The glamour of the 1920s!
21st Jul 19

The glamour of the 1920s!

JACQUELINE WILSON returns to the past in DANCING THE CHARLESTON, which is set in the 1920's - look out for glamour, dancing - and a mystery! Author JACQUELINE WILSON tells us more!

DANCING THE CHARLESTON follows 10-year-old Mona, who has been brought up by her aunt, a dressmaker. They have always lived in a cottage on the Somerset estate but when the estate's owner dies, they are threatened with homelessness until a surprising twist, together with Mona's courage and inventiveness, puts them on a very different path.

We asked author JACQUELINE WILSON to tell us more about DANCING THE CHARLESTON:

Q: What do you enjoy about stepping back into the past with stories like Dancing the Charleston and of course your Hetty Feather books?

A: It's interesting to write about an age when there wasn't social media - Particularly if I'm writing about older girls - and the same concerns around that as we have today.

Ever since writing Hetty Feather, I have also loved doing research - although not serious social history research - but I love to read novels from the period and immerse myself in that period.

I have written books set at the time of the Victorians, and both world wars, as well as the Edwardians, but I really love the 1920s. It was such an interesting period; they looked back and scorned the Victorians and that way of life and seemed a bit frenetic with the flappers and dances like the Charleston. For most ordinary people, though, life went on the same and they wouldn't have dreamt of doing the kinds of things that the 'bright young things' got up to. I wanted to show both sides of that time in Dancing the Charleston, so I wanted to include a group of privileged Edwardians as well as some ordinary families.

I like writing about a character who comes from one background but who can then get a different view of the social strata because of their background, just as I like to contrast different kinds of families, large and small, which has always fascinated me.

Q: Where do you go to find out about these periods and day-to-day life at that time?

A: There were so many different bits to think about while I was researching the novel. You can read about history but generally, those texts are more about political history than social issues and I do feel that children aren't quite aware of how different things were. If you're young you feel firmly entrenched that things have always been that way, but I want to show that in each era, lives can be very different.

For example, if you just think of the difference in classrooms now. For the most part, classrooms are a place where children don't feel frightened but I remember being very scared for being in class and for good reason, because the teachers would hit us. No one complained because when I grew up in the 50s, the feeling was so ingrained that you should know your place.

If you write about more difficult subjects with a modern character, that might be worrying for children. But if a child is locked up in a cupboard in Victorian times, they don't worry so much. So historical stories give you more scope for things to happen.

Q: Were there specific events and places you need to research - such as the Empire Exhibition?

A: The Empire Exhibition which ran for two years from 1924 to 1925 was the biggest exhibition anywhere in the world. It was extraordinary and was THE thing you had to do. Dancing the Charleston is dedicated to two gentlemen who run an antiquarian bookshop that specialises in 1920s books. They fortunately had catalogues for the Empire Exhibition and I have a map so I walked my fingers around this map and imagined where Mona would go.

There really was a huge statue of royalty carved out of butter at the exhibition and the amusements were bizarre. There was one area that was just for children and in 1925 it was possible to have an amusement area that was just for children and adults weren't allowed to enter.

Mona and her aunt also visited Harrods and I have a book about Harrods in the 1920s and what it was like then, and I love those period details although I love the idea of writing about extravagant things as well as the everyday humdrum world.

Readers will also meet a middle aged Hetty Feather popping in, I don't write many details in case I ever revisit Hetty and her story, but for now she won't be suppressed!

Q: How hard is it to bring the past to life for today's child reader?

A: This is one thing that is quite hard to grasp as a child - if they see people wearing strange clothes in a sepia photograph, it's hard to believe that those people could feel exactly the same emotions and that things could have made them roll with laughter. It's lovely to get children to see this by bringing those characters to life on the page.

So Mona, the main character, is both a very demur and turbulent girl. It's funny because as a child myself I was mostly very quiet and shy but every now and again I would say something that sounded cheeky to an adult. I wanted a child character that modern children could relate to.

For me as a writer, it is such a treat to not have to engage with anything to do with Brexit or knife crime... You step back into a world that had its own worries and troubles, but it's not something we can do anything about.

Q: Do the freedoms that children had in the past also make it easier to engage your characters in adventures?

A: Children also had much more freedom then, Mona wanders to the village with her friend and gets away with doing things that children wouldn't be able to do now. They are looked after and cossetted and don't have the same freedoms as we had in the summer holidays, for example. There was a sense of wildness and willingness to have all kinds of adventures then that won't really happen to your average child in contemporary stories.

Q: When and where do you do most of your writing?

A: I get the first draft of novels written in the morning while I'm still in bed, in my pyjamas. I only write for an hour and once that is done I do phone calls, events, all the extra things, but the morning is to get the work done. If I can do 1000 words that's wonderful but I have to do at least 500. For me it's a lovely time and it's a total must, a routine. Once I have started a story I get totally lost in it.

I was a very junior magazine journalist in my teens and you certainly couldn't wait for inspiration, you just had to get on with it, and when my daughter was born I would rush down to the nursery and then would have two hours to write before I collected her.

These days I have become so absolutely obsessed about my early morning writing routine that I'm worried if I take a week off, I won't be able to do it. So I write every day, even Christmas day; I'm superstitious about it.

Q: What else are you writing?

A: I still write contemporary books, too. I have recently delivered a book to my publisher, My Mum Tracy Beaker, and I'm writing another modern novel, but the one after that will be historical.

I wrote the new novel, My Mum Tracy Beaker, because I wondered what she would be like now. In real time, Tracy Beaker would be in her late 30s, so I thought I would find out what had happened to her.

There will also be a short television series based on My Mum Tracy Beaker, because the original Tracy Beaker television series was such a success. If you talk to 20-somethings now, most will have watched it and I hear from people who said it was part of their lives. Now of course the next generation of children are watching Hetty Feather!

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