Finding Nina front cover
characters, Crooked Cat Books, Fiction

Finding Nina

UK author Sue Barnard shares a post she wrote about the main character in her new novel, Finding Nina. This is the second time Sue has used Nina as a character. As she says, Finding Nina is part-prequel, part-sequelRomance with a twist 2019.04.07 to Nice Girls Don’t.

Another character is Nina’s mom, Alice. Or as Sue says, “There are two sides to every story, and I wanted to give Alice the opportunity to tell hers.”

I thoroughly enjoyed Sue’s last novel Heathcliff, which fills in those missing years when Emily Bronte’s character disappeared. We are fellow authors at Crooked Cat Books. I like her humorous Facebook posts about public displays of typos — alas, unintentional by those who wrote them.

Read on.

WHO IS NINA?

Back in 2012, when I first started writing Nice Girls Don’t, I intended it to be a stand-alone story and I had no plans for a sequel.  Only after it was published (in 2014) did it dawn on me that a loose end had been unintentionally left dangling.  The book is set in 1982, but in one key scene, mention was made of something which had occurred almost forty years earlier – a baby girl, born in secret during World War Two, and given up for adoption.  This was not referred to again in Nice Girls Don’t, and thankfully it didn’t affect the outcome of that story, but it did leave open the possibility of another one: What could have happened to that wartime baby?

The baby was Nina, born in mid-November 1943, when World War Two was still at its height.  Her mother was seventeen and unmarried, and although the war had changed many things, the prevailing post-Victorian attitude to illegitimacy was not one of them. So one month later, just before Christmas 1943, Nina was handed over to a childless couple who formally adopted her and changed her name to Stella.

Finding Nina is part-prequel, part-sequel to Nice Girls Don’t– but it isn’t just about the eponymous Nina/Stella.  It’s also the story of Nina’s mother Alice, who is always present in the background in Nice Girls Don’t, but who (for reasons which anyone who reads the book will appreciate) never really steps out of the shadows. There are two sides to every story, and I wanted to give Alice the opportunity to tell hers.

Here is how that story begins: 

Wincanton, Somerset, England – 14thNovember 1943

“PLEASE! Help me! I can’t do this!”

Alice panted in agony as the pains increased. She had never imagined that it was possible to suffer like this. It felt as though a vicious steel band was being tightened around her stomach.

The boot-faced middle-aged midwife threw her a look which was at best unsympathetic, at worst downright hostile.

“Help? You must be joking. There’s a war on. Even if we had the stuff, we wouldn’t waste it on the likes of you. You got yourself into this mess, my girl, and you can get yourself out of it. If you’d kept your legs together nine months ago, you wouldn’t be here now!”

Alice didn’t need to be reminded that there was a war on. It was because of the war that she was now in this dreadful predicament. Without the war, she would never have left her home village to work as a Land Girl. She would never have lost her father in the freak air raid two years earlier. And she would never have met Tom, the handsome Scottish soldier who had been stationed in the nearby town, and who had captured her heart.

Closing her eyes to shut out the midwife’s glares of condemnation, Alice clenched her teeth in a vain attempt to suppress another scream. Through her pain-soaked consciousness she clung desperately to the one thought which could sustain her: the distant but already fading memory of the baby’s father.

Tom had never even known about her pregnancy. He had been posted to India eight months earlier – and his letters home had ceased before Alice had even realised she was overdue. She had no idea exactly what had happened to him, but for him to cut off all communication was so out of character that she knew she could only fear the worst. Any remaining hope of ever seeing him again was fading with each passing day.

Was it a crime to fall in love? Was it a crime to seize the moment, knowing that it might never come again? If so, she was certainly being punished for it now. Not just through the physical agony of a long and difficult labour, but also with the mental anguish which came with the knowledge that she was about to break the most damning commandment of all. The unwritten Eleventh Commandment which had been drummed into her for the whole of her short life: Thou Shalt Not Bring Shame Upon Thy Family.

“Come on, Alice. You’re doing fine.”

These words were spoken by a different voice. It was a few moments before Alice realised that the bullying midwife had been joined by a younger nurse, who was now holding a cool damp cloth against Alice’s burning forehead.

“It doesn’t…feel…like it…” Alice gasped.

“You are. It won’t be long now.”

The older midwife, who was crouching down by Alice’s feet, spoke again. “It’s breech.”

Through the fog of pain, Alice wondered if she detected a trace of malice in the woman’s tone.

“Breech? What does that mean?”

“It’s coming out feet first,” the younger midwife explained. “It means it might take a little longer.”

A little longer? How many more hours can this go on?

“I can’t…”

“Yes, you can. Come on, now. Push gently, and I’ll guide the baby out. We can do this together.”

“No! I…” Alice’s next words were lost in a piercing scream, then another, then another. Then, suddenly, it was all over. She lay back, panting and exhausted.

“Well done, Alice,” the younger nurse said, as she covered her with a rough utility blanket. “You’ve got a beautiful baby girl.”

The older midwife snatched up the baby, marched across the room and placed her on the scales. “Six pounds five,” she barked.

“Is that good?” Alice asked, her voice barely above a whisper.

“It’s not bad, considering,” the younger nurse answered. “What are you going to call her?”

“I don’t know…”

As her daughter was placed in her arms, names were the very last thing on Alice’s mind. She glanced down at the wrinkled features, and the tiny fingers which were already gripping her own.

Yes, she thought, she is beautiful. And she is going to need a name. But what’s the point? I can’t possibly keep her.

She looked up at the young nurse. “What’s your name?” she asked.

“Nina.”

Alice looked up at her through brimming eyes. “That’s a lovely name. I’ll call her Nina, after you.”

FINDING NINA is officially released June 3, but is already available for pre-order.

1943: A broken-hearted teenager gives birth in secret. Her soldier sweetheart has disappeared, and she reluctantly gives up her daughter for adoption.

1960: A girl discovers a dark family secret, but it is swiftly brushed back under the carpet. Conventions must be adhered to.

1982: A young woman learns of the existence of a secret cousin. She yearns to find her long-lost relative, but is held back by legal constraints.  Life goes on.

2004: Everything changes…

 ABOUT SUE:

Sue Barnard is a British novelist, editor and award-winning poet who was born in North Wales some time during the last millennium.  She speaks French like a Belgian, German like a schoolgirl, and Italian and Portuguese like an Englishwoman abroad.  She now lives in Cheshire, UK, with her extremely patient husband and a large collection of unfinished scribblings.

Her mind is so warped that she has appeared on BBC TV’s Only Connect quiz show, and she has also compiled questions for BBC Radio 4’s fiendishly difficult Round Britain Quiz. This once caused one of her sons to describe her as “professionally weird.” The label has stuck.

Sue’s own family background is far stranger than any work of fiction. She would write a book about it if she thought anybody would believe her.

Finding Nina, which is her sixth novel, is not that book.

Blog   Facebook   G+   Twitter   Instagram   Amazon  Goodreads  RNA

ALSO BY SUE BARNARD:

The Ghostly Father  Nice Girls Don’t  The Unkindest Cut of All  Never on Saturday  Heathcliff

 

 

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Fiction, Teaching

Finding the Invisible Man Redux

I am juggling two things right now: Final edits of my next mystery, Redneck’s Revenge, my publisher’s Kindle sale, and settling into a new home we renovated. So I’m digging through the archives for one of my more popular posts: Finding the Invisible Man.

Ralph Ellison’s book is one of my favorites. There is a great deal of inspiration tied to that novel, including a professor’s influence. Here goes.

I was on the second floor of a second-hand store this week checking its supply of used books. Ten books for a buck, the sign said. In the E section, I found a copy of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. Hard cover circa 1952. The book jacket wasn’t pristine, but I didn’t care. It is worth a lot more than ten cents.

Inside the book I found a folded piece of paper that said “National Book Award for 1953. Fiction. Judges: Saul Bellow, Martha Foley, Irving Howe, Howard Mumford Jones, and Alfred Kazin.” I suppose it has been with the book since whoever bought it new back then.
I had been wanting a vintage copy of the Invisible Man for a while because this book has so much personal value to me.
In the second semester of my junior year at the then Bridgewater State College, I took a Black Literature course with Dr. Barbara Chellis. She was a dynamic professor her students couldn’t pin down.
She also taught an American Lit. course I also took. One year she would say Emily Dickinson was a hack. Next year, when her students were ready to echo that theory, Dr. Chellis praised Dickinson as a private poet who never expected to be published.
When we read The Scarlett Letter, Dr. Chellis cut her hair monk-short, wore severe clothes and an ornate silver cross. I learned about Poe’s “knowledge is power” and why people write.
Dr. Chellis was brilliant and compassionate. One time I was stoned when I took a mid-term exam. Without a lecture, she asked me take it again. I know you can do better, she told me.
That semester, I moved into the same apartment house as Dr. Chellis and her companion, another woman who taught in the history department. They lived on the first floor, and from our kitchen window on the second, I watched them hang out in their yard. My roommate lied to the landlord, telling him we were nurses and not college students.
I remember the day I came home as Dr. Chellis drove her convertible into our driveway. The top was down. She slammed on the brakes, backed up and glared at me. We got our eviction notice shortly afterward.
But I got her back, sort of. We had a huge, noisy party one of our last nights there. And, then there was the presentation I had to do for her Black Lit. class. I chose to speak on Ralph Ellison’s theme of invisibility in his Invisible Man, that nobody can see who we really are including a professor who had me evicted from my apartment. I recorded my speech and played it in front of the class so it would seem I was invisible when I spoke.
Dr. Chellis gave me an A for the presentation.
The last time I saw Dr. Chellis was when I went to her office to get my final grade, another A. She was cordial and encouraging. She asked me why I no longer dated a popular student she liked. I simply said he broke up with me. The truth was he was gay and didn’t want to love a woman.
I went to Europe that summer. When I returned, I heard Dr. Chellis had been diagnosed with a brain tumor, which later killed her. It seemed terribly unfair.
Here is a quote from the Invisible Man: “All my life I had been looking for something, and everywhere I turned someone tried to tell me what it was.” Thank you Dr. Chellis.
ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: Yup, that’s my copy.
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books, Fiction, hippies, New release, short stories

Professor Groovy, Class Is In Session

I just got word Professor Groovy and Other Stories is now available on Kindle. How much fun is that?

As I’ve mentioned before, the four stories are a prequel of sorts to Peace, Love, and You Know What. Michelle Gutierrez designed the cover you see above that reflects that relationship in a creative way. (Thanks, Michelle.)

Lenora Dias, one of the novel’s main characters, is the prominent figure in each story. We get a taste of the late sixties via her point of view.

For those who haven’t read the novel, Lenora is the first of her Portuguese family to go to college at the fictional Westbridge State. She goes hippie big time, but is levelheaded enough to stay out of too much trouble and to graduate on time. A serial romantic, she falls hard in love and suffers for it. She is the queen of her little tribe of hippie friends.

In one story in this collection, Lenora has an encounter with a professor who enjoys having no boundaries with his students. Yes, you could call him a dirty professor.

In another, Lenora reveals a secret and in another, a liar. Then, there is her raucous summer fling with a guy back home.

Yes, these stories were inspired by my experiences long ago, but they are strictly from my imagination. I wrote them before I started Peace, Love, and You Know What. I guess you could call them practice runs although two did get picked up by publications.

I opted at this point to go with Kindle only because the short stories total 10,000 words. In the future, I may incorporate them with other stories to make a heftier book worth printing.

The price to read Professor Groovy is 99 cents, which I believe is fair.

Don’t have a Kindle? You can download the free app to your computer, phone or tablet. Anyway, here is the link on Amazon Professor Groovy

Thanks for reading my fiction.

 

 

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joansigning this one
Fiction

Friends, This Is Fiction

A few days ago I got a message from a college friend expressing displeasure with my novel, Peace, Love, and You Know What. I guess he and at least one other person didn’t believe what I’ve said all along: this book is fiction and not a memoir.

First off, I have not led a life that has been so interesting, it deserves a memoir.

I once had a New York agent who wanted me to write a tell-all non-fiction book about the town I lived in at the time in Western Massachusetts — something on the order of Peyton Place. He read the first couple of chapters and wanted a lot more dirt. Certainly there was fodder for scandal. But I couldn’t do it. I loved the people and the town too much.

So instead I write fiction. Sure, I use what I’ve experienced, as I’ve said before, and have my way with it. I am inspired by what I observe. That includes people and places. I believe this is true of many or most fiction writers.

The next novel I will launch is The Sweet Spot. It’s one of my three so-called hilltown novels. The one centers on a scandal involving the young widow of a soldier killed in Vietnam eight years and her married brother-in-law. Did it happen? No. But I’d like to think I wrote it with enough authenticity that one could believe it happened.

Of the three books, the only character based on someone real is a dog.

Back to Peace, Love, and You Know What. I understand that people, especially those who I knew way back then, will read what they want into my novel. But as I told my 92-year-old mother on the phone the other day: it didn’t happen that way.

A funny aside: I mailed my mother a copy of the book with a note inside suggesting she might want to skip some of the pages. Afterward I had doubts. Maybe I shouldn’t have sent the book. Maybe she will be offended.

But when I called my mother several days later, she told me she was half-way through the book. She thought it was very funny. I asked her if the novel was a bit racy, but she assured me she’s read a lot worse in her historical romance novels.

joan at table

I look pretty darn happy. Yup those are some of the brownies.

I told that story at my solo reading held at SOMOS of Taos on July 8. It was a good night. I read small sections to get people through the three-day bash, which never happened by the way, and as I noted that’s only about a third of the book. My friend, Teresa Dovalpage, asked questions about hippies and writing. I made brownies, without pot, of course, and signed books. Thanks to everyone who came. I hope to do it again soon.

CORRECTION: In a May 29 post, I wrote about my visit to Bridgewater State University, which I attended and was the inspiration for the fictional Westbridge State College. I noted visiting several buildings on and off campus. My friend noted the “Brown House” burned to the ground. I mistook another apartment building next door for it. I stand corrected on that fact.

LINK: My novel is available at Brodsky Bookshop and Op Cit Books, and SOMOS in Taos. Here’s the link to Amazon: Peace, Love, and You Know What on Amazon

PHOTO ABOVE: Teresa Dovalpage took that photo of me signing one of my books for my former neighbor, Marcia.

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