We chat to author Elaine Everest about her novel “A Gift From Woolworths”, plus money off voucher
Every month we’ll be chatting to a different writer about their latest release. This time, best-seller Elaine Everest tells us about writing her novel, “A Gift From Woolworths”.
IT still surprises me when I think how my memories of being a Saturday girl at the Dartford branch of F.W. Woolworths – way back in 1969 – would lead to writing the “Woolworths Girls” series of books.
Back then, we youngsters had to be fifteen years and three months before we could have a Saturday job. Only girls from the top stream of my secondary modern school were allowed to apply for a job, as we had to take an arithmetic test.
There were no tills that added up at that time, so counter staff would have to use a notepad and then ring up the total sum on a large, imposing till akin to the one in “Open All Hours”
And yes, I did feel it would spring open and bite me, at times!
Along with a few school chums, I would take the train one stop from my home in Slade Green and walk through the market town of Dartford for an 8.30 a.m. start.
We would have to sign in, and we were checked by a supervisor to make sure our horrid, sludgegreen overalls were clean and presentable, and that we had a notepad and pencil securely tied to the waistband.
I won’t forget the horror of the voluminous sleeves that fastened into a cuff, and the full skirt – no slim-line overall for us!
I recall the staff manager to be stern, wearing a smart suit, but always approachable.
If there was a store manager, he was never part of the working day for this shy fifteen-year-old.
This is where my first thoughts came from when I sketched out my character, Betty Billington.
Like Sarah, Maisie and Freda, I, too, worked with my friends. We were pleased when our tea breaks and lunch hours coincided and we could chat over home-made cakes and a cup of tea upstairs.
The mother of one of my friends worked in the subsidised staff canteen, so I learned about what she did during her working day.
No doubt this experience came to the fore when my “Woolies” girls had their breaks and shared confidences over a cuppa during the dark days of World War II.
The Woolworths store where I set my books was not far from my home but, being smaller, did not take on so many Saturday staff.
Fortunately all stores had similar interiors, and having visited and shopped there since I was a child, I was familiar with the place I now hold so dear.
I only discovered after “The Woolworths Girls” was published that my sister-inlaw and also a cousin’s wife had been Saturday girls in that very store. What a small world!
I’m sure that my happy childhood and school days play a big part in my memories of working for Woolworths, just as my first home as a young bride meant that this became the family home of Ruby and Sarah Caselton.
Yes, that bay-fronted house in Alexandra Road actually exists, still standing after surviving two world wars and numerous doit-yourself attempts by enthusiastic homeowners.
No wonder I am a happy author who is able to share her memories with my wonderful readers! ■
Elaine’s own memories inspired her books.