached firmly to the front of the building: ‘Appearing tonight, Miss Kathleen O’Hara, the voice of an angel . . .

She was quickly pulled out of her reverie as the sharp, cold sensation of water hit her. It was a young woman with a – now – empty bucket, from which she had sloshed a whole load of dirty water onto the pavement, and also onto Megan.

The bottom of the woman’s dress was tucked into the top of her bloomers and Megan wondered if she should tell her, but then the woman glared and said, ‘Whatcha doing there, get on with yer. Don’t want any waifs and strays around ’ere!’

          Waifs and strays? That woman didn’t look too fine herself. Sarky, silly cuss.

Megan drew her woollen shawl tightly around her shoulders as if it would somehow afford protection and made off for the outdoor market. That young woman didn’t know how lucky she was, and clearly didn’t appreciate good music. If she, herself, worked at the Temperance Hall as a cleaner, she’d have a high old time watching the rehearsals and would never have such a sour face on her as hers. Maybe if she got the chance she’d try singing on the stage herself.

Megan had been living at the workhouse since the age of seven. Her family had fallen on hard times when her father was killed in a pit accident, and without any other options to help them get by, her widowed mother had brought her and her five siblings to the workhouse. She had vague memories of their happy little home – it was small but it was theirs – in the neighbouring village of Troedyrhiw, just on the banks of the River Taff. It had been noisy but lively: her younger brothers, bursting back and forth playing choo-choo trains, her sisters cradling their wooden dolls and her elder brother Tom trying to help their mother by chopping up sticks for firewood in the yard. It had been a happy home and she missed it dearly.

Both her parents had been hard workers. When her dad, Neville Hopkins, would return from work, his face was slick and grimy with coal dust, yet he held his broad shoulders erect. He was strong and fit and he could carry a sack of coal for miles – it was said he was the strongest man in the whole of Troedyrhiw. Her mam had been so proud of him, as had she, always boasting to the other kids in the neighbourhood about her strong and brave father. She always looked forward to him coming home from work, his smile as he lowered his head to duck beneath the wooden door frame and his pearly white teeth that stood out against his dust-specked face. He’d often drop his metal snap tin on the table with a clatter and hoist one or two of them up onto his shoulders. Then Mam would fill a tin bath with hot water she’d boiled from the multitude of pans on the stove.

Outside in the backyard, he’d scrub the coal dust from his skin. Then they’d sit down to an evening meal of either lamb cawl or beef pie and potatoes. Sometimes, if they had enough money, there’d be an apple pie and custard for afters or some of her mother’s Teisen Lap, which was a sort of sponge fruit cake. Megan’s mouth watered at the thought of such wholesome food. All she got at the workhouse these days was a grey tasteless gruel for breakfast, and bread and cheese or a thin watery soup the rest of the time. They’d be graced with the occasional meal which was supposedly meat and potatoes, but rations were meagre and oftentimes the meat full of fat and gristle. She would usually go to bed with her stomach still growling with hunger.

When the family had first arrived at the workhouse, Megan had been dismayed that the family was to be split up. Her mother had to go into the adult women’s quarters, Megan was sent to stay with girls aged seven to fifteen years old, and similarly, her brother Tom was to go with the boys of the same age. Their remaining siblings, Alfie, Harry, Lizzie and May, had been sent to the under-seven section. They rarely saw one another, but Megan took comfort in the fact that the little ones were all together. Alfie and Harry were non-identical twins, and like chalk and cheese, they were, Alfie being the most robust of the two. Lizzie had a mane of red curly hair and May was dark-haired like Megan; both of them were as shy as anything, and she often hoped that they weren’t finding the conditions of the workhouse too overwhelming.

And that left Tom, her older brother, who had been lucky enough to be boarded out from the workhouse to a family in Twynyrodyn. The Evans family were good to him by all accounts, and he was expected to work in the shop they owned. Tom delivered goods to customers using a pony-drawn cart, which he’d been taught to use by Mr Evans. They lived on Twyn Hill which was breakneck steep, so some nearby deliveries had to be made on foot, which was easy for Tom when he was walking downhill, but walking back was hard going for him sometimes. He was young and fit, yet still he came back red-faced, huffing and puffing. When he visited the workhouse, he brought Megan and her siblings ha’penny sugar twists or Bentley’s Chocolate Drops, but he had to be discreet as he would undoubtedly be punished if he were found out.

Megan stopped off at a stall in the town to buy two large loaves of crusty bread, a pat of cheese, and a jar of pickles, as requested by Matron Langley. Nothing was too good for the Board of Guardians – they dined like kings and queens whilst the workhouse inmates ate very meagre meals – and Cook was busy baking a selection of cakes and roasting a goose for them.

Megan loved the hustle and bustle of the marketplace, with all its vibrant colours and smells. She was in a world of her own until she turned and spotted a young lad of around her own age loitering near a fruit stall. His arms and legs were thin and gangly, and his tattered jacket and trousers had seen far better days. His flat cap was so big it almost covered his eyes. She wondered what he was up to as he was looking very suspicious; he didn’t look the sort who would have much money of his own to purchase anything. There was no adult with him either.

Curious, she moved in closer and eyed him closely. She watched open-mouthed as he slipped a shiny red apple into his jacket pocket, and then another and another. She couldn’t believe the cheek of the lad! She’d never dream of doing anything like that. It wasn’t the way she’d been brought up, to thieve off people. He turned and caught her eye and, wilfully, she gave him a hard stare and shook her head, before turning to the stallholder to catch his attention. As if realising he might be caught, the boy grabbed all the apples he could carry in his arms and elbowed her out of the way as he dashed off.

‘Oi! Stop that boy at once!’ the stallholder shouted to the group of people nearby.

Megan turned to watch the young lad scarpering off. He was headed in the direction of St Tydfil’s Parish Church, leaving a trail of dropped apples in his wake. Before she realised what she was doing, she dropped her basket on the ground and flew after him, her arms and legs taking on a life of their own. She ran so fast she felt as if her heart were about to burst out of her chest. Sensing the outrage of the baying crowd behind her, she knew she had to catch the boy before they caught him.

When she reached the boy she yanked at the back of the collar on his jacket and he fell backwards on top of her so they were both in a heap on the ground.

‘Gerroff!’ he shouted and made to get up.

‘I’m trying to help you!’ she said gruffly, cross because he’d misunderstood. She didn’t want him to get into trouble, and looking at his thin frame she had felt sorry for him. ‘Look, come this way with me, I know where we can hide.’

He nodded and helped her onto her feet. She let out a long breath as she steadied herself.

They were behind the Three Salmons Inn, and to the right of them there was a gap in the wrought-iron railings which led into the church grounds. There, they could both hide behind a large oak tree until the coast was clear.

They quickly crept over, and from the safety of the tree watched a crowd of people run past

Megan giggled and soon the lad was giggling too. ‘What’s your name?’ he asked, wide-eyed and blinking in expectation.

‘Megan. Megan Hopkins. And yours?’

‘Griff. Griff Rhys Morgan.’ He wiped his runny nose on the back of his sleeve.

Megan rolled her eyes in disgust. ‘Yuck, mun. Doing that. You should use a handkerchief.’

‘Oooh, hark at you, quite the lady, aren’t you? I ain’t got one, have I?’

Haven’t got one,’ Megan corrected. ‘Why did you steal those apples?’

‘Cos, I’m blooming starving.’ As if suddenly remembering, he lifted one of the few he had left, shined it first on the knee of his well-worn trousers and took a bite.

‘You ought to be careful, though. I heard of one lad who stole some pies a lady had left on her windowsill to cool, and he ended up going before the judge and jury.’

‘Pah!’ Griff scoffed. ‘Won’t happen to me, I’m too quick for them all.’

Megan tossed back her curls. ‘Are you now? Well, I managed to catch you didn’t I?’

He frowned and nodded. ‘Suppose so . . .’

He inspected the apple as if examining it for worms.

‘In any case, that poor boy I told you about ended up in Australia.’

‘Australia?’ He gulped.

She nodded. ‘Yes, it’s miles and miles away. The furthest place you could ever get to. He was transported with all the other boys and girls who’d been up to mischief in the town. They can do you for the slightest thing, you know. One lad was sent there for nicking just one loaf of bread –’ she paused – ‘though I can see as how you’re hungry.’

Griff stared into space, digesting all Megan had just said. ‘I didn’t realise that could happen. I often run around with the Rodneys.’

‘Rodneys?’

‘Aye, they’re a bunch of boys who live in China where I lives, see. I stay there with me Uncle Berwyn. My parents died and he gave me board and lodgings. He’s been kind to me but he lost his job at the ironworks because of his drinking and he’s not been the same man since.’

‘Oh dear.’ Megan settled herself down on a granite tombstone, forgetting why she was there in the first place. Somehow she felt drawn to Griff and she didn’t know why.

He finished his apple and tossed the stump on a mossy verge, then promptly offered her one. Should she take it? They were stolen goods but she was hungry too. She took it from his outstretched hand, and he smiled at her. It was great to be free of the workhouse for a while, she thought as she chomped on the rosy red apple, tasting its sweet flavour. It tasted far better than anything she got in the workhouse. At night, she had dreams of eating with her family in the days when Mam had made sticky sponge puddings covered in strawberry jam, and her mouth watered at the mere memory of it. She drew on those happy memories whenever she felt sad or lonely.

‘So where do you live?’ Griff asked when they’d both finished eating, breaking into her thoughts.

‘At the workhouse. Been there a few years now. My dad died and my mam and brothers and sisters had to go there too.’

He gazed at her quizzically. ‘What’s it like in there? I often wonder.’

She thought for a moment because no one had ever asked her that question before, then said, honestly, ‘Well, the Master and Matron run a tight ship and they’re firm but fair. Kind enough to me, but some inmates there, I stay away from. Some scare me. I’ve heard them weeping and wailing during the night.’

Griff’s eyes widened. ‘I don’t think I’d like it in there myself.’ He shivered.

‘Well let’s hope you never have to go in there. There’s a Board of Guardians meeting this afternoon and—’

‘What’s wrong? Your face ’as turned white as a corpse.’

‘My basket! I was shopping for Matron and I dropped it when I ran after you!’ Now she was going to be in trouble; she’d spent most of the money Matron had given her and she had no basket to take back with her to the workhouse. That meant no bread or cheese or pickles. She was going to arrive empty-handed and that wouldn’t do at all. She’d be in trouble for sure, and that didn’t bode well, especially as one person at the workhouse in particular had it in for her.