Retreating to the Seaside

Francesca reflects on the advantages and fun of writing retreats.

Hastings Old Town would make a good setting for a novel.

Hastings Old Town would make a good setting for a novel.

Do you ever go on writing retreats? I’ve been going on at least one a year since 2010 and I thoroughly recommend them. They’re an enjoyable way to achieve a good number of words, with no household or family day to day incidents to distract you.

That’s not to say that it’s all work, work, work. There’s got to be a balance. It helps to have an agreed format with those you’re on retreat with. In my experience it goes something along these lines:

  • Morning: work till coffee time. Go out for coffee
  • After coffee: work
  • Lunch: Snack lunch provided and shared by attendees
  • Afternoon: Write till around 3.30. Have a cup of tea and a natter.
  • Work till dinner time.
  • After dinner: Watch TV, a film, natter, feedback.
  • Work if you’re a night owl

A lovely old boat in Whitstable which could spark new story ideas

The breaks seem plentiful but are an encouragement. Plenty of mini goals can be set which I always find spurs me on. Having breaks is also an opportunity for feedback.

The proportion of work the participants get done during each period depends on whether they’re a morning, afternoon or evening person. During my retreat in Hastings, my writing buddy, Angela Johnson, achieved more in the mornings, whereas I did more in the afternoons. She also managed to get an early morning walk in most days before even starting! Another writing buddy, Elaine Roberts, is also a morning person, whereas Elaine Everest likes to work later in the day.

A feature of  some retreats I’ve been on is each person cooking an evening meal, which has provided at least four dinners during the week. The other days, particularly the first and last, we’ve eaten out. How much you do that depends on what people want to spend, so retreats can be tailored to a budget. Sharing a house obviously divides renting costs. If you’re prepared to share bedrooms (I’m afraid we never are), it brings the cost down again.

Littlehampton in the winter sun

All but one of the retreats I’ve been on have taken place by the sea –Whitstable, Littlehampton and Hastings – so there is much to inspire a thalassophiliac* like me. Perhaps mountains or woods are more your thing and you prefer to hide yourself away completely. Personally I feel it helps to have shops nearby. The one retreat we did where we were in the middle of nowhere (if you can call being seven miles from Hastings that!), we couldn’t even pop out for milk.

The final feature of all the retreats I’ve attended has been a day out in the middle to somewhere interesting. It’s another chance to recharge those batteries and could even be a chance for a little research.

If you’re looking for a cheaper alternative and you have close family living at a distance, you could always ask to spend a week at theirs. It’s particularly useful if they’re at work during the day and you can get on, while enjoying their company in the evening. It’s not something I’ve done yet but I have thought about it.

To all those on a retreat soon, happy writing – and don’t get snowed in like we nearly did our first year in Whitstable!

Whitstable beach in the snow, 2010

Whitstable beach in the snow, 2010

* A thalassophiliac is someone who loves the sea!

 @FCapaldiBurgess

 

 

 

 

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Guest Elaine Everest talks about Wartime at Woolworths

Today we welcome Elaine Everest back to tell us about the next episode in her saga series about the Woolworth’s girls

Hello Elaine, it’s lovely to have you back on the blog once more.

Hi, Elaine and Francesca, thank you for your kind invitation.

We know you lived in Erith and this shows in your precise descriptions of characters’ trips around the area. Are there many differences between when you lived there and during World War 2? 

Sadly, Erith bears no resemblance to the Erith in my novels. In 1966 ‘the powers that be’ decided to flatten the town and build a concrete jungle. The beautiful Victorian shops and building were gradually flattened and in their place were square ugly boxes. Erith lost its soul in the sixties. The concrete jungle has since been replaced with another monstrosity. I visited recently and could have cried to see what had become of a once beautiful town.

The Woolworths store was still functioning, being part of the last block of buildings to go, when it was hit by tragedy when a fire swept through the building. The store’s cat died in the fire. Rumour has it that skulduggery was afoot, as many didn’t want the store to leave the town… It was later rebuilt as a concrete box and the building remains to this day but is now a carpet shop.

Maisie’s talent as a dressmaker has been highlighted in all the novels. Have you ever had any interest in sewing?

Like most women of my age we were taught to sew in school. My mum also had an interest in dressmaking and I grew up wearing homemade outfits. I made my bridesmaids dresses and continued sewing when married making cotton summer skirts that my stepmother sold at work. I moved on to making and selling soft toys and rag dolls for a few years. My last sewing venture was supplying made to measure raincoats and boots for show dogs, which was very successful, featuring on TV and in magazines. I finally gave that up when I became too busy with my writing and arthritis in my fingers stopped me doing as much as I’d have liked.

There’s a lot of historical detail about the war on a day-to-day basis. Where has your information come from?

I grew up hearing about the war and, living in the town, I had learnt how it fared during WW2. I lived in Alexandra Road, where Ruby lived, for twenty years and knew the people and the way they lived intimately. Like many saga authors I read books, watch films and use as many research facilities as possible. Woolworths has a very good online museum and the London Borough of Bexley’s archives are second to none.

The different characters in the Woolworth’s novels have so many exciting stories going on at the same time. How do you keep track of them all?

I wonder the same at times! Like all good authors I plan my books and know what will happen to my characters. I do like my three Woolworths Girls Sarah, Maisie and Freda to each have a story in the book but of course their boss, Betty along with nan, Ruby and a few other people shout out to me to be included. It’s a matter of blending their stories around the war, local events and also Woolworths – and not forgetting one of them along the way.

Who’s your favourite character in the Woolworth’s books?

My goodness it changes all the time. I always enjoy writing the scenes between Ruby and her nosy neighbour, Vera. They have a love hate relationship although Vera seems unaware of the fact. I’ve known several people like Vera and she is probably one of the few characters based on someone who once walked this earth. I’ll say no more! Then of course Ruby has her own romance with Bob so I do like letting them have some fun. Over all I confess to liking Betty Billington and so her part has grown from book to book. After all, if it weren’t for Betty hiring the three girls there wouldn’t be a story to tell.

When you get some time off writing your own books, what do you enjoy reading? 

I enjoy a well-written saga but can also have my nose in a psychological thriller by C L Taylor, one of the Women’s Murder Club novels by James Patterson or perhaps an old-fashioned crime novel – I’m re-reading all the Dick Francis books at the moment. I’m also a big fan of Milly Johnson and Carole Matthews so you could catch me with their latest romcoms. If the book blurb calls out to me I’ll read almost anything.

Is there anywhere you’ll be appearing/talking while promoting Wartime at Woolworths where your fans can go and see you?

I’m still firming up talk invitations but can announce that I’ll be at:

Sidcup Library: Saturday 12th May 2.30 pm

Erith Library:  Monday 14th May at 2.30 pm

Crayford Library: Tuesday 15th May at 2.30 pm
*Tickets for the above three events are free and available here on Eventbrite.

Hempstead Library: Tuesday 29th May at 3.30 pm

Eltham Library: Tuesday 5th June at 7 pm

The War and Peace Revival Show, Paddock Wood, Kent Saturday 28th July where I’ll be signing books in the author tent and being interviewed during the day.

I’m also book signing and holding a launch event on 31st May at the Waterstones store in Bromley at 7pm.

Thank you for taking some time out from what we know is a very busy period for you. The very best of luck with the book.

Thank you for such interesting questions xx

 

About Wartime at Woolworths: 

The Woolworths girls have come a long way together . . .

Fun loving Maisie is devoted to her young family and her work at Woolworths. But her happy life with her RAF officer husband and their baby daughter leads her to think of the family she left behind . . . With the war now into its fourth year, what will she find when she sets about searching for them?

Sarah and her husband, Alan, are blissfully happy and long for a sibling for their daughter. But dark days lay ahead for this close family. Freda heads home to Birmingham, to go in search of her family, back to the life she fled – far from the safety of Woolworths and her new friends.

With families’ separated by war, will the Woolworths girls be able to pull together?

Wartime at Woolworths is the fourth moving instalment in the much-loved Woolworths series by bestselling author Elaine Everest.

PRAISE FOR ELAINE EVEREST

‘A warm, tender tale of friendship and love’  Milly Johnson

‘Heartwarming . . . a must-read’  Woman’s Own

 

Elaine Everest, author of Bestselling novels The Woolworths Girls, The Butlins Girls & Christmas at Woolworths 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, The Crime Writers Association, The Society of Women Writers & Journalists and The Society of Authors as well as Slimming World where she can often be found sitting in the naughty corner.

Links:

Amazon Author Page

Author Facebook page

Twitter

Author Blog

 

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

Goodreads Link    
Amazon Link   

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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Hi-de-Hi! Welcome back to Elaine Everest, with her new novel, The Butlins Girls

Elaine Everest’s new novel, The Butlins Girls, is released today. We’re thrilled to welcome her back to the blog to tell us about it.

Thank you both for hosting me on your blog. I see you’ve moved the furniture about since I was last here and there’s more wine in the fridge! Ready to celebrate, Elaine!

It was nice meeting Freda again in The Butlins Girls. Did you enjoy bringing characters forward from The Woolworths Girls, and is it something you will continue to do?

I really like moving my characters from novel to novel. Even a small mention of a character will have a reader stop and think… Freda was the ideal person to appear in The Butlins Girls as, like Molly and her mother, she had links to the local Girl Guides and Brownies and in 1946 did not have a husband or young family.

What or who inspired the character Johnny Johnson?

I found Johnny because of my love of old musicals. I was watching Easter Parade, starring Fred Astaire and Judy Garland, when ‘my Johnny’ appeared as Jonathan Harrow III played by Peter Lawford. A tall handsome man with just a hint of humour – perfect!

Without giving too much away, Harriet and Simon are not very nice people. Do you enjoy writing the bad characters?

I love a baddie! They can do horrid things, and say almost what they like, then we can give them their comeuppance – great fun for a writer. I also like to see how my pleasant characters cope when they are faced with these kind of people.

The covers of your novels are very eye catching, particularly with the red spine. Do you have any input into them?

I’m fortunate in that Pan Macmillan included me when the models were chosen for the cover of The Woolworths Girls along with designs of the uniforms of that time. This set the style of my covers and the design team have so far kept faithfully to that theme. Having just seen the cover design for the next Woolworths book I can say that they have done another great job!

I’m sure your readers will love to know how you come up with the ideas for your novels.

I usually start with my setting. I like to keep my ‘patch’ as South East London. Erith was still in Kent ‘back then’ but, as London grew, it was swallowed up and lost the image of a little town on the banks of the Thames. These days older people have only memories of the town as it used to be and it is these memories I keep true when writing my books. I like to find out what was happening at the time I set the book and then weave my characters through this with their problems and dreams.

Your books are sagas, so are traditionally longer then contemporary novels. How much time do you allow for writing them?

Sometimes not enough when a deadline is looming! My writing time would be 5 – 6 months but before that I’d be thinking what to write and jotting down ideas and links to research material. I’ve been busier this past year as there is more than my one book being published in 2017.

Research is obviously involved with your books. How much do you do and how do you resource it?

When I plan a story I like to do this fairly quickly and pencil in any research I need to do. At the stage where I flesh out my outline into a chapter breakdown I add links to information and start to pile up my collection of non-fiction books and articles that I’ve collected over the years. Most of these books remain on the table until I type ‘the end’. Apart from written material I will use online sources as well as local council archives. You will also find me watching old movies and documentaries to get a flavour of what life was like in the period of time where my book is set.

What’s next?

I’d like to say a six-month cruise but no, I’m already working on another novel that’s due for publication in May 2018 and my deadline is five months away. I’m thrilled there is another Woolworths novel being published in time for Christmas and that I can revisit my Woolies Girls and also introduce a few new characters and romances.

Thank you for your interesting questions.

Thank you, Elaine, and good luck with the book.

 

About Elaine

Elaine Everest was born and brought up in North West Kent, where many of her books are set. She has written widely for women’s magazines, with both short stories and features. When she isn’t writing, Elaine runs The Write Place creative writing school in Dartford, Kent, and runs social media for the Romantic Novelists’ Association.

Elaine lives with her husband, Michael, and their Polish Lowland Sheepdog, Henry, in Swanley, Kent.

Facebook Author Page

Twitter: @ElaineEverest

 

Molly Missons gazed around in awe. So this was Butlin’s. Whitewashed buildings, bordered by rhododendrons, gave a cheerful feeling to a world still recovering from six years of war. The Skegness holiday camp covered a vast area, much larger than Molly expected to see.’

Molly Missons hasn’t had the best of times recently. Having lost her parents, now some dubious long-lost family have darkened her door – attempting to steal her home and livelihood…

After a horrendous ordeal, Molly applies for a job as a Butlin’s Aunty. When she receives news that she has got the job, she immediately leaves her small hometown – in search of a new life in Skegness.

Molly finds true friendship in Freda, Bunty and Plum. But the biggest shock is discovering that star of the silver screen, Johnny Johnson, is working at Butlin’s as head of the entertainment team. Johnny takes an instant liking to Molly and she begins to shed the shackles of her recent traumas. Will Johnny be just the distraction Molly needs – or is he too good to be to be true?

Published by Pan Macmillan on May 4th and available from Amazon

A New Chapter…

It was exactly a year ago today Elaine left paid employment for the last time. What a year it has been!

I was thrilled to be given the opportunity to concentrate solely on my writing, and what a year it has been. I work at it everyday, whether that’s planning, researching or developing my manuscript. I have a goal and I try to stick to it. My aim is always to write a thousand words per day. This is calculated over a week, allowing for peaks and troughs and for the unexpected to happen. It is always my intention to be in the office by nine am and work through until three; this allows for family time, as well as keeping my novel on schedule.

Francesca and I at an RNA RoNAs Award evening

As you already know, I am a member of The Romantic Novelists Association (RNA) New Writers Scheme (NWS) and have been to numerous events they hold. The two main events for me have been their conference, which is held every July, and the London Chapter meetings. The conferences are all about workshops, panel talks, agent one to ones and, of course, wine.

 

I also joined the Historical Novel Society (HNS) and the Society of Women Writers and Journalists (SWWJ). I even have a press card you know.

I completed my Victorian novel and went to the HNS Conference in Oxford to hear the news that the Victorian era doesn’t sell well. This was a major disappointment for me. With the help of friends I had a rethink on what to write. By the time I came away from the conference, I had a plan forming in my mind. It has taken me five months to research, plan and complete another historical novel, which I am thrilled about. It was a test I set myself, to see if I could write about anything, which in my mind I have passed. The manuscript has been sent off to the RNA NWS for critique, so it’s hold your breath time, to see if it’s any good.

Last week, I attended my first SWWJ event, which I thoroughly enjoyed. It was an awards afternoon tea and I met some lovely people there.

Of course, I still attend the creative writing class run by Elaine Everest in Dartford. My son finding the class for me has been life changing, or as writers would say, an inciting event, which started my rollercoaster journey. Over the last few years, with Elaine’s encouragement, I have attended many workshops to help hone my craft, but the ones that have been the most memorable and left a lasting impression on me are those held by Julie Cohen, such a fabulous, upbeat person who makes learning fun.

The view from our favourite restaurant in Ramsgate, on our writing retreat.

Four of us rent a house each year and spend a week enjoying the sunshine, food, and of course writing. A writing retreat focuses the mind, so alongside the week, I have also attended many one-day retreats.

Towards the end of last year, I started a monthly feature for the RNA Blog, on literary festivals and workshops. I cannot deny the thought of writing something that other writers will read terrified me, but I bit the bullet.

It has been a year of learning and enjoying being part of the writing world. Do I regret leaving work? Oh no, definitely not. Am I closer to achieving my dream? Most definitely; there are no regrets here.

If I could give advice to anybody with an ambition it would be have a plan and stick to it. Yes, things will get in the way because that’s life but as soon as you are able get back to the road that leads you to your goal do so. Try to mix with like-minded people so you know that whatever you are experiencing is not unusual, but above all else don’t give up!

 

 

@RobertsElaine11

@FCapaldiBurgess

 

 

 

 

 

 

Food and Wine, Oh and Writing

Francesca Capaldi Burgess and Elaine Roberts invaded Ramsgate for a writing retreat last week with fellow writers Elaine Everest and Natalie Kleinman 

Views from balcony

View from the sitting room

 

Our writing retreat had been planned for quite some time: we had picked our house, packed our things and brought plenty of wine.

 

 

2016-05-17 17.17.31 cropped

And it was twice that size to begin with!

It was a week to celebrate. We had just entered an ice cream parlour when Elaine Everest discovered she’d made it to number 16 in The Sunday Times Bestseller List, so we had the biggest ice cream ever seen, followed by champagne, of course.

Views of the harbour

 

 

 

 

Views of the harbour

Views of the harbour

 

Some of us were writing: Francesca wrote the second part of her serial for People’s Friend and Elaine R started her second novel. Elaine E and Natalie were busy doing edits. We each picked a space in the house to work in, though some of us could be found from time to time on the balcony in the sun, and even across the road on the terrace of the snack bar. We worked hard, but we managed to enjoy the glorious weather, the view of the sea, eating and drinking. We spent a hilarious hour one afternoon sitting by the marina, coming up with book titles, eliciting some funny looks from people close by.

 

at Corby's Tearoom with Pat Corby, cousin of writer Deirdre Palmer (and well recommended by her.)

At Corby’s Tearoom with Pat Corby, cousin of writer Deirdre Palmer (and well recommended by her.)

You've got to have fish and chips when you're at the seaside.

You’ve got to have fish and chips when you’re at the seaside.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The bohemian Belgian Bar was on our doorstep.

The bohemian Belgian Bar was on our doorstep.

Reliving our childhoods in the arcade below us.

Reliving our childhoods in the arcade below us.

A brick three piece suite spotted in a courtyard.

A brick three piece suite spotted in a courtyard.

 

 

 

 

 

On Thursday, the four of us travelled up to London for the Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA) summer party, where the contenders for the Joan Hessayon Award gathered and the overall winner was announced. This year it was Clare Harvey, author of the Gunner Girls, and our congratulations go to her. This wonderful event gives you the opportunity to catch up with old friends and make new ones. The established writers are always willing to give advice and share what they have gone through to get where they are. It makes you realise everyone experiences something similar so you’re not on your own. It was a good night, which obviously involved more food and wine.

FCP&EE

Elaine Everest and Francesca.

Natalie Kleinman

Natalie Kleinman

Our own Elaine.

Our own Elaine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was soon time to pack up and return home. It was an enjoyable week, but as someone famous once said, “There’s no place like home”.

Have you ever been on a writing retreat? Does the scenery or area distract you, or are you prolific in your writing? Let us know your views.

@FCapaldiBurgess & RobertsElaine11

You can also read Francesca’s post on the advantages and fun of writing retreats here

Woolworths Lives On: Interview with Author Elaine Everest

Today we welcome back author and former Write Minds contributor, Elaine Everest, whose novel The Woolworths Girls, was published on 5th May

Elaine image blue topThank you for inviting me to your blog!

It’s lovely to have you back! Your novel is set in Erith, which you obviously know well as you grew up there. How did you find out what it looked like during the war years? Had the shops and street plan changed much?

My memories of the Erith from my childhood in the late fifties and sixties are very similar to the Erith of 1938 when The Woolworths Girls starts. Some buildings had been demolished but it was in 1966 that the local council started to knock down all the lovely old buildings in Pier Road and the High Street that formed the major shopping area of the town. Beautiful Victorian town houses that lined the railway line also disappeared as did a church and smaller homes. The street where I lived when first married is one of the only remaining complete streets from ‘the old days’ and is where Sarah and her Nan, Ruby, live.

It amused me at the time to see a sign declaring that the company ‘Sid Bishop’ was demolishing the church although much later we were sad to see the old town vanish and be replaced by a horrid concrete jungle. This has now been replaced and looks no different to shopping malls throughout the country.

We can tell you did a lot of other research for your novel. Were you in danger of getting caught up in it? Do you have any advice for others needing to do research?

I’m always in danger of getting caught up in what to me is local history. But, I went in with a list and tried to find only information that I needed for my story. If I can advise other writers I would stick to your research list. Then I started to browse local news reports and found stories that I knew my girls would have become involved in…
I was also fortunate to make contact with the curator of the Woolworths museum, Mr Paul Seaton, who delved into his archives and found some interesting information about the Erith branch of Woolies that again my girls could be part of. I loved the story of the branch taking part in the local cottage hospital fete and one of my girls was the carnival queen while another moaned about playing a part in the proceedings. I’ll leave you to guess who!

Some of your secondary characters clearly have their own stories to tell. Are there books in the pipeline for any of them?

I loved inventing my secondary characters as much as my main characters. In some ways they are able to be a little more naughty than the main cast. Ruby, Sarah’s nan, along with her friend, Vera from up the road, appear in a short story in the My Weekly magazine. This should be published in the next few weeks. It was fun to write about their antics early in 1938 before Sarah moved to Erith and The Woolworths Girls began. Freda pops up in my next novel, The Butlins Girls (Pan Macmillan ,2017) and she does mention her friends Sarah and Maisie. As this novel is set in 1946 we get to hear more about my girls from Woolies.

I would love to write another novel about Sarah, Maisie and Freda and how they lived through the rest of the war years. I’m sure I could get them into all kinds of trouble and add some romance at the same time.

Which of the characters in The Woolworths Girls was your favourite, and why?

I’ve been asked this question before and each time I’ve chosen a different character. The problem is I like so many of them. This time I will say Betty Billington who was the staff manager who hired Sarah and her chums. As the war progressed she takes over as temporary manager and her life becomes entwined with Sarah’s – in fact Betty is another Woolworths girl. Being older her life suffered during the Great War and I would really like to go back and investigate her life more. Hmm I seem to be thinking of even more books to write!

Were any of the characters based on real people?

Not really but… I have a cousin who confessed to me that he had always wanted to play a baddie. This surprised me as he is such an upright citizen. So, I gave him a small part in the story and changed his name slightly. I wonder he will recognize himself?

Also, Charlie, who was Betty’s lost love is based on my great uncle Charles who died at Ypres on 17th August 1917. Although he came from a large family and died at the age of 32 he had no children or spouse. In mentioning him in The Woolworths Girls I feel I’ve kept his memory alive.

Have you always wanted to write sagas?

Part of me always wanted to be a saga writer as I really like the genre. However, like many writers I have a few novels tucked away that will probably never see the light of day. Mine are a romcom that did place me as a finalist in The Harry Bowling prize and also crime novels set in my favourite dog showing world. However, sagas won and I’m more than delighted to be able to write them.

We know a lot of hard work goes into writing a novel. How do you organise yourself to achieve it?

Plan, Plan, Plan! I like to have timelines in place. For The Woolworths Girls this was not only my fictional timeline but also local history and world events. I also had a timeline of Woolworths events and how they progressed through the world while it was at war. During my research I got to know my main characters and fleshed them out. Story outline was turned into a basic chapter breakdown – then I started to write.

Thank you, Elaine. We’ve both read The Woolworths Girls and thoroughly enjoyed it. The very best of luck with it.

Woolies GirlsIt’s 1938 and as the threat of war hangs over the country, Sarah Caselton is preparing for her new job at Woolworths. Before long, she forms a tight bond with two of her colleagues: the glamorous Maisie and shy Freda. The trio couldn’t be more different, but they immediately form a close-knit friendship, sharing their hopes and dreams for the future.

Sarah soon falls into the rhythm of her new position, enjoying the social events hosted by Woolies and her blossoming romance with young assistant manager, Alan. But with the threat of war clouding the horizon, the young men and women of Woolworths realize that there are bigger battles ahead. It’s a dangerous time for the nation, and an even more perilous time to fall in love…

Elaine’s book, published by Pan Macmillan, is available on Amazon

About Elaine

Elaine Everest was born and brought up in North West Kent, where The Woolworths Girls is set, and was once a Woolworths girl herself.

Elaine has written widely for women’s magazines, with both short stories and features. When she isn’t writing, Elaine runs The Write Place creative writing school in Dartford, Kent, and the blog for the Romantic Novelists’ Association.

Elaine lives with her husband, Michael, and their Polish Lowland Sheepdog, Henry, in Swanley, Kent.

 Links:

Pan Macmillan page

Facebook Author page

 Twitter: @ElaineEverest