Barefoot on the Cobbles, by Janet Few
I'm delighted to welcome author and genealogist Janet Few to the Bite-size blog today!
I interviewed Janet on my Family History Secrets blog in August 2017 when we talked about when she'd become a genealogist, about her alter-ego Mistress Agnes and about some of the family history books she'd written over the years.
At that time Janet told me how she'd turned her pen towards fiction and was in the middle of writing a novel based on a true story she'd stumbled across during her genealogy research. That story is now finished and published... and I've read it!
It's called Barefoot on the Cobbles (a title I absolutely love) and is set in the unique Devon village of Clovelly, pictured below. I was lucky enough to be able to go along to the book's launch where Janet shared some of her research for the book with the audience.
I recently caught up with Janet to find out more about the book and her plans for the future. Here are the questions I asked her and her replies...
Congratulations on the publication of Barefoot on the Cobbles! How and where did you come across the story?
I came across the incident that underpins Barefoot on the Cobbles during the course of some family history research, although it does not involve my own ancestors. What was strange was that no hint of the story had been passed down to the present day, even though grandchildren and great grandchildren of the main protagonists knew them well. The tragedy occurred just one hundred years ago, in a North Devon fishing village where everyone knows everyone else’s business and will normally tell the world in a milli-second, making the secrecy even more unusual.
How amazing that it was kept secret for all that time!
What made you decide to write it? And why as a novel, when your previous books have been non-fiction?
I had run out of inspiration for non-fiction topics and had planned to write a novel. Ok, not this novel but fiction nonetheless. I could have written this as a factual account, especially as I have invented very little. I chose to fictionalise the story because that gave me greater scope to examine the personalities and motivations of my characters, which is what really fascinates me.
Yes, reading that aspect of the book for me was particularly interesting, as I mention in my review (see below).
Do you find fiction or non-fiction easier to write? Or does each have its own challenges?
Fiction is much more difficult for me. I spent a great deal more time anguishing whether anyone would appreciate what I had written than I ever did with the non-fiction. It also took me a very long time to set aside my historian’s mentality and convince myself that I could fill any gaps by making things up! I also had to embrace the new challenge of writing dialogue, although I was helped by verbatim newspaper accounts for some of the story here.
Writing a novel based on a true story must make it much more difficult to remove yourself from "the truth", even if you can't know every last bit. I don't have that problem, given that I make up everything! But I do like to be factually correct about any history I bring into my plot, so I can totally understand how hard it must have been.
I understand the writing of BAREFOOT has inspired you to write another novel. What can you tell us about it?
Yes, book two is underway. I am keeping the details under wraps for now, although there is a teeny tiny clue hidden in the pages of Barefoot. It will be similar to Barefoot in that it is based on a real tragedy that took place locally. Once again, I will be looking at the people involved, including those on the periphery and examining why they might have behaved as they did. This one will be set over 400 years ago, so I will need to rely much more on my imagination as there are far more gaps in the known facts.
400 years? Wow - that sounds intriguing! I look forward to hearing more about it once you allow the details to creep out from "under wraps"!
Thank you, Janet for visiting my blog today and I wish you well with Barefoot and with writing the new book.
Click on the image below to find out more about Barefoot on the Cobbles
- though don't forget to scroll down to read my review before you do!
If you're in the UK, you can buy a paperback copy of Barefoot on the Cobbles direct from the publisher's website at
My thoughts on Barefoot on the Cobbles...
The Devon village of Clovelly has always been a favourite place of mine and I’ve visited it often. So I was always going to be drawn to a story set in the heart of this unique place. But what a story! Barefoot on the Cobbles describes itself as a tragedy and it is certainly that, a poignant reminder of the precariousness of life in the late 19th and early 20th century. Daisy’s sad story and the impact it has on her family, particularly her mother Polly, is deeply moving. What struck me most was how easy it was for someone to be misunderstood, for actions to be misinterpreted and words to be misconstrued - a second tragedy heaped upon the first. The reader, of course, can appreciate Polly’s perspective but other people do not have the benefit of a window on Polly’s innermost thoughts. A salient lesson at any time, perhaps, on judging the behaviour of others. For the inhabitants of Clovelly, past and present - particularly for those whose family histories are closely linked to village, the nearby coast and other local communities - this true story is a historic goldmine. To step into the pages of this book is to gain a rich insight into the everyday lives of predecessors and ancestors. Diligently written and meticulously researched, Barefoot on the Cobbles is a powerful and absorbing read.
To find out more go to the books page in the menu above or click on the image above