and probably why you’ll usually find my heroines atop a horse at some stage or another
I was looking through some old photos when this one came up from many years ago and reminded me, as if I needed reminding, how much I used to love to ride. I’ve tried to explain in the past to those who haven’t ridden what an amazing feeling it is galloping across the ground, just you, your horse and the countryside around you, but it’s something you can never really appreciate unless you experience it.
The hard hat and jodhpurs of today are nothing like the fashions created for women in the early nineteenth century, though formal wear is still quite splendid. Today one’s hair would be tied back, but the feeling of the wind in one’s face would have been the same. Even at a distance of many years it is something I’ve never forgotten.
I think it’s no coincidence that horses figure quite prominently in my books. A hankering back perhaps not just to those incredibly satisfying times spent mucking out the stables, grooming one’s horse, or riding free, but also to two centuries ago when my heroines were clothed in the most glorious riding habits. Don’t you just love the feather. I’m not sure though how I’d have felt about riding side-saddle.
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?
There’s always time for more tea, Elaine. Thank you so much for joining me.
ABOUT A MOTHER FOREVER 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 – firstname.lastname@example.org
ABOUT ELAINE EVEREST
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.
Almost exactly a year ago I went with my sister to the V&A with the specific aim of seeking out all things Regency. I’m very lucky to live on the edge of London within striking distance of all it has to offer. On a very blustery and quite unpleasant day, my husband dropped me at the station and, two Underground trains and forty minutes later I found myself exiting South Kensington Station via the huge tunnel that leads to ‘The Museums’. Under cover all the way. It was packed! Half term. Maybe not the best time to go but wonderful to see so many excited children (and adults) heading to their chosen venue. I turned off at the arm signposted Victoria & Albert to find my sister already there but she hadn’t been waiting long. We headed straight to the café for coffee. It’s all a bit of a blur but mobile phone cameras are a wonderful asset. So, in no particular order and with details courtesy of the information plates…
Watercolour BoxAbout 1820 As watercolour painting became increasingly popular among fashionable young men and women, suppliers of art materials such as Reeves and Woodyer in London began to sell portable paint boxes. Colours were pre-formed into cakes with a binding medium, avoiding the messy preparation previously needed. Wood, paper and mixed materials including pigments
One of the characters in the novel I was writing at the time is a keen artist so I was particularly interested in this. Easily portable and beautifully set out. I wanted it!
Walking Dress(spencer, skirt and bodice)1817-1820 England. Silk with satin appliqué, silk frogging, tassels and braid.
GownAbout 1805 Women’s dress changed dramatically after 1785. The rich fabrics and complicated formal shapes of the late 18th century gave way to simple, lighter fabrics that draped easily. These new gowns achieved something of the effect of the simple tunics shown on classical Greek and Roman statues and vases. Muslin embroidered with cotton thread.Fabric made in India, gown made in England.
Evening Cap1818-23 England.Silk and net embroidery with silk thread; wired paper and muslin artificial flowers.
This last was, I think, my favourite piece. There are other photos, other descriptions, but I hope this will give you a taste and perhaps convey some of my excitement. One of the most difficult things was walking through some of the other galleries staring fixedly ahead. I was on a mission! But, oh, so many wonderful things to see. Almost inexpressible thanks to those who had the forethought to create these spaces and those who donated or loaned their artefacts for the continuing joy of anyone who chooses to go and see them. Our last stop was back to the café for lunch. These lights were dazzling but not as dazzling as some of the amazing things we saw.
Now we’re in lockdown and I can only dream of such an expedition. Lucky I have these
Language evolves all the time. As a historical novelist I know this – and the rules (there are rules) change. I accept that. But, being a bit long in the tooth, it took me many years to do so and even more to implement some of those changes into my writing. You will no doubt have observed that I began the previous sentence with the word ‘but’. But is a conjunction. Its purpose is to connect ideas that contrast. For example:
I like my coffee black but she likes hers with milk.
Had I put…I accept that but, being a bit long in the tooth etc…there would be no controversy. However it seems to me that it carries more weight this way. And, while I’m talking about breaking old rules, what is more important? Adhering to convention or using the best way to make your point? My poor English teacher would turn in her grave. Not only have I begun one sentence with But, but I began another with And.
A fairly recent innovation in the spoken word, not so much yet in the written, is the use of the word So at the beginning of speech, a propos of absolutely nothing at all, with not the remotest connection to what is to follow or anything that came before. Now this one really irritates me – I’m sorry if you’re a convert but I’m not.
Imagine my dismay then when, in the middle of the night, one of those times when a jumble of thoughts comes flooding in when you’d far rather be asleep, I found myself thinking…So, I wonder how my day will pan out tomorrow? Why the So? What’s the matter with just I wonder? And then I giggled. Silently. I didn’t want to wake my husband. Well, (a similar misuse I fear) was that so very bad? It isn’t the best example but it made me (metaphorically) sit up and think.
I’ve been known, when editing my work, to alter the text because it feels old-fashioned and stilted. I know I write historical fiction but I still want it to flow. Does the grammar really matter when what we’re trying to do is entertain? Old habits die hard but newly-acquired ones aren’t always so bad. (acceptable use of both but and so in that sentence)
And (see, I’ve done it again) don’t even get me started on split infinitives. I’m prepared to be shot down in flames. What do you think?
Until next time
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A while ago we were having our bedroom decorated and were thus sleeping in the spare room. Nothing unusual about that, you might say, but after seven days I couldn’t wait to get back into my own bed. And then I realised it wasn’t just the bed but the whole room (now in soothing tones of cream and mushroom). The bathroom was in a different place when I got up in the middle of the night. The window was on the wrong side of the room. So that all got me thinking. Are we always happy with where we write and does it have an effect on what we write?
We live in a traditional three-bedroomed house and some years ago the smallest of these was turned into a home office for me. I was SO excited. Bookcases lined the walls, a new desk assembled – not a posh one but perfectly serviceable. The printer was set up. I could look across the road into a field in times of reverie or when searching for inspiration. What could be better?
Well, the temperature for a start. The room is north-east facing and has two outside walls. Even with the central heating on it never felt warm. With my back to the rest of the house, as it were, I felt cut off. This should have been a good thing as far as writing was concerned. No distractions, nothing to pull me out of my concentration. But it didn’t work. Not from the word go. Like my experience in the spare bedroom, I was out of my comfort zone. I felt a little sheepish when I told my husband that thank you very much but I would be returning to the hub of the home to work as before. Fortunately we hadn’t expended huge amounts on the transformation.
Writers often talk about their office or their garden shed or that place which is exclusively theirs. Some people dream about having their own space. But when it comes down to it we all have to go with whatever works for us. So I don’t have white boards and pin boards and other such useful tools.
What I do have is a place where I feel at ease and can lose myself in the adventures, antics, activities, hopes and fears of my characters, all from the comfort of my armchair. My laptop sits on a cushioned tray. I have a table to right and left on which I stack the things I might need to refer to. And I’m warm – inside and out.
Do you have a dedicated office or writing space? Is it something you yearn for? Think twice before you take the plunge. Sometimes the things you most wish for are those you already have. Returning to my own bed was wonderful. And now, as I write this piece, I am happily back in my comfort zone. How about you?
And slowly answer’d Arthur from the barge: “The old order changeth, yielding place to new’
This quote from Tennyson’s Morte d’Arthur is for me like a ghost from Christmas past. The very long ago past when I could spew out massive chunks from this work and still some remain with me. Well, the old order has certainly changed beyond recognition, hasn’t it? Here’s another (the opening)
So all day long the noise of battle roll’d Among the mountains by the winter sea’
And it has been a battle, hasn’t it, which sadly so many people have lost. Even a year ago no-one could have imagined how our world would change in such a short space of time. I put this here not to dwell on past struggles but hopefully to shine a light on the future – hence the title of this post. Have you noticed how good people can be in the face of adversity? How much of themselves some people give? Well I have and that is what I’ll be taking with me into 2021. I’ll give only one example for they are far too numerous to mention, but will any of us forget Captain Tom Moore who raised in excess of £33m for the NHS. His Just Giving page is still open if you want to add to that sum.
Sadly, due to Covid 19, the anticipated publication by Sapere Books of my four Regency romantic novels has been delayed and I hope the first, The Reluctant Bride, will be with you in the spring. Since the cover is ready to go and I love it so much, here is what it will look like. Isn’t it fabulous!
In the meantime, I’ve written a tale to celebrate the season. Christmas at The Grange, available on Amazon, is an uplifting short story set in 1816, I hope it will bring you some cheer.
And so I return to the title of this piece. Whatever your persuasion, I wish every one of you a very Happy Christmas and hope it brings you all the good cheer you could wish for. Here’s to a better 2021