A heart-warming, dramatic family saga.
Unspoken is a tale of secrets, love, betrayal and revenge.
Unspoken means something that cannot be uttered aloud. Unspoken is the dark secret a woman must keep, for life.
Alice is fast approaching her one-hundredth birthday and she is dying. Her strange, graphic dreams of ghostly figures trying to pull her into a tunnel of blinding light are becoming more and more vivid and terrifying. Alice knows she only has a short time left and is desperate to unburden herself of a dark secret, one she has lived with for eighty years.
Jessica, a journalist, is her great-granddaughter and a mirror image of a young Alice. They share dreadful luck in the types of men that come into their lives.
Alice decides to share her terrible secret with Jessica and sends her to the attic to retrieve a set of handwritten notebooks detailing her young life during the late 1930s. Following the death of her invalid mother and her father’s decline into depression and alcoholism, she is forced, at 18 to take control of the farm. On her birthday, she meets Frank, a man with a drink problem and a violent temper.
When Frank’s abusive behaviour steps up a level. Alice seeks solace in the arms of her smooth, ‘gangster lawyer’ Godfrey, and when Frank discovers the couple together, he vows to get his revenge.
Unspoken. A tale that spans two eras and binds two women, born eighty years apart.
A candid interview with Trevor Belshaw
How many unpublished books do you have lurking under your bed/in your cupboard?
Do you mean full-length books or part written ones? Full length, there are two that will never see the light of day. Both are novellas, both are dreadful and were written when I took my first tentative steps on the path of creative writing. One is about a woman scheming to get her husbands life insurance, while he is planning to do the same with hers. The other is a kid’s story called, The Rather Exciting Adventures of Barnaby Bristle, and the less said about that, the better.
Regarding part-written stories, I have a multitude of them. Some I’d really like to finish because the ideas are good, others I still wonder why I thought they were a good idea in the first place. There are two I’m still thinking seriously about. One, the story of a young girl having to bring up a child on her own in the ’50s/60s without the support of friends and family, and the other a mix of horror, suspense and intrigue with a huge twist at the end, set in an old Rectory on the outskirts of the middle of nowhere. It started out as a ghost story, but three chapters in, I had a better idea, and it morphed into what it is now. The ugly duckling may yet be a swan.
How do/did you deal with rejection letters/bad reviews of your own work?
When I first started submitting to publishers, the work was mainly in article or short story form, so the replies used to come back thick and fast. I did have quite a bit of success with magazines and anthologies so when the time came to submit novels, I naturally thought things would carry on as normal. After all, if my work was good enough for Ireland’s Own, it ought to be good enough for Faber and Faber.
Sadly, for some inexplicable reason, things didn’t go the way I thought they might. Even when I dropped my sights and tried for the mid-range publishers. When I began to get rejections from the smaller ones too, the penny finally dropped. The stuff I was sending in, wasn’t up to scratch.
I was more frustrated than downhearted as ninety-nine percent of the replies were form letters, telling me that whilst they had enjoyed reading my story, the work didn’t quite fit their lists, or, un-coded, we understand that you put a lot of work into this but we think it’s crap and don’t want it, so there. (insert tongue sticking out emoji here).
Agents were worse than publishers. I tried them all and they would take months to reply, even though it was only ever an eerily similar, form letter that arrived in my email box. There was one, very early on in my career who, obviously bored at Christmas, rang me four days on the trot to tell me that the book I’d sent her was the best thing she’d read that year and she thought I had a great talent for writing children’s fiction.
She had obviously sobered up by the New Year, because the phone calls stopped and the only response I ever got after that, was to a new submission, some four months later, when she answered within three minutes with a one-word reply. NO!
So, the penny really did hit the floor with a clatter that time and I stopped submitting queries to anyone.
I had more luck with adult fiction. Tracy’s Hot Mail and Tracy’s Celebrity Hot Mail were both taken up by Crooked Cat Publishing. My follow-up novella, Out of Control, was very well received by readers but was never sent to publishers because its release came a mere, three days after the sudden, unexpected, death of my wife. I didn’t write a word for five years after that, so there were no form rejections to paper the lavatory wall with.
I have submitted my new book, Unspoken to a few decent sized publishers. Possibly because I’ve had an eight-year hiatus from submitting but equally possibly because I think this one is really good and stands a bit of a chance. My editor thinks the same too, so it’s not just a bloated ego.
How long does it typically take you to write a novel, and how do your juggle a writing schedule with ‘real life’ such as family and work?
I’m pretty quick when I climb into the hot seat. Before my self-induced five-year break, I could easily write four to five thousand good words a day. Because I worked part-time, I had every afternoon and weekend at my disposal, so time was never an issue. When I was in the zone the words used to fly from my fingertips and many a time, I was brought back into the real world by Doreen saying goodnight at eleven-thirty at night. I regularly worked on until two or three in the morning without a coffee or toilet break from say, six in the evening. Once I was in that zone, I was oblivious to everything.
The average children’s book was about thirty thousand words, so I could, if I really went for it, finish the basic story inside ten days, but I did tend to edit as I wrote, finishing a chapter, then going over it to rethink any issues and get it into some sort of coherent state for my editor, Maureen Vincent-Northam, who has worked on all of the twenty books I’ve produced. I wrote fifteen children’s books in the end. Sadly, my fab illustrator and cover designer, Marie Fullerton died, and I didn’t have the heart to carry on without her.
A lot of my work was done in my sleep. When I was writing, and only when I was writing, I’d go to bed thinking about my novel and wake up in the morning with the whole plot and even some of the chapters in my head. It never happened between books. I needed that initial spark of an idea for it to work.
Fast forward five years and hello, Lockdown. These days I’m a prescriptions delivery driver for a local chemist, and I have to cover two shops which means, with many people self-isolating, between sixty-five and eighty deliveries a day to the old and infirm. Back in early March, I suffered a really bad groin tear, (don’t worry, I’ll spare you the sordid details, needless to say, it was NOTHING to do with THAT!) Anyway, as I was walking like a ninety-five-year-old with two broken knees and a displaced hip, I had to drop off work, for what ended up being three months. I was even on a drip in hospital for a few days and had MRI, CAT and Ultrasounds cans, so many scans in fact, that the only one they didn’t use was the one built into the printer and that was only because I couldn’t get my thighs under the lid.
I was diagnosed with an infection that was affecting my groin, my back, (which was already damaged) and my hip.
So, I was sent back home to shuffle around in a lonely, empty house with only the big screen TV and my rescue cat, Mia, for company, and as conversations with her always ending up with me telling her to give it a rest, you can imagine, life was miserable. My lovely next-door neighbour shopped for me, and she was the only other face I saw that didn’t belong to an actor, for weeks.
Towards the end of March, I knew I’d have to do something about the situation or go crazy… crazier… than I had already become, and suddenly the idea of writing a book came to mind. I leapt up in excitement and did some more damage to the already mentioned, hip back and groin, then settled down on a cushion in front of the little-used computer. I scanned, (I hate that word now,) my computer files and found some of the ones I mentioned in an earlier answer and had just about settled on one that didn’t have Barnaby Bristle in the title when I thought, hang on, this will only take me a fortnight to finish. I need more of a challenge. So, I hobbled up to bed thinking about a seriously old lady, with a dark, dark, secret, and the magic worked. When I woke up in the morning, I had not only a plot but the main highlights of the entire novel. I rang my aforementioned, fab editor Maureen, and we had the first of many, long telephone calls with me doing the talking and Maureen doing the patient listening bit. I’ve always been able to bounce I ideas off Maureen, she’s fabulous at seeing through little issues, like a plot hole the size of a meteor crater, and with her subtle hints and suggestions, the kernel of the novel was planted. Over the next few weeks, I got into the hot seat every day at two-thirty and got out again around seven-thirty. I started at around two thousand words per day but within a week that had upped to three or sometimes four. I sent the chapters to Maureen as I wrote them, and she edited and sent them back the next day, allowing me to keep my concentration and resolve. Unspoken came in at 127,500 words, the longest book I’d ever written, all in a whole new, Family Saga, genre. Along the way, the seeds were sown for two more books in the series. I was a writer once again and I let the world know it.
They say that when writers write about a bad (evil) character they are pulling on some characteristic from themselves, so what bad characteristics do you share with your ‘baddie’?
Arrogance, probably. All authors have it to one degree or another. They have to have it to believe that there are people out there, able to be convinced, connived or simply, con-tricked, into reading the book you have written an advertising blurb for, that is so cunningly attractive, they are convinced that if they don’t read it this instant, they will have missed out on the best thing since bacon, and all their friends will point at them in the street and laugh.
What are the common traps for aspiring writers/or tips for a newbie writer?
Firstly, it’s something we all do when we start out. It’s not just you at the back I’m talking about so you don’t have to hide in the curtains. Rule one, and it’s a biggie. Don’t fall into the trap of believing your best friends and family when you finally pluck up the courage to allow someone else to examine your newborn story. They will tell you how wonderful it is and how talented you are because they love you, and they don’t want your confidence to suffer. It’s always better to get someone with a little more experience to have a look at it and give you their honest opinion on it. Join a local writers club, most towns have one, there you will receive honest and constructive criticism. No one will tear your infant story to pieces. They have all been in the same place as you at one time.
Accept the criticism, take it at face value. Don’t throw your toys out of the pram or bung your skipping rope over the fence to get entangled in your neighbours’ cat. If they can see that your story could be improved, then publishers, agents or more importantly still, readers, will see it too and you’d rather have the truth told by a friendly face than have a 1-star review on Amazon, wondering why you ever thought this trash was publishable.
Try and stick to the time and tested rules of writing when you first set out. It’s okay for Stephen King to warn everyone away from adverbs in his fabulous book, On Writing, when he sticks hundreds into every novel he writes, and it’s fine for Dan Brown and J.K. Rowling to ignore the basic rules of ‘show don’t tell’, but they’re megastars and they can do what they like. You, as a first-time writer, will be castigated by a publisher if you do it on novel one.
Finally, don’t let anyone tell you that you’ll never make it. Keep working at it. Start with micro or short stories, and when you’ve perfected them and worked out your own style, move onto the bigger works. Don’t try to write your epic, nine-hundred-thousand-word version of War and Peace before you’ve mastered writing a five-hundred-word story about Jasper, the milkman’s cat.
Most important of all. It should be fun.
What is your book about? Genre, tone, POV etc.
Unspoken can be assigned more than one genre but whichever one is used; it is still a new category for me. So, Family Saga is the first that comes to mind, closely followed by Historical Fiction and Contemporary Fiction. I don’t like the term, Women’s Fiction, I have no idea what that means.
The book is about Alice and her great-granddaughter, Jess. Alice is approaching her one-hundredth birthday and is desperate to unburden herself of a dark secret, one she has carried for eighty years.
Jessica is pretty much a clone of the younger Alice. Photoshop a picture of them at the same age and you could easily mistake them for twins. They also share the same unfortunate tastes in men.
As Alice’s condition deteriorates, she is plagued by increasingly terrifying visions of what might lay ahead for her after death. Desperate to finish her story, she sends Jess to the attic to retrieve a series of handwritten memoirs, detailing the disturbing events of her teenage life in the late 1930s and the men that caused them to happen.
Jess, meanwhile is having her own problems with her partner, the narcissistic, controlling, misogynist, Calvin.
Unspoken encompasses two eras and the struggles two women, born seventy-five years apart, must endure, despite attitudes supposedly having changed for the better.
The modern part of the story is told in the third person, limited, POV with each character given their own chapter titles. The 1930s memoir chapters are told by Alice, in the first person. POV.
Does (and how) your protagonist change/learn by the end of the book?
When we first meet Alice in 1938, she is a typical teenager for the era. She and her soul-mate, Amy, are obsessed with film stars, clothes, and music, played on Amy’s HMV, wind up gramophone. Alice is naïve, an only child, and has had quite an easy childhood, (for the times,) and knows nothing of boys, or men, other than what she sees in the movies or reads in her Agatha Christie novels. She is suddenly thrown into a different life, where she is forced to learn, very quickly about the real motives of older men, who want to take advantage of both her and her legacy. Her mother is dead, her father is in an alcohol-fuelled decline, and Alice is forced to take on the running of the family farm whilst coping with being a single, pregnant, eighteen-year-old in an era where women were blamed for bringing such unfortunate events, onto themselves.
By the end of the story, Alice has matured and discovers that she is not a mere plaything for men, that men can easily be bought under her own control, that men are weak and can be manipulated to serve her own needs, on her own terms. Alice vows that having discovered her new-found powers, she will never again allow a man to have a say in her future or in the affairs of the family business, which she runs with increasing success. She becomes a rarity, an independent woman in an age of subservience.
Alice’s vow lasts a lifetime and by the time her clone of a granddaughter is born, Alice is an incredibly wealthy, independent, liberated, old lady who can teach her great-granddaughter a thing or two about women’s rights, in business and in the home.
Is there an underlying theme to this book?
As mentioned above, the theme of the book is the struggle women had, and are still having regarding attitudes towards equality and what constitutes a loving relationship.
As Alice warns her granddaughter, ‘Attitudes aren’t changing fast enough, Jessica. Take your Calvin as a case in point.’
What’s the best/saddest/funniest/shocking one-liner from the book?
I can’t really do the line without a lead in, so…
Standing in the snow, next to the fallen brazier, was Frank. He glared towards the house and took a swig from the half-bottle of whisky he held in his left hand. In his right, was the razor-sharp, long-handled axe that we used for chopping firewood. He slipped the whisky into his pocket and grabbing the shaft with both hands, brought the axe down onto the already broken brazier. A loud clang rang out in the night.
‘Merry Christmas, Alice,’ he shouted.
What was edited out of this book?
One of Alice’s children. A child called, William.
The year 1939. I had originally planned to end the book on Dec 31st of that year, but it became increasingly obvious that the book would have ended up at War and Peace length, so removed an entire year from the plot and ended it at Christmas 1938 instead.
Alice’s daughter, Martha’s first husband. I had stupidly named him Arthur, without noticing the stupidity of the act and the hilarity that would ensue.
Is there a dedication?
The book is dedicated to my wife, Doreen who died, suddenly and completely unexpectedly, two days after the publication of my last book, Out of Control, in August 2015. Doreen was my muse, my first-reader, and my best friend.
The dedication reads… For Doreen, I miss you.
T A Belshaw is from Nottingham in the United Kingdom. Trevor writes for both children and adults. He is the author of Tracy’s Hot Mail, Tracy’s Celebrity Hot Mail and the noir, suspense novella, Out of Control. His new novel, the family saga, Unspoken, was released in July, 2020
His short stories have been published in various anthologies including 100 Stories for Haiti, 50 Stories for Pakistan, Another Haircut, Shambelurkling and Other Stories, Deck the Halls, 100 Stories for Queensland and The Cafe Lit anthology 2011, 2012 and 2013. He also has two pieces in Shambelurklers Return. 2014
Trevor is also the author of 15 children’s books written under the name of Trevor Forest. The latest. Magic Molly: The Curse of Cranberry Cottage, was released in August 2016
His children’s poem, Clicking Gran, was long listed for the Plough prize (children’s section) in 2009 and his short poem, My Mistake, was rated Highly Commended and published in an anthology of the best entries in the Farringdon Poetry Competition.
Trevor’s articles have been published in magazines as diverse as Ireland’s Own, The Best of British and First Edition.
Trevor is currently working on the sequel to Unspoken and the third book in the Tracy series; Tracy’s Euro Hot Mail.