Hello, Elaine and a very warm welcome to The Romaniacs’ blog and congratulations on the publication of your novel THE WOOLWORTH GIRLS.
Thank you, Romaniacs, it’s an honour to be your guest.
Could you begin by telling us a little about yourself and your publishing journey?
This is where I realize how old I am! I’ve always written and like fellow writers love a new blank notebook and possibly a fountain pen in my Christmas stocking. Pip the pixie was my first novel on a Petit Typewriter. I have no idea what happened to that masterpiece! In my fifth year at secondary school I had a teacher who realised I could write and made me feel special and not the shy girl at the back of the class. But, being a writer was not an option at my school so I trained and worked in accountancy for many years moving onto office management. I also had a Saturday job as a Woolies Girl that has come in handy recently.
My lovely dad died in 1997 and it made me think about my future. I knew I wanted to concentrate on my writing. I’d also walked away from a horrid job with bullying bosses so decided to attend adult education classes and just go for it. I started selling short stories and moved to articles and features, always learning along the way. My specialism was the world of dogs, as that is another part of my life, and I was commissioned to write three non-fiction books for dog owners. All that time I was dabbling with writing novels but it wasn’t until I joined the Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers’ Scheme that I knuckled down and concentrated on my novels. My second year submission was a saga and was picked up by a publisher – I was now a full member of the RNA! It also led to a fortuitous meeting with Literary Agent, Caroline Sheldon who signed me up on the strength of a one-page outline of a story called Sixpenny Sarah. I had written three chapters when Caroline secured a two-book contract with Pan Macmillan and the hard work began.
The Woolworths Girls is a great title and I’m sure will bring back fond memories for many readers. Did the title come first or the setting? What inspired the story?
The setting came first. I set my sagas in North West Kent where I was born and grew up. The town of Erith, before it was razed to the ground and replaced with a concrete jungle in 1966, was a lovely place to live. On the bank of the River Thames with a thriving shipping and retail area we had everything required to shop locally. I’d lived in a Victorian terraced house close to the town and knew it had survived two world wars. I’ve often thought what stories that house could tell. It became the home of my main character, Sarah, when she lived with her nan, Ruby. Sarah was starting work and would meet her two new friends, Maisie and Freda. Where better than the Woolies I’d known and loved and a store known by many people with fondness. It was a joy to write.
Have you always wanted to write in the era The Woolworths Girls is set in? What attracted you to it and what sort of research have you had to do?
I love the thirties and forties. In many ways it was a time of innocence for women and so much happened on the home front while the men went away to war. It was the women who interested me most. How they lived and loved and carried on despite the horrendous situations they found themselves living in at times. Just imagine sending children away not knowing where they were while worrying about a husband fighting on foreign shores or high in the sky. I’m lucky that Woolworths had a fabulous museum and the curator came up with all kinds of information for me about the Erith store. The London Borough of Bexley (Erith has now slipped into the London Boroughs) has so much information about the era I’m interested in and on Facebook I belong to local groups where members are only too pleased to tell me stories of their family during the war.
I’m never really sure if a book set in and around the 1940’s is classed as a historical or not. Is there a rule for this?
1940 is definitely classed as historical. In fact I’ve been informed that the sixties, and even the seventies, can be historical. That does make me feel old! (Sue : I think it makes a lot of us feel old! The seventies … historical!)
I think I read that you were able to pick the models for the cover of The Woolworths Girls, could you tell us about the process?
Yes, my editor and the production team were extremely generous sharing the cover plans with me. I was sent a large file of images of professional models and was able to point out who I thought looked like Sarah and Maisie. It was hard to look past the modern hair-styles and make up to see my girls from 1938. Fortunately the models I chose were in the shortlist. As the photo shoot day approached Pan Macmillan had to source uniforms of the period and again the curator of the Woolworths Museum came up trumps with the right style although the colour was not correct. After the shoot was complete I was sent many images and told to ignore the grey uniform as the colour would change. It was hard to find a short list of images as they were so good, but again my choices were considered and then the sales and marketing people took over, they are the experts on the right image for the book shelf but by then I was convinced they had done a super job.
Thank you so much for sending such interesting questions.