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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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.

2014-08-24-12-42-45

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

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

Six Things You Didn’t Know About Us

Elaine and Francesca reveal six snippets each about themselves you may not know.

Elaine:

1: I wrote my first novel when I was in my mid-twenties, I’m not going to tell you how long ago that was, but it’s suffice to say I’m now a grandmother. I sent it off to Mills and Boon, as they were known then, and received a lovely rejection. However, it was at this point that life got in the way and the decision was made to bury my dream, because things like that don’t happen to people like me. Joining The Write Place and The Romantic Novelists Association (RNA) has taught me to follow my dreams, because every author I have met has been like every other person you meet.

Alas CD's and not vinyls.

Alas CD’s and not vinyls.

2: I grew up listening to various types of music, my mum was a Rat Pack fan and my father was a massive Beatles fan and both play a huge part in my music collection. However, what was a shock to me, and consequently I am sure no-one else could possibly know, is that my favourite decade for music is the sixties. The only exception is the Glam Rock years, ahh my teenage years.

3: Before the writing took hold, my creativity was in the form of needlework and crocheting. I found it relaxing, with some wonderful finished items. It was always a favourite hobby of mine and as a young mum, I saved money by making my own clothes and my children’s. I also did alterations and made outfits for other people.

IMG_01434: For as long as I can remember I have been a home girl. There is nothing I like better then being curled up in a chair with a good book. As a child, my mother worried I wasn’t getting enough fresh air, and in her mind I should have been out playing, having fun; what she didn’t understand was that I was having fun in my imaginary world. Unfortunately, the more I write, the less I read and that is something I do miss.

5: My father was a military man and when I was just over fourteen, we moved to Germany. I had to wait several months for a school place and consequently found a job working for the Navy, Army, Air Force Institute (NAAFI) and I stayed working there for nearly three years.

Elaine at the RNA Awards evening.

Me at the RNA Awards evening.

6: I am going to end on something that might astound some people. I am a very shy person. It takes a lot for me to walk into a room of strangers and I will very rarely speak to someone I don’t know. I always assume nobody will remember me. It probably comes across as standoffish and that is hopefully not what I am. If you see me at an event at any time, please come and say hello because I will definitely be too shy to come over to you. I am more secure in my imaginary world.

Francesca:

1: Anita Roddick of Body Shop fame was my second cousin. Both her father and step father were first cousins of my dad, and of each other. Her parents’ love story, both complicated and fascinating, is detailed in Anita’s biography. It would make a great premise for a novel. FB & EJ

2: Several years ago I met actor Elijah Wood and had this photograph taken with him. I was at a London Comic Con with fellow Lord of the Rings fans. Elijah was utterly charming.

3: I’ve spoken often of being half Italian and half Welsh, but in fact I am one sixteenth Devonshire on my mum’s side. Many people in the late 19th/early 20th century, farm labourers and tin miners for instance, moved from the West Country to South Wales to work in the coal mines. Most of the rest of my Welsh family came from farming in West Wales and the slate mines in North Wales. I’ve written two stories based on them so far and I’m sure there are many more stories to be told.

Lorenzo Capaldi, c1908. He won a medal for his work during the 1908 earthquake.

Lorenzo Capaldi, c19o8

4: One of my middle names is a boy’s name. Andrea (pronounced ‘Andraya’) means ‘Andrew’ in Italian and is never used for girls.  My mother wanted it as my first name but my father wouldn’t hear of it. My other middle name is Giuliana.

Islwyn Morgan, late 1930s.

Islwyn Morgan, late 1930s.

5: Both my grandfathers died long before I was born. My maternal grandfather, Islwyn Morgan, died of cancer at the age of 30 during World War II. My paternal grandfather, Lorenzo Capaldi, was killed in World War I in his early thirties. His widow and son (ie, my grandmother and father) featured in an imagined short story I wrote that you can read in the anthology 7 Food Stories from Rome.

6: I was a millionairess for ten years… That is to say, I was a lire millionairess! After my aunty Carmela died she left my father several million Italian lire. It took ten years for Italy to release the money, by which time my father had died and I became the ‘heiress’. The resultant money was worth around £2,500.

Have you any little nuggets to share?

 

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!