Today I'm delighted to welcome Juliet Greenwood to the blog in my series of 'Firsts'. I'm a big fan of Juliet's writing, having enjoyed her previous three books, but her first novel with Orion, 'The Ferryman's Daughter', has just been published.
Juliet, welcome! Please tell us a little about yourself and your writing.
'The Ferryman’s Daughter' is my first book for Orion and is a total dream come true. I'm still pinching myself. I’ve always had a passion to be a writer, but like many authors, it’s been a long road with many digressions (mainly to do with making a living!) in between. I started my writing career with stories and then serials in magazines, before three historical novels published by Honno, a small press based in Wales. I’ve lived and worked in many different places, including London, but now live in a traditional quarryman’s cottage on the edges of a village on a mountain slope in Snowdonia. I love my garden, which is surrounded by the stone walls of sheep fields and is where the quarryman’s family would have grown food to supplement a subsistence wage. I’m doing my best to follow their example, including a small polytunnel where I have a cutting from the Hampton Court vine that produces delicious grapes.
What was the inspiration for ‘The Ferryman’s Daughter’?
The original inspiration was the story of Rosa Lewis, born a little earlier than my heroine, in 1867, who rose from being a domestic servant to become a renowned cook, including for royalty, and eventually owning The Cavendish Hotel in London. She was the real-life inspiration for the popular 1970s drama series ‘The Duchess of Duke Street’ and was a wonderful character, who defied expectations of what women were capable of, to become a success in her own right.
Set in 1908, how much research did you have to do? How did you set about it?
Because two of my previous novels have been set in the early part of the twentieth century, including during the First World War, I’d already done quite a bit of research. It’s a time I find fascinating because it was when so much was changing in society, particularly for women, who had been fighting for decades for the right to education and control over their earnings and their lives. I do much of my research through books and online, but I also love learning about the everyday part of ordinary lives in the past by visiting places like the squatter’s cottage in Blists Hill in Ironbridge, which gives an idea of how our ancestors lived their lives, from the kitchen range to the pantry and the sparse sleeping arrangements. I love St Ives, but I only knew a little of the history, so I enjoyed learning more about its past and its transformation from fishing village into hub for artists and tourism it is today.
I read that you write about 'determined young women fighting to make their own futures against the odds'. Can you tell us about Hester's character in your new novel?
I love Hester. All my heroines are independent and determined, but Hester takes it to a whole new level. Most of my heroines have to overcome some level of poverty to make their way in the world, but Hester has been born into a family on the edges of destitution, always one week’s missed rent away from the workhouse and a dad with a tendency to put his need for a pint with the lads in front of keeping the family together. Hester sets out to make her own money, so she can take control of her life and look after her younger siblings, overcoming every setback, including panic buying of sugar as the First World War breaks out that threatens to destroy her fledgling business.
Hester is astute enough to realise the only way she can break free from the life of endless, mindless drudgery she is expected to follow is to learn a skill, so she sets about it. She’s always being dragged back as, like so many just making ends meet, however hard she works and saves, there’s always some family crisis that sends her back to the beginning. But each time she picks herself up, dusts herself down, and starts all over again. What I also love about her is that she might have had the minimum of education, but she’s nobody’s fool. She’s quite capable of standing up for herself, especially when she takes over the rowing of the family’s ferry and has to deal with drunks and wandering hands, using her wits (and the odd reminder than they can swim the rest of the way if they prefer) to keep herself safe. And when it comes to love, she’s determined to follow her heart, however impossible it might seem, rather than settle for (the decidedly creepy) young man her father has chosen for her, mainly for the convenience of free pints down the local. I will always love Hester for her loyalty and her fierceness and her absolute determination never to settle for second best and always be her own woman, despite living in a world in which women weren’t expected to be anything at all. Go, Hester!
You live in a beautiful part of the world and I know you enjoy walking. How much planning and thinking can you do on your walks?
I think I can safely say most of it! I live a few minutes from the North Wales coast and the island of Anglesey, as well as being in the heart of the mountains of Snowdonia, so my dog walking time is also my thinking time. It’s where I work out knotty problems of the plot, or simply don’t consciously thing about it at all but let my mind roam free, and usually by the time we are back for breakfast a solution has appeared. I find
if I’m at home, there’s always something to distract me,
but just me and the dog and the countryside, meeting fellow early morning dog
walkers along the way, is when I can empty my mind of everything else and
concentrate. I’m feeling incredibly lucky at the moment as, although I’m
missing the sea, I have many and varied walks from my cottage.
What do you think would make a good question for a book group where ‘The Ferryman’s Daughter’ was being discussed?
What do you think Hester learns from working for Miss Chesterfield, the middle-aged, self-made businesswoman who sets up a convalescent home for recovering soldiers?
What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given as a writer?
That it takes a long time! Because we can all tell a story and can write, and usually do some creative writing at school, it seems like a natural skill. But writing a novel is anything but. The best piece of advice I was ever given was to think of learning to play a musical instrument. You wouldn’t expect to pick up a cello one week and play at the Albert Hall the next. To reach the level of skill to perform to even the smallest audience (let alone a paying one!) requires hours of practice, day after day, week after week, year after year. It’s the same with writing. Most published writers have plenty of ‘bottom drawer’ manuscripts that will never see the light of day, because they are the hours of apparently thankless, unpaid and unseen exhaustive effort in which you learn your craft. And that’s before you start working with an editor and learn to hone a whole other level of skill, just as you thought you’d mastered the thing in the first place. And, as with a musical instrument, the learning never ends. On the other hand, that’s part of the thrill, of challenging and stretching yourself.
Nowadays, after fifteen or more years of serious bashing away, I know when I’ve finished a novel. It’s when I’ve written and rewritten it so many times, bearing in mind everything I’ve been taught and hunting down everything that doesn’t hang together and doesn’t work, that I loathe everything about it, and never want to see it again. Then I send it off to my agent and editor and a whole new round of work begins. But that’s also when I fall in love with it all over again, and the passion to get it right returns - and there’s no better feeling than when a book finally comes together!
I love your analogy comparing writing to learning a musical instrument and agree that learning never ends. Thank you, Juliet. It's been a pleasure to have you here and to learn more about you and your new novel.
The Ferryman’s Daughter
Published by Orion May 14th 2020
My first book for Orion is set on the Hayle Estuary, near St Ives in Cornwall, at the time of the Great War. It is the story of Hester, who is forced to take over the family business of rowing the ferry across the river to keep a roof over their heads. But Hester has a dream of one day becoming a professional cook and opening her own establishment in St Ives, so creating a better life for herself and her family. Even with everything against her, Hester remains determined to succeed …
Can Hester help her family escape desperate poverty and fulfil her dreams?
1908: Hester always loved her mother best, her father had always been a hard man to like, spending more time (and money) in the local than with his family. When her mother dies suddenly Hester is placed in the position of care-giver for her younger brother and sister, only for her father to get badly injured in an accident. As the years pass it is only Hester who can keep her family afloat, now rowing the ferry night and day to keep them all from starvation, she sees her dreams of working in a kitchen and one day becoming a cook, slipping further and further away.
But just how far is Hester willing to go to make her dream a reality? And as the threat of war comes ever closer to the Cornish coast, will it bring opportunities or despair for Hester and her family?
Juliet Greenwood has always been a bookworm and a storyteller, writing her first novel (a sweeping historical epic) at the age of ten. She is fascinated both by her Celtic heritage and the history of the women in her family, with her great-grandmother having supported her family by nail making in Lye, in the Black Country, near Birmingham in the UK, and her grandmother by working as a cook in a large country house.
Before being published by Orion, Juliet wrote three historical novels for Honno, the Welsh Women’s Press, reaching #4 and #5 in the UK kindle store.
Juliet lives in a traditional quarryman’s cottage between the mountains and the sea in beautiful Snowdonia, in Wales in the UK, and is to be found dog walking in all weathers, always with a camera to hand…
Social media links:
Juliet’s Blog: https://julietgreenwoodauthor.wordpress.com/
The Ferryman’s Daughter:
Thank you for reading. I hope you enjoyed reading about Juliet and her first novel for Orion. You may follow me on Twitter @JanBaynham and on my Jan Baynham Writer Facebook page.