Elaine Everest Steps Back In Time

Today we welcome back saga writer Elaine Everest, whose latest novel, Christmas at Woolworths, was published on 2nd November. What are her own memories of the setting, and how does she research the historical backdrop of her stories? 

Thank you for inviting me onto your blog today. It’s lovely to be back. What interesting questions!

Your family are from the area you’ve set the Woolworths novels in, so are there any family stories you could share with us?

Elaine Everest

I grew up listening to my mum tell me of her experiences during WW2. She was born in 1931 so still quite young when war broke out. Her family still had the family fairground at that time and they lived close to the banks of the River Thames in Belvedere, Kent. Along with her siblings they survived the war as best they could although it was a tough time. A memory she shared with me was of the time she almost lost her life. Mum and her sister were sent to collect food for my granddad’s tea but as they approached the end of their lane the sirens went off and they spent hours in the public shelter. Being worried they would get in trouble for not returning home they managed to slip out of the shelter and were almost at the shops close to Belvedere station when a bomb landed nearby wiping out houses and killing many people. Mum was fine but as she looked around she noticed her sister had been blown clear through the shop window and didn’t have a scratch on her even though she’d lost her knickers in the explosion. Arriving home the girls were scolded for being late and returning without their dad’s tea.

What about your own memories of your youth in Erith?

I was born in Erith at the Hainault Maternity Home, Christmas 1953 and grew up in the Erith and Slades Green area. When I married in 1972 we purchased a house in Erith. This was the house where Ruby lives in the series of Woolworths books. Older neighbours, who’d lived in the terrace of Victorian houses, told me how the street survived the war. It was also explained that a crooked wall in our hall was caused by a bomb dropping close by. I’d often thought that it would have been exciting to live through the war and experience all that happened and as long as I lived at number thirteen I would be fine as it also survived. It is strange to think that many years later the house and town would feature in my books and be so popular.

Since you weren’t born until well after the war, where does your research of the 1940s come from? Is it purely from books, or is it more hands on?

Erith Woolwichs 1930 Credit: Supplied to the author by The Woolworths Museum

I grew up knowing the setting for my books, which in itself is a gift. I recall the town, as it would have been for Sarah, Freda and Maisie although the ‘old Erith’ that locals still talk of and miss, was knocked down in 1966. I could cry when I think back to the beautiful old buildings that were replaced by a concrete jungle. That jungle has now been replaced by another soulless area and Alexandra Road is one of only a few streets still remaining from the good old days. I was a Woolworths Girl, although it was for a short while whilst still at school in the late 1960s and in the nearby town of Dartford. Erith Woolies was where I shopped and I can still picture the high counters and polished wood floors.

Erith Woolworths 2005 Credit: Supplied to the author by The Woolworths Museum

Erith is now part of the London Borough of Bexley, although true locals still refer to us being part of Kent. LB Bexley has a wonderful archive service, which is a gift for writers and anyone researching their hometown. An author can never have enough books and my collection of non-fiction books must number at least one hundred by now. I’m fascinated by old books and love nothing more than to spend an afternoon browsing in second hand bookshops before enjoying afternoon tea with fellow authors. Perfect!

I like to visit places associated with WW2 to get a feel of the time and to look for details I can use in my stories. I have fond memories of visiting Ramsgate for the 75th anniversary of the ‘small ships’ rescuing troops from Dunkirk in 2015. A few of the boats were able to make the journey from Ramsgate over to France while overhead a Spitfire circled the cheering crowds. I defy anyone not to have a tear in their eyes. The Ramsgate Tunnels is a favourite place to visit to experience what it was like to shelter from the bombing and to listen to relatives of the survivors when the town met such destruction during WW2. In fact I find anything related to the thirties onwards is a magnet for this writer. I’m often surprised how some writers only use the Internet for their research when there is such a wealth of places to visit and enjoy.

Summary:
Even though there was a war on, the Woolworths girls brought Christmas cheer to their customers

Best friends Sarah, Maisie and Freda are brought together by their jobs at Woolworths. With their loved ones away on the front line, their bonds of friendship strengthen each day. Betty Billington is the manager at Woolworths, and a rock for the girls, having given up on love . . . Until a mysterious stranger turns up one day – could he reignite a spark in Betty?

As the year draws to a close, and Christmas approaches, the girls must rely on each other to navigate the dark days that lie ahead . . .

With so much change, can their friendship survive the war?

Information about the Book
Title: Christmas at Woolworths
Author: Elaine Everest
Genre: Historical Saga
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Format: Paperback
Release Date: 2nd November 2017

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Author Information

Elaine Everest, author of Bestselling novel The Woolworths Girls and The Butlins Girls was born and brought up in North West Kent, where many of her books are set. She has been a freelance writer for twenty years and has written widely for women’s magazines and national newspapers, with both short stories and features. Her non-fiction books for dog owners have been very popular and led to broadcasting on radio about our four legged friends. Elaine has been heard discussing many topics on radio from canine subjects to living with a husband under her feet when redundancy looms.

When she isn’t writing, Elaine runs The Write Place creative writing school at The Howard Venue in Hextable, Kent and has a long list of published students.

Elaine lives with her husband, Michael, and their Polish Lowland Sheepdog, Henry, in Swanley, Kent and is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, Crime Writers Association, The Society of Women Writers & Journalists and The Society of Authors as well as Slimming World where she can been sitting in the naughty corner.

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Wintertime Blues: Seasonally Affected Settings?

Francesca considers her wintertime blues and wonders whether this affects the seasons she sets her stories in.

Winter sunset – pretty but too early in the day (Devon)

As a child I don’t think I paid much heed to the clock change of late October that caused daylight to disappear an hour earlier in the afternoons. To me at that time it meant apple bobbing at school, Guy Fawkes Night and ultimately, Christmas. The Yuletide period didn’t appear in the shops so early back then, certainly not in September, and definitely not August when the seasonal catalogues tend to plop through the letterbox these days.

Even now, the earliest I am willing to entertain Christmas is November. I’ve wondered recently whether I’ve picked this random date because the clocks change around the same time and dark afternoons become a reality. After this event I wait eagerly for the first of the Christmas lights to appear in front gardens and windows, as I drive along the road.

One of the summer settings I’ve used (Littlehampton)

Once the festive season is over and the decorations are packed away, I look each evening for signs of later sunsets. I dread the winter months, not because of the cold weather but because of the short days. Possibly this is the reason that five of the six contemporary novels I’ve written are set largely over spring and summer, as is the serial and many of my short stories. Could this be a manifestation of something I shall call Writer’s SAD?

The novel that does have a large winter element ends in July. Two others that begin in late winter likewise end in the summer. The historical I’m currently working on, set in a Welsh mining village in the Valleys in World War I, starts in a November. There is a real life reason for this, but this will also end in July because I want it to.

Maybe you prefer a winter setting (Amsterdam)

Maybe there is something symbolic about beginning a novel in winter and ending it in the summer, for me at least. They start at a ‘dark’ time, ending with sunshine and ‘light’. I could be reading too much into this and it’s probably simply that I like spring and summer so I contrive, albeit subconsciously, to set most of the action then.

Do any of you have a favoured season in which to set your novels, or is it just me?

@FCapaldiBurgess

Don’t They Know It Isn’t Christmas?

As the summer holidays end, Francesca and Elaine wonder whether it’s too soon to get ready for Christmas, particularly as a writer. And how do we get inspired by snow in the middle of a heatwave?

Fabulous Entrance To A Department Store In Berlin

Fabulous entrance to a department store in Berlin

Elaine: In the middle of August I went shopping for birthday cards and you can imagine my dismay at finding several shelves already filled with Christmas cards, but what is worse than that is that I was actually tempted to buy some, but deciding it was all a bit crackers, excuse the pun, I didn’t. Since then, I have seen adverts for Christmas items in sales; although they are probably old stock, it does beg the question how early should the commercialism of Christmas start and does it get earlier each year, or is it just me getting older?

Francesca: Ugh, don’t get me started! If Christmas didn’t appear in the shops before December 1st, I’d be quite happy. I was talking to a fellow writer, Ann,  about it this evening, and she suggested after Bonfire Night was okay, which I guess is reasonable. And there are certain things that need to be considered ahead of time.

London Chapter Christmas Lunch Gifts

RNA London Chapter Christmas lunch gifts

Elaine: A cook will plan ahead to make the cakes and puddings along with pickling onions. A writer also needs to have one eye on the calendar so he/she can plan accordingly. If you are a writer of short stories, then now is the time to be considering sending them off to be included in December editions of magazines. If you write novels, and they are going into paperback, then you are too late for this year.

Francesca: Of course some magazines will already have their stock of Christmas stories ready; the time for submitting seems to get earlier each year. I think the latest I’ve sent in a Christmas story is November, after a call out. It’s worth checking with the magazine. But as you say Elaine, it’s definitely too late for a Christmas novel this year. How on earth does one go about setting a story during winter celebrations when it’s still summer, especially in the middle of a heatwave? 

Elaine: To get into the mood for writing a Christmas story, you can obviously draw on memories, or watching films can inspire you. A few of my favourites are It’s A Wonderful Life, Love Actually and Miracle On 34th Street, all feel good films that spread the love. Music is also a good way of setting the mood. Playing Christmas carols or the usual pop songs that get wheeled out every year definitely gives the feel good factor.

Children and Christmas: always a winning combination

Children and Christmas: always a winning combination

Francesca: Miracle on 34th Street is a favourite of mine too (the original version, with Natalie Wood), but I also love The Muppet Christmas Carol.  Despite that, watching either during the summer is something I would personally find quite annoying. Ditto Christmas songs. Christmas photos might be a good place to start, especially if you have boxes / files full as I do. I have been known to decorate the dining room with lights and table decorations to evoke the mood in August, before sitting at the table to write. Yes, you heard it here first – I am quite mad!

Apparently Selfridges opened their Christmas shop on August 1st this year. Now that is barmy. But if you’re desperate for inspiration it would be a great venue to hang out in and jot down some ideas. There’s also a place called the Icebar in London’s Heddon Street, which I visited a few years ago. Fascinating. Cold. Perhaps inspiring. Difficult to write anything down though when you’re having to wear a thick coat and gloves!

Elaine: Of course, you could just use this year’s celebration to write and get a novel published in time for next year.

Family photos, a good source of inspiration - especially with interesting characters!

Family photos, a good source of inspiration – what are this lot up to?

Francesca: Indeed. Ultimately, the best time to write Christmas fiction, whether a novel, a short story or a serial, is at Christmas. Obvious really. One year I managed to write three Christmas stories during December and it was so much easier than doing it in July. It’s a matter of getting organised. It also helps to put a note somewhere to remind yourself to send them off when the time’s right, as it’s very easy to forget about them.

Tell us, how do you get inspired to write seasonal stories at the wrong time of year?

 

 

 

 

Have Yourselves a Merry Little Christmas

Francesca and Elaine take a quick break from work and festive preparations to wish you all best wishes for the season.

Elaine: The trees are decorated. Presents are wrapped. Lights are flickering inside and outside many XmasTreehomes, bringing smiles to everyone who sees them. We often hear that Christmas starts earlier every year, but any excuse to go out for a meal, a drink, a dance and we are there.

My presents are bought and wrapped, but it may surprise you to know I haven’t put my tree up or displayed any decorations. I refuse every year to let Christmas begin until the last weekend before the 25th. My four-year-old grandson will be round on the 19th to decorate the tree and help place my wonderful trashy ornaments. Christmas songs will be playing and when that is done, we will make the mince pies. The seasonal excitement begins and before I turn into a big child I remember the people who won’t be with me this year. Whatever Father Christmas brings you this year, I hope it is accompanied with good health and lots of love.

Have a wonderfully joyous Christmas and may 2016 be a successful and peaceful year for you.

@RobertsElaine11

Francesca: Here are a few things I like about Christmas…

Family:

Children…

Grandchildren…

 

 

…and great-grandchildren!

Celebrating:

IMG_3455

Love and laughter

Good times

Good times with friends

 

 

 

 

 

 

Silliness!

Silliness!

Ghosts of Christmas Past:

 

IMG_0003

In this case, 1968

All these are good elements for a Christmas story. And talking of Christmases past…

My favourite Christmas book:

IMG_8335This was given to me by my husband’s first step father, in 1983. It was his tradition to read it every Christmas. Since he was terminally ill, he passed the tradition onto me. I don’t manage it every year, but it has been read a lot. 

 

“…and it was always said of him that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God Bless Us, Every One!”

A Happy Christmas to you all and a peaceful New Year.

@FCapaldiBurgess

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dreaming Of a Write Christmas?

Francesca and Elaine compare Christmas preparations with their writing

No wonder it took us till 6.30pm to unwrap the presents!

No wonder it took us till 6.30pm one year to unwrap the presents!

Francesca: In recent years, my immediate family has more than doubled from six to thirteen, with the addition of partners, grandchildren and step grandchildren. It’s made Christmas quite expensive, and time consuming, as you can imagine. Eight adults buying presents for seven adults each equals at least fifty-six presents.

This year, one of my daughters came up with the idea of doing a secret Santa for the adults. Our names have gone into a draw and we each have only three people to buy for. One present is chosen off that person’s gift list. One is maybe a smelly or foody present up to a maximum of £10. The third is to be a recycled or pre-loved present, therefore costing nothing.

Perhaps re-set the story in the 1960s?

Perhaps re-set the story in the 1960s?

It got me thinking about my writing. With time a premium in December, can I fit in anything beyond editing my novel? I’ve been thinking of getting back to writing short stories. Perhaps I could take the ‘Secret Santa’ approach here too. One story could be completely new, a longer piece, say two to three thousand words (which some magazines are calling for). A second could be shorter, a maximum of a 1,000 words. There are a number of competitions around currently requiring this word count or less that would be ideal. A third story could be a recycling of a pre-loved one. I have plenty that I like but have never sold. Clearly something about them was unsuitable but it might easily be put right. What if I changed the age of a character, or the gender? The setting could be altered from town to country, or vice versa. The main character might have a different job. Perhaps the ending is lacklustre and in need of some zing. Then there’s the title.

If things go to plan, by December 25th I’ll have three stories in my outbox and three nice presents under the tree.

@FCapaldiBurgess

Elaine: When Francesca and I discussed Christmas, we were astounded to discover that our families were doing similar things. I also have an ever-expanding family; in recent years there have been fourteen around our table, so we are also doing a Secret Santa. Of course, that doesn’t include other family members that I buy presents for, so Christmas is a well-planned campaign.

I can easily relate our day to a novel structure.IMG_1845

First, there’s the preparation before everyone arrives. The present and food buying are the obvious ones. Then there’s preparing vegetables, setting the table and writing out the times everything has to be switched on or placed in the oven. This is not that dissimilar to planning your novel, with the research, synopsis and chapter breakdown. It’s all in the planning. Fail to plan and you are planning to fail.

Everyone arrives at my house at ten in the morning and an hour is spent catching up with each other; some get impatient to start opening their presents. This is the beginning, our normal life.

The plot really starts as we open our presents, one at a time, in age order, starting with the youngest. There are highs and lows as the presents are opened.

A happy little boy

A happy little boy

There is always the excitement building, before any opening begins. Of course, there’s the disappointment if an item of clothing doesn’t fit and the frantic search for the receipt, which will enable the item to be changed. The happiness when a much wanted gift is opened. Then we have the adults attempting to put toys together for our grandson. One year, nine people tried to breathe life into a blow up goal for a two year old. Now that was funny, but again it had it’s highs and lows as people fell by the wayside because it wouldn’t blow up. Perseverance prevailed and a two year old was very happy to kick a soft ball into a goal that filled my front room.

The darkest moment of the day is when I realise my potatoes are never going to roast and, as usual, I’ve forgotten to cook something. One year it was the Yorkshire puddings, which went down well, as you can imagine. 

IMG_1849The climax of the story is obviously a very happy ending. A good day with excellent memories already stored away, to be told another day.

What will I write over the Christmas holidays? Well, Elaine Everest recently said if you write 100 words a day, that’s 700 words a week, so if you exclude Christmas day, that’s 3,000 words in December. Elaine’s words have made me think, because I often don’t write at all if I haven’t got time to write 500 – 1,000 words, as I think it’s not worth doing. How wrong am I!

@RobertsElaine11

 

Onwards & Upwards

Welcome to our revamped blog, Francesca and I are proud of ourselves for achieving this new look.
XmasTreeI can’t believe Christmas has come and gone and we are now into 2015, where did 2014 go?

Every year, January is about fresh starts, turning over a new leaf and making resolutions, with most of us breaking them within days. For this reason I decided a long time ago to stop making them, it had a feeling of starting the year on a negative foot, so 2015 is all about feeling the love, positive energy and thoughts, after all the world is our oyster.

Regular readers of this blog will know we have downsized from five writers to two but our content will not be downsizing, so we hope you will still enjoy reading and commenting on our posts.

With my day job and the lead up to Christmas I gave up trying to write anything in December so I need to get to know my characters again, refresh my memory of where I am in my current work in progress, despite having another idea bubbling away in my mind for my next novel. I often wonder how other people manage with juggling work, family and writing, or anything else that consumes them as an interest that they would like to take further.

Last summer I sent two very different novel manuscripts to publishers. Fingers, and everything else, are crossed in the hope that at least one of them comes to fruition, making me eligible for the Joan Hessian Award and a full member of the Romantic Novelist Association (RNA). What a great start to 2015 that would make, so watch this space.

January is also the time to become a member of the RNA New Writer’s Scheme, I joined two years agoE&F2 when my children gave me the money at Christmas and what a wonderful present it turned out to be. It has given me serious encouragement. The critique service and the conferences, with the many seminars and available meetings with agents/publishers, are worth their weight in gold. Then there’s the networking and the guidance that other writers freely offer, it’s always good to know you’re not on your own with the trials and tribulations of becoming a published author. My advice to any new members is to be motivated and utilise it to the fullest, as the rewards are great.

In fact, may I be so bold to suggest that if you have anything you are passionately interested in achieving, start putting your building blocks in place to achieve your goal, let 2015 be a year to remember for all the right reasons.

Good Luck.

Colorful Fireworks

 Elaine Roberts

 

 

 

Out of Season

Francesca Capaldi Burgess considers seasonal writing for foreign markets

My first ever successful short story was a Christmas one, published in The Weekly News in December 2008. It was the tale of a Mother Christmas in a store, whose initial outlook wasn’t exactly that of comfort and joy. My records tell me I sent it on October 17th, so I’m guessing I wrote it that month, when the Christmas silly season had already kicked off. It was set in England so little or no research was needed for it.

The following year I started sending stories to magazines abroad, and encountered two sets of problems. The first was to do with submitting to the southern hemisphere, where the seasons are the reverse of the UK. A story I wrote in 2010, January Mornings, involved two sisters, one in England, one in Brisbane, sending emails to each other, both envious of the other’s weather and way of life. Having lost contact with my Australian relatives, I had to resort to the internet for information on the weather. Then again, they lived in Melbourne, which has a different climate. Australia is a large place and what’s true for one area won’t necessarily apply in another.

Some things are the same in Australia as the old country:  my cousins in the 60s.

Some things are the same in Australia as the old country: my cousins in the 60s.

The second problem with seasonal writing for abroad is to do with traditions. Where Christmas in Australia is concerned, many of the inhabitants have retained a number of the customs from Britain. However, judging by the photographs sent to my mum many years ago of family Christmases, (including a picnic on the beach!) things can be a little unfamiliar.

It’s a different story (so to speak) when sending magazine submissions to the Scandinavian countries. The seasons are closer to what we’re used to, but traditions aren’t necessarily the same. In Sweden and Norway, for instance, St Lucia’s day, on 13th December, is a big celebration. They also have their main festive meal on Christmas Eve, as do many European countries.

Spring and summer are often the times for weddings, but you can’t take it for granted that everyone does things our way. A friend of mine found this out when she submitted a wedding story to the Scandinavian magazines a while back. Did you know that, in Sweden, the bride is rarely given away by her father and that she often carries coins in her shoes? Or that if a Danish bride leaves a room, then all the male guests can kiss her, and vice versa? (Now that could lead to an interesting situation.) It’s not enough to change your characters’ names from Jack and Emily to Jan and Inger, and add a few Fjords. In South Africa, there is the added complication of different tribal traditions.

I’ve also had stories published in Ireland, but even there one can’t assume, just because they are nearby and familiar to us, that they do everything the same.

Shorts and bare torsos at Christmas in Australia - not like the old country!

Shorts and bare torsos at Christmas in Australia – not like the old country!

There are endless factors to consider. What about stories featuring school holidays? Term times in different countries will have different dates. Even in Scotland the summer holidays run from June to August, not July to September as in England and Wales. Do all countries experience a fall of leaves in autumn? It depends where in the world you are. Do they get snow in Australia? I know the answer is yes, due to a postcard my grandmother sent me as a child. I remember being amazed. And did you know that Africa has ski resorts?

So yes, there might even be snow in Africa this Christmastime… (Research is important!)

 

You can also read a Christmas post of mine about a visit to Santa at Nonna Blog