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The Saturday Girls by Elizabeth Woodcraft

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Elizabeth Woodcraft © 10 September 2018.
Posted in the Magazine ( · General Fiction · Interviews ).

When I was 12 I began keeping a diary, a proper diary, a half page entry every day, recording the extraordinary events of my life. It was 1963. I had kept a diary before but never as assiduously as this. It consisted of lists of people I had seen on my way home from school. There was a lot of swooning noted if they actually said hello to me. Occasionally I mentioned occurrences in the outside world. I described the death of President Kennedy as very sad, and I set down the number of votes my dad got when he stood as a Labour candidate for Essex County Council. He won. When I became a mod I described the clothes I bought and how much they cost. A pale blue Orlon jumper £1 3s 11d, a bottle green Fred Perry top £1.5s.11d. My diaries were to become my research encyclopaedia of choice when I began to write The Saturday Girls.

I lived on a council estate in Essex and I had always written plays for the shows that my friends Catherine and Christine and I put on for the other children in the street. When I was a Brownie I went in for and gained a writer’s badge.

When I was at University I wrote one or two articles for the University newspaper, I wrote copious angst filled letters to friends and family and completed a few essays.

Eventually I became a barrister. Part of a barrister’s job is writing – an affidavit, a statement, a skeleton argument, in terms that will persuade a judge or a jury of the strength of your case. You have to tell a story. But never in 90,000 words.

I began a writing class at the City Lit in London. I loved it. Every week two or three people would read something and we would all critique their work, and then the tutor, the wonderful John Petherbridge, would give us an exercise and twenty minutes to write something. Frequently I found myself writing about my past as a mod girl. The stories mounted up.

I also started to write a crime novel, about a feminist barrister. I thought a crime novel would be easier because there is a certain framework in writing genre novels. John introduced us to an agent. A lot of us showed her our work and she agreed to take me on as a client. I was lucky enough to secure a two-book deal from HarperCollins.

But I still had my Sixties stories. I also had a blog about the Sixties, with videos of the great music of the time, with stories of my experience of those days, again relying on my diaries. I put it all together into a novel that I called Beyond the Beehive. I sent this version of the book to my agent who said she liked it, loved it even, but didn’t feel she could sell it. I sent it to John Petherbridge, my old City Lit tutor and he gave me some useful editorial advice. I completely revamped the book. Took out the beginning, changed the ending, and added a new character – Sylvie, the exotic older woman who has a past and an illegitimate baby.

I was still an infrequent member of a writing group, a spin off from the class. One Sunday I arrived at the flat we met in, where a new member was sitting at the table. She had just self-published her book, ‘Because,’ she said, ‘I knew if I didn’t I would never move on.’ And I thought – that’s it, that’s what I have to do.

I enrolled for a one-day Guardian Master-class on self-publishing. It was a great motivational day but short on practical detail. So I went back to City Lit and signed up for a two Saturday course. Our homework in the week between the two days was to practise what we had learned, using an out-of-copyright book. I thought – well, why not practise on some of my stories?  I had a whole pile that I hadn’t used in my novel. In the class we had been working on Kindle and as well as setting out the book and arranging the chapters, we had to make up a title and a description. All useful stuff. I was quite pleased with the end result. And I thought, why not use this as a learning curve? Why not actually publish this? And not just as an e-book, but also as a paperback. A photographer friend of mine, Christine Wilkinson, designed a fantastic cover and so my first self-published book A Sense of Occasion, a series of inter-connected short stories, was born.

It was hard work, organising and registering the ISBN, getting the book into shops, making sure there were supplies, lugging case-loads of books to events. But it was a great feeling to have a book out there. One of the stories was about Tommy Steele (rock star turned all round entertainer) coming to our house to tea (I should say this never actually happened). I wrote to Tommy Steele’s agent and asked if Tommy Steele might like to read the story. The answer was ‘Why not? Send it in.’ The next thing I knew was that Tommy Steele wrote to me saying that the story was ‘a lovely, lovely read.’ That was a big thrill.

One day I received an email. It was from the lead singer of a group who had played in Chelmsford in those mod years, Mark Shelley and the Deans, my favourite group. And they were still playing! He had read A Sense of Occasion and enjoyed it. Another thrill! I wrote back, breathlessly, and said I was about to publish a novel and asked would they play at the launch. He agreed. That was it – now I really had to get down to it and get the book out. I had left the Bar – I had no excuse.

My niece agreed to be the model for the front cover. I ordered a beehive wig and Billie posed outside my back door and Chris, who designed the cover for A Sense of Occasion, took some pictures and then created a beautiful cover. Some lovely friends read the book and gave me some nice quotes for the back.

Then I heard about Novel London. If you have completed your novel you can read the first chapter at a literary style evening, invite a few friends, in pleasant surroundings (in my case Waterstones in Covent Garden) with a glass of wine. And there I met Ben Cameron of Cameron Publicity and Marketing. We met again in the British Library and over coffee discussed what he thought were the possibilities for publicity for my book. I decided to invest some money and go with the professionals. And let me tell you – it paid off! They got me some lovely publicity, including several BBC interviews which in turn led to a great article in the East Anglian Daily Times, and somebody contacted my agent, asking if we had the TV and film rights to the book! I have to say nothing, so far, has come of that.

I discussed everything with my agent and she agreed to see if she could sell the newly vamped book, in the light of the interest that people were showing. And she found me a home with the wonderful new, exciting team at Bonnier Zaffre. My editor Tara Loder set to work and we dealt with the length of the book, ensuring that it had a good, narrative arc, sorted out the important characters and developed some pivotal aspects of the story. Bonnier Zaffre gave the book a new title The Saturday Girls and a new cover, to reflect the Bonnier Zaffre style. And now The Saturday Girls is out in the world.

I have a two-book deal – so I’m currently in the middle of the next book. It’s been a great experience.

(c) Elizabeth Woodcraft

About The Saturday Girls:

Perfect for fans of Daisy Styles and Rosie Clarke. If you loved An Education, Good Girls Revolt and Made in Dagenham then this is for you.

It’s 1964. England has shaken off its post-war gloom and the world is full of possibilities.

Best friends Sandra and Linda live on a housing estate in Essex. They are aspiring mods: they have the music, the coffee bar and Ready Steady Go! on a Friday night.

Having landed their first jobs, Linda and Sandra look set. But the world is changing rapidly, and both girls have difficult choices to make. As Sandra blindly pursues a proposal, Linda finds herself drawn to causes she knows are worth fighting for.

But when Sandra’s quest leads her to local bad boy Danny, she lands both her and Linda in more trouble than they bargained for . . .

Order your copy online here.


Elizabeth Woodcraft grew up on a working class housing estate in Essex. She was a mod and worked in the local milk bar. She became a barrister, practising from the chambers of Michael Mansfield QC, representing Greenham Common peace campaigners, striking miners, and anti-apartheid campaigners, as well as domestic violence survivors and children who suffered abuse in and out of the home. Now she is a full time writer. She spends time in Paris, where she writes but also drinks a lot of coffee. The rest of the time she sits in her kitchen in London drinking coffee and writing. Her most recent books are set in the Sixties - mods and rockers, the music of Motown, milk bars and ban-the-bomb marches. With memories of the war and the effects of rationing still being felt, young people are tasting the freedom a little money can bring. The Saturday Girls (formerly Beyond the Beehive) was published in August 2018 by Bonnier Zaffre. Talking about A Sense of Occasion, Elizabeth's collection of interlinked short stories, also set in 60s Essex, writer and social commentator Beatrix Campbell said: 'Woodcraft has a light, lovely and loving touch. Her Chelmsford stories are intense, easy, evocative of times, places and passions.' Her crime novel Good Bad Woman (HarperCollins) the first in a series featuring barrister Frankie Richmond, was short listed for a CWA prize for best first crime novel, and won a Lambda award in the US. A third Frankie Richmond novel - Crazy Arms - is on the way. www.elizabethwoodcraft.com Follow her on Twitter @lizwoodcraft
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