As part of Rosie Amber’s Book Review Challenge (check it out here) I was lucky enough to read June Kearns’ wonderful novel ‘The 20’s Girl, the Ghost and All That Jazz’. June has kindly agreed to be my guest on the blog today and to share some of her insights and experiences about writing, reading and life in general. My review and an extract from the novel follow June’s interview.
Tell me a little about your writing history/background. What inspired you to write?
As a solitary little girl (only child!), who was always daydreaming, I started writing my own stories almost as soon as I could read. In the 1970s, I won a National Magazine Competition for the first chapter of a romantic novel, and years later, a version of that became the beginning of An Englishwoman’s Guide to the Cowboy.
How did you come up with the title of your novel?
It wasn’t easy! I’d almost finished the book when the roaring 20s became a real trend – the new Gatsby film, Downton setting and all those art deco and flapper fashion references. I wanted to somehow give a sense of that era!
Who is your favourite/least favourite character in your novel?
My least favourite is probably Mrs Dutt-Dixon-Nabb. You can probably guess because I gave her a name with two hyphens, and said she had something of the dowager about her – with little finger sticking out at a perfect ninety-degree angle as she held her teacup.
What was the hardest part of writing for you? Were there any particular issues or hiccups when writing your novel?
Hiccups? Ooh, yes! The novel has two settings – the English shires and Texas. Checking and double checking different types and conditions of travel, times of journeys, ships, trains, timetables and distances, then factoring in weather – left me cross-eyed.
What are you working on now?
At the beginning of the year, I was writing something set in the 1930s. It wasn’t going well, and I’d started making any excuse not to get on with it – de-fleaing the cat, washing socks. Then someone on Twitter asked for 60s memorabilia, and I had one of those light-bulb moments. This, I thought, is what I should be writing about! So, I’ve started – London setting, photographer hero – and it’s going well.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
The wall in front of my desk is covered in post-it notes with encouraging little phrases and bon mots! Here’s one that I really like: Stop apologising! Relax! Just write the story you want to read. Also: Write for your readers, not for other writers. Having said that, the New Romantics 4 give me constant support and encouragement
What writer would you choose as a mentor?
It would have to be Jane Austen. She was such a master of romance – combining fabulous characters, comedy, complications and reversals with great pacing and cracking dialogue. How did she do that? I need her to tell me!
Who is your favourite author and what do you love about their work?
I love lots of women writers, but especially Anne Tyler. She’s quirky and clever, but with a deceptively simple style. Ladder of Years is one of my favourites. Lovely!
Tell me something unusual about yourself.
In my twenties on a trip to Canada, I (briefly!) worked as a waitress in a drive-in restaurant, on roller skates. It wasn’t a success. Have you read Allan Ahlberg’s Mrs Wobble the Waitress? There were incidents. I was sacked.
‘The 20’s Girl, the Ghost and All That Jazz’ – My Review
I loved this book! June Kearns has created a romantic page turner devoid of soppiness but full of heart, laughter and wonderful characters that draw you in to their well-drawn world.
Gerardina Chiledexter is struggling to fund the run-down bookshop that is all she has been left by her extravagant, glamorous aunt (except for a mountain of debts). Just when it seems she has nowhere left to turn, she receives a surprise inheritance – half a cattle ranch in Texas.
We are swept away with Gerry to the wildness and heat of Texas, where she is made less than welcome by co-owner Coop. Confused by her conflicting feelings towards him, Gerry makes some rash decisions that lead her further into debt and seem to pave the way to a life of lonely spinsterhood.
However, there are twists and turns and surprises galore, along with a helping hand from some friendly spirits hoping to guide Gerry towards a brighter future.
The author does a fantastic job of bringing two very different places to life – the contrast between the dry heat of the vast plains of Texas was contrasted beautifully with the cold wet winters of England. I could feel Gerry suffocating as she listened to the rain dripping on to the windows of Prim’s tiny cottage.
The context of the novel was really interesting. The lack of eligible men to marry after the end of WWI was a real problem for women who had few other opportunities in life. Gerry, although a bright, funny and lovely girl, is not immune to this pressure, or to the fear of spinsterhood. I hate it when writers give us feisty female heroines from history who live independent, happy lives immune to social pressures. It’s refreshing to have a realistic heroine who is more than aware of the social constraints that have a very real bearing on what she is and isn’t allowed to do. And the little quotes at the beginning of each chapter offered a real insight into the pressures put on women at the time.
I thoroughly recommend this novel and will definitely be reading more of June Kearns’ work.
Five out of five stars.
You can buy a copy on Amazon (and I strongly recommend that you do!)
June is on Twitter: @june_kearns
and at: www.junekearns.com
‘The 20’s Girl, the Ghost and All That Jazz’
Autumn 1924. The English Shires.
She would. She wouldn’t. She might.
Pushed down the lane by a wet wind, Gerry held onto her hat and her bicycle. Hedgerows, trees, fields, flew by in a blur. It was weather for woollies and wellies, but she hadn’t got either of those.
Instead, she was drenched in scent and in something crêpe-de-chine with flapping skirts from the bottom of her aunt Leonie’s trunk.
Why? Because she hadn’t decided what to do yet.
What was wrong with her? Anyone would think she was feather-headed, the number of times she’d changed her mind. Goodness knows there were few enough men to go round anymore, and how many of those were beating a path to her door? She should be grateful.
Squishing bicycle wheels through leaves at the side of the road, she chewed the knicker-elastic under her chin, there to stop her hat from flying off. A gang of rooks in gothic black rose up – caa caa – to swirl over ploughed fields behind the hedge.
If only the invitation had been for something else. Afternoon tea with Archie’s parents? Just thinking about it made her twitch.
So what if she was pushing thirty, with the chill wind of spinsterhood gusting round her ears? She wasn’t ready yet, for trial by Major and Mrs Dutt-Dixon-Nabb. Nowhere near.
‘All right, Miss-Change-Your-Mind,’ Prim had said. ‘What’s wrong with Archie?’
- Engaging good looks, a winning way. The sort of suitor to bring a grateful tear to any mother’s eye. It wasn’t him, it was her. Small, unexceptional, Gerardina Mary Chiledexter.
‘He’s nice,’ she’d said. ‘I’m flattered. But what have we got in common? A sort of junior squire from a county family, who hunts and shoots things – and me.’ She had paused. ‘D’you think it’s money?’
A snort from Prim. ‘You haven’t got any.’
‘Archie doesn’t know that, does he? We don’t talk about those things, we don’t even laugh together much.’
Prim had enquired, rather sourly, what there was to laugh about. ‘Look at me,’ she’d said. ‘I’ll never bag a husband now, the competition’s far too cut-throat. It’s not fair; I’ve been cheated. My destiny, whoever he was, is probably under the mud of some awful French battlefield.’
‘Is there such a thing,’ Gerry had murmured, ‘as destiny?’
‘Your aunt believed in it. Did she have an opinion on Archie, as a matter of interest?’
‘Erm …’ (‘Well-bred, but weak, darling. A mother’s boy. Fingernails too clean. And that name! Hardly trips off the tongue, does it?’)
Of course, Leonie had an opinion on most things, and hadn’t been shy about sharing them, either. Physics, fortune-telling, foreign money. Not that her views had always been reliable. Who cared though, when she’d taught you to dance the hoochie coochie and the turkey trot, wearing ostrich feathers and waving an Egyptian cigarette in a long black holder?
Wild, wonderful Leonie. Why did you leave us in such a mess?
Gerry careered down the hill to the higgledy-piggledy part of town, past Peagrams Drapers and Outfitters (Dresses for all seasons), and Hazeldines Bakery (Bread with purity and nutty flavour).
Clattering over cobbles to the saggy frontage of Bent’s Fine and Rare Books, she came to an abrupt halt.
A scar-nosed, frayed-eared hooligan tomcat, big as a small bear, sat in the doorway, eyeing her coldly.
‘Shoo!’ She rang her bell, stamped her foot. ‘Shoo, shoo!’
Turning his head with infinite disdain, Igor didn’t budge an inch.
After some complicated manoeuvring of wheels and cat’s tails, Gerry banged up the steps into the narrow three-storied building that housed the bookshop. The bell over the door jangled its annoyance.
‘That cat,’ she announced, ‘is scary! A witch’s cat. Not a whisker of loyalty to anyone.’
From behind a pile of catalogues, business letters, bills and receipts, Prim peered over her spectacles. ‘Did you look in a mirror before you came out?’
‘It was windy.’
‘Well, a man called to see you, apparently. Left a note on the door. Better smarten up a bit before he comes back. That’s not a suitable dress to ride a bicycle in.’ She held out a handkerchief. ‘And there’s oil on your nose.’
‘Which man?’ Rubbing her face, Gerry noticed Prim’s tight bun unravelling. Always a bad sign.
‘Name of …’ Prim rummaged for the note, ‘hmm … let’s see. Yes, Cooper.’
‘Who? Do we owe him money?’
‘Gerry dear, we owe everyone money.’
Almost everyone. They were sliding out of control, that was for sure, and it was Gerry’s responsibility now, all down to her, and the reason for layers of bags under her eyes.
Debt, they were in debt. Aunt Leonie’s bookshop sinking under a huge wave of bills and final demands and Gerry couldn’t sleep, because of dreams of being dragged off to debtor’s prison by crowds of baying creditors.
‘Can’t we at least ask Cyril to mend that window?’
‘No.’ Prim tapped her teeth with a pencil. ‘Even Cyril and his ladders are beyond us now. I wouldn’t take your coat off either, if I were you. There’s no more coal for the stove.’
The few early customers in the shop weren’t likely to save their bacon either – someone from the Light Opera Group looking for music and one of the Miss Webbs after the new Ethel M. Dell.