On Hist Fic Saturday
I am delighted to introduce to the blog the Historical Fiction writer
A warm welcome to you, Juliet. Thank you for spending time with us today. Please tell us a little about yourself and how you got started as an author.
I grew up in Worthing, West Sussex. I went to the local school and sixth form college then studied history at university. Afterwards I trained as a newspaper reporter and worked in Dorset and Hampshire before moving to London. It wasn’t until my mid-thirties, when I was married with three children and living back in Sussex, that I started to write fiction. I joined a local writing group and later took a creative writing MA at Chichester University, where I focused mainly on short stories and poetry.
Finally, in 2010, I started to write my first novel, Before the Fall. I didn’t have an agent and I certainly wasn’t confident that the book would ever be published. It was just a challenge that I set myself – I wanted to write a novel before I was 40. In fact, I finished in 2013 when I was 42!
To my amazement I found an agent very quickly, and signed a contract with Pan Macmillan. Before the Fall was published in 2014 and The Faithful is just out in paperback.
Without giving too much away what can you tell us about The Faithful?
The novel is set during the 1930s and it’s a love story that follows the lives of Hazel and Tom, who are teenagers when they first meet in 1935. Tom is a Londoner who has been dragged along to a seaside camp organised by Oswald Mosley’s blackshirt movement. Tom wants nothing to do with the camp, but his mother supports Mosley’s fascists and insists he comes along for the ‘holiday’. On his first day in Sussex, Tom meets Hazel, a local girl who knows nothing about the blackshirts. There is an instant connection between Tom and Hazel, but their romance proves to be less than straightforward . . .
Hazel is the main protagonist of The Faithful. Tell us about her and why you decided to write her story?
When I looked at old pictures of the blackshirt camps held in Sussex between the wars, I was struck by the number of young women taking part and wondered what could have possibly attracted them to join the British Union of Fascists. I imagined that some of them might have been vulnerable in some way, and became easy prey to the clever propaganda of the blackshirts. Even if they didn’t embrace the politics, they might be seduced by the sense of belonging and the security that being in a ‘gang’ can offer (even when that security turns out to be illusory).
So the idea for Hazel’s character was really borne of that curiosity. Hazel is an only child of wealthy parents, but her mother, Francine, is totally disinterested in her and spends as much time as possible with her lover in London. When the novel opens Hazel is bored and longing for excitement . . .
Whilst you are writing you must live with your characters. How do you feel about them now that the book is finished?
Once a book starts to take off the characters live in my head quite vividly, and they do feel real in many ways, because sometimes they surprise me and go off on tangents that are totally unplanned. I don’t think there’s anything mystical about this: when you sink into a chapter or a scene it’s natural that the subconscious begins to take over.
I have a fondness for every character in The Faithful – even the flawed ones. One of the challenges I enjoy is trying to pick apart the seemingly incomprehensible actions of people who are not necessarily ‘bad’. This is what I’ve done in both novels – tackled quite difficult, dark subjects, not to excuse them in any way, but to gain some level of understanding.
The Faithful is set in the mid-1930s. In researching the background to the story did anything leave a lasting impression on you?
Hazel is sixteen when the novel opens, but I didn’t want her to be totally ignorant in terms of sex education. I wondered what books might be lying around (or stashed away) in the 1930s family home. I knew about Marie Stopes’ Married Love, but then I discovered Ideal Marriage by Theodoor van de Velde. This was published in 1926 and became a massive worldwide bestseller. Fair to say Ideal Marriage is quite an adventurous sex manual, and the emphasis is most definitely on women receiving their equal share of pleasure. We have this image that everything was terribly buttoned-up before the 1960s, but the success of Ideal Marriage shows this certainly wasn’t the case!
When combining historical fact with fiction it must be quite a challenge to get the balance right. How do you manage to achieve this without compromising on authenticity?
I am quite careful about research, and try to weave actual events into the narrative, rather than invent fictional incidents to serve the plot. The real history can be so rich and fascinating that there’s no need to dream up fictional scenarios. Having said that, there are occasions when I’ll make a balanced judgement and include an invented (plausible) detail, such as a soldier’s helmet washed up on Aldwick beach after the Dunkirk evacuation. After all, I’m a novelist not a historian – creativity is allowed!
26 July 2018
As England is pulled towards war, the secrets within two families threaten to tear them apart, in the new novel from Juliet West, The Faithful . . . July 1935. In the village of Aldwick on the Sussex coast, sixteen-year-old Hazel faces a long, dull summer with just her self-centred mother Francine for company. But then Francine decamps to London with her lover Charles, Oswald Mosley's blackshirts arrive in Aldwick, and Hazel's summer suddenly becomes more interesting. She finds herself befriended by two very different people: Lucia, an upper-class blackshirt, passionate about the cause; and Tom, a young working-class boy, increasingly scornful of Mosley's rhetoric. In the end, though, it is Tom who wins Hazel's heart - and Hazel who breaks his. Autumn 1936. Now living in London, Hazel has grown up fast over the past year. But an encounter with Tom sends her into freefall. He must never know why she cut off all contact last summer, betraying the promises they’d made. Yet Hazel isn't the only one with secrets. Nor is she the only one with reason to keep the two of them apart . . . From the beaches of Sussex to the battlefields of civil war Spain, The Faithful is a rich and gripping tale of love, deception and desire.
Read my review of The Faithful here
Juliet West worked as a journalist before taking an MA in Creative Writing at Chichester University, where she won the Kate Betts' Memorial Prize. Before the Fall, her debut novel, was shortlisted for the Myriad Editions novel-writing competition in 2012. Juliet also writes short stories and poetry, and won the H. E. Bates short story prize in 2009. The Faithful is her second novel. She lives in West Sussex with her husband and three children.
Find out more about Juliet and her writing on her website
Follow on Twitter @JulietWest14 #TheFaithful
Huge thanks to Juliet for being my guest today and for sharing her thoughts about
The Faithful is available to buy from Amazon UK and other good book stores