Interview with Elizabeth Woodcraft

Published 2014-09-16.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in Chelmsford, Essex, on a fifties council estate. My best friend lived just across the road. We played together from the age of two. We went to different schools but other than that we were inseparable. The years went by and we became mods together. Our lives formed the basis of the stories in A Sense of Occasion.
When did you first start writing?
I have written since I was quite young, 8 or 9. My best friend Christine and I used to write a newspaper for the people in our street, we handwrote six or seven copies and sewed the pages together. Once we ran a story about a burning house near our estate and gave away a free piece of ash with each copy. I also used to write plays which we performed to people in the street - although the only people who came were my sister and her friend. There always had to be a character called Sally in the play, for Christine's sister.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
Occasionally I find the exercise books I wrote in as I grew up. i flick through them and some lines I think are not bad, but most of it can best be described as embarrassing. One story I remember began with my character saying the words, 'There it goes again!' She is sitting on the sofa reading. She slams the book shut because it is yet another story of children at boarding school. It was an expression of my own frustration. I wanted to read a book about children who lived on a working-class council estate - or at the very least went to a day school. And there were very few around. I also wrote stories that were a variation on The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge, where girls had bedrooms with fluffy rugs beside their beds, and had brown eggs and jam with clotted cream for tea.
What's the story behind your latest book?
For a long time I had written stories about my childhood. Partly because I didn't see my life reflected in any of the books I read myself. The stories in A Sense of Occasion are not entirely autobiographical but they are an attempt to describe what life was like for a working class girl who was a mod, while at the same time going to school and taking exams. But they're a mix of fact and fantasy, The story of a rock'n'roll star coming to tea is obviously something I would have dreamed of but never actually happened, but the story of the ban-the-bomb march and the account of the bomb that dropped on Linda's mum's house is based on what happened to my mum and her sisters in WWII.
What are you working on next?
I am currently putting the final touches to Beyond the Beehive, which is a full length novel, again about the sixties. It features the same characters as A Sense of Occasion. In fact A Sense of Occasion was something of a rehearsal, putting my toe in the water of indie publishing. The response has been so positive I feel very confident about Beyond the Beehive.
What is your writing process?
My writing process is quite haphazard. I write best when I'm supposed to be doing something else. Or when I have absolutely no other distractions. I am very lucky to be able to go to Paris to write. I kid myself I am starving in a garret (not true, I stay far too close to Monoprix for that), but there is no phone, no internet, and no-one to talk to. I can write for hours on end. I love it.
Describe your desk
The state of my desk depends where I am. In my study in London it is cluttered. There are piles of magazines, postcards, shopping receipts, legal authorities, pens, pencils, business cards, the odd candle, an overflowing in-tray, a telephone and a space in the middle where my computer sits. In the kitchen where I often sit to write, the table is usually empty except for the computer, the day's newspaper - the Guardian - and a cooling cup of coffee. In Paris there's just the cup of coffee and the computer.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
I still work as a barrister so sometimes I'm reading papers, catching up on the latest legal authorities or I'm putting on my black clothes and dashing out to court. Or I read, or go to the cinema. Otherwise I potter about in the garden - and I mean potter. I have a pair of secaturs and some old gloves and I walk round pulling bits of ivy off the wall. That way I don't do much damage but I feel I'm making the garden lovely. Sometimes I just sit there and watch the toad and the robin enjoying themselves. The toad isn't that active.
Who are your favorite authors?
My immediate response is Jean Rhys - especially Voyage in the Dark - and Rosamond Lehmann. I found them both in the 70s. Although each of them wrote from a different class perspective, they both described women's experience in the twenties and thirties, they both had characters who were slightly funky and on the edge of society. I was a great fan and I wrote to Rosamond Lehmann about The Echoing Grove. She replied! I keep her letter in a very safe place and look at it about once every five years. Barbara Pym's Excellent Women is a real favourite and a book I often give as a present. Her wry descriptions of the women in central London who do good work for the church are a delight. I have just had a birthday and Stef Penney's second novel is now in the groaning pile of books to be read by my bed. It was a book I had asked for because I so enjoyed The Tenderness of Wolves. Stoner by John Williams was a wonderful discovery last year. I have all of Sarah Waters' books (well thumbed) on my book shelf. Since I also write crime novels I should add that I like Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, as well as Michael Connelly.
How do you discover the ebooks you read?
Sometimes I read reviews in the papers. Sometimes people make suggestions. And often it is just a happy discovery. And then most recently I read Lillian's Last Affair, a book of short stories by my good friend Sue Katz. We helped each other through the process of publishing our books. Hers came out first - and that's when I read it as an e-book. it's great. Funny, moving, and a very interesting description of the lives of seniors.
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Books by This Author

A Sense of Occasion
Price: $5.00 USD. Words: 21,030. Language: English. Published: September 15, 2014. Categories: Fiction » Women's fiction » General
1960s England - Marconis, milk bars, mods and rockers. As Tommy Tucker puts on his ‘Hi-Heel Sneakers’ the Vespas pull up outside the Orpheus coffee bar. A wedding, a ban the bomb march, a cocktail party create A Sense of Occasion. Award winning author Elizabeth Woodcraft's interlinked stories describe life growing up on a working class estate, and show how the 60s changed the lives of 4 mod girls.