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Award-winning Chichester creative writing alumna pens latest novel on Elvis

Award-winning novelist Bethan Roberts, whose latest novel Graceland is out on 14th February - picture credit Sarah Corney

 

AN AWARD-WINNING novelist who honed her craft from a Masters in Creative Writing at the University of Chichester, is to publish her latest novel this week (14th February).

Bethan Roberts’ fifth novel, entitled Graceland, looks at life in the Graceland mansion through the eyes of Gladys, Elvis’ mother.

“I come from a family where Elvis was playing all the time when I was growing up,” said Bethan, who lives in Brighton. “My mother and I paid a trip to Graceland a few years ago. Part of the tour took in Gladys’ kitchen and bedroom, which is pretty much as she left it with dresses hanging in the wardrobe and jewellery on the dressing table. Gladys came from a poor rural community, and here she was in a mansion with a son who was (and is) one of the most famous in the world. I came away thinking: how must that have been for her?”

Bethan spent almost three years researching the novel, and in that time she learned a great deal about Gladys as a person and her place in Graceland. Gladys had been raised during the Depression in a poor rural community in the South. The aspects of life she enjoyed and took for granted – sitting on the porch talking to neighbours, feeding her chickens, were all denied her at Graceland.

There were no neighbours dropping by. She wasn’t allowed to feed her chickens on the front lawn because that was deemed bad for Elvis’ image, and this wasn’t the kind of place where you could peg out your wash.

“I realised there was some tension here,” said Bethan. “On the one hand, here is a woman who is fiercely proud of her son; while on the other she yearns for a normal life. It the end of the day, her life was severely narrowed by Elvis’ fame and sadly that just made her miserable.”

Elvis performing live at the Mississippi-Alabama Fairgrounds in Tupelo, September 26, 1956 - copyright free image

Bethan’s research took her to the States, where she visited Elvis’ home town of Tupelo and returned to the Graceland mansion. She met Elvis’ hairdresser, a cousin and some of his oldest friends all of whom gave her some interesting insights into Elvis’ world. She also read from the vast quantity of literature on him, and watched his movies and played his music over and over again.

How does Bethan feel about her latest novel? “My other novels centred on fictional characters, so I know it is a big risk to publish a book about one of the most famous people in the history of the last century – especially as I’m not an American and not from Elvis’ part of the world. Having said that it is always a risk when you put a book out there for the world to read. I’m feeling very excited and terrified at the same time!”

Graceland will be published by Chatto & Windus on Thursday 14th February.

For more about studying for the MA in Creative Writing at the University of Chichester go to www.chi.ac.uk/ma-creative-writing.