Thank you so much for inviting me into the RNA blog. Tell us about your new release, The Woolworths Saturday Girls.
I loved writing this book, the ninth in The Woolworth series as we have reached the 1950s and meet the daughters of the original Woolies girls, who are still very much part of my stories.
The four girls, Clemmie, Bessie, Claudette and Dorothy are now Saturday girls, but each has a dream for the future. They are very close and when one of them falls in with a bad lad they help her face the consequences. As always, my book is full of life in the town of Erith at that time and even includes a visit from a young Margaret Thatcher, who give our Betty Billington a few ideas…
What drew you to writing historical fiction and specifically about Kent in WW2?
Like many writers I have turned my hand to other genres before I favoured writing sagas. I was born and grew up in Erith, the setting for my Woolworths store. I know the community, the history and how special the town is to many people. The Erith we know now is nothing like the wonderful town by the river Thames that locals remember. I grew up hearing my family and neighbours talk of times gone by, and that resonated with me when I started to write my first saga, Gracie’s War long before I started writing or Pan Macmillan.
Where do you find the inspiration for your characters?
By people that I knew from the town as well as family and neighbours. When I married in 1972, I moved into number 13 Alexandra Road and readers will recognise that as Ruby Caselton’s house in the Woolies series. I got to know people who had lived in the road long before WW2 and some had been born in the houses where they still lived. There were so many stories and I devoured them for years before deciding to write novels.
Where were you when you found out that your book made it to the Sunday Times Bestseller list? How did you celebrate?
I was in Ramsgate on a writing retreat with three author friends when I took the call from my editor. The Woolworths Girls had been published several weeks before and I’d already filed The Butlins Girls and ads busy writing a book about Joe Lyon’s Nippies, set in Ramsgate. We’d taken a break and were enjoying ice creams sitting by the harbour when my phone rang. I was informed how well The Woolworths Girls had done and to stop writing the current books and to start another Woolworths book. My standalone novel had become the start of a bestselling series. There was much celebrating that night!
What’s your favourite way of keeping in touch with your readers?
I love going out to meet readers and giving talks about my writing life and my books. However, that has all changed these past two years and instead I have my Facebook author page, Twitter, blog and Zoom to reach out to readers. It has been a joy to go out once again and see the faces of my readers – even if they are wearing masks!
You’ve been in this business for a while. What is something that newly published authors should know that they won’t know?
Yes, I became a freelance writer in 1997 and have been fortunate to earn my living on my laptop ever since, later years as a novelist. My advice is not to compare yourself to other authors as we all tread our own path. Grasp every opportunity and don’t be complacent. No longer can we ‘just write a book’ and expect it to sell. Readers will not beat a path to our door – we must reach out to them.
The late and much missed Jane Wenham Jones once told me that cream rises and to have faith in your abilities as a writer. I feel that is something we should all remember.
You run your own retreats at The Write Place. How valuable are writing retreats for authors? Are they more useful for new authors or do you find a lot of experienced authors come, too?
I have run The Write Place creative writing classes for over ten years and before that I taught CW part time for Kent Adult Education Services.
My classed used to run weekly, but since Covid we have moved online, which has been supported and enjoyed by students. We recently met for afternoon tea and were surprised how we all looked a little older and world weary! I have student at varying levels in their careers – every one of my students must understand they have joined a profession and act accordingly. Many of my students have been successful in their writing and quite a few are now full members of the RNA, with a few still NWS members who are teetering on the brink of publication. I’m proud of every one of them.
When the world was sane, I ran workshops as well as one-day retreats, with at least one retreat by the sea each year. Hopefully we will be able to return to normality very soon.
Do you have a strict daily writing ritual or are you more relaxed? Please tell us about it.
I do have a writing routine, although it can change if I’m giving a talk or out doing research. Like my students I keep a Weekly Goal Sheet where I list every task as well as word and editing goals. There is nothing more delightful than being able to tick each job off that sheet! I like to have cleared all emails, social media, and other tasks by midday so that after lunch I can settle down to write. A recent problem with my eyes meant that I’ve had to step back a little from being at my computer all day. My editor, Wayne Brooks at Pan MacMillan and my agent, Caroline Sheldon have been so supportive during this worrying time.
How did you meet your agent?
Would you believe it was while I was serving on the committee and running the RNA blog? Carline contacted me to ask if I would like an article about the longevity of saga for the blog. Of course, I did! We started to correspond for the blog piece and Caroline noticed I’d written a saga, Grace’s War, which had meant I’d graduated from the RNA New Writers’ Scheme. I was invited to her office to have a chat and showed her a half page idea I had set in Woolworths and was offered a contract. I have the RNA blog to thank for that.
How do you find your ideas and what are you working on next?
Like many seasoned writers I can come up with story and novel ideas at the drop of a hat. It’s all about using our writing muscle and keeping it flexible. However, the writing is a different matter. I started out writing articles and short stories for national magazines and newspapers and as it was my job if I didn’t come up with ideas, I’d not earn a living. Just as I teach my students, I can use song titles, snippets from the news, historical events and ask myself ‘what if this happened…’
As I write this, I’m working on my next novel which covers the early years of one of the well-known Woolworths characters, Betty Billington. It means going back to 1917 and following her through to 1938 when The Woolworths Girls story starts.
I’m also busy with promotion work alongside my publishers and my EDPR who take care of me and my books. The Woolworth Saturday Girls is published in paperback, audio, and eBook on 17th March and will be available in supermarkets and all good bookstores.
Elaine has been speaking with:
Julia Boggio is a writer, photographer, mother, Peloton lover, runner, and Christmas card enthusiast. She is also an original You Tube star. Her wedding dance went viral, sparking a worldwide trend in choreographed first dances. She and her husband appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, where she danced with Patrick Swayze, BBC Breakfast, Richard & Judy, Sky News, and many more. She has two cats who hate each other.