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I Stopped Time 10 years on. Go on. Ask me that question again.

This month (just in time for the holidays) I’m taking part in an enormous book giveaway which really does offer something for everyone. You’ll find all the details below. 

But first, I thought I would share with you an extract from an interview with the US eBook library service. Self-e, about my novel, I Stopped Time, one of their most popular borrows this year. You may have received a copy if you have already joined my mailing list, or you’ll find it in the Historical Fiction section of the giveaway. The reason I’m sharing it is because it will explain what photographs really means to me.    

Photos play a huge role in I Stopped Time. What drew you to them as a storytelling vehicle? Is photography an interest of yours?

My passion for photography is one of the things that made I Stopped Time such a joy to write. I first joined a photography club back in middle school and loved the long hours spent in the dark room watching as images appeared on plain paper in the developing tanks. It really did feel like magic instead of chemistry. These days I remain a keen photographer, but digital technology has made me lazy. It’s so easy to point and shoot, then iron out any flaws with clever software.

Among my favourite early photographers is Jacques Henri Lartique, someone who never thought of himself as a professional. Given a camera as a child at the turn of the 20th century, he was completely self-taught. Lartique kept intricate notes of his experimentation with what was still a new medium. They became my sourcebook. One of the things that he did so well was action shots. He loved to take photographs of people jumping from steps or diving into a pool. That’s where the idea of stopping time came from. Lartique was from a family of eccentric French inventors and, among his collection, are photos of prototype motor cars and flying machines, but the joy (and the sadness) is that you’re looking at a family photograph album. Babies arrive, older people disappear. Sometimes babies disappear. Lovers come and go. You can see so clearly the beginnings and ends of lives and relationships.  

The mother-son relationship is not often explored in literature. Was that something you deliberately set out to tackle? Is there something about that dynamic that interested you in particular?

It’s interesting. It’s 10 years since I wrote the book and if you asked me back then what it was about, I would have given you a very different answer.

Early drafts of the novel only featured Lottie’s point of view. What I deliberately set out to do was to pay homage to my grandmother – my father’s step-mother – who died on the day before her 100th birthday.

10 years ago, I would have told you that the decision to introduce the son’s perspective was a direct result of reading Anthony Miller’s biography. He was the son of Lee Miller, one of my heroines. I knew her photography but, as it turned out, very little of her life. She was an extraordinary, extraordinary person. One of the most sought-after fashion models of her day, who became a muse to surrealist photographers and artists such as Man Ray and Picasso. But she always yearned to be on the other side of the lens and, in time, she became highly respected for her own work. At the outbreak of World War II she became dissatisfied with her fashion work and documented the Blitz for Vogue, then underwent yet another transformation to become the only woman in combat photo journalism in Europe. Eventually she settled in Sussex with the artist and curator, Roland Penrose, with whom she had a son, Anthony. That is not to say she settled down. Depressed, she also struggled with alcohol, neither of which resulted in an easy mother-son relationship. Anthony only knew Lee as an embarrassing mother. He had no idea of her history until, after she died, he discovered her collection of work. I found his comment that he was ‘cheated out of knowing someone really very extraordinary’ extremely poignant.

And that was completely true. But it was not the whole truth. As I say, a lot has happened in 10 years! 

My 83 year old father (pictured last year at my brother’s wedding. He’s on the far right) now suffers from dementia, and is desperately clinging to the past. 

My father’s mother Josephine died when he was just over two years old. Because being a single dad was virtually unheard of in 1937, and because my grandfather was conscripted soon after his young wife’s death, my father and his 2 sisters, Lois and Marian, were taken into care and separated, and boys and girls tended to be. Lois (aged 4), died 6 months after her mother. It was said she died of a broken heart. The truth was that she refused to eat. She died in the same bed as 6-year-old Marian. My father was too young to have any memory of his mother or his sister, but imagine poor Marian!

All we have of Josephine are a very few photographs, and a few family stories, most of which turned out to be completely untrue. For example, the story went that on the way up the aisle Josephine tripped over the hem of her wedding dress and, from this, everyone knew she was not long for this world. But when my father came into possession of his parents’ wedding photo, what did we find? His mother was a flapper and, what’s more, she married in the year when the fashion was for dress hems to come just above the knee. She definitely did not trip over that hem!  

I’m getting off track. I realise that. So I’m going to cut to the day that my grandfather married the woman I knew as my grandmother. My father was aged 14 and by then settled in a boarding school. Told that his father wanted to see him, he was sent to to meet him at the train station. There was no hint that anything was about to change. What happened was this. His father married a woman he had never met before (in the process he also gained a half-sister). Immediately after the ceremony he went back to school. To begin with, his relationship with his step-mother was one of wariness. It was not until far later than they became very close.

  Dad, me, and my brother Daniel, 2010

In fact, as I write this, I wonder if my decision to expand the storyline to the son’s point of view stems from this idea of a mythical grandmother I didn’t know, and my father only knew through a very few inherited photographs. One of Josephine aged 14, with long hair teased into ringlets. Another of her in her late teens with her hair bobbed. Both of these photos are studio shots, very serious. In both, she looks very much like my sister Anne (who was also very like Lois, the sister who died). Then there is the single wedding photo, an amateur shot, and it is such a joyous thing. In 6 years’ time Josephine would be dead.

My father's mother, Josephine Golton, aged 14

In fact, we have something more than photographs now. We actually have note Josephine wrote to my grandfather George on the day before she died. It is very fragile, written in pencil on a note torn from a pad of paper and says, My darling George, I love you so very much. Do not worry. All will be well.

Lose Yourself in Free Books

So on to the giveaway!

Whether you enjoy Fantasy, RomanceThriller/MysteryWomen’s LitScience-FictionHumor, Historical FictionCozy MysteryAction/Adventure or LGBT there is sure to be something for you. Just scroll through the genres (or use the quick links above to take you to the first group in your genre), hover over any cover for a brief description, then click to download the  book from either instaFreebie or BookFunnel. The download page will open in a new window to make it easy to come back for more.

5 comments

  1. For me a very interesting ( and timely) post. I am struggling with revelatory photographs and inscriptions that throw light on my own grandmother’s stories, none of which seemed remotely possible, and which I disbelieved.

    How I regret that! Particularly her own and private link to George Eliot through circumstances no-one knows about. I would like to think I could make a coherent work of all that, which you clearly have done. Thanks for this post, it is always interesting how writers derive their works.

    Comment by Philippa Rees on July 22, 2017 at 11:10 am
  2. How poignant photographs are and people are drawn to black and white photographs still. I treasure the few I have of my grandparents who I never knew properly, but in a digital age they have also been scanned and shared out in the family and appeared on Facebook!If we don’t remember to print our family photos we will have nothing to pass down. Most poignant in your writing is Josephine’s last note.

    Comment by Janet Gogerty on July 22, 2017 at 4:29 pm
  3. Hi Janet, yes the note is truly extraordinary. It is such a fragile piece of paper just ripped from a pad of lined paper. Yellowed and torn down the middle, it is amazing that it survived at all. I have no idea how it came into Dad’s possession. He also has the robe he and his two sisters were christened in, which has all of their initials embroidered on it – that is quite something too.

    Comment by Jane Davis on July 22, 2017 at 7:28 pm
  4. Philippa,I would love to read to that piece.

    Comment by Jane Davis on July 22, 2017 at 7:29 pm
  5. Jane, I know where the letter came from. If you would like to know, email me and I’ll tell you. It’s very poignant. K.

    Comment by Kathleen Crowley on July 23, 2017 at 9:52 pm




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