I’m so pleased to welcome back Julia Roberts, author of Alice in Theatreland to Linda’s Book Bag today. Julia has previously provided a lovely guest piece on how she came to writing here, and I have been fortunate to read and review two of Julia’s other works, Life’s A Beach and Then… which I reviewed here as well as Time for a Short Story, reviewed here.
Today I have a lovely giveaway for a lucky UK reader to win a paperback copy of Alice in Theatreland. Not only that, but Julia has told me all about writing what she knows for Alice in Theatreland and it makes for fascinating reading!
Alice in Theatreland is available for purchase here.
Alice in Theatreland
It’s 1976; a summer of soaring temperatures and the year nineteen-year-old Alice Abbott’s life changed irrevocably…
Alice’s childhood dream of seeing her name up in lights seems close to fulfilment when she attends an audition for a new West End show but first she must impress theatre impresario, Richard, a man with an unhealthy penchant for innocent young dancers.
Befriended by Gina, an experienced dancer who is determined to protect her new friend from the sleaze behind the glamour, and attracting attention from the male lead in the show, Peter, a former pop star who she’s had a crush on for years, Alice’s star seems to be ascending until she accepts Richard’s impromptu dinner invitation.
Alice’s apparent naivety places her in peril, but is she really as innocent as she appears, and just how far will Richard go to protect his guilty secret?
Writing What You Know
A Guest Post by Julia Roberts
Thanks very much, Linda, for inviting me on to your blog as part of the tour for Alice in Theatreland. The book is set in the West End of London in the mid 1970’s and I have been asked how much research I had to do on the era and the world of the professional dancer. The answer is, ‘not a lot really’ – let me explain.
I left school in 1972 with dreams of becoming a professional dancer. Mentioned several times in the book is The Stage newspaper which I used to take weekly to scan the adverts at the back of the paper for suitable auditions. Young dancers starting out were only able to go for jobs which did not require full membership of the Equity Union. Once you had signed a contract, you could apply for provisional membership but you then had to complete forty weeks of working in the industry before you were issued with your ‘blue’ card.
I was very lucky as I managed to get myself a twenty-week summer season in Guernsey, followed by another twenty-week engagement performing in the pantomime at the City Varieties theatre in Leeds. Most pantos these days are lucky if they have a four or five week run, and even in 1973 it was highly unusual to run for more than ten weeks. We were still performing Snow White and the Seven Dwarves at Easter and occasionally to fewer people in the audience than there were cast members! Although it was a long old slog, I was able to apply for my Full Equity membership in under a year and this widened the field in terms of jobs I could audition for although there were still lots of restrictions, particularly in terms of height. There is a sequence in ‘Alice’ where a girl is turned away from an audition without dancing a step because she couldn’t produce her blue card, as the rule was pretty strictly enforced in those days, and others are turned away for not meeting the height criteria.
When I was writing the audition chapters, I became Alice and all the memories of disappointment and elation came flooding back to me. It is a tough business and you have to grow a thick skin pretty quickly and learn not to take things personally – a bit like writers receiving rejection letters from agents and publishers really. It’s not necessarily that you are not good enough, just not what someone is looking for at that particular time.
At the audition for Theatreland, Alice meets experienced dancer, Gina, who takes Alice under her wing. As the book progressed, I gradually fell in love with Gina. She has had a tough upbringing, with an absent father and drug addict mother, but is a kind-hearted person despite some of her decisions being questionable. Gina is ‘doubling’ which means as well as Theatreland, she is also working as a hostess at a nightclub called the Ostrich. Again, this sequence is based on true life although I was doubling as a dancer rather than a hostess.
I had come back from a second summer in Guernsey in 1977 and was finding living in London a little expensive. I had auditioned and got a job in pantomime in Croydon where, like Alice, I was the understudy for one of the lead roles, although my services were never called on. I then auditioned for a floorshow at a club off Regent Street called The Stork Room… Stork/Ostrich, they say you should write about what you know! This picture is of me and the other girl dancer, Karen, in one of our show costumes. I was twenty-one and it was while I was doing these two jobs that I met my ‘other half’ of over thirty-nine years.
So, as you can tell, quite a lot of the research for Alice in Theatreland was my personal experience although I’m pleased to say that none of the darker elements of the plot ever happened to me. I did have to check on when the date-rape drug, Rohypnol, was first available and also the various methods used to induce a miscarriage… I hope no-one ever checks the ‘history’ on my computer, it would make for very interesting reading.
If you lived through the era and I’ve whet your appetite, Alice in Theatreland is now available in paperback as well as on Kindle. Thanks again, Linda, for hosting me.
My pleasure Julia. What a fascinating insight into the background to Alice in Theatreland.
About Julia Roberts
Julia Roberts’ passion for writing began when, at the age of ten, after winning second prize in a short story-writing competition, she announced that she wanted to write a book. After a small gap of forty-seven years, and a career in the entertainment industry, Julia finally fulfilled her dream in 2013 when her first book, a memoir entitled One Hundred Lengths of the Pool, was published by Preface Publishing. Two weeks later she had the idea for her first novel, Life’s a Beach and Then…, book one in the Liberty Sands Trilogy, which was released in May 2015.
Julia still works full-time as a Presenter for the TV channel QVC, where she has recently celebrated her twenty-third anniversary.
She now lives in Ascot with her partner of thirty-nine years and occasionally one or other of her adult children and their respective cats.
There’s more with these other bloggers too:
UK only I’m afraid. For your chance to win a paperback copy of Alice in Theatreland by Julia Roberts, click here. Giveaway closes UK midnight on Sunday 9th July 2017.