I’m delighted to be welcoming Elaine Everest today. As well as chatting to us about her novel The Woolworths Girls (published by Pan Macmillan on 5th May) Elaine is also sharing some of her processes with us (and excitingly what she is currently working on).
Elaine is a freelance writer. Born and brought up in NW Kent, where The Woolworths Girls is set, and was once a Woolworths Girl herself.
Elaine has written widely for women’s magazines and national newspapers, penning both short stories and features. She has also written non fiction books for dog owners. When she isn’t writing Elaine runs The Write Place creative writing school in Dartford Kent and also the blog for the Romantic Novelists’ Association.
Elaine Lives with her husband, Michael and Polish Lowland Sheepdog, Henry, in Swanley Kent.
Connect with Elaine
Author Facebook Page ElaineEverestAuthor
Welcome to JJ.
Please summarise The Woolworths Girls in 20 words or less.
The Woolworths Girls is a heart-warming tale of friendship, family and hope in the face of war.
What was the idea/inspiration for your novel?
My stories are set in Kent and the outskirts of SE London where I grew up. I wanted to show what the early war years were like in Erith, a town on the banks of the River Thames. It was part of ‘bomb alley’ and being close to the docks and important factories, like Vickers, took a lot of flack from the enemy. I know the people from that time. I lived in the street where Ruby, Sarah’s grandmother, lived. That town has long gone after ‘improvements’ in 1966 and locals are still saddened by what happened but the old Erith is still in our hearts and a very fond memory.
What scene did you enjoy writing the most Elaine?
A favourite scene was when Sarah, Maisie and Freda meet at their interview to be Woolworths staff. Not only were they summing up these new faces but had to endure a tough interview with staff manager, Betty Billington – and pass an arithmetic test. Each were carrying private worries with them to Woolies and of course it was the first time that Sarah met Alan…
… and the hardest scene to write?
For me it was when one of my girls had to face bereavement. I made myself recall hearing news that my mum had passed away and reaching deep inside to how I felt at that very moment. Even during the editing stage with my publisher I sobbed when I got to that page. I used music to portray the sad scene and spent many evenings online finding the ideal song that tugged at the heartstrings. I still feel a little teary when I hear, ‘I’ll see you in my dreams…’
If you could have given your characters one piece of advice before the opening pages of the book, what would it be …
Look out, girls, it’s going to be one hell of a ride and I apologise now for putting you through so much. I won’t say that everything works out well – you’ll just have to wait and see.
Can you tell us about the process of the design for your gorgeous book cover?
My publisher, Pan Macmillan designed the book cover for The Woolworths Girls. As this was my first book with them I was unsure of the procedure. However, Natasha, my editor at that time, sent me pages from model agency books and I was able to say which of the many lovely girls looked most like my characters, Sarah and Maisie. The 1938 Woolworths uniforms were a problem but with guidance from Paul Seaton from the Woolworths Museum we discovered the correct style and the photographic team done a marvellous job of sourcing the outfits and styling the two models. I was sent copies of the final images and again gave my comments on the ones I preferred. The whole team have done a wonderful job and the special touch of a sepia Woolworths store in the background gives just the right setting for my story.
Is there a favourite place you go to for inspiration Elaine, or a favourite activity?
I love to attend writing retreats. Each year I set off with two or three writing chums and we spend a week in a cottage by the sea getting to grip with our current WIP. We have a list of requirements when looking for a cottage. The sea must be close by as must places to eat and a pub or two. A bedroom each although one year that went pear shape when one of us ended up in a small loft room accessed by a narrow spiral staircase. How my friend never got wedged I’ll never know! In May we are heading for Ramsgate and looking forward to living in a house overlooking the harbour. Very handy for my research!
Pantster or plotter?
I used to be a pantster during many years of writing short stories for women’s magazines. However, writing historical fiction requires much more planning. I will have several timelines for my stories. For The Woolworths Girls I had one for the real WW2 events for the town where the story is set. Another was for world events that affected my girls. A third was a Woolworths timeline as much changed in the stores and with women who worked during the war years. Then of course I had to weave my story through all the timelines. Once that was in place I updated my story outline and broke it down into chapter. Along the way I’ve fleshed out my characters and collected images of the period and also personal anecdotes of friends and family. There is a lot more involved in my story telling and sometimes I feel it is like playing chess, moving my characters through the story until I have a satisfactory ending.
Have you joined any writing groups?
I run my own classes (The Write Place) at The Mick Jagger Centre in Dartford, Kent. So many of my students are now successful writers whilst others are on the brink of success. We are always holding events and trips and many belong to the RNA – writing can be a very busy occupation! www.thewriteplace.org.uk
Are there any conferences or workshops that you would recommend?
I’m a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and serve on the committee. I joined, years ago, as a member of their New Writers’ Scheme and graduated with a novella which meant I was a contender for the Joan Hessayon Award. It was an exciting time for me as I met my agent Caroline Sheldon via the RNA and in turn it led to my contract with Pan Macmillan. The RNA have local ‘chapters’ where we attend to network (and drink wine) with fellow writers and attend talks. We also have our annual conference where non-members can come along. The weekend is full of talks and workshops and 1:1 sessions with publishers, agents and other important people in the publishing industry. I believe that an author never stops learning and will attend workshops covering any genre as there is always something to learn.
Finally Elaine, what are you currently working on?
I have just handed The Butlins Girls (set in 1946) to my editor, Victoria, at Pan Macmillan and waiting on her comments. First word is she loves it but the months ahead will be filled perfecting to book before it is published in 2017. At the same time I am promoting The Woolworths Girls and planning an outline for my 2018 book, which will be set in WW2 in Kent. At the moment I have a hazy image of the settings and my main characters are starting to talk to me. There will be copious note taking, online research, reading of history books and visits to the seaside before I start typing. However, I do like to jot down odd phrases and words that come to me as the characters evolve.
Thank you for sharing with us today.
I’m sure my blog readers join in with me wishing you success with all your projects.
Paperback: 448 pages
Publisher: Pan; Main Market Ed. edition (5 May 2016)
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 . . .