Interview by Ceri Wheeldon
Author Elizabeth Woodcraft talks about career as a writer, and the inspiration behind her latest book, The Girls from Greenway
I live in London but I’m originally from Chelmsford in Essex, where my recent books are set.
When did you start to write?
I’ve written stories and plays since I was small. My best friend Christine and I used to produce a newspaper, using a John Bull printing set and a lot of handwriting that we delivered to the houses in the street. I also used to write plays that we performed for the other children in the neighbourhood. ‘Granny is a Fusspot’ was one of my finest works (aged 8). I also had a lot of penfriends and wrote and from the age of 12 I kept a diary. In it I wrote about the people I met, the music, the fashion, dancing and romance (or the lack of it). And a lot of elephant jokes eg How do you know when an elephant’s been in the fridge? Footprints in the butter. It’s my diaries that have been the bedrock of my research.
What have been the challenges for you?
Reading the very small writing in my diary, and translating the bits of code I put in, in case anyone else picked it up. But I suppose the main challenge has been confidence – Can I write? Can I write a book? Is it any good?
What did you do prior to this?
I started out as a teacher and then I worked for Women’s Aid, the organisation that supports victims of domestic violence. As a result of that work, I retrained as a barrister.
When was your first book published?
My first two books were crime novels, about a feminist barrister, in 2000 and 2002, that I wrote when I was working as a barrister. But the books I really wanted to write were about the Sixties, the early Sixties, when Ready Steady Go! was on ITV, and frothy coffee appeared; when The Supremes and the Ronettes records were playing on the juke boxes in the local coffee bars and Vespa and Lambretta scooters roared round town. A time when we all wanted to buy our clothes in a boutique – if we could afford it, or get out the sewing machine if we couldn’t.
What is the title of your latest book?
The Girls from Greenway which is released 19th September 2019
What was the inspiration behind your latest book?
It’s a book about the Sixties. I was a teenager in the Sixties and I had a really good time! But very few people have written about what it was like to be a working-class girl in the early Sixties, and I thought there were still a few things to say!
What can you share with us about the plot – without spoiling the ending!
The story centres on two sisters, Angie and Doreen. They live at home, on the Greenway council estate, with their parents. Their dad is sometimes fun, but more often violent, and their mum is worn down by it all. But the family has dreams. Each week they do the pools, hoping for a big win. And they are also caught up in the possibility of a move to Australia, to start a new life there.
Angie has her own dreams for her future, but her parents want her to be sensible and bring in a steady income, so she is working in a factory. Doreen, her older sister, is disappointed by men, and now simply wants to grab life with both hands and have a good time. For different reasons, unknowingly, they fall in love with the same man.
Soon each member of the family has choices to make.
Who are the key characters – and how do you hope readers over 50 will relate to them?
I think for readers over 50 The Girls from Greenway will take them back to their own youth and the friends and fun they had then. Angie and Doreen are two young women who epitomise the Sixties – Angie wears a suede coat (she’s a mod), Doreen works in the bridal department of a local department store. They dance to Tamla Motown, go to the local boutique and ride on the back of scooters, but like all young women, go out with their mates, worry about their hair and their clothes, work hard, and fall in love.
What do like the most about the character/s you have created?
Angie and Doreen are kind, funny, loyal and brave. They’re good at flirting. Sometimes they do foolish things, but they learn from them, and come back fighting.
Are there any key issues you wanted to draw attention to?
The early Sixties was a time of change, young people had a bit more money, they had their own TV programmes such as Ready Steady Go! and Top of the Pops, but there were still strict moral codes. It was unusual to leave home before you got married, girls were not supposed to go ‘all the way’, domestic violence was rarely talked about. So, I suppose I wanted to show that there was good and bad, some wonderful things like the music and the dances, but there were also still problems. But at the end of the day, with love and support, you can find a way through the problems and realise your dreams.
What do want readers to take away having the read the book?
If they lived through the Sixties, I’d like them to finish the book with a smile on their face and think, ‘Yes, it was just like that!’ If they didn’t live through it, I’d like them to have a moment of nostalgia for a time they didn’t know and to think, ‘Oh I wish I’d lived then.’
What 3 tips would you offer women looking to write their first book?
Just write. Keep writing. Have a notebook with you at all times and jot down thoughts you have, funny things you hear, incidents you see.
Join a writing class which will give you a structure to start with.
And most of all – have confidence. You can do it!