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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The Wonder of Woolworths!

Elaine Everest continues this month’s theme by taking a look at research for her current novel set in World War Two.

Mention the word ‘research’ and for me two thoughts come to mind. The first is an excuse many of my students use for not having added to their novel since the previous class. ‘I can’t write as I need to do research.’ is heard often. My second thought is, great, I can find more information to make my work shine and if I’m lucky I may just fall upon a historical event I can use to make my work sparkle.

At the moment I’m halfway through a novel set in NW Kent during World War Two. I know the area well and have been brought up hearing family stories of times gone by. Anecdotes are fine as long as they aren’t historically incorrect. I love tales like what happened to Mrs X the day she was blown from the toilet in the local cinema. Change the name and as the lady was unhurt it becomes a funny scene for my main character’s nan. However, if I require something to happen during an air raid in a certain month I have to check details more carefully. I cannot rely on anecdotes. This is where the Internet is invaluable. Local council archives have been a godsend giving me details of what happened and when. Newspapers and records of the time back up the information. I do like to have two primary sources when researching.

What about my characters? How do I find information about the people who lived in Kent at that time? How do I dig deep into their lives, thoughts and feelings? The BBC came to my aid here. Between 2003 and 2006 the BBC asked the public to contribute their memories of World War Two to a project called WW2 Peoples War. Along with my husband, Michael I helped by attending events and interviewing the older generation about their lives during the war years. It was a privilege to speak to people who served at that time as well as those who were children. Each person had a unique story to tell and gradually a social and wartime history was formed for all to read online. Now, I can go to the public site and search for information about what happened to ‘the man and woman in the street’ at that time. Whilst writing my last novel, Gracie’s War I wanted to know what the weather was like in Gracie’s village on 3rd September 1939. Not only did I find a local man’s record of that very day but also his memory of the following year when the ‘little ships’ headed to Dunkirk. Reading someone’s personal account can bring the era to life much more than delving into a hundred reference books.397Erith-1930

Research for my current novel meant that I had to not only find out about Woolworths at the end of the 1930s but a particular store. Get this wrong and I’m sure a reader would soon let me know. A local nostalgia group on Facebook came to my aid. One member’s mother worked at the store during the war years and could confirm my research. However, my greatest joy was discovering there is a Woolworth museum curator. What a gentleman! I sent just a few simple questions as I don’t like to impose on people’s generosity too much. Within a day I received two emails that gave me information, not only about the store but also about some of the people who worked there and how they coped at the height of the war. My main character, along with her two friends, came to life as they relived the lives of those who lived and worked in Erith during the war years.

That’s the wonder of Woolworths, as the advert used to say – that’s also wonderful research!