I’m delighted to be hosting Juliet West today, chatting to us about her latest novel, The Faithful.
You’ll find out the inspiration for her novel, about her characters, a fabulous tip for new writers and more.
Publisher: Pan; (26 July 2018)
As Britain is pulled towards war, the secrets within two families threaten to tear them apart, in the outstanding novel from Juliet West, The Faithful . . .
July 1935. In the village of Aldwick on the Sussex coast, sixteen-year-old Hazel faces a long, dull summer with just her self-centred mother Francine for company. But then Francine decamps to London with her lover Charles, Oswald Mosley’s blackshirts arrive in Aldwick, and Hazel’s summer suddenly becomes more interesting. She finds herself befriended by two very different people: Lucia, an upper-class blackshirt, passionate about the cause; and Tom, a young working-class boy, increasingly scornful of Mosley’s rhetoric. In the end, though, it is Tom who wins Hazel’s heart – and Hazel who breaks his.
Autumn 1936. Now living in London, Hazel has grown up fast over the past year. But an encounter with Tom sends her into freefall. He must never know why she cut off all contact last summer, betraying the promises they’d made. Yet Hazel isn’t the only one with secrets. Nor is she the only one with reason to keep the two of them apart . . .
From the beaches of Sussex to the battlefields of civil war Spain, The Faithful is a rich and gripping tale of love, deception and desire.
The Faithful is available to purchase in digital, paperback, hardcover and audiobook formats.
Welcome to Jera’s Jamboree.
Please summarise The Faithful in twenty words.
It’s a story of love, misplaced loyalty and family secrets, set in the turbulent years before the Second World War.
What was the idea/inspiration for your novel?
The initial inspiration was the discovery of a book of photographs taken in West Sussex during the 1930s. The photos documented a series of seaside camps organised by the British Union of Fascists. I was really horrified to discover that Oswald Mosley’s fascists paraded freely around the Sussex streets, and many of these Blackshirts were women.
I thought the holiday camps could be an interesting backdrop for a novel, and a way of exploring this dark period of our history.
Please tell us about the characters in your book Juliet.
The Faithful is the story of two very different families – the Alexanders, who live in a grand beach-front home, and the Smarts, working class Londoners who have travelled down from Sussex for the seaside camp.
Hazel Alexander meets Tom Smart in the summer of 1935 and the attraction between them is immediate. She is sixteen, he is seventeen (any similarity with The Sound of Music ends there!) but their romance is not destined to run smoothly. Their respective mothers, Francine Alexander and Bea Smart, couldn’t be more different as parents, and both women play key parts in the novel. Then there is Charles, Francine’s shady lover. And Lucia, a fervent Blackshirt who encounters Hazel, recognises her vulnerability, and spots an opportunity . . .
What scene did you writing the most?
The penultimate chapter is one short scene in a nightclub. This chapter wasn’t at all what I’d been planning – I’d imagined a very different final scene for Francine and Charles – but I went for a late-night walk and the words just landed in my head. I hurried home and bashed them out. Easiest chapter ever!
… and the hardest?
I found it hard to write about the Battle of Cable Street – the clash between police and anti-fascist protesters in October 1936 – because this has been so widely documented, and there was a danger it could feel stale. In the end I decided to take a sideways approach, writing the scene not from Cable Street, but from Salmon Lane, where fascists and anti-fascists had also gathered. At this point, Tom has turned his back on the BUF and become a communist, so I could look at the day through my characters’ eyes with different points of view.
Do you have a most creative time of day?
Any time is fine, so long as I’m on my own. I envy people who can write in cafés or knock out a chapter while simultaneously cooking a family meal. I’m just too easily distracted – I need solitude to write fiction. (Any other kind of writing is fine. While I’m typing this, my son is doing his drum practise!).
What are you reading now? Opinion?
I’ve just started Isabel Ashdown’s latest novel, Beautiful Liars. Fabulous opening and I’m already well and truly hooked.
Finally Juliet, are there any tips you could share with new writers?
I mentioned the chief difficulty earlier, and that is finding the quiet time to write. Many new (and experienced) writers have jobs and family responsibilities, and it’s tricky to carve out the space you need to complete a first draft.
So, how to steal time for yourself? When I wrote my first novel, Before the Fall, I gave up watching TV, I wasn’t on any social media, and I socialised as little as possible. While I was writing The Faithful I wasn’t quite such a hermit as I was simultaneously working on publicity for Before the Fall. I’d advise all new writers to stick to some kind of plan, whether that’s 200 words a day or 2,000. Try to write on at least five days out of seven – I don’t believe in the ‘write every day’ mantra because that can be impossible to achieve, and anyway you’ll always be mulling and writing in your head, even if you don’t put the words on a page. Thinking time counts!
Reading this through I realise I should probably take my own advice and give up TV again. Just need to finish the second series of The Crown first . . .
Thank you for being such a fabulous guest.
Juliet West grew up in Worthing and studied history at Cambridge University. She trained as a newspaper reporter in the early 1990s and went on to work for newspapers and magazines in Dorset, Hampshire and London.
In 2009 she took an MA in Creative Writing at Chichester University, where she graduated with distinction and won the Kate Betts’ Memorial Prize.
The opening chapters of her debut novel Before the Fall were shortlisted for the Myriad Editions/West Dean novel writing competition in 2012. The novel was published in hardback and ebook by Mantle at Pan Macmillan in May 2014, and is now also published in paperback and audiobook.
Juliet’s second novel The Faithful was published in June 2017 in hardback, ebook and audiobook, also by Mantle/Macmillan.
Juliet lives in West Sussex with her husband, BBC football commentator Steve Wilson, and their three children.
Connect with Juliet West
Author interviews on Jera’s Jamboree.
Read all posts in the historical fiction genre on Jera’s Jamboree.
Pan Macmillan on Jera’s Jamboree.