Friday, 29 June 2018

The Inspiration of Readers by Juliet Greenwood

I’ve just come back from my second year at NorthwichLitfest, giving a talk about the role of women in the First World War at Sandiway Library, part of Cheshire West and Chester Libraries.
Juliet Greenwood (left) with 
Northwich LitFest Organiser,
Susi Osborne
(Photo copyright: Paula Jackson)
Despite the extreme heat, I’ve returned energised and enthused, all ready to knuckle down and get back to my next book, with a reminder of just how much I love going out and meeting readers. It’s so easy in my little office, tucked away on a Welsh mountainside, working to deadlines and the (sometimes) tortuous refining of a story into its final form, to get completely lost in my own world. You do need that to get a book done, but it’s easy to forget that readers have their input too.

I find coming face-to-face with readers is a great reminder that a book is always a two-way thing, with both the reader and the writer bringing their life-experience, passion and imagination to create the final form, with (hopefully) mutual respect. It’s the scary, but exciting, bit when the final version of the manuscript leaves the writer’s desk (or rather your email), and sails off into the ether, to take on a life of its own, out of your control. The final letting go. It’s also a reminder of why I fell in love with reading in the first place.

We That Are Left
Juliet Greenwood
My evening with the enthusiastic readers at Sandiway Library was no exception. At the end of my talk on my research into the many roles of women in WW1 for We That are Left, which ranged from nursing in French villages as bombs fell, to acting as spies, and leading men separated from their regiments over the Alps to safety, one of the questions was about the trenches. This was something I’d agonised over while writing the book, and it was a very clear decision not to go there. It was strange going back to those deliberations after several years, and trying to explain my reasons – and that they weren’t about me being a soppy female and not wanting to face anything nasty!

The thing is, the trenches are so horrific they overshadow everything else within a story. While, as a woman writing about war, I’d wanted to concentrate on women’s different roles in the conflict, which have been largely forgotten, but played such a part in changing both the way women were perceived, and also how they perceived themselves. At the same time, I also wanted to focus on the issue of male trauma and the long-term impact of (then completely unrecognised) Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. My wonderful audience got this immediately, and the subsequent discussion brought up so many stories of traumatised soldiers from both world wars, as well as more recent conflicts. It was a truly moving experience.

Thinking about it afterwards, I realised how much that discussion had helped dispel my own wobbles over the last few years about my decision to concentrate on that side of conflict, as well as the optimism and resilience of the human spirit under the most terrible of circumstances. When a book goes out into the world, and nothing can be changed, it’s so easy to have doubts, especially when coming at a subject from a slightly more unusual angle, which leaves you vulnerable to criticism.

So, thank you to my wonderful audience, who gave me so much during our evening together. I’ve been buzzing ever since, and I’m already looking forward to meeting up again next year. Of course, we did end up coming back to my passion for the Suffragists, and my ultimate heroine, Millicent Fawcett (I can’t wait to see her statue), but that’s another story…


Northwich LitFest

Juliet Greenwood 

Juliet Greenwood is a UK historical novelist published by Honno Press. Her books are set in Cornwall, London and Wales in Victorian and Edwardian times, and follow the lives of independently-minded women struggling to find freedom and self-fulfilment.

Her latest novel is The White Camellia, based in the Suffrage movement led by Millicent Fawcett. Juliet's two previous historical novels have reached #4 and #5 in the UK Amazon Kindle store. Eden’s Garden was a finalist for ‘The People’s Book Prize’. We That are Left was completed with a Literature Wales Writers’ Bursary, and was Welsh Book of the Month for Waterstones Wales, The Welsh Books Council and the National Museum of Wales. It was also chosen by the ‘Country Wives’ website as one of their top ten ‘riveting reads’ of 2014, was one of the top ten reads of the year for the ‘Word by Word’ blog, and a Netmums 'Top Summer Read' for 2014.

We That Are Left
by Juliet Greenwood

Elin lives a luxurious but lonely life at Hiram Hall. Her husband Hugo loves her but he has never recovered from the Boer War. Now another war threatens to destroy everything she knows.

With Hugo at the front, and her cousin Alice and friend Mouse working for the war effort, Elin has to learn to run the estate in Cornwall, growing much needed food, sharing her mother's recipes and making new friends – and enemies. But when Mouse is in danger, Elin must face up to the horrors in France herself.

And when the Great War is finally over, Elin's battles prove to have only just begun.