Finding a friend for Emmet

I carried Emmet in my head for years before I began writing ‘Emmet and Me’

The character of Emmet had formed very clearly in my mind after I’d read the extremely moving memoir ‘Founded on Fear’ by Peter Tyrrell, which tells of a harrowing childhood in an Irish industrial school.

I knew I wanted to write about Emmet, but I was also certain I wouldn’t write the story from his point of view. There are memoirs that recount life in Ireland’s institutions, and these convey survivors’ first-hand experiences so movingly and with heart-breaking honesty. I would never assume I knew even a fraction of what it would be like to actually endure such trauma.

So I decided that if I wrote about Emmet, it would be through someone else’s eyes. He’d need a friend who didn’t live in his orphanage, someone he could confide in. But how would he meet a character from outside his tightly controlled institution? It was a dilemma I couldn’t solve, so I imagined Emmet would simply stay in my head forever.

On a March evening in 2017, I was in Dublin and watching the Late Late Show. Ryan Turbridy’s guest was Catherine Corless, a local historian from County Galway who had discovered an extremely disturbing history at Tuam Mother and Baby Home. Initially, she’d been interested in looking into the Home’s records because she clearly remembered older children from there attending her primary school. Years later, when she took a course in researching local history, she thought of those children again, and decided to research the Home.

What Catherine Corless uncovered shocked not only Ireland but, as the story hit global media, it shocked the world as well

She discovered almost eight hundred death certificates of babies and young children. All of these children had died at the Tuam Mother and Baby Home. And what was more, many of them had been ‘buried’ in the disused septic tank in the grounds.

In the audience of the Late Late Show that night, were people who’d had family at the Tuam Home – siblings that had disappeared and whose remains had possibly been placed in the septic tank. At the end of the show, Catherine Corless received a spontaneous standing ovation for her tireless, investigative work.

It was an incredibly moving moment

That night, I couldn’t get thoughts of Tuam Home out of my head, and the terrible pain and suffering that had been caused to the women and children there. I also remembered what Catherine had said about the children from the Home – how they’d attended her primary school in the town. I realised that perhaps there was a way to write about Emmet after all, that he could make a friend at school, a friend outside his orphanage.

Watching Catherine Corless on TV that evening is etched on my memory. I’m sure I’m not wrong in suggesting that it’s etched on the memory of very many other viewers too. She came up against resistance from the Church and some members of her community when she tried to reveal the truth, but she persisted. She is a brave and determined woman. There’s much more about her inspiring work, and about Tuam Mother and Baby Home generally, in the Radio 4 podcast by Becky Milligan, The Home Babies. I thoroughly recommend it.

Thank you for reading!

Sara x

Publishing May 20th

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Broken Families and Forbidden Friendships

This weekend, I’ll be taking part in the Llandeilo Online Lit Fest

There’s a packed programme and across Saturday 24th April and Sunday 25th, a whole host of writers will be talking about books and writing generally, from fiction and poetry, to politics and writing for media. There are events, too, for children.

On Sunday at 2pm, I’ll be talking live to local publisher Seonaid Francis of Black Bee Books and ThunderPoint Publishing about my novels for adults in a session called ‘Broken Families and Forbidden Friendships’ – themes both my debut novel, ‘Not Thomas’, and soon-to-published ‘Emmet and Me’ have running through them.

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In ‘Not Thomas’, Rhiannon is very half-heartedly attempting to keep her son, five-year-old Tomos, living with her, having split up his happy foster home. Although Tomos terribly misses his beloved Nanno and Dat, his foster, parents, he also truly loves his mother. But she seems intent on causing irreparable damage wherever she goes. Tomos’s supply teacher, Lowri, takes him under her wing, but as she gets more involved than she should in his home-life, her own begins to fall apart.

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In ‘Emmet and Me’, set in 1960s’ Ireland, ten-year-old Claire’s family implodes when her mother runs away and Claire and her brothers are sent to stay with their formidable Granny Connemara. In her remote cottage, tragic family events are never spoken of, but they have deeply left their mark. With no sign of their Uncle Jack picking them up at the end of the summer holidays, the children are faced with new schools. Claire’s only friend at hers is a boy called Emmet from the orphanage. She shouldn’t be talking to him, and their forbidden friendship will change her life forever.

I’ll be talking about my new novel ‘Emmet and Me’ at Llandeilo Lit Fest

I’ll be discussing broken families and forbidden friendships, the inspiration behind the characters in my novels, and lots more with Seonaid Francis at the Llandeilo Lit Fest on Sunday at 2pm, and I’ll be taking questions too. If you’re able to join us, it would be wonderful to see you there. If you can’t make it on the day, the session will be available for ticketholders to watch online for a limited time afterwards (instructions on how to watch will be released after the event).

Here’s to a fantastic literary weekend – 24th & 25th April

Thank you for reading!

Sara x

Tickets and details of all events available here

publishing 20th May Honno Press

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The Proofs Arrived! Or should that be: ‘The Proof’s Arrived’?

Yes, it probably should be the second version, because that’s how it feels – the reality of my new novel delivered to my door: proof that I actually reached the end of the process of creating a second book.

Well, the process isn’t quite finished…

but my part is complete. My editor at Honno has just sent off the typeset to the printers. In a few weeks, the final version of ‘Emmet and Me’ will be on its way to bookshops, ready for publication day on 20th May. But for now, I’m making the most of the proof copies.

They’re not for me to keep, no matter how much I’d love to – they’re to send out to reviewers; but when I opened the parcel I couldn’t help taking a moment to hug them and breathe in that beautiful smell of new book. A little bit odd, I grant you.

And when Simon and I went out to the country park, I couldn’t leave them at home.

So here’s ‘Emmet and Me’…

in the woods…

at the beach…

and back home on the lawn…

with a few items that feature large in the story of Claire O’Connell and Emmet.

(I towel-dried the grass to keep the cover clean! Spot the difference between this image and the one at the top of the page.)

Soon, I’ll be packing up the proofs again and sending them off to reviewers, and the next time I’ll hold a copy, it’ll be the final article, complete with a gorgeous cover-quote from a fabulous book-blogger who’s been generous enough to give up her time to read an even earlier version (more about that to come).

I’m extremely grateful to that wonderful book-blogger, and all book-bloggers, reviewers and readers everywhere!

Thank you, too, for reading this post by a very excited writer!

Until next time,

Sara x

PS. On Sunday 25th April at 2pm I’ll be discussing my novels with Seonaid Francis of Black Bee Books as part of the Llandeilo LitFest which is happening online this year. It would be lovely to see you there! Tickets for the event called ‘Broken Families and Forbidden Friendships’ available now.

Publishing 20th May Honno Press

Available to read and review on NetGalley now!

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New Novel – Emmet and Me

So, the editing is done, the typeset is being prepared…

a beautiful and atmospheric cover has been designed by the wonderful lettering artist, Ruth Rowland, and my new novel ‘Emmet and Me’ will be published on 20th May.

It’s a story set in the landscape of 1960s rural Ireland. Ten-year-old Claire has moved to Connemara from Cardiff and is a misfit at her new school. Emmet is an inmate at an industrial school ‒ a place where life is harsh and often cruel. They share a love of books and horses, and become secret friends at primary school, but their forbidden friendship has a devastating effect on both of them.

In the weeks between now and publication day, I’ll blog about the inspiration behind ‘Emmet and Me’, about my research and the real lives that I aim to reflect in the novel.

I’ll talk about my writing process, and how one of my characters might reflect me in some ways, and the themes that seem to somehow find their way into all my stories ‒ hunger and identity.

My favourite spot in Connemara for editing

The next post will tell the story of how I stumbled upon a truly heart-breaking real-life tale that gave rise to the character of Emmet.

Until then, I’m delighted to be able to share a few early reviews of ‘Emmet and Me’

“…beautiful, perfectly set in time and place. A story of friendship, loyalty and trust… sweet but beneath that sweetness was a darkness that was heart breaking.” Sandy Taylor, author of ‘The Orphan’s Daughter’, shortlisted for the RNA Saga Award for best novel in 2021

“Sara Gethin has written something very special, very powerful, capturing the innocence of a beautiful friendship. With characters that are wonderfully portrayed, it is very easy to imagine the joy, the pain, the sorrow and the pure heartache of the lives lived and lost…Emmet and Me is a remarkable tale, a captivating novel that will leave its mark on every reader.” Mairéad Hearne, Swirl and Thread book blog

“The unspeakable cruelty of the Irish Industrial Schools and their devastating effect on children and families is laid bare in this profoundly moving, evocative story of a special friendship told through the eyes of a ten-year-old narrator. I loved it.” Laura Wilkinson, author of ‘Skin Deep’

Thank you for reading!

Until next time,

Sara x

PS. I’ll be at the Llandeilo (Virtual) LitFest on Sunday 25th April, talking about my books with Seonaid Francis. See all events. Tickets available now.

Emmet and Me is available to pre-order now from Honno, Amazon and BookshopUK

Inside a Prison Book Club

I’ve had some interesting invitations in my short time as an author – I’ve shared my children’s stories in school assembly halls, I’ve read my poetry at Women’s Institute meetings and I’ve spoken about my writing experiences at my local Workers’ Education Association. But a few months ago, a very unusual invitation appeared in my inbox which made me do a double take.

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The email was from Neil Barclay, who introduced himself as the librarian at HMP Thameside London and invited me to discuss my novel, ‘Not Thomas’, with their book club. At first I skimmed over the ‘HMP’, not registering its meaning. Then I did that double take. Yes, I had definitely seen the letters H, M & P and, of course, I knew exactly what they stood for – Her Majesty’s Prison.

The invitation had come completely out of the blue and it took me a moment to process that a prison would even have a book club. Then I saw Neil had included a link to the Prison Reading Groups’ website, a charity that provides books to prisoners, and it was obvious from that what an important role these clubs have. The PRG encourages reading for pleasure so that long hours spent alone can be put to good use – reading fiction is, after all, a walk in someone else’s shoes and a different perspective on the world.

Education Consultant Ruth Perry, who volunteers at the prison library, had come across my novel via a book blog. Yet again I had a reason to be thankful for those wonderful book bloggers who do a marvellous job of promoting new books from small publishers. Ruth read ‘Not Thomas’ and suggested to Neil that he might invite me to speak about it.

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With Ruth Perry who led the book club session

I was delighted Ruth had spotted my novel and extremely pleased to know that it was being read in prison. The novel is about Tomos, a neglected five-year-old boy, and I suspected that it might resonate with some of the men there. Neglect is the most common reason for a child to be taken into care, and many people in prison have been brought up in the care system. A sad childhood is not unusual among prisoners.

I eagerly accepted Neil’s invitation, curious to know what the readers at Thameside would make of my novel and keen to see the innovative library. Neil has won the prestigious Butler Trust Award for his work there and is greatly appreciated by the members of the library. In 2016 a journalist for The Guardian visited and reported on the positive effects of the power of books and it makes for very interesting reading.

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In front of the wall of titles of previous visitors, with the beautiful flowers I was given

Neil certainly succeeds in getting a wide range of guests to visit the library. Actors Sir Ian McKellen and David Morrissey have held recent events there, and authors Paula Hawkins of ‘Girl on the Train’ fame, and Val McDermid have also visited. Crime writer, Martina Cole, is a regular visitor, holding creative writing workshops at the library. I felt I was following in the footsteps of very illustrious people.

The whole morning – from meeting the book club members, as well as Neil, Ruth and Laura (an immigration lawyer who’d come along for the morning) to receiving the thoughtful and often moving feedback from the men in the group – was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Some of the comments the group made were very sad, especially from readers who could identify first hand with little Tomos. Some of the men said they’d cried as they read it – and I was impressed by their open approach in such a ‘manly’ environment.

After the book group session, Neil, Ruth and Laura took me on a short tour of part of the prison. A member of the library team kindly allowed me into his cell so I could see what living in that small space was like. It certainly made me realise the importance of the work Neil and his volunteers do there. Whether convicted of a crime or not, everyone needs a chance to relax and switch off from their environment. Reading in prison gives the men a way to do that, and it gives them a legitimate escape from their sometimes difficult surroundings.

My tour included a brightly decorated room furnished with soft toys where the men can record videos of themselves reading from picture books. It’s a wonderful project provided by the charity Storybook Dads, and it means that children don’t miss out on a bedtime story from their father while he’s away from them. Recording those videos is often an emotional experience for the men but a very worthwhile one. Neil explained that most prisons have now introduced the Storybook Dads scheme although sadly there are still some where it’s not available.

When I accepted Neil’s invitation I never imagined that spending a morning in prison would be an uplifting experience, but that’s exactly what it was. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

So a very big thank you to Ruth Perry and Neil Barclay for offering me such a wonderful opportunity, but most importantly a massive thank you to the men of HMP Thameside Book Club for reading ‘Not Thomas’ – I will never forget your sometimes sad but very kind words.

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Momentos of my visit

Sara’s debut novel ‘Not Thomas’ – a story of child neglect, love and hope, shown through the eyes of five-year-old Tomos – is published by Honno Press in paperback and as an e-book, and is available to buy direct from the publisher, from Amazon and from bookshops.

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Waverton Good Read Award

A huge thank you to the residents of Waverton in Cheshire who have included ‘Not Thomas’ on the longlist of their debut novel award for 2018.

The Waverton Good Read Award is a really brilliant idea for a prize, where a whole village of book lovers become involved in reading and voting for their favourites. The award has been running for 15 years and was first given to Mark Haddon for his novel ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time’.

This year there are some well-known titles among the 24 on the longlist, including Gail Honeyman’s ‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine’, Keith Stuart’s ‘A Boy Made of Blocks’ and Graham Norton’s ‘Holding’. Rebecca F John’s wonderful novel ‘The Haunting of Henry Twist’ is included too, which means there are two of us originally from Llanelli on the list.

The shortlisting happens later this month and, of course, with such strong contenders I’d be delighted if ‘Not Thomas’ got through to the second round. But being longlisted by real readers who have no agenda other than enjoying what they read is prize enough for me.

Wouldn’t it be fabulous if there were more prizes like the Waverton Good Read Award?

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Sara’s debut novel ‘Not Thomas’ – a story of child neglect, love and hope, shown through the eyes of five-year-old Tomos – is published by Honno Press in paperback and as an e-book, and is available to buy direct from the publisher, from Amazon and from bookshops.

#BookReview #SnowSisters by Carol Lovekin

It’s been a busy couple of weeks, what with one project or another on the go, book signing events to attend and generally getting my brain in gear for Christmas, and so my blog has been slightly neglected.

Today, however, I have a recommended read.

It’s a novel I read a few weeks ago and loved so much I nominated for the Hay Festival Book of the Year – Snow Sisters by Carol Lovekin.

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At the launch of Snow Sisters with Carol Lovekin

 

Some novels I zip through and others I devour slowly. Snow Sisters really is a novel to savour, with its gorgeously sensual prose delivered by a very skilful author. It’s a ‘curl up on the couch in front of a log fire’ kind of novel. If you haven’t already read either of Carol Lovekin’s wonderful novels, I urge you to – you will not be disappointed. 

Here’s a slightly extended version of the review I left on the Hay Festival Book of the Year page:

“I absolutely adore ‘Snow Sisters’. It’s Lovekin’s second offering and is beautifully written – just like her first, ‘Ghostbird’. The novel is set in Wales in the 1970s and has an eerie, gothic feel. It’s the story of a bohemian family, consisting of three generations of women who live in the beautiful but ramshackle Gull House. The house has a chilling history, and teenagers Meredith and Verity become sensitive to this as their home-life is turned upside down by their self-absorbed mother, Allegra.
I read this novel slowly as I wanted to relish the magical atmosphere Lovekin effortlessly creates with her lyrical writing. She paints vivid scenes for the reader. Colours are important – red flannel hearts for a lost child, a grandmother’s mystical blue garden and sumptuous greens for the vivacious Meredith. The author explores ideas of ghosts and family ties, and the enduring love between sisters.
‘Snow Sisters’ is a haunting, spellbinding novel that has stayed with me long after I – very slowly, to savour every last word – read the final page.”

Snow Sisters is published by Honno Press and is available to buy from them, Amazon and bookshops in paperback priced at £8.99. Also available on Kindle

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Sara’s debut novel ‘Not Thomas’ – a story of child neglect, love and hope, shown through the eyes of five-year-old Tomos – is published by Honno Press in paperback and as an e-book, and is available to buy direct from the publisher, from Amazon and from bookshops.

 

#MusicTherapyThursday #InspiralCarpets #Thisishowitfeels

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Another song from my Not Thomas playlist today and a blast from the past: ‘This is How it Feels’ by Inspiral Carpets. The video is certainly of its time, but I love the song and it’s rarely heard on the radio these days.

Sara’s debut novel ‘Not Thomas’ – a story of child neglect, love and hope, shown through the eyes of five-year-old Tomos – is published by Honno Press in paperback and as an e-book, and is available to buy direct from the publisher, from Amazon and from bookshops.

#WelshWordWednesday #nosdacariad

Today’s Welsh word, for ‘Not Thomas’ readers unfamiliar with the language, is in fact three words: Nos da, cariad.

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On page 355 of ‘Not Thomas’, Tomos is thinking about his new foster mother, Tess, and how she says ‘Nos da, cariad’ when she puts him to bed. I’m sure, given the context, the meaning is pretty easy to work out.

Nos = night; da = good; cariad = love.

As it happens, there’s a David Gray song with exactly the right title.

Sara’s debut novel ‘Not Thomas’ – a story of child neglect, love and hope, shown through the eyes of five-year-old Tomos – is published by Honno Press in paperback and as an e-book, and is available to buy direct from the publisher, from Amazon and from bookshops.

#BookReview #JudithBarrow #AHundredTinyThreads #Honno

Over the last few months, I’ve been along to three book launches by fellow Honno authors.

But since I’ve had a busy summer and early autumn, I haven’t had the chance to review any of those novels. Now life is a little calmer, and so I’m going to start putting that right.

My first review is of  ‘A Hundred Tiny Threads’ by Judith Barrow.

Judith grew up in the Pennines but has lived in Pembrokeshire for nearly forty years.

Here’s my review… 

A Hundred Tiny Threads by Judith Barrow

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I so look forward to losing myself in an engrossing read at the end of a hectic day, and Judith Barrow’s ‘A Hundred Tiny Threads’ fits the bill beautifully.

Judith has skillfully crafted a wonderful set of characters – some I love (Winifred, her grandmother & Honora) while some I loathe (Winifred’s husband and mother) but all are well rounded and believable. One of Judith’s many strengths is that she writes with a warmth for her characters that emanates from the pages, and she somehow manages to be fair to them all, too, even the ne’er-do-wells. Subtly, she helps us see how they’ve become the people they are, and the source of their strengths and failings. The dialogue is always natural, descriptions are vivid and flow easily, and I was very quickly drawn into Winifred’s world.

Winifred is one half of the couple that ‘a hundred tiny threads’ holds together.

We follow her as she grows from a young girl to a married woman with a family, and I felt I had a vested interest in her happiness. She’s a young, single woman at the start of the novel, working in her parents’ grocery shop with little time off. When she meets Irish artist Honora, who has an independent lifestyle, Winifred’s attitude to her own life begins to change. Honora encourages her to join the Suffrage Movement, against her domineering mother’s wishes. And it’s when she’s protesting with the Suffragettes that Winifred begins to fall for Honora’s brother, Conal – a love affair that changes the course of her life forever.

But never far away is Bill, who’s a very troubled character.

Bill’s actions are sometimes unforgivable. However, we’re shown why he has come to behave the way he does – not only is he damaged by a childhood devoid of love, but like so many men of his generation Bill has had horrific war experiences.

Judith doesn’t shy away from describing the sheer brutality of WW1. The scenes in the trenches feel very authentic, stomach-churningly so at times, but that all adds to the atmosphere of the novel. The atrocities Bill witnessed and perpetrated in Ireland with the Black and Tans are also unflinchingly portrayed.

The setting of this novel has clearly been researched very thoroughly indeed, but the reader never gets the sense that historical detail is there for anything other than the flow of the story and development of the characters – a real skill in this genre.

While ‘A Hundred Tiny Threads’ is the prequel to Judith’s Howarth Family Trilogy and tells the story of the parents of Mary, the main protagonist in the three other books, it also works very well as a stand-alone novel. It makes a wonderful starting point for those who’ve never read the others, and I’m sure Judith’s many fans won’t need any encouragement to delve into this new novel and lose themselves for hours in Winifred and Bill’s back story.

I was intrigued by Winifred’s friend, Honora and her brother Conal’s story too. They were very interesting and lively characters. I wonder if, sometime in the future, Judith could be persuaded to let us in on their secrets too! 

‘A Hundred Tiny Threads’ is another excellent novel from a wonderful writer & storyteller and I thoroughly recommend the whole series.

Other books in the Howarth Family Saga series:

‘Pattern of Shadows’, ‘Changing Patterns’ & ‘Living in the Shadows’.

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Judith Barrow, Christoph Fischer and me at the launch for ‘A Hundred Tiny Threads’ at Waterstones, Carmarthen

Buy Judith’s new novel from Honno

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Sara’s debut novel ‘Not Thomas’ – a story of child neglect, love and hope, shown through the eyes of five-year-old Tomos – is published by Honno Press in paperback and as an e-book, and is available to buy direct from the publisher, from Amazon and from bookshops.

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