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

 

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I am not a number…

Elaine Roberts is talking about a special day spent in North Wales and the thoughts it evokes. How realistic should our writing be? Can it be too realistic? 

I have recently come back from visiting my husband’s aunt in North Wales, just one of many scenic areas of Britain. While we were there, we visited Portmeirion, where the pottery originated from and where the sixties programme, The Prisoner, was filmed. What a fascinating and beautiful place it is.

An aerial photo of Portmeirion

Clough Williams-Ellis purchased the land for just less than five thousand pound in 1925 and it took him fifty years to build Portmeirion. He was a strong campaigner for the environment; at a time when it wasn’t the recognised issue it is today. He was building at a time when owners of mansion houses were struggling, so he used many reclaimed pieces.

The large oval windows are painted on because this is the rear of the property.

You may be wondering why I’m writing about this; well Clough used illusion in his architecture and created a beautiful, tranquil place, which inspired the design of the said pottery.

Patrick McGoohan, the co-creator, producer and star of the Prisoner, who also wrote and directed several of the episodes, was dealing with things that

The Prisoner was Patrick McGoohan’s brainchild, it was a 17 episode television series.

seemed too far- fetched to be realistic at the time. He covered generally unknown subjects such as covert surveillance, cordless phones, credit cards and state control. It warned of the dehumanisation of society.

My question, is society influenced by art? Did Star Trek give us the first design of the flip top phone? There are many films and books that are seen as influential, in the way we live our lives. In our small way, we are hoping to offer escapism in our writing, but are we hoping to influence people as well? As historical writers, are we hoping to bring back good childhood memories?

The garden chess board is a replica of the one used in an episode called Checkmate.

I have read many articles that have put down the writers of romantic fiction, and yet to weave a story into true historical events can be difficult, almost like a game of chess. A modern romance needs to be believable, but not too realistic, the reader doesn’t want to know the mundane detail of our heroes and heroines’ lives.

When I was at the Romantic Novelists Association (RNA) conference this year, one of the contemporary romance manuscripts I offered to a publisher was described as too real for her, which I totally understand, but what I find strange is it’s one of my favourites. I wonder if it’s because, despite everything, it all ended well. It’s a lesson for me to learn and reminded me of a job interview I went for, that wasn’t a success either. The panel of interviewers told me they didn’t want to know how things worked, as they already knew what was wrong; they wanted “an ideal world” scenario. So are we all just trying to escape the dehumanisation of our society? Perhaps we should all be influencing it, while escaping.

@RobertsElaine11

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

It’s Only Words, Isn’t It?

As the new term gets started, Elaine and Francesca think about their writing year ahead.

September and the new school year is upon us. For some it is a momentous occasion, with children going into the next level of education. Whether their son/daughter has gone from nursery to reception or from sixth form to university, or anything in between, many tears have flowed.

Just as it’s a new beginning for the children/grandchildren, so it is for the writers amongst us. It’s a challenge, getting back into the swing of sitting still long enough to write some words, after the hustle and bustle of the summer holidays.

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Elaine’s novel planning whiteboard

Elaine: Earlier this month I attended the Historical Novel Society Conference and a Woman’s Weekly workshop on historical writing. Although they were obviously very different, both were a first for me. I gained something from both of them but what astounded me more is that I know more than I realised; it is clearly about putting that knowledge into practice.

My Victorian Saga is technically finished and out trying to get snapped up, although I am sure changes will need to be made. While I am waiting for those decisions, I am planning my next novel. That means I am up to my neck in research, learning some fascinating facts that I hope I can slip into my novel. It’s pretty safe to say there have been times when I thought my head would explode.

I have paper and Post It Notes everywhere. Luckily for me, I have an understanding husband because while I have an office, I have also commandeered the dining table as well!

Francesca: It always seems that I start new novels in September, as if studying for a new course. I guess this is because of sending novels off to the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme several summers in a row.

Islwyn Morgan, late 1930s.

Francesca’s historical idea came from an incident in her grandfather Islwyn’s family.

Like Elaine, I attended the Woman’s Weekly workshop on historical fiction. Although I tend to write contemporary novels, and have just started a new one, I’ve had an idea for an historical bubbling away for some time that the workshop helped me develop. So which to continue with? 

Because I did a history degree back in the dim distant past, several people have asked me why I don’t pursue that genre of novel. I have written several historical short stories and a serial, but I always seem to come up with masses of ideas for contemporary novels. It would be interesting to proceed with the historical, though there’s a danger I’ll get carried away with the research, for which I’ve acquired several books!

My other goal is to return to short stories. In the past I’ve had sixty-odd ‘out theres’ sent to various magazines, but I’ve sadly neglected them in favour of novels recently. And I’d like to write another serial. 

Time to just get on with it, because as Bruce Lee once apparently observed, ‘If you spend too much time thinking about a thing, you’ll never get it done.’ Good luck with your own ‘new term’. 

Do you have plans for the new school year or are you just enjoying the peace and quiet?