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

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Remember, Remember: A Novel Approach to War

As we approach Remembrance Sunday, Elaine and Francesca reflect on the wars and on their own World War One novels.

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Elaine: Remembrance Day and all that it stands for is important to me. I was brought up in the armed forces and the 11th November was sacrosanct in my home. I have made sure that my children have grown up knowing it is important to remember that men and women made the ultimate sacrifice so they can have the freedom of life and speech. I am not interested in the politics of it all; for me the poppy is a symbol of peace, courage and loss, amongst other things.

A newspaper headline the day WW1 started for Great Britain

A newspaper headline the day WW1 started for Great Britain

The research I have done for my historical novel has made this year even more poignant. The patriotism to King and country was astonishing and the numbers in which men volunteered to fight was incredible. Then there was the work that the women did on the home front. Trying to find the words to convey this in my novel, without getting carried away and it becoming a war story, has been difficult.

I have read many articles on how writing a historical romance is not taken seriously. However, the facts still have to be correct, but they are woven into the story so the readers don’t necessarily take them in, but it adds reality to the story.

While I am fortunate to have never lost anybody close to me from either World War, I have lost friends, or have friends whose lives have been changed forever, through various subsequent conflicts. The day never fails to reduce me to tears as I remember them and all that have gone before.

@RobertsElaine11

It hasn't been easy trying to translate the writing on this Italian document.

The Italian document from World War 1.

Francesca: This is always a very poignant time of year for me. As I ‘remember’ members of my families who died in both wars. I say, ‘remember’, as obviously I never met them. Despite that, I still feel a profound sense of loss. 

Two of my great uncles, Tommy and Cyril Jones were both killed in 1943 . They were 35 and 22 respectively. Tommy was killed in action in Sicily. Cyril died at sea when his ship, the HMS Fidelity, was hit by a U-boat. 

My grandfather, Lorenzo, died in 1915 at the age of 29, from septicaemia caused by a gunshot to his thigh, in a Red Cross hospital in Modena. These details are contained on a hand-written document that belonged to my father, which gives an account of Lorenzo’s death. 

But it was a kind of non-war record that got me started on the historical novel I’m currently working on. A ‘hint’ on the Ancestry website led me to discharge papers which hugh-morgan-jnr-discharge-ww1did in fact turn out to belong to a maternal great-grandfather, Hugh Morgan. I’ve never seen a photo of him (he died in 1927), but I know from the document that at 24 years of age he stood 5′ 5″, weighed 140 pounds, and that his chest measured 38″ when expanded. It also tells me he had tachycardia and that his heart beat at 130 bpm. And that’s the reason he was being discharged in 1915, after only 227 days service.

It was the stamped message on the form that gave me the story: ‘Never likely to become an efficient soldier.’ Poor bloke. He’d marched away with a Pal’s Battalion, wanting to do his bit, only to be rejected. How did he feel about it? Relieved? Annoyed?Ashamed he wasn’t up to it? Gradually I wove the beginnings of a story from it, but I’m not entirely sure where it will end. I look forward to finding out.

@FCapaldiBurgess

Ill Advised?

Francesca’s been investigating the death certificates of her ancestors in the hope it will help her with research for her novel.

For anyone who’s been watching the TV series, Poldark, you’ll know that one of the characters died of something they called ‘putrid throat’. (I won’t say which, in case you haven’t caught up with the first series.) This revolting sounding affliction, it would appear, is what we in modern times call Diphtheria. There have been other names for it over the centuries like ‘putrid fever’ and ‘membranous croup’.

mother-and-sisterAlthough I tend to write more contemporary then historical fiction, I’ve recently been writing a novel set in 1915. In it, one of the characters, a young woman, dies, and I’ve had to consider what might be the cause. Her mining village is based on the one some of my ancestors lived in around this time, so I thought this might be a good place to start.

A couple of years ago I ordered a few certificates – birth, marriage and death – from the General Register Office, having found several family members on an ancestry site. I discovered that three of my female ancestors – my great gran’s mother (M), sister (S) and daughter (D) – died at age 42, 16 and 28 respectively, in 1891, 1899 and 1935.

d-and-b-1931-cert

‘D’ in c1932, with her first child.

S is recorded as dying with phthysis, D with phthsis pulmonales, while D died of pulmonary tuberculosis. Clearly the last one was TB, but I was surprised to discover the first two were also.

TB is clearly a strong contender for the death of my character. But why did so many people contract it? What conditions caused it? Was it rife in that area? Why did it only seem to strike the women in my family? These are all aspects to look into to make my story stronger.

It seems unlikely that everyday Victorian folk referred to the disease as phthisis. More likely they called it tuberculosis, TB, or consumption. Other terms over the years have included lung disease, scrofula and white plague.

Looking at death certificates for the other side of my mother’s family, I’ve discovered one great-great grandfather died in 1892, aged 46, of apoplexy. Until I read that, I thought apoplexy was a description of someone getting extremely angry. Medically it’s a type of stroke. Worth remembering.

His son died on the operating table aged 36, in 1927, during a second operation for appendectomy complications. mor-father-and-sonTalking to a friend about it she asked how it would have been paid for before the NHS came into being. Good point. The 1911 National Insurance Act provided only basic medical care. This great grandfather was also a miner, and I believe that hospitals were often provided by mine owners or jointly by them and workers via subs. Could they have paid for him to go to the Cardiff Royal Infirmary for the op? Perhaps my family simply had some savings?

Considering all this has certainly thrown up more questions than answers so far. Finding out what they died of is only the beginning. There is much scope for research.

gran-c1964

Great Gran, c 1964, who suffered much loss in her long life.

If, like me, you can mine family records, (sorry, no pun intended), they can be a good start for research. A word of caution: discovering family deaths and their circumstances can be harrowing. I cried when I found out why sixteen-year-old S had disappeared from the census. I cried again when the certificates confirmed my mother’s story of not only D’s death from TB, but that of her prematurely born baby a month later.  I try to imagine how Great Gran must have felt, losing all those family members. She was ninety-seven when she died, but never talked about it. She also lost a toddler son in 1922 and two other sons in World War Two. Life was cruel.

Perhaps if I can inject a little of that emotion into writing about a character’s death, I’ll not go far wrong.

@FCapaldiBurgess

 

A big thank you to my cousin Janine who lives in Australia. She also has undertaken much interesting research into our shared family.

Links:

Another word of caution: if you’re interested in finding your ancestors’ certificates, whether death, birth or marriage, the various ancestry web sites are a good place to start, but don’t buy them from those sites, as they’ll cost you three times as much than they will from the General Register office, which you can find here.

Another interesting web page about old names for illnesses, The Glossary of  Old Medical terms, can be found here.

Interview with Pia Fenton (novelist Christina Courtenay), the outgoing chair of the Romantic Novelists’ Association

As Pia Fenton, who writes as Christina Courtenay, steps down as Romantic Novelists’ Association chair, we find out about her last two years and what she’s got planned for the future.

ChristinaCourtenayMarch2013Welcome to the blog, Pia. As a prolific writer with many interests, along with your role as chair, how have you managed such a hectic schedule? Are you very organised?

I try to be but don’t always succeed!  Mainly I make lists, lots of them – I couldn’t survive without lists and often wake up in the middle of the night to add things to them.  It helps that I don’t have a fixed writing schedule, I just write as/when I have the time so I’ve been able to fit in RNA work around the writing (or vice versa).

What’s been the highlight of your time as chair?

I don’t think I can pinpoint just one thing, but for me the highlights have been when everything is running smoothly.  The parties, conferences and awards events, for example – there’s an awful lot of work that goes into organising those and it’s wonderful when it all comes together and people come up to you and say how much they’ve enjoyed it.  That makes it all worthwhile.  I have also really enjoyed meeting and getting to know a huge range of people – that’s one lovely aspect of being chair!

What changes have you seen in the RNA during your tenure?

The RNA is changing all the time and we’ve been trying to move with the times.  The main changes have been to the awards, which are evolving and becoming more well-known and appreciated.  And of course we will be admitting self-published/independently published authors from September onwards – it took a long time to figure out the best way to do that, but we got there in the end!

How do you feel about stepping down and is there anything you’ll miss about not being chair?

It will be a huge relief in one way as the responsibility of being chair was quite scary at times – as they say, the buck stopped with me.  And if things went wrong, ultimately it would have been considered my fault.  But I’ve loved being at the heart of the organisation, helping it to move forward and hopefully steering it in the right direction.  And I’ve worked with the most amazing group of people – my committee and all the other volunteers – without whom I would have been totally lost.  I will miss working with them very much!

What are your plans for the future?

To have a break, then get on with some writing which has had to take a back-seat for the last couple of months.  I’ll be at the RNA conference and plan to enjoy being just one of the crowd.  As I sometimes write YA, I’m taking part in YALC (Young Adult Literature Convention) in July, where I’ll have a book table together with three fellow YA authors, collectively known as Paisley Piranha.  And then I will concentrate on my family for a bit too, as I’m sure they’ll be feeling rather neglected 🙂  I’ll still be part of the RNA though and look forward to seeing it evolve further as Eileen Ramsay takes over from me – she’ll be a fabulous chair, I’m sure!

Thank you for taking the time out to talk to us, Pia. Good luck with the new book, The Jade Lioness and with all your future ventures.

TJL medium frontThe Jade Lioness is available as an ebook now and due out in paperback in October.  An historical romance, it’s the third in Christina Courtenay’s Japanese series.

Can an impossible love become possible?

Nagasaki, 1648

Temperance Marston longs to escape war-torn England and explore the exotic empire of Japan. When offered the chance to accompany her cousin and Captain Noordholt on a trading expedition to Nagasaki, she jumps at the opportunity. However, she soon finds the country’s strict laws for foreigners curtail her freedom.

On a dangerous and foolhardy venture she meets Kazuo, a ronin. Kazuo is fascinated by her blonde hair and blue eyes, but he has a mission to complete and he cannot be distracted. Long ago, his father was accused of a crime he didn’t commit – stealing a valuable jade lioness ornament from the Shogun – and Kazuo must restore his family’s honour.

But when Temperance is kidnapped and sold as a concubine, he has to make a decision – can he save her and keep the promise he made to his father?

Buy it on Amazon UK: The Jade Lioness

Links:

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Paisley Piranha Group

 

The World is your Oyster

Natalie Kleinman talks about why research is a new and exciting adventure.

In the past few weeks two things have turned my mind to the consideration of research with respect to writing fiction. The second – yes, I know, back to front – was the subject of this month’s post and the realisation that I know very little about research. The first was the decision to send the heroine of my work in progress out of the UK, and therefore out of my comfort zone.

Because I write contemporary romance I have always been able to draw on my own experience, both the contemporary and yes, the romance too. The places in my books and short stories are places I have seen and loved. The impression they made lasting. So I was pretty much writing from a position if not of strength then at least of comfort. Even though a large chunk of my bo?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????ok Voyage of Desire takes place on a cruise ship I could write from a knowledge base because I’ve cruised enough – on a ship, not in my writing – to be true to the facts. A little bit of research was required for one of the ports of call but it was minimal and quite enjoyable. So much so it tried to take me away from my writing because I became so interested in the place I wanted to explore further.

This desire to explore further worries me because my heroine is going to the United States. Though she’s only visiting one large city, it’s one I haven’t been to, therefore research has become a necessity. How far does one go and how much time should I spend on it? I have, thus far, only had one dabble but Philadelphia is the fifth largest city in America – this the first piece of information that came out of my research – with a wealth of material to delve into. I know this because I Googled only to find there was so much I had no idea where to begin. The webpage is bookmarked waiting for me to return. Following the advice and experience of friend and co-writer, Elaine Roberts, who pointed me to Google Earth, I logged in and put my toe in the water. What an amazing experience. I didn’t spend long, though longer than I intended, and I’m really looking forward to going back and ‘seeing’ the places I’m hoping to write about.

Now for what might seem a change of tack – a nautical term, I believe. I grew up with a love of historical fiction but it’s only recently that I’ve come to realise how much probing and exploration were necessary for the authors to convince me, as they did, that I was there in that place in that time. As a reader I took it on face value because it had an authenticity about it that I didn’t need to question and was therefore not pulled abruptly out of the story I was reading at the time.

Putting all these things together has made me realise the importance of being as certain as one can of the facts. I’m sure we’ve all read things from time to time where the spelling or grammar or a misplaced piece of information has spoiled the whole experience. It may be that hours of research are needed to avoid making mistakes but these are hours well-spent. One glaring error can spoil the whole.

PhiladelphiaAnd so I look forward to researching Philadelphia with enthusiasm and trepidation, keen to explore what looks to be an amazing place, worried that I might slip up and get something wrong, and absolutely positive that this new and fascinating adventure will take up far more time than it ought but from which I’m sure I will gain huge pleasure. And after Philadelphia? With Google Earth the world is my oyster.