I first met Elaine Everest two years ago when she and I were both contenders for the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme Award. I interviewed Elaine here on my blog at the time, and it’s a great pleasure to welcome her back with news of her new release. The Woolworths Girls is published by Pan MacMillan, and since I loved Elaine’s first book, Gracie’s War, I’m really looking forward to reading her latest, which is also set during World War Two.
Welcome back, Elaine!
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Thank you so much for inviting me to your blog, Helena.
Where do you live, Elaine? (I asked you this last time. Let’s pretend I don’t know :) )
I was born and brought up in Erith, Kent where The Woolworths Girls is set, but now live a few miles away in Swanley as we had this mad idea to build our own house a while back – now, that’s a novel in itself. Probably a horror story!
I can just imagine! Hope you’re now settled in, though!
Where is your favourite place in the world?
It will always be Kent, the garden of England, but I do love Cornwall’s rugged coastline and get withdrawal symptoms if I don’t head to the Southwest at least once a year. We almost moved to the Lizard Peninsular in the late eighties but family circumstances dictated otherwise and life and work made it impossible. Now I’d need a substantial lottery win to fulfil my dream – or perhaps a mega book deal with umpteen bestsellers.
I lived in Kent for a while, on the south coast, and it really is a beautiful county.
Did you always want to be a writer? Did you do something else before your writing career?
There was always a writer inside me screaming to get out. In between times I trained in accountancy and ran boring offices and wore boring suits. In 1997 I decided to do something about my dream and sold my first short stories and features. However, I always had ideas for novels even though it took a big step to write a whole one and do something with it!
It is an enormous achievement to write a novel. Congratulations on all your success since then!
What time of day do you find best for writing?
Ha! Ideally I’d like to be up, sorted out the dog and writing by eight AM. However, I may be out of my bed but writing admin for myself, my writing classes and many other things gets in the way. When working on a novel I do try to stick to a daily word count so it may mean I’m up late and writing long past midnight.
That’s a long day. I admire your discipline.
A clichéd question, I know, but…where do you get your ideas from?
I find that as I’m contracted at the moment for one book a year I have time to let story ideas form in my mind. However, I know my stories are set in Kent and around the time of WW2. My girls are local and have to have something happen to them. I also tend to have a theme. 2017’s book is Butlins so once I start to research my subject ideas form. Writers are advised to ‘exercise their writing muscle’ and I feel that having many years of writing short stories and finding ideas for features means my writing muscle can discover plotlines easily – they may not be good ones but it means I can start to write words rather than stare at a blank screen.
And how do you go about putting your stories together? What comes first – plot, character, setting?
With short fiction I can write straight onto the screen but won’t start until I know the ending. With my historical novels I need to plan. I will have several timelines based on plot, local history and also worldwide history of that period of WW2. Once I know my characters and can intertwine them and my plot through history I do a chapter breakdown and start to write. I had an excellent tutor at the Caerleon Writers Holiday who showed how to enjoy planning a novel without losing the creativity of writing a story. Perhaps it’s that geeky number crunching accountant inside me who is screaming to ‘cross the ‘Tees and dot the Eyes!’ As writers we know there is no hard and fast rule when writing – we simply do what works for us.
You’re so right about every writer finding the way that works best for them. I find if I plan out each chapter too much, I do lose my creativity and it all becomes a bit rigid. The course you mention on planning a novel sounds interesting.
What is your favourite romance novel? Oh goodness! So many lovely books out there and I tend to change my mind so often as well as envy the writer who created such wonderful stories. However, Pride and Prejudice has stayed with me for many, many years. It was a set book for one of my exams when at school and my excellent teacher had us pull the book apart and really dig deep into the soul of the character and what made them tick. This has put me in good stead as a writer.
Pride and Prejudice is my favourite, too – and Persuasion comes a very close second.
If you had to marry a fictional character, from film, television, or books, who would it be? Colin Firth’s character in Love Actually. Well, it is Colin Firth and the character was a writer!
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I read all the time – what writer doesn’t? I also run The Write Place Creative Writing School at the Mick Jagger Centre in Dartford, Kent that I set up eight years ago after leaving a part time tutoring job teaching creative writing for Kent Adult Education Services. I’m a qualified tutor of adults and the training has put me in good stead for workshops and my classes. My other world is – dogs! I’ve owned as many as ten and have exhibited, bred and judged the breed. Currently we own Henry who is a Polish Lowland Sheepdog we imported from France. However, my first love is the Old English Sheepdog and I’m hoping to have another in the home before too long as I miss them so much. I also used to be involved in canine committees – I have a stock of stories from those years but will have to save them until I write my crime novels!
And finally, please tell us a little about your latest book and why you wanted to write it.
The Woolworths Girls is set in Erith, Kent and starts at the end of 1938 when Sarah Castleton moves to Erith to live with her nan, Ruby. Ruby’s house is the Victorian terraced I house lived in when I married back in 1972 – and cost £7,000. I was told many stories about the street and town in years gone by and as it was the town where I was born it held a certain fascination. I often wondered what it would be like to live in that house throughout WW2. So, where better than to set my family in a house and street that holds such a special place in my heart?
Can romance blossom in times of trouble? It’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 . . .
The Woolworths Girls will be available in most bookshops and supermarkets from 5th May and also on Amazon
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Thanks so much for dropping in again, Elaine. What a wonderful idea to set your story in the house you once lived in. I really enjoyed Gracie’s War, and I love the sound of The Woolworths Girls. Lovely cover, too!
If you’ve enjoyed hearing from Elaine, or have any questions or comments at all, please let us know. We’d love to hear from you!