Back to the desert island with Jill Barry…

This month I have so much pleasure in welcoming a dear friend, Jill Barry, to my blog to talk about the books she’d take with her to a desert island. Jill and I met many years ago as founder members of the Carmarthenshire chapter (now the Cariad Chapter) of the Romantic Novelists’ Association. Having discovered we lived very near one another, it was the start of some great coffee mornings and, before lockdown, a day in London reminiscing about our own mini skirts at the Mary Quant exhibition at the V&A.

A multi-published romantic novelist, Jill draws on her varied career and travels for inspiration. She has lived ‘all over the place’ but is now settled only minutes from the Second Severn Crossing, so handy for popping over from Wales to England. A creative writing tutor for many years, she still enjoys mentoring new writers, while convinced she will never stop learning.

Welcome to my island, Jill.

I know that you started your writing journey with handwritten magazines starring horses and thinly-disguised family members – a beginning I think many of us will recognise!  Later you were submitting short stories for magazines and anthologies and both won and were shortlisted for prizes – always such a boost to a writer’s confidence.

Thanks for inviting me on your blog, Liz. I can’t wait to share the books I’ve chosen with you.

We’ll get to that, Jill, but you have now written an impressive number of books for a number of publishers and we want to hear your “call” story. That moment when (with apologies to the Man from Del Monte). the publisher, she say “Yes!”  How did it happen for you?

I submitted my first full-length novel to Accent Xcite and it was rejected but soon after that,  I attended the 2011 RNA Conference at Caerleon and got talking to Hazel Cushion who I already knew.

Hazel founded Accent Press? I remember a talk she gave a talk at an RNA meeting which had us all in stitches.

She’s quite a character… I asked her if she could recommend another publisher for me to contact and she wanted to know why I wasn’t submitting to her! When I got home I sent the ms to her and it was accepted for publication.

The RNA conferences are such a great way to network, meet agents and talk face-to-face with publishers, which an be the conduit into turning rejection in that life changing “Yes”! The Caerleon conference was particularly great in that it was close to home, I had you as my chauffeur and on hand when I needed help with a necklace I couldn’t unfasten! Sadly, last year and again this year, they are online, but still a great learning and networking opportunity.

And so, on to the island. It’s warm, there’s fresh water, coconuts and plenty of food for the committed hunter/gatherer and fish if you’re up to the messy bits. So, well catered for, you’re lying back on the hammock you’ve woven out of banana leaves and you have a book in your hand. Tell us what it is and why it means so much to you.

One of the first books I recall reading as a child. is The Little Princesses by Marion Crawford. I devoured anything Enid Blyton wrote and also loved Elinor M Brent-Dyer’s Chalet School series. But time after time I returned to the story of Princess Elizabeth and her younger sister, Margaret. ‘Crawfie,’ governess to the royal children, gave great insight into their daily lives and maybe because my older sister had married and left home, I was fascinated by Lilibet and Margaret and envied them their miniature play house.

I remember that, and it’s particularly interesting to remember it now, as Her Majesty celebrates her 95th birthday.

Ever since J K Rowling talked about writing in a cafe, people have been fascinated by where we write. I know authors who write at their favourite coffee shop table, or take their laptop to the library. Where do you write, Jill?

I’m lucky enough to have a room all to myself. My pc sits on an old partners’ desk and from the window I look out upon trees and green space. I don’t listen to music while working but frequently research songs to fit the era in which I’m writing.

I sit at a desk in front of a blank wall — no distractions – although there is something about writing at a cafe table or on a train that keeps you going. You look such a fool staring at a blank screen! But no cafes where I’m stranding you. On to your second book!

My second choice is  The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes. I think I’d still read Jojo Moyes, even if she rewrote and published the instructions for my new mobile phone! This book is truly inspirational and my heart ached for heroine Alice’s unfortunate situation, moving to another country as the bride of a man so dominated by his father that the marriage stood no chance. Books prove to be the lonely Alice’s salvation and how she becomes involved in spreading the wonder of them with her band of equally dedicated new friends is compelling.

It sounds wonderful. Definitely one to add to my reading list. But let’s talk about your books for a moment. Where do you get your inspiration? Ideas for settings?

That’s such a thought-provoking question! Several of my books are inspired by where I’ve lived or jobs I’ve done.

In Dreams of Yesterday, my second pocket novel for The People’s Friend, (NB: also available in this LP edition at your library) I drew on my much older sister’s experiences of running our father’s garage business during WW2. Her vivid memories helped hugely in creating a sense of the era. And I must now confess that my only psychological suspense novel came about after you told me you were moving, Liz!

Before meeting you, I had lived in a remote Welsh village and the idea of creating a plot around a couple who decide to move away but whose near neighbour has other ideas for them, fell into place.

I’m guessing that’s The House-Sitter — keep your friends close, but your enemies closer!  I loved it. And love the fact that I helped inspire it! (Shiver just a little). On to book three…

That has to be Letters to the Lost by Iona Grey.

This dual timeline story takes us from present day back to the time of World War Two. A chance meeting sparks the love of a lifetime and the author weaves the story of two sets of characters in such an engaging way, I felt sad to put the book down. Words such as emotional, formidable and evocative cannot possibly do justice to the book’s warm, compelling prose and you will root for all these characters as you inhabit their lives and marvel at the power of love and love lost.

She is a wonderful writer and that book won the Romantic Novelists’ Association main award in 2016

I know you are a huge fan of tennis, Jill — no doubt the inspiration for your book Love Thirty —  and will be eagerly awaiting the start of the major competitions this summer. Perhaps you’ll even be able to get to Wimbledon this year. Sadly there’s no internet signal on my island so until you can make your own racket and ball, your book choices are going to have to keep you entertained.

At first, I was sceptical as to whether I’d enjoy The Horse Whisperer by Nicholas Evans, but became drawn in by the combination of events leading to such a tragic situation. Yes, the novel’s beginning is dark, but I was blown away by the determination of a career-focussed mother, trying to restore some kind of normality to her traumatised daughter and beloved horse. I have reread the novel several times, justifying its choice for the island. I also have to confess to cheating here, as I know rereading this novel will result in my picturing Robert Redford in the movie. The man from Montana doesn’t help people who have horse problems – he helps horses with people problems.

That was so huge when it was first published. Everyone was reading it, including me. And then, well, Robert Redford… Enough said. And of course you started your career writing stories about horses!  Perfect choice!

So what’s next for Jill Barry?

I’m heading towards Christmas! Many apologies for mentioning the festive season but my Pocket Novel editor suggested I might like to write a two-parter for Christmas so I’m working on that now. This is a very popular market to aim for and my publication total stands at My Weekly 2 and People’s Friend 13. 

We all have to write ahead of the season, especially for magazine stories. Hot beaches when it’s snow outside and Christmas trees in the summer! Is there anything else in the pipeline?

I’m planning a follow up to my only just completed novel, Love at War, with two more books, so creating a family saga. That’s the plan, anyway.

Brilliant. I’ll look forward to that. In the meantime, we need to talk about your fifth book.

The Hourglass by Tracy Rees is set primarily in Tenby, a beautiful seaside town much loved by many. I’m an admirer of Tracey Rees’s work and one reason for choosing her most recent publication is that it encapsulates many memories of the land of my birth. Tenby was my late mum’s favourite holiday place. Also, for anyone who loves a secret, there’s a humdinger unravelling here amidst the colours, sounds and scents of Tenby. The novel is also about finding love and for this reader anyway, the story’s ending is entirely satisfactory.

I love Tenby. So pretty — and for those of you who have never been there, or seen a picture, here’s one taken by my husband a few years ago.

Before we get to your final book choice, Jill, traditionally you’re allowed to choose a luxury, anything you like as long as it’s not practical, or boat-shaped!

Oh, please may I have a comfortable bed with pillows and everything?

It’s yours! And now to your final choice…

Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen will, I hope, spark a touch of magic to rub off on me as I land upon the desert island, although mustn’t expect to find an enchanted tree throwing me a juicy apple when it’s in the right mood. A garden filled with aromatic herbs and edible flowers would be very beneficial.

However, the luscious descriptions within this gorgeous novel will hopefully inspire me to seek out enough edible produce to keep me going until Liz allows Hugh Jackman to land his powerboat (or helicopter) and whisk me back to the mainland.

Oh, Jill! This is one of my favourite books and definitely one that I want with me on a desert island.  I’ve read everything Sarah has written and there is a follow up to this book, First Frost. Sadly, Hugh Jackman is not in my gift but I’ll add this life size cut out to keep you company!

Wow. Six fabulous books from wonderful authors. Thank you so much for sharing them with us, Jill. Have a wonderful summer filled with tennis and hopefully we’ll be able to catch up again very soon. There is going to be Fabergé exhibition at the V&A this autumn… Definitely one that counts as a “research” trip!

Thanks so much for marooning me in such comfort, Liz. I’ve enjoyed sharing my favourite books with you.

It’s been a joy to have you as a castaway on my desert island, Jill. Come again and I’ll organise cocktails!

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Here are the links for Jill’s website, books and social media.

The House Sitter:
Devilish Delights
Love Thirty
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