Deborah Swift talks Home Front Girls with Rosie Goodwin, the new Catherine Cookson
Rosie Goodwin has been billed as ‘the new Catherine Cookson’. Her latest book Home Front Girls is just out. Deborah Swift took the chance to talk to Rosie about her newest book and about what it felt like to step into the shoes of such a giant.
DS: There is a huge interest in WWII at the moment, what it do you think it is about this period that is so appealing to you as a writer?
RG: I suppose it’s because it’s something I heard my parents talk about. My dad was in the navy and as a child I loved to hear the stories he would tell about his time in Israel. My dad loved writing too, perhaps that’s where I get it from, and while he was there he used to write love poems for the other sailors to send home to their sweethearts. I find it really fascinating when I research that era, there were so many terrible things happening and yet communities seemed to stick together much more then. For instance, if someone lost their home in a bombing raid it was quite normal for a neighbour to take them in and share what they had with them until they could find somewhere else to go.
DS: Shopping in the 1930’s and 40’s must have been a far cry from today’s internet shopping. Owen Owen department store must have been fascinating to research. Can you tell us a little about this process?
RG: Yes, it seems that working in a department store back then was very different to how today’s large stores operate. Again, it appears that was a great sense of sticking together, the employees in each department were like a little family unit and it was quite usual for them to be taken out on day trips to the seaside and places of interest courtesy of their employer on high days and holidays. There would be small competitions for the best kept department and they were all proud of their work.
DS: Your books are renowned for their depiction of family relationships, but in ‘Home Front Girls’, the relationships you focus on are those of three different girls from different social backgrounds. Perhaps you could give us an insight into where the inspiration for these women came from?
RG: Truthfully, my ideas seem to come from nowhere, but this time I suppose I wanted to put across how the war affected people from all walks of life from the very privileged to the poor. I loved creating Annabelle, Lucy and Dotty and it was wonderful to be able to weave a story around each one of them, almost as if I as writing three separate books.
We had Annabelle, who had led a very privileged life, the only daughter of a wealthy business man. She wasn’t too happy at all when her father left to go to war and she was suddenly forced to work for a living. Then there is Lucy, who lived with her older brother and little sister. She was left to care for the little one when her brother joined up and forced to take a job to make ends meet. And finally poor Dotty who had grown up in an orphanage and who longed to know about her parentage. Finally living in her own little flat she soon found that life could be lonely outside the confines of an institution. The three girls came together in Owen Owen and an unlikely friendship that would last a lifetime was forged as they each did their little bit for the war effort. And of course there were huge secrets in each of their pasts that once they came to light changed their lives and the way they viewed themselves forever.
DS: You have written sequels to three of Catherine Cookson’s trilogies, the Hamilton trilogy, The Mallen Trilogy and the Tilly Trotter series. What do you think makes Catherine Cookson books so enduring and how do you use these ingredients in your own books?
RG: Being asked to follow Catherine Cookson was one of the proudest days of my life although I was fearful that I wouldn’t do her justice. I have always been a great fan of hers and think the magic comes from her books being so easy to read. They seem to just flow along effortlessly and she had the gift of bringing her characters to life so that her readers could really believe in them.
DS: But it must have been quite daunting to step into the shoes of such a popular writer. How did you go about finding her voice yet keeping your own? Was there a difference in style between the three Cookson series, and which did you find suited your own way of writing the most?
RG: I think I enjoyed writing Tilly Trotter’s Legacy the most although I I loved writing all of them. They were three very different stories, particularly the sequel to the Hamilton trilogy as that was slightly more modern day and written in first person which I hadn’t attempted before. I admit that once I had agreed to do them I had a terrible panic attack; after all, how does anyone follow the great lady? But I needn’t have worried, it was quite bizarre because once I sat at my computer and typed in the title it was as if she was sitting on my shoulder and they flew along.
I really love writing in that era, the gentry led such pampered glamorous lives, waited on hand and foot, whilst the staff below stairs worked from early morning until late at night. Following the trilogies was quite a challenge as obviously the characters had already been created and I had to stay true to them. Also when writing a trilogy the author tends to tie everything up in the last book so I had to find a way of moving the stories on yet again. I wanted my sequels to flow on from Catherine’s but retain my own style which I hope I achieved. I hope she would have thought I did her trilogies justice.
DS: Like Catherine Cookson, you are a prolific writer. How do you structure your workload, and have you any tips for aspiring writers of historical and contemporary sagas?
RG: I suppose I am rather prolific, if I go more than a few days without writing I tend to get very irritable and once a book is started I hate to leave it. The characters that I create in the books become like a second family to me. But saying that, I don’t work set hours. I lead a very busy life as a foster mum, I also look after my little grandson three days a week and have a fairly large house to run and three dogs to care for. I suppose that’s why I love to write in the evening when all the jobs are done and the house is lovely and quiet.
If I was going to give a tip to someone who was starting a historical or a contemporary saga I would tell them to thoroughly research the era they are going to write about first. It’s so important to get facts right and then weave them into the novel sensitively so that you make it believable but don’t detract from the actual story.
DS: Your books are some of the most borrowed in libraries, which must be lovely. Can you tell us what libaries have meant to you as a reader and as a writer, and what you would pick out of the library shelves for your bedside table?
RG: I’ve always loved libraries so it’s been wonderful to have the opportunity to visit so many. I also love reading although I tend not to stick to one particular genre. I love anything with a good story that is well written and on average I read about two books a week but I suppose an all-time favourite of mine would have to be The Old Curiosity Shop. Some of the classics can be read time and time again. More modern day authors I enjoy are Jodi Picoult, Stephen King, Danielle Steel and many more.
Many thanks to Rosie for taking the time to answer my questions. Home Front Girls is out now, and you can follow Rosie on her website or blog
Deborah Swift is the author of ‘The Lady’s Slipper’, ‘The Gilded Lily’ and ‘A Divided Inheritance’ (Oct 2013) www.deborahswift.co.uk
Posted by Richard Lee