As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
On The Table Read Magazine, “the best book magazine in the UK“, author Joan Lewis shares the inspiration behind her new novel, Because You Were There.
Written by JJ Barnes
I interviewed Joan Lewis about her life and career, what inspired her to write her new book, Because You Were There, and her creative writing process.
Tell me a bit about who you are.
Hi. I’m a retired British headteacher who for the past twenty one years has lived in Southern France, where we welcome people of all nationalities to our country gite . I spend my time walking, gardening, boating on the med and writing novels and short stories. I also love to blog about life in France.
When did you first WANT to write a book?
As a teacher I loved telling stories to young children. There are some brilliant stories out there, and I would have loved to write one too.
When did you take a step to start writing?
When I was in my forties I was stirred by local events which set the children of the town, who had been bequeathed an area of land for play , against developers who wanted to use the land for building. I wrote a short novel in which the children won. In reality the developers won.
How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?
I have written more than one book, but ‘Because You Were There’ is my first novel to be published. I wrote it over a couple of winter months.
What made you want to write Because You Were There?
I will never forget a certain pupil whom I taught in a school for ‘educationally subnormal pupils,’ where she had been wrongly placed as a result of her Caribbean origin. I will always remember a poem she wrote for me . Much later, when I learned of the terrible injustices suffered by people of her ( Windrush) generation, I began to wonder what might have happened to her. Did she get the opportunity to develop her talents , or was she perhaps deported? Did she suffer further indignities and cruelty? This book, an exposure of the ‘Windrush Scandal’ and its disastrous effect on families , is the result.
What were your biggest challenges with writing Because You Were There?
Once I started to write, the ideas flowed, and new characters popped up as if from nowhere. I think they told Tina’s story for me.
Who or what inspired you when creating your Protagonist?
There are two protagonists who tell the story concurrently. One, ex teacher Felicity, is semi -autobiographical. Tina was inspired by the pupil I mentioned earlier.
Who or what inspired you when creating your Antagonist?
My main antagonist, ‘The Colonel,’ is an amalgam of some misogynistic, bullying, racist, patronising and self- centred men that I have met over the years. I only hope that I never meet someone in real life who possesses all of these characteristics together.
What is the inciting incident of Because You Were There?
What is the main conflict of Because You Were There?
How to resolve the racial injustices that Tina and her family suffer is the main conflict in my book. Tina remains under the threat of deportation, even after she is released. While her daughter fights to prove her mother’s British nationality, she herself is suspected of the ‘theft’ of a precious Picasso ceramic. Will they ever be able to enjoy a normal family life together again?
Did you plot Because You Were There in advance, or fly by the seat of your pants and write freely?
Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did Because You Were There need?
The senior editor at ‘Cranthorpe Millner’ publishers was extremely supportive, and where occasionally she gave her advice, I respected it.
What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a story?
Go for it. Primarily the writing is for you.
Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?
Some time ago I wrote a novel about teenage violence, disaffection and mental illness, in which a parent goes in search of her ‘lost son, and meets a politician who believes he knows all the answers. I realise that, Post Covid, this problem is more relevant than ever. And so I am currently bringing my novel up to date , and injecting a little fun at the politician’s expense.
And, finally, are you proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?
I am indeed proud, and share my gratitude with the characters who helped me to create their story. I will be even more proud if this story goes some small way to defeating racist attitudes both in Britain and elsewhere.
Pop all your book, website and social media links here so the readers can find you:
We strive to keep The Table Read free for both our readers and our contributors. If you have enjoyed our work, please consider donating to help keep The Table Read going!
Amazon and the Amazon logo are trademarks of Amazon.com, Inc, or its affiliates.