“Agnes In Bloom – A Memoir” is a very touching memoir of a gutsy lady, Agnes, and her life in Birmingham at the latter end of the Second World War and beyond. Lovingly written by her daughter, Karen, this memoir is extremely frank, and has rollercoaster moments where you could almost feel yourself in Agnes’s shoes….BUT not quite, as Agnes and her mother Rose, both had guts, inner strength and are both totally inspirational.
The story begins when Agnes is evacuated to the countryside and discovers her love of being on a farm and being embraced into the family of Mr & Mrs Johnson and their daughter Lily. Unfortunately, her sister Margie was evacuated elsewhere and her experience was the complete opposite -an experience which only came to light years later. Returning back home from the farm, as a young teenager, finding her feet in life with her more worldly wise friend as company, Agnes goes to a party where things didn’t go so well. Finding herself pregnant, Agnes gets her dream job as an usherette … until her pregnancy started to show. Agnes harboured a dream of meeting her own Mr Right … her own Mr Johnson…. and that’s when her dream man materialised in the form of Bob. Agnes and Bob were happy together, despite working hours to make ends meet, and each babe born was loved and welcomed. Agnes became closer, I feel, to her mother, Rose, who was supportive as the family grew. Tragedy strikes though … Agnes strives to help her sister Margie after her marriage collapse and breakdown; Agnes finds out love secrets between her mother and her real father; husband Bob takes on extra work to carry on providing for his large family but alas becomes ill and is taken to hospital for a routine operation; her mother Rose is discovered to have cancer and is in hospital at the same time as Bob; being pregnant with her 7th child, Agnes has to face life as a young single mum as Bob unexpectedly dies before being operated on; Agnes, in her grief, becomes anorexic …. but this is an inspirational story, about overcoming adversity and death. The story does have a happier ending…. the main thing is that 7th baby was Karen , the author. Delightfully written memoir, well recommended.
So, after reading the memoir, I couldn’t wait to chat to Karen, daughter of Agnes and author of Agnes In Bloom. Hi Karen!
Hi ! I’m Karen. I was born into the inner-city slums of Birmingham. The seventh child of a humble and loving family. I’m a mother of two amazing young women. Both work in the fashion industry. I have been an entrepreneur since the age of twenty-three when I established my own company. I’ve since lived and worked in Dubai, San Diego, Bali, Koh Samui and currently I reside in Marbella. I love to travel and live in sunny climates. I have travelled and sailed the world, writing my memoirs.
Your mother’s story is truly inspirational – an amazing woman indeed – but what made you decide to write “Agnes In Bloom” in the first place?
After years of listening to my mother’s life and how she triumphed over adversity. I decided to write it, initially as a family legacy, but I soon discovered that it’s an amazing inspirational story and others would enjoy it too. I asked 65 ladies from random groups to read my draft manuscript and offer their feedback. They all loved it and agreed with me that I should offer it to the world.
I enjoyed reading the book from start to finish. I liked how you wrote the book – I smiled at the part where Agnes was evacuated to a farm, and how much she loved the countryside; I was angry inside at the different experience her sister Margie had had; I cried when Agnes was raped at 17 , but was full of love and admiration for your father who accepted your mum and your eldest brother, and his overall love for all his family; my heart ached when Rose was ill, when Margie was unwell and when your father died whilst your mother was pregnant with you; I admired your mother’s coping mechanism and ability to learn to focus again when life dealt her a cruel blow; I was in awe that despite everything, your steadfastness Karen, in hanging on and being born; I smiled when she was able to find happiness again. Oh, and what fab siblings you have! The book is packed with plenty of antidotes that must have accumulated over the years – how long did the book take you to write?
It took me 12 years to write it. I was running my recruiting business and travelling and sailing the world writing it. Writing for me is very therapeutic. A great relief from business. The main reason is that it’s a very emotional story for my mother. She sat with me to go over each event. It often made her tearful, which in turn made me cry too.
Once I had the story structure in place. I began to learn how to set scenes and write in omniscient and add dialogue. I wanted my mother’s story to be a perfect enjoyable, easy read. So that women of this era and their struggles are never forgotten.
What was, for you, the hardest part(s) to write about in the memoir?
As I’m writing this I’m in tears again. Just remembering those difficult parts. The chapter where my father dies is unbearable for me to think about and more so to write it in exact detail. The struggle that my auntie had was almost not added in the story, as my sisters didn’t want it in there. They were embarrassed by it. However, I think it’s extremely important that the abuse that Margie suffered, should be told. Especially because this horror, eventually gave her a nervous breakdown. We are all more aware of child abuse in society today. It should not be pushed under the carpet. It added so much more tragedy to my mother and grandmother. It’s part of their lives and I wanted my Auntie Margie to be remembered for her triumph over adversity too. My grandmother Rose had a hard life herself. How she coped with her own child abuse was incredible. It was as if no one cared about abuse back then and many children just got on with life, not realising that they are very effected by it.
My grandmother was like a rock for my mother and her daughter Margie, through all their life’s tragedies. She also triumphed over adversity.
Have you always enjoyed writing? Are there any genres you would like to have a go at, but haven’t as yet?
Yes I absolutely love writing stories. I’ve learned so much more by self publishing this first book. I have previously attended a creative writing course and joined various authors groups to keep learning updates on the benefits of self publishing. I would like to write more about female heroism. More current to our times. Before this book, I have written and published travel articles and training manuals for my recruiting business. I always received top marks at school in Literature. My teacher was very inspiring and told me to pursue a writing career, but back then it wasn’t possible for me to experiment with my career. I needed to earn a lot of money to buy my mom a house and pay her bills for the rest of her life and bring her out of poverty for good. I’m proud that I have accomplished this goal.
I guess I wasn’t very confident as a teenager to become an author.
Are there any new writing plans in the pipeline?
Definitely, I am currently writing my own memoir to highlight the extreme differences between one generation of working class women. It’s a comedy.
Are you a bookworm? What is your favourite genre and/or authors? Kindle or actual book?
I am a book worm yes. I have a kindle because I travel a lot and can’t take my books everywhere with me. I do like the feel of a good book though. I’ve been reading biographies of famous people for years. Now I like to read stories about ordinary women who triumphed over adversity. I love true crime related stories too. I’m a glutton for a memoir and biographies as I like that they’re real stories. Gets me hooked.
Is “Agnes In Bloom” available to purchase worldwide?
Yes my debut memoir is available to purchase globally from Amazon. I have entered their story teller UK 2019 competition. This means I cannot go wide on all platforms until the competition ends in October. I plan to go open on all of them afterwards.
Having 7 siblings, what do you or did you like most about being part of a large family?
Being part of a large family is priceless. As I’m the 7th child I have been given access to various musical genres and books. Not to mention the continuous support, love, affection and inspiration from my singings. I can’t imagine not having my large wonderful family. Now at 79 and more to be born.
Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?
As I have lived in the sun for the last 12 years. I like to wear vests and shorts. Summer dresses and loose clothes. I wear a lot of bikinis. I love Autumn fashion but only buy a few outfits for when I go home to England.I love to wear heels 👠 when I have business meetings and always wear smart suits.
Do you have any favourite shops or online stores?
I have worn a lot of designer clothes in the past and still have some designer items. Prada and Gucci. Some French fashion that no longer exists. But now I only buy clothes from high street stores like Zara and Mango and Top shop. I have purchased clothes online from ASOS UK. Bikinis from Bravisimo and a clothing line in Dubai.
What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?
I don’t have a wish list as I buy when I need new. I have become aware of throw away fashion and the awful foot print that clothing leaves on our planet. I find that I can make do with clothes for longer now.
Boots or Shoes?
Shoes and sandals I have to wear in the heat, but I love boots for winter back home. I’ve always loved wearing boots. They are extremely attractive and comfortable.
Links you would like to share e.g. website/facebook etc
Thank you so much for chatting with me about your book, Karen. My own father was the youngest of 10 and as a young child he wasn’t evacuated – he stayed in the Leyton area of East London (born in West Ham/Stratford area as my grandparents, myself and my sister (in Leyton)). My mother on the otherhand, was born just outside Cirencester in Gloucestershire in a farmhouse, because my grandmother was pregnant with my mum and she was evacuated along with my mum’s older brothers. They stayed together and returned to London when my mum was a toddler. It is great that these memoirs exist – I wish I had asked my dad’s mum a lot more questions about life at the beginning of the 20th century but she was very Victorian in her ways (she was born in 1895) and as a young girl I was slightly scared of her! She died just before my 16th birthday.
All photographs have been published with kind permission of Karen Brady