My guest this week is author Elaine Everest who is well known for her ‘The Woolworth Girls’ series. Elaine’s latest release is ‘A Mother Forever‘ which traces the early years of Ruby Caselton, who appears in The Woolworth Girls. Elaine is interviewing Ruby today.
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.
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Let’s move onto Elaine’s interview with Ruby:
Today I’m chatting to seventy-year-old Ruby Caselton. It is 1950 and we are looking back to the early years of the century when she moved into number thirteen Alexandra Road in Erith as a young wife and mother. Ruby is still living in the house some forty-five years later.
Welcome Ruby, why did it mean so much for you to move to Erith?
‘Oh, my love, if only you knew what it was like for me before we moved to this town.
My Eddie wasn’t in a steady job at the time, and even with me out cleaning money was hard to come by. A few times we had to pack up and move on and each time we moved it was to a smaller and shabbier home. In the end there was the four of us, my Mum lived with us by then, in two rooms and had to share an outhouse and kitchen. Eddie’s bit of luck in getting hold of number thirteen was a dream come true. I vowed the day we moved in they’d have to carry me out of that house in a box – it hasn’t happened yet.’
What did you love about the town?
‘Crikey, give me a minute to think about that. It’s been a while you know. You know, people complained about the smell from the river, the smog and living close to the docks but I loved it. You wouldn’t know it now but there was a posh side to Erith and the streets were lined with big houses and trees – yes, there were trees everywhere. I wanted my boy, George to grow up in this town rather than Woolwich and Deptford where we’d lived before. There was work opportunities for my Eddie, if only he would get up off his backside an find one, and decent schools for my boy. I could spend all day looking in the many shop windows and looking was all it was as I didn’t have two spare farthings to rub together, we were that broke once I’d scraped the money together for the rent.’
Was it easy to make friends with your new neighbours?
‘Oh yes, the folk in Alexandra Road are lovely, well apart from the old girl next door. She took an instant dislike to me. Call herself a church goer? I’d best stop right now or I’ll say something uncharitable! All my life I’ve been blessed with decent neighbours. Do anything for you they would, apart from you know who that is. One even saved my life…’
So much happens in the time we follow you from 1905 to 1924 however did you cope?
‘You got to haven’t you. No one else will help you in this life. I always say we women have to cope with what life throws at us. Women are the heart of any family and have to carry on. When I look back at that time, I do wonder how we managed what with the war and everything else. It a good job I didn’t know what life was going to throw at me ha ha!’
You have to keep secrets from your good friends. Was that hard?
‘I had no choice. It broke my heart to not be able to share what was happening in my life with Stella, my closest friend from over the road. In the end it caused all kinds of trouble. Night on broke my heart.’
Can you see yourself ever moving away from your home in Erith?
‘Well, I haven’t yet, but who knows? It’s a latge house for just me and the old man to rattle about in, but I get to see my big family all the time and can always offer a bed to someone in need.’
What about the future, Ruby?
‘Now you’re asking me! Well, I’ve got a big birthday on the horizon and know I’ll get spoilt rotten by my loved ones. Beyond that I don’t know, although I’d like a trip to Margate down on the coast and dip my toes in the sea, it’s a rare treat to be able to do that. Along with a plate of cockles walking along the prom, and a fish and chip supper I’ll enjoy a few hours in Dreamland then come home on the charabanc as happy as Larry.’
Thank you for answering my questions, Ruby
‘Thank you, my love. Have you got time for another cup of tea and a slice of bread pudding? I’ll put the kettle on.’
PRAISE FOR ELAINE EVEREST’S BOOKS
“A warm, tender tale of friendship” Milly Johnson
“Warm characters and moving tales” Sunday Express
“A charming, warm-hearted read” Take A Break
“Heart-warming… a must-read” Woman’s Own
“A lovely read” Bella
I’ve just read this book and highly recommend it. You can read my review on The Books I’ve Read and Loved in 2021 page of this blog.
Elaine hails from North West Kent and 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, author of non-fiction books for dog owners, and qualified creative writing tutor. Elaine has written well over one hundred short stories for the women’s magazine market. When she isn’t writing, Elaine runs The Write Place creative writing school in Hextable, Kent.
Elaine is currently published by Pan Macmillan for her Sunday Times Bestselling historical sagas including The Woolworths Girls series and The Teashop Girls series and is represented by Caroline Sheldon at the Caroline Sheldon Literary Agency. She lives with her husband, Michael and Polish Lowland Sheepdog Henry.
You can find out more about Elaine on:
Twitter : @ElaineEverest
Facebook: Elaine Everest Author
We’re returning to Port Medden, the little Cornish town where my bestselling The Cornish Hotel by the Sea is set. Don’t miss One Summer in Cornwall. Preorder now: Amazon