Sometimes you find a niche where you know you just fit. That’s how I felt when I joined the Romantic Novelists’ Association and then the RNA Saga Writers group on Facebook. I was made very welcome and, in fact, was interviewed:on the Write Minds blog https://bit.ly/2VhEPg7, run by two of the members:Francesca Capaldi Burgess and Elaine Roberts.
I wanted to discover how and why, like me, they wrote family sagas, with a little romance thrown in. So I asked if any of them would be interested in discussing that. I certainly received some fascinating answers.
This is the third of my interviews with a Romantic Saga Author, and today I’m delighted to be talking to Elaine Everest.
Welcome, Elaine, lovely to see you here today.
Thank you so much for inviting me to your blog, Judith.
Let me start by asking, When you started writing your book, did you intend to write a family saga – or series of stories rather than one story?
That’s an interesting question as when I was fist contracted by Pan Macmillan it was for ‘The Woolworths Girls and one other book.’ I recall at an early lunch with my then editor I asked about writing series and was told they never commission series. Fast forward a year to publication of The Woolworths Girls, and by then I had submitted book two (The Butlins Girls) and was away on a writing retreat working on The Teashop Girls – a second contract. A phone call from my, editor who was thrilled to tell me the Woolworths book had gone into the bestseller charts. I was told to stop what I was writing and start another Woolies book. A series was born! Readers have been wonderful and still ask for more books set in that iconic store. I also started something of a trend and was named Queen of the Workplace Saga by The Bookseller. Since then I’ve started a series set on the Kent coast in WW2 about the lives of Nippies working in the well-known Lyon’s teashops, which seems to have started a trend for café and teashop novels.
I’m fortunate in that I’m not commissioned to write a series but can move between different books so that if readers enjoy a story I can write a second. My current novel, Christmas with the Teashop Girls is the second in the series and I’d love to return to tell more about the lives of Rose, Lily, Katie, and their extended families but that will be for another year as there are currently two books written for 2021. The first returns to Erith and the girls from Woolworth, but with a twist. It is 1905 and we follow matriarch Ruby Caselton as a young woman when moves into her new home in Alexandra Road.
Which do think is more important, the family story or the romance?
It has to be the family story. Sagas contain the trials and tribulations of multi-generational families and although romance does play a part in their lives there is so much more to tell. Social history plays a big part as well as the warmth and frustrations of family life along with good times and bad. I do love a good romance in my books, but I also enjoy throwing bricks at my girls, so their lives are never straightforward. Let’s face it our lives hardly ever run smoothly so why should a character in a book?
How important do you think it is to research the historical background, locations, features of the era, your characters live in
Research is paramount even before a book is suggested to my publisher. What’s that saying, ‘we live in interesting times?’ Well, so must my characters. Readers want to learn more about the town where our girls live and work. Research also throws up little nuggets of information we can weave a story around. In A Mother Forever (Jan/Mar 2021) I cover munitions workers in the 1920s and knowing my grandmother, Cissie Whiffen, worked in the very factory where my characters earned a living made it extra special. I even gave her a small part in the book. I only learned of her work after her death, so it is very much a fictional part for a real person.
We should never throw too much history into our sagas as the plot is paramount. It is easy to tell when new saga authors have done this – I call it ‘product placement!’ Although I’ve written many books set in WW2, I did venture back to Erith in the early 1900s and it was a joy to attend talks about brickworks, WW1 and hospitals treating the facially wounded in that area. Local history is a gift to a historical novelist.
How do you manage to keep track of all the characters in your book/s over a stretch of time?
Chatting to author friends we all have different methods. For me I like to have a nice new A5 hardback notebook – any excuse to buy stationery! This book has a few pages for each character and I diligently add information about them as I write the book. This becomes my bible, and if the time comes to write another in the seirs I have that book to go back on not only to read but to add to.
I’m just planning a book for 2022 that revisits Woolworths in the 1950s and this time I am writing about the older children and in a way I’ve moved on a generation, although my old characters will still be around. I’m excited about this as not only will it carry on the series, but I can show Erith and the surrounding area after WW2 and how people are still coping in a time where there is still rationing, and for some deprivation. This will mean I’ve covered fifty years of history of the town where I was born. Another one book and I’ll appear as a baby!
A saga demands change, both in its characters and its world, How important is the time period to the development of your narrative?
The time period is very important. For one thing it has to interest my reader and for another it is part of carry the story forward through the years. As my books are set in a real place I do feel an obligation to the families living there to get my story right. It may be that their loved ones lived through a tragedy, or perhaps a happy time, and to have my characters live it to and then be told ‘you got it right’ is truly satisfying. One of the biggest honours I’ve experienced was when I reader write to me to say her daughter had never been interested in history so when she had to take part in a school project her mum gave her a copy of my books and the young lady was hooked and now enjoys the subject. Thinking back, I too learned so much about the love of history from saga authors such as Dee Williams, Carol Rivers, and Iris Gower.
Although my Woolworths series is now moving into the 1950s – and also visited 1905 – I’m not sure if it had started then the books would have been so popular. World War Two is a big draw to readers as it can relates to their own family history with parents and grandparents having played their part in what was a most important time in world history. This is why I feel we authors should do our best to write the truth and not make it up as we go along.
Elaine Everest hails from North West Kent and she grew up listening to stories of the war years in her hometown of Erith, which features in her bestselling Woolworths Girls series. A former journalist, and author of non-fiction books for dog owners, Elaine has written over one hundred short stories for the women’s magazine market. A winner of major competitions including BBC Radio short story of the year writer, and runner up in the Harry Bowling Prize she enjoys a writing challenge. This includes broadcasting live on radio and having to think on her feet when asked awkward questions while giving talks.
When she isn’t writing, Elaine runs The Write Place creative writing school in Hextable, Kent. She lives with her husband, Michael and Polish Lowland sheepdog, Henry.
Elaine’s next book, A Mother Forever, is available for pre order on all good selling site and available in supermarkets and bookstores from 4th March (hardback January 2021):
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 the moving story of one woman’s journey through the worst trials of her life – poverty, grief, betrayal – but through it all is the love and comfort she finds in family: the family we’re connected to through blood, but also the family we make for ourselves with neighbours and friends.
Facebook :Elaine Everest Author
Amazon: (Christmas with the Teashop Girls) https://tinyurl.com/yxagxk7r
Amazon: (A Mother Forever) https://tinyurl.com/y2fswqsl