Meet Elaine Everest, Sunday Times Bestseller historical saga writer.

Welcome, Elaine,

The success of The Woolworth Girls and The Teashop Girls series is partly down to your in-depth understanding of the characters, setting and conflicts that these women faced. What is it about this generation that resonated so strongly with your desire to write their stories?

Thank you so much for inviting me to your blog, Valerie.

I grew up during the 1950 and 1960s listening to my mum’s stories of her life as a child during the war years. Add to that my dad’s family gatherings and living in a small town with so much war history it is no wonder I was hooked on writing about the forties and fifties. It was later I began to ask myself what happened to my older characters before WW2, and I delved into life for them earlier in the century.

As for The Teashop Girls, the idea came about as I spent many happy holidays as a child in Ramsgate, and of course we stayed in guest houses. It was the perfect setting for my Nippies.

How has your experience as a former journalist prepared you for life as a fiction writer?

Above anything else the discipline needed to be a freelance journalist helped me in my quest to be a published author. I started writing for my living in 1997 after my dad died. It was a life changing year when I realised if I didn’t change my life then I’d never do it. I’d left an awful job, been ill and lost loved ones. Of course, I’d dabbled as a writer, but made that conscious effort to turn my writing into a career. My first love was short fiction, and I did write short stories for magazines. However, the money was in article writing and as I needed to earn a living, I started to pitch ideas to magazines while still dreaming of being a novelist. I had a goal and never wavered.

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You ‘graduated’ from the Romantic Novelists’ Association’ fabulous New Writers’ Scheme – how important was this to you in forging your saga writing career?

It took me three years to be accepted onto the scheme. Back in those days we had to apply by letter and places were fewer than they are today. Because of my journalism CV, and by then I’d also qualified as a tutor, I was offered an ‘associate membership’. I turned it down as I really wanted to learn the craft and there was no place better than with the NWS. It was a proud day when I graduated and by then I’d met my literary agent, Caroline Sheldon.

Which came first, success as a short story writer or as a saga writer?

Short stories came first, and at that time magazine opportunities were plentiful. In fact, some short story writers earned a very good living from short fiction writing for publications around the world. To begin with I didn’t attempt writing sagas even though I read many saga novels. I dabbled with romcom and crime writing, in fact, one of my romcoms was placed in a shortlist for the prestigious Harry Bowling Prize in 2003.

Do you enjoy reading across genres?

I do. If there is something in the blurb that attracts me then I’ll purchase the book. All forms of crime as well as romcom are my favourite genres.

I am also a dog-lover and read that you have written non-fiction books about dog-rearing. Is this something you would still like to develop further?

I’ve written three books for dog owners. It was a natural progression from specialising in canine articles to being commissioned to write those books. It also fitted in with my breeding, showing, and judging lifestyle which was a very happy time in my life. I would at some time like to rewrite the dog showing book as so much has changed since the book was published.

I recently bumped into an Old English Sheepdog owner and was surprised to learn that they are declining in numbers, are you still breeding them?

They are a declining breed and have been put onto the ‘vulnerable breed’ register by the UK Kennel Club. Although an adorable breed they are high maintenance and don’t fit into the modern family lifestyle. Breeding takes a lot of commitment and I’ve not had a litter for some time. At the moment we own Henry, a Polish Lowland Sheepdog who was brought over from France for us by good friends in the breed. Their journey to collect him in a snowstorm is a novel in itself!

Please tell us about The Write Place.

I started to teach creative writing some twenty years ago for Kent Adult Education Services and after a while decided to branch out on my own and set up The Write Place. I’ve made many friends and seen so many students published during that time and feel it is an honour to have played a part in their writing lives. Since the pandemic classes have moved online and teaching has changed although students are doing just as well, I’m pleased to say.

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What inspired The Woolworths Saturday Girls?

‘Saturday Girls’ came out in mid-March and has been welcomed by readers of the previous seven books. It is now 1950 and we focus on the children of some of our original Woolies staff. I was aware as I wrote the books that the youngsters were getting older in each book and began to wonder what they would get up to. Of course, they would become Saturday girls and I’d also include their mothers in my stories. I could never day goodbye to Sarah, Maise, Freda, Betty, and Ruby.

The real world has been challenging in recent years and is ever more so now. What do you do to relax and to help you focus on still hitting targets and deadlines?

Like many people I read a lot more books and I eat far too much! Contracts still had to be honoured and despite not knowing how life would pan out I had to meet those deadlines. Sadly, so many authors found their books not appearing in supermarkets when people could only shop for ‘essential item’ – I thought books were essential? We sold more eBooks, and we moved our talks online.
I also started sewing again and I have The Patchwork Girls to thank for that. Researching and writing about women who sewed during WW2 brought back my love of crafting and dressmaking.

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What is next for Elaine?

The past six months changed my writing life so much. A serious problem with my eyes meant I had to step away from the computer screen with book publication dates having to be changed. I’m on the mend now, but sadly my eyes tire easily, and I’ve been told this can take around two years to rectify. I’m learning to work around my ‘bad eye days’ and control stress levels to control my blood pressure.

However, I have almost finished writing The Woolworth Girls Promise and hopefully publication will be early in 2023.

I am sorry to learn about your eye problems and hope they heal really soon. Good luck with your ongoing projects and work.

Links:

Website: elaineeverest.com

Twitter: @elaineeverest

Facebook: Elaine Everest Author

Instagram elaine.everest

Meet Sophie Duffy!

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When did you discover your love of books?

I could read before I started school so as long as I can remember I’ve loved books. Mum or Dad read to me every night and once they’d tucked me up, I would hide under the bedclothes with a torch, up late (a notoriously bad sleeper all my life), with a heap of books, looking at the pictures and making up stories until I could make out the text. I loved Ladybird books (which I still have on my bookshelves), Enid Blyton, especially Mr Pink-Whistle and Amelia Jane, and ‘Twinkle’, the comic I got every week as we lived above the newsagent’s run by my parents in Torquay.

When did you decide that you wanted to write your own?

I wrote a lot of stories when I was a child but that fizzled out by the time I reached secondary school when I was more concerned with Wham! and boys. At university I studied English and wrote bad poetry. It wasn’t until my children were small that I went to a creative writing class at the adult education college. By the end of that first lesson I was hooked, and knew I wanted to be a writer. I was 33. It was another ten years before I had my debut novel published.

What can a reader expect from a Sophie Duffy novel? 

The reader can expect a nostalgia-fest with a few tears and laughs along the way. They will get a blended, dysfunctional family or group of friends, and a main character trying to negotiate their hazardous journey through the world with all its ups and downs.

Change and facing the difficulties that this presents is a strong theme in your novels. How much of an influence has change in your own life experience driven the empathy you create for your own protagonists?

 The one certainty in life is that we will face change. It’s how we adapt to change that marks us as individuals. Sometimes we resist change, sometimes we embrace it. We might make bad decisions. We probably will. And it’s the repercussions of these decisions that echo down the years that I am interested in as a writer.

 

The award winning The Generation Game (The Yeovil Literary Prize 2006 and Luke Bitmead Bursary 2010) confronts many issues including childhood abandonment and buried secrets. Where did the idea for this acclaimed novel come from?

The idea for ‘The Generation Game’ came from a short story wot I wrote. The idea for the story came from my early childhood when we lived above the newsagent’s (also a sweetshop/tobacconist’s) in the early 70s. Sadly, my father took his own life when I was ten which I suppose counts as abandonment of sorts, so maybe that is why I am drawn to this as a theme. Love and loss go hand in hand but I truly believe that love – often from unexpected places – conquers all. I have bitter sweet memories (if you’ll pardon the pun) from this era, as do most of Generation X who grew up in the golden years of Saturday night television. We have seen several of our childhood icons fall by the wayside in the wake of Operation Yewtree. Thank goodness for Sir Brucie is all I can say.

This Holey Life (runner up of The Harry Bowling Prize 2008) is another successful novel that looks at change and faith with humour, yet balanced reality. What was the greatest challenge this project posed?

I was worried that readers might be put off by a vicar’s wife as a main character but felt encouraged when I saw ‘Rev’ on the television, a sitcom which looks at life in the church and all the eccentric characters that make up a spiritual community. It’s not a ‘Christian’ book as such but a story that embraces life with all its flaws and imperfections.

 

You are part of the Creative Writing Matters team. How much do you enjoy sharing what you have learned with new writers?

It’s brilliant! I know how much I have learned and continue to learn from other writers. I know that being a writer is a life long process and that I receive more from my students than they get from me. Administering the Exeter Novel Prize and the Exeter Story Prize has also been a revelation. Having read hundreds of thousands of words over the years, I understand more about what makes good writing and good storytelling. I hope this feeds into my own work!

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What key piece of advice would you give to an, as yet, unpublished author?

If it’s what you really want, then keep trying. Don’t give up. Enter competitions where your writing will be both read and considered. Keep writing. Read a lot. Listen to feedback, sit on it, and when it rings true, rewrite, edit, submit.

 

What is next for Sophie?

I have just signed a contract for the next book. All I can say for now is the novel involves two ninety year old ladies, one of whom is the queen. Watch this space…