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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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

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