Juliet achieves life-long dream with first novel

Picture by Jo Russell Photography
Picture by Jo Russell Photography

A Billingshurst mum is celebrating after achieving a life-long dream with the publication of her first novel.

Former journalist Juliet West tries to understand past tragedy in her debut novel – a tragedy she feels sure wouldn’t have happened today.

Join Juliet to celebrate the paperback launch of Before the Fall at Horsham Waterstones, on Thursday, September 4, 7pm. Tickets £2 from Waterstones.

Juliet, who enjoyed a spell of work experience on the West Sussex Gazette, completed her training on local newspapers and moved to London: “I was shifting for my sins on the Daily Mail, and I was asked to help research a feature that one of the feature writers was working on.

“There were classified documents down at the National Archive at Kew that the Home Office had released. This would have been in late 1996. The Daily Mail ran a double-page feature. I had to research whether there were any living relatives of the people that were involved in this case.

“Very soon after that piece was published, I left the Mail, but the story haunted me. I am a really avid reader, and I had wanted to write fiction, but it was not until ten years ago, that I started to have a go at writing short stories and poems, but all the time I was thinking that I really wanted to write a novel about this story. It was just after I had finished the MA that I sat down to write it.”

Juliet has to be careful not to give too much away, but...

“It’s about a very-much every-day working-class woman in London whose husband has gone off to fight in World War One. She was left with very young children. She was described in documents as sober and respectable and hard working, but she took a job in a café down on the Isle of Dogs and fell in love with a customer.

“Quite uncharacteristically for her, she had an affair and became pregnant. The novel really traces the fall-out from that affair, the way she was ostracised and the lack of choices she had. I was born in 1970, and she was born only about seven or eight decades before, but she had no choices. She became completely trapped and ostracised. Now if women make mistakes, there are places they can go and there is support that they can get, but for her there was nothing.

“What happened at the end was heart-breaking, and I couldn’t understand how this all could have happened. I think that is why you write... to try to understand. I became so interested in it, especially when I had my own children. The themes are motherhood and duty and the tension between duty to husband and to country and the duty to your children. If you stepped outside the patriotic pattern, the consequences were devastating. You can’t see that happening today. Today, I think we are just so much more cynical and world-weary.”

Juliet grew up in Worthing and attended Durrington High School and Worthing Sixth Form College before studying history at Cambridge University.

“After several years working on newspapers and magazines in London, she moved back to West Sussex and now lives in Billingshurst. In 2009 she gained an MA in creative writing from Chichester.

”My children were quite young, I think when I started the MA, my youngest was four. I was not at the baby stage any more.

“I was still working a little bit, doing freelance women’s features for women’s magazines, and I knew I was not going to go back into the office full-time, but I knew I had time to do the MA. It felt like it gives you permission. It legitimises it all.”