Rebecca Bryn is the pen name of an English woman who writes gritty, no-holds-barred, historical novels. Born into a family with a long history of residence in Northamptonshire, she now lives in Pembrokeshire in the far west of Wales. Most of her stories are drawn from Northamptonshire and family history.
When I asked, in all innocence, what prompted her move away from the East Midlands, her response startled me with its frankness and humour.
“The long story or the short? It has to be the long, doesn’t it, given that I delve into what makes people who they are and expose my heart and soul in my writing? Truth hurts, but here goes. My husband left me for another woman and broke my heart. I spent seven miserable years alone, working 18 hour days at a job I hated to keep a roof over the heads of our two young sons. They were about 19 or 20 when I answered my sixteenth ‘Lonely Hearts’ ad in the local rag. Number sixteen proved not to be a total disaster. (He’ll be really chuffed to be called ‘not a total disaster’)To cut a long story short, we hit it off.
On our second date, he called me a knock-kneed knackered old shag bag and I retorted, somewhat hotly, that I wasn’t knock-kneed. We knew then we were a match made in purgatory, and we’d better stay together to avoid inflicting ourselves on anyone else.
He’d always wanted to move back to Pembrokeshire, and I had too many sad memories to happily stay where I was, though I loved my home village. Moving to Pembrokeshire has been both one of my greatest joys and biggest regrets. I made a hard choice, and the regret of it is written out in the historical trilogy For Their Country’s Good. It’s my way of asking for forgiveness, as Ella did.”
Does she feel homesick?
Yes, but I’m homesick for what was, rather than what it would be like if I moved back. Nothing can give me back the years when I was happy there. Most of all, I miss my kids and my family.
She has published six books in what seems like a short time and I wondered how she managed that. Once again I am surprised by her answer.
“I’m retired and have been for some years. I rarely seem to write more than about 500 words a day, and I had three books written before I plucked up the courage to publish the first one, so it seems higher than it actually is. I mainly tend to write/promote while half watching TV in the evening. Finding time, even though I’m retired, is desperately difficult.”
That is certainly something I can relate to – being retired and yet still not having as much time for writing as one would like. It turns out her practice reflects mine in another way too – thinking about the WIP whilst doing other things:
“My ‘office’ is two small coffee tables and a lounger. I like to be comfortable, even if I put my characters through the mill. I grab minutes when I can, and think about the writing while I’m doing other things. I only write when I’ve worked out the next part. Note to self: research the 2nd battle of Gaza!”
Bryn – or, rather the woman who writes under that name – also paints; stunning water colours of the landscape and seascape near her home. I wondered how the two creative activities compare.
“I think they’re two sides of the same coin. The important thing is the creativity and seeing things how they are.
I paint pictures with words and tell stories with paint.
It’s not so different.”
Her trilogy about people wrenched from poverty in nineteenth century rural England to new lives in Tasmania is inspired by family history. So is her present work in progress.
“The Dandelion Clock – ah, not a tale with a guaranteed happy ending. Not sure yet how it will end. 😉 It’s about young men who go to war, the girls they leave behind, and how war changes people. It was inspired by my grandfather’s time in Egypt and Palestine in The Great War. He served in the Queens Own Worcestershire Yeomanry. I have a photo of him on his horse, and I treasure his army fork, which hangs on a wall in my art room. I always used it to eat with as a child. He wasn’t a man who spoke much about his past, but he confided something to me one day that explained much about my mother, with whom I had a needy parent relationship. He’d promised my grandmother that if he survived the war, they’d get married. When he came home, he’d changed – he wanted different things – something many of the men returning from war discovered. But he’d made her a promise, so they married. It wasn’t a bad marriage, they stuck it for fifty-odd years, but I don’t remember any displays of affection, and
I don’t think they taught their children how to love.
Hence the title, The Dandelion Clock: he loves me, he loves me not?”
Her other novels include one about the holocaust and a gripping dystopian work about a post-climate-change world. I ask if she believes that writers have duty to share their passion about controversial subjects?
“Touching the Wire was inspired by a television report I saw. I can’t say which as it gives away the twist in the tail for those who haven’t read it. Once I started the research, I realised that I had to write it; this was something the world should know about and should never be forgotten. I wanted to give the women of Auschwitz the voice they were denied. Once written, I balked at publishing it. It’s a highly emotive subject, and I’d dealt with it in a controversial way. However,
my characters insisted their story should be told,
so I plucked up my courage, pressed ‘publish’, and ducked below the parapet.
I did have one one-star review from a woman who said I should be ashamed for writing it, and it was an insult to those who died. I did respond and I think I got her to agree with some of my points. Had I not already had two personal messages from survivors who thanked me for writing it, one saying that for the first time in seventy years she’d begun to contemplate forgiveness, I’d probably have pulled the book. As it happens, either she or Amazon removed the review. Those two positive messages of thanks from survivors have made my whole writing career worthwhile.
As a small token of my respect for the victims and survivors of the Holocaust, each year I donate royalties earned during Holocaust week to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum to support Holocaust education. Holocaust Day is January 27th and commemorates the liberation of Auschwitz in 1945. The first year it was only $25 – last year it was $200, maybe this year I can make it $500.
The dystopian novel, Where Hope Dares, was inspired by the thinking of the day into climate change. I took it several steps farther and imagined a world when the computer age had failed and gone beyond memory and climate change had significantly reduced human population. It was another book I was nervous about publishing, the research terrified me, but as dystopian fiction seems to be out of fashion I doubt many people have been mentally scarred by it.”
Until recently Bryn has not used a professional editor, but:
“I have one trusted beta reader who tears my writing to bits with relentless determination, and I do the same to hers. And a couple of others kindly volunteered their advice and opinions which were gratefully received. I recently had On Different Shores professionally edited and learned a lot in the process. When The Dandelion Clock is written, I shall put it aside for a few weeks while I re-edit and update the whole lot!”
Bryn’s favourite writers are JRR Tolkein, John Steinbeck and Douglas Adams. She welcomes advice from other writers, believing that “most of it is useful, even if you don’t think so at the time.”
In response to my questions about her nom de plume she admits to being a coward and continues,
“though I’m more open about the fact that I write since reviews have built my self-confidence. Why that one? My first child was to be called Rebecca. He was a boy. My second child was to be called Rebecca. He was a boy too. So, not wishing to do what my mother-in-law did and keep going until I had a girl, I chose Rebecca for my nom de plume. Then my first son produced twin girls, and quite by chance called one Rebecca. The Bryn part came from the names of my last two homes. Pen-y-Bryn – top of the hill – and Brynhedydd – Lark Hill. I miss them both. I suppose that makes me Rebecca Hill…”
In response to my request, she produces a long list of facts about her that might surprise some of her readers:
“I’m left-handed. I can build stone walls and lay bricks, do plumbing, plaster and render walls, lay patios, tile walls and floors, sew, cook, and touch my toes with my arms stretched out behind my head. (No it isn’t in the Kama Sutra – maybe it should be?) I’m useless with electrics, I can’t cut bread straight, or saw wood. I’m hopeless at housework. I have a terrible memory. Did I mention I don’t do housework?”
I take the last with the proverbial pinch of salt given that a recent Facebook post on the Independent Authors Support and Discussion forum asked why other items in the washing machine with a duvet cover always ended up inside said cover.
Rebecca’s page at Indie Author Network. There you will find descriptions of all her books and purchase links to your nearest Amazon store.