Festival of Chichester launch for latest novel from Juliet West

Juliet West (credit Kelly Hill)
Juliet West (credit Kelly Hill)

Shocking images of fascists lining the streets in Bognor Regis are the spur to the new novel from Billingshurst’s Juliet West.

The Faithful is published in hardback by Macmillan.

Juliet, who grew up in Worthing, will be launching it at this year’s Festival of Chichester on Thursday, June 22 at 6pm at Waterstones Bookshop, The Dolphin And Anchor, Chichester.

Join Juliet to hear more about the novel and to celebrate its publication.

The Faithful, the follow-up to Before the Fall, opens in 1935 when Oswald Mosley’s blackshirts arrive in West Sussex for a seaside camp.

“I was working in the university library in Chichester. I did an MA there, and I was working on my dissertation. I was just sitting in the history section of the library and idly looking at the history books on the shelves when I saw a book called Blackshirts on Sea. I was just really intrigued by these quite disturbing images. It was a pictorial history, full of pictures of fascists lining the roads in Bognor Regis, giving a fascist salute. It really shocked and surprised me.

“Fascism is now such a toxic word. It was a shock to see that it could be so openly displayed. I discovered that Worthing (where she went to Durrington High School and Worthing Sixth-Form College) was actually known as Munich by the Sea. And I was also really shocked to see so many women in the pictures. It really piqued my interest. You think of fascists being very male and macho. But actually I discovered that Oswald Mosley, the leader of the British Union of Fascists, actively encouraged women to take a prominent role in the movement. I think he was quite cynically harvesting the militancy of the suffragette movement. It shocked me that former suffragettes joined the blackshirt movement. You think of them being very much the liberal heroes, but several quite prominent suffragettes joined…”

Juliet came across the images in 2009-10 and put them aside while she worked on her first novel before returning to them for her second: “What interested me is that the stereotype of a blackshirt is either thug or Mosley-type aristocrat flirting with it, but I found that an awful lot of ordinary people were drawn in. Mosley was promising women better childcare and equal pay for equal work.”

Juliet’s book is inspired by the seaside camps the fascists organised in Sussex: “They held seaside camps from 1933-38. They were all in Sussex, and in 1935 and 1936 they were in Aldwick. The area is now built on, but I walked around where the fields were and the little bits that still existed and I took the route that the blackshirts walked from the fields down to the beach. That took me past the Aldwick Bay estate that would have been there when the camps were held.

“That started me thinking: what if a teenage girl, really bored, was growing up in Aldwick Bay, nothing going on and then these blackshirts descend practically in her back garden and she watches them and meets some of them. It develops into a love story between Hazel, a quite upper-class girl in Aldwick Bay, and Tom, from a working class-family in south London. The novel is essentially the love story between them, a dark novel of relationships…”

Tickets £4 (£3 redeemable against purchase of the book). available from Chichester Box Office, The Novium, Tower Street, Chichester, PO19 1QH; phone 01243 816525 or 775888; website www.thenovium.org/boxoffice; email boxoffice@chichester.gov.uk.

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