Tea Time with Elaine Everest

So here we are again, Elaine, five months since we last met for tea and another book for us to talk about. And what a book it is! I thought you’d lost the power to surprise me but in giving us Ruby’s story you’ve crafted an immaculately written novel in A Mother Forever, bearing in mind you had six sequels to take into account. So many potential hazards and yet you brought us through without falling into any of the pitfalls. Tell us about it.

Is it that long? Time has flown by. Thank you so much for inviting me back – builders tea for me please! I loved writing this story as it took me out of my comfort zone of writing about the thirties and forties. However, as any historical author knows we have to get the history of the area correct. I love research and covering 1905 to1924 I found a lot of extra historical facts to check out to ensure my characters were following history. I also needed to make sure that anything that was ever mentioned about Ruby’s past life in my first six Woolworths books was correct in A Mother Forever.

Ruby didn’t have the easiest of lives to put it mildly, but life was harder generally in the early twentieth century. As I read about her younger self, I watched her overcome many trials and tribulations to become the matriarch we first met in The Woolworths Girls. So, did you work backwards, or were you always aware of the youthful woman even as you wrote about her in later life?

After my editor at Pan Macmillan agreed I could go back in time and tell the story of Ruby’s early life I took a great big gulp and wondered what I’d let myself in for. It felt such a responsibility to create the right back story for Ruby. My major worry was that devoted readers would feel differently about Ruby’s past life to how I see it. I was also bringing her first husband Eddie into the story when he’d only ever been mentioned in The Woolworths Girls. Who was this man and how could he have his own story?

When Ruby appeared in The Woolworths Girls, I had no idea of her past life, well not the early part, as it was to be a stand-alone book. Many books later Ruby is still there as large as life, but I’ve always looked towards the future rather than the past with the series. I’d often wondered about her past life and when exactly she arrived in Alexandra Road and suddenly I was able to create her past life!

Your readers will know already how meticulous your research is. Early on in the book I came across the phrase ‘promises and piecrusts’. I didn’t know it though I felt I should, but you feed in so many gems which leave us in no doubt as to the era. A phrase here and there might well be the product of hours of poring over a reference book. Tell us something about your methods. More tea, by the way?

A promise can be broken as easily as a piecrust. I love a good saying, and of course I have to check they were said in the time period I’m writing about – research never stops.

I like to get the timeline of my books sorted out first. As is often said of sagas, history is the wallpaper of our stories. I like to know the world history, UK history, and local history before I start to write. I knew Alexandra Road was built around 1903 – it was in the deeds of the house when I purchased number thirteen in 1972. Having Ruby arrive there in 1905, aged twenty-five, with young George at her side along with a nagging mother and problematic husband seemed right to me. Let’s start with a problem right at the beginning!
I’d love another cuppa – have we eaten all the biscuits?
Oh and at the time my fictional characters lived at number thirteen there was in fact a Thames Lighterman living there with his family. I moved them over the road to number fourteen…

There are always more biscuits! Without giving anything away – we know from your previous Woolworths books that Ruby survived to a good age – I was delighted to read the epilogue and I must confess to a tear or two. As you know, I always enjoy a good prologue, but I believe this is the first time you’ve used this method to ‘close’ one of your books. I know you plan meticulously so I’m wondering while you were still writing if anything took you by surprise and demanded to be included.

Ruby is still with us! I’ve just written a scene in my WIP progress where she is very much running the family in 1950. I dread the day we say goodbye to her. It will be like saying goodbye to a dear friend.

Yes, my first epilogue, but it was important to me to bring Ruby’s story full circle to the time where readers remember her. I’ll not say when that is for now …

At the time the book was being planned we could still go out to talks and visit archive centres – oh how I miss that! I attended a talk about the brickworks of Erith, something I needed to know more about. However, the speaker, Will Cooban mentioned lads from the brickfields who’d gone off to war in 1914 and another idea crept into my mind. In fact, I promised Will to include one of the lads in my book just to keep his name alive. It was an honour to do so.

Local history is a gift to any saga author, and I kept coming across little gems about the town of Erith and how it was so different to the time period I’d already covered. I needed to weave Ruby’s life through this maze of history and world events. But where to stop? I decided on 1924 with Ruby now in her mid-forties and George a married man with a baby daughter who we know as Sarah Caselton from the Woolworth series.

I’d grown up knowing about a tragic explosion at a munitions works in the middle of the Slades Green marshes – perhaps I could include it in my story? I discovered my paternal grandmother had worked in the very same munitions works so of course she had to have a walk on part in the book. I just wish we’d known more of her life back then. Recordings from The Imperial War Museum filled in the gaps, but there’s nothing better than personal experiences shared over a cup of tea.

Much as I’d rather not talk about Covid 19, I feel I must ask in what way your writing has been affected by the restrictions you’ve had to face over the last year.

What a year it has been for us all! A Mother Forever is my third ‘lockdown book’ and I hope the last. I miss going out to meet readers and doing physical research but do enjoy all the extra time to work on my books and to read. Ideas are still springing into my head faster than I can write them which is a good thing. Like you I’m very active on social media and being able to meet readers in cyber space in Zoom interviews is a godsend. I have some coming up in the next few months so please keep an eye on my website www.elaineeverest.com for news.

Like everyone I’ve eaten too much despite my attempts to lose weight – I’ve lost and gained it all back – and I’ve binged watched TV series and binge read so many books my brain is complaining. But we are fortunate to be well and that’s what counts!

And finally, can you tell us a little about what’s in the pipeline? Any more Woollies to come?

There hasn’t been an official announcement yet, but I can say there are more Woolies books on the horizon. However, before then we have The Patchwork Girls coming out in the Autumn with new characters and more WW2.

Thank you so much for your entertaining questions and also tea and biscuits. Do we have time for a fresh pot?

Elaine xxx

There’s always time for more tea, Elaine. Thank you so much for joining me.

Natalie xxx

1905: Ruby Caselton may only be twenty-five years old but she already has the weight of
the world on her shoulders. Heavily pregnant with her second child, penniless and
exhausted, she is moving her family into a new home. The Caseltons left their last place
when they couldn’t pay the rent, but Ruby’s husband Eddie has promised this will be a
fresh start for them all. And Ruby desperately hopes that this time he will keep his word.
With five-year-old George at her feet and her mother having a cross word for everyone
and everything, life is never dull at number thirteen Alexandra Road. It doesn’t take long
before Eddie loses another job and once again hits the bottle. It’s up to Ruby to hold them
all together, through thick and thin. She remembers the kind, caring man Eddie once was
and just can’t give up on him entirely. What she doesn’t know is that Eddie has a secret,
one so dark that he can’t bear to tell even Ruby . . .
Through Ruby’s grit and determination, she keeps food on the table and finds herself a
community of neighbours on Alexandra Road. Stella, the matriarch from across the way,
soon becomes a friend and confidante. She even dreams that Ruby will ditch the useless
Eddie and take up with her eldest son, Frank. But when war breaks out in 1914, the
heartbreaks and losses that follow will fracture their community, driving both Stella and
Ruby to breaking point. Will their men ever return to them?
A Mother Forever is a moving but heartwarming story about the family we’re connected
to through blood, but also the family we make for ourselves with neighbours and
friends. A prequel to The Woolworths Girls, it can also be read as a compelling novel in
its own right.
Published in Paperback on 11 th August 2016,
Priced £7.99

A Mother Forever is published by Pan Macmillan on 4th March priced £7.99 as paperback original and ebook. For further information, review copies and interview requests, please contact Rosie Wilson – rosie.wilson@macmillan.com


Elaine Everest, author of bestselling novels The Woolworths Girls, The Butlins Girls, Christmas at Woolworths and Wartime at Woolworths, was born and brought up in noth-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, both short stories and features. Her non-fiction books for dog owners have been very popular and led to her 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 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 and Journalists, and the Society of Authors.

You can follow Elaine here:

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