It’s Only Words, Isn’t It?

As the new term gets started, Elaine and Francesca think about their writing year ahead.

September and the new school year is upon us. For some it is a momentous occasion, with children going into the next level of education. Whether their son/daughter has gone from nursery to reception or from sixth form to university, or anything in between, many tears have flowed.

Just as it’s a new beginning for the children/grandchildren, so it is for the writers amongst us. It’s a challenge, getting back into the swing of sitting still long enough to write some words, after the hustle and bustle of the summer holidays.

IMG_0942

Elaine’s novel planning whiteboard

Elaine: Earlier this month I attended the Historical Novel Society Conference and a Woman’s Weekly workshop on historical writing. Although they were obviously very different, both were a first for me. I gained something from both of them but what astounded me more is that I know more than I realised; it is clearly about putting that knowledge into practice.

My Victorian Saga is technically finished and out trying to get snapped up, although I am sure changes will need to be made. While I am waiting for those decisions, I am planning my next novel. That means I am up to my neck in research, learning some fascinating facts that I hope I can slip into my novel. It’s pretty safe to say there have been times when I thought my head would explode.

I have paper and Post It Notes everywhere. Luckily for me, I have an understanding husband because while I have an office, I have also commandeered the dining table as well!

Francesca: It always seems that I start new novels in September, as if studying for a new course. I guess this is because of sending novels off to the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme several summers in a row.

Islwyn Morgan, late 1930s.

Francesca’s historical idea came from an incident in her grandfather Islwyn’s family.

Like Elaine, I attended the Woman’s Weekly workshop on historical fiction. Although I tend to write contemporary novels, and have just started a new one, I’ve had an idea for an historical bubbling away for some time that the workshop helped me develop. So which to continue with? 

Because I did a history degree back in the dim distant past, several people have asked me why I don’t pursue that genre of novel. I have written several historical short stories and a serial, but I always seem to come up with masses of ideas for contemporary novels. It would be interesting to proceed with the historical, though there’s a danger I’ll get carried away with the research, for which I’ve acquired several books!

My other goal is to return to short stories. In the past I’ve had sixty-odd ‘out theres’ sent to various magazines, but I’ve sadly neglected them in favour of novels recently. And I’d like to write another serial. 

Time to just get on with it, because as Bruce Lee once apparently observed, ‘If you spend too much time thinking about a thing, you’ll never get it done.’ Good luck with your own ‘new term’. 

Do you have plans for the new school year or are you just enjoying the peace and quiet?

Don’t They Know It Isn’t Christmas?

As the summer holidays end, Francesca and Elaine wonder whether it’s too soon to get ready for Christmas, particularly as a writer. And how do we get inspired by snow in the middle of a heatwave?

Fabulous Entrance To A Department Store In Berlin

Fabulous entrance to a department store in Berlin

Elaine: In the middle of August I went shopping for birthday cards and you can imagine my dismay at finding several shelves already filled with Christmas cards, but what is worse than that is that I was actually tempted to buy some, but deciding it was all a bit crackers, excuse the pun, I didn’t. Since then, I have seen adverts for Christmas items in sales; although they are probably old stock, it does beg the question how early should the commercialism of Christmas start and does it get earlier each year, or is it just me getting older?

Francesca: Ugh, don’t get me started! If Christmas didn’t appear in the shops before December 1st, I’d be quite happy. I was talking to a fellow writer, Ann,  about it this evening, and she suggested after Bonfire Night was okay, which I guess is reasonable. And there are certain things that need to be considered ahead of time.

London Chapter Christmas Lunch Gifts

RNA London Chapter Christmas lunch gifts

Elaine: A cook will plan ahead to make the cakes and puddings along with pickling onions. A writer also needs to have one eye on the calendar so he/she can plan accordingly. If you are a writer of short stories, then now is the time to be considering sending them off to be included in December editions of magazines. If you write novels, and they are going into paperback, then you are too late for this year.

Francesca: Of course some magazines will already have their stock of Christmas stories ready; the time for submitting seems to get earlier each year. I think the latest I’ve sent in a Christmas story is November, after a call out. It’s worth checking with the magazine. But as you say Elaine, it’s definitely too late for a Christmas novel this year. How on earth does one go about setting a story during winter celebrations when it’s still summer, especially in the middle of a heatwave? 

Elaine: To get into the mood for writing a Christmas story, you can obviously draw on memories, or watching films can inspire you. A few of my favourites are It’s A Wonderful Life, Love Actually and Miracle On 34th Street, all feel good films that spread the love. Music is also a good way of setting the mood. Playing Christmas carols or the usual pop songs that get wheeled out every year definitely gives the feel good factor.

Children and Christmas: always a winning combination

Children and Christmas: always a winning combination

Francesca: Miracle on 34th Street is a favourite of mine too (the original version, with Natalie Wood), but I also love The Muppet Christmas Carol.  Despite that, watching either during the summer is something I would personally find quite annoying. Ditto Christmas songs. Christmas photos might be a good place to start, especially if you have boxes / files full as I do. I have been known to decorate the dining room with lights and table decorations to evoke the mood in August, before sitting at the table to write. Yes, you heard it here first – I am quite mad!

Apparently Selfridges opened their Christmas shop on August 1st this year. Now that is barmy. But if you’re desperate for inspiration it would be a great venue to hang out in and jot down some ideas. There’s also a place called the Icebar in London’s Heddon Street, which I visited a few years ago. Fascinating. Cold. Perhaps inspiring. Difficult to write anything down though when you’re having to wear a thick coat and gloves!

Elaine: Of course, you could just use this year’s celebration to write and get a novel published in time for next year.

Family photos, a good source of inspiration - especially with interesting characters!

Family photos, a good source of inspiration – what are this lot up to?

Francesca: Indeed. Ultimately, the best time to write Christmas fiction, whether a novel, a short story or a serial, is at Christmas. Obvious really. One year I managed to write three Christmas stories during December and it was so much easier than doing it in July. It’s a matter of getting organised. It also helps to put a note somewhere to remind yourself to send them off when the time’s right, as it’s very easy to forget about them.

Tell us, how do you get inspired to write seasonal stories at the wrong time of year?

 

 

 

 

Who’d Live in a House Like This?

Francesca looks at finding the right home for a story’s characters. And she has good news!

All novels, short stories and serials need settings. All characters need somewhere to live (unless they’re vagrants – but I guess even they’d need a place to shelter).

The houses in my stories have a number of origins. The cafe in my first novel was based on my dad’s, that in the fourth novel on one in Whitstable. The main house in my second novel was based very loosely on my own (though so much neater and tidier!). The abode in my third novel was completely out of my head, yet I can picture it as if I’ve lived there. Houses in my current novel are based on those that exist in the village I’ve based my setting on, if you see what I mean! Though I’ve had to make up the interiors.

Some of you might know a computer game called The Sims, where you build homes and people, then control their destinies. I’ve used this program more than once just to build my characters’ houses, to see what they look like.

What does one need to consider when creating a house? How many rooms / bedrooms are needed for a start. Is it a small or large house? Are the characters crowded in or rattling around? What’s their financial status, and does it match or mismatch the house? Is the house in the right period for the story? It would be bad form to have a Georgian family in a Victorian house (unless it’s some kind of time slip), or to give a Tudor house sash windows. The publisher, Countryside Books, has a number of guides on houses from different eras, as well as other period knowledge, which can be very useful for this kind of research.

So, who’d live in a house like this? Do any of them conjure up a character or characters. What’s their story?

Whitstable

Llangrannog

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Llangrannog Tori

Tintagel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tenby

Newcastle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amsterdam

Ightham playground

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Newcastle 2

Hastings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapel House Pembrokeshire

Wendy House

 

 

 

 

 

 

Scotney

Middle Coombe Farm Devon

 

 

 

 

 

 

South Downs

Arundel Castle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Any idea what or where any of these buildings are?

Lastly, my good news. First of all, having been a runner up in the People’s Friend serial competition last year, I’m now completing the serial for them. No news yet of when it’ll be published, but I’ll post about it when I know. Secondly, I was longlisted in the Frome short story competition. Lastly, I’ve been shortlisted in the Wells Festival of Literature competition for a children’s story, with my second Young Adult novel, How to Handle Plan B. I won’t know the result of that until mid October.

Happy house hunting!

Links: Countryside Books

 

Bring Me Sunshine…

Elaine Roberts has a fascinating hobby, and it’s not writing!

I have been on holiday for the last week, enjoying the sunshine in Cornwall and Devon, staying

River Fowey from our bedroom terrace

River Fowey from our bedroom terrace

near the River Fowey and then moving on to the River Dart. One of my favourite hobbies is people watching; it fascinates me and only last week, I watched them while tucking into the lovely Cornish ice cream. The decision making of which flavours to have; banana, liquorice, caramel, bubble gum and coffee, along with the more traditional ones, was a feat in itself, hmmm. Anyway, as a well-known comedian once said, “I digress”.

Watching young and old alike, I thought how much happier people seem to be when the sun is out. Couples held hands, sometimes giving each other a little kiss as they sat in the sun or walked along. Children were laughing and, I don’t know about you, but whenever a child laughs, I start smiling myself. Everyone was moving slower, enjoying the heat on their bodies, some tucking into cones of ice cream; many children’s faces were covered in it. Adults and children were fishing for crabs off the riverbank, some celebrating their catches.

The view of the River Dart from our hotel room

The view of the River Dart from our hotel room

Many older couples appeared to be in their own world as they sat by the river, watching boats of all shapes and sizes sail by, some barely acknowledging each other’s existence. The younger people seemed lost in their mobile phones, texting or playing games. In this instant world, I watched people of all ages allow the mobile phone to interrupt or replace conversations.

I smiled as a grandma tried to use the modern method of getting a small child to do as they are told by counting to five. The child laughed and carried on running around the restaurant, with the grandma following her. As you can imagine, in the child’s eyes, this became a game.

It made me think about the writing of characters and settings. Everything around us is a feast for a writer to indulge in. Does the weather affect their moods and also what they are wearing? Does it make them forget, or reinforce their problems? Does the sun have a therapeutic affect on their personalities, or when they have a problem, do they notice what the weather is doing?

The question I asked myself was – is this reflected in my writing? I like to think yes, but maybe I need to have another read through, just to be sure. Perhaps I’ll have ice cream first.

@RobertsElaine11

 

Are You A Daydream Believer?

Elaine Roberts asks can dreams be met in isolation.

This last week has been an emotional rollercoaster. Seven writers travelled together by train, first class naturally, to attend the Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA) Conference at Lancaster University, and what a hectic four days it was. The university campus was very large and, needless to say, we did get lost, but in the process we met some lovely people who were kind enough to point us in the right direction.

 

Elaine, Francesca, Natalie and I at our Ramsgate Writing Retreat earlier this year.

Elaine, Francesca, Natalie and I at our Ramsgate Writing Retreat earlier this year.

It was wonderful to meet up with old friends and make new ones; don’t tell anyone but an awful lot of wine got drunk while we were there.

I was lucky enough to secure meetings with a couple of agents, who shall remain nameless at this stage, but they were very helpful in giving me direction and making suggested amendments to improve my work, before I send in my whole manuscript. I was thrilled with my feedback and it all helps to keep the motivation going. However, the work feels a little overwhelming and the thought of sending in the whole manuscript is quite scary!

There were some wonderful workshops and panel talks, which I attended. It is always good to be reminded of aspects of the writing world, which may have been forgotten in the rush to write a novel. All seven of us came away with good news and constructive criticism on our work, which is worth its weight in gold.

What I think is important is the support network that family, friends and the

The original WMWP Bloggers at The RoNA Awards

The original WMWP Bloggers at The RoNA Awards

RNA have given me, I am certain that without that I wouldn’t have made it as far as I have. I attend The Write Place in Dartford and Elaine Everest is very encouraging and supportive of everyone who attends there.

If you have a dream follow it and see where it takes you. There may not be time to do it full time because of work, family or other commitments, but start with small steps. Join a class, a group or an organisation. Look into an on-line course, but give yourself a chance. There will always be someone around you being negative, but don’t let them stop you from trying; as the saying goes, “it’s better to have tried and failed than to have never tried at all”. I was on social media and someone added a link to a video, Omeleto, talking about Regrets, please search and watch it to the end. It’s a highly recommended watch. It left me asking the question am I a “kinda” person? No I am not, so I am working hard on my edits and sending my work off.

Are you a “kinda” person?

Follow your dream because it can become a reality, I believe I am within touching distance of mine.

@RobertsElaine11

Noises Off

Francesca discovered that there’s more to creating a sound atmosphere for writing than simply listening to music.

Scene from a summer place.

Scene from a summer place.

I often use music to set a scene for myself when I’m writing. Sometimes this is because that particular music is being played in the scenario concerned (like Scheherazade, well loved by one of my characters). Often it’s because the music evokes the setting I’m writing. Songs like Gershwin’s Summertime and Theme from a Summer Place summon up long, hot summer days on the beach. Well they do for me. Apart from this, I’m someone who, on the whole, tends to like to work in quiet.

My daughter Giovanna, on the other hand, hates silence, preferring background noise. It doesn’t have to be music. She recently revealed she often studies to the sound of a cafe, or rain, a new idea in boosting productivity. I have relaxation CDs of nature sounds myself, rain, sea and so on. But cafes? It turns out there are many sites on the internet where you can listen to all manner of sounds. Now that, I thought, could be really useful in evoking a setting while I’m writing, so I did a little investigation.

Create the atmosphere of battle.

Create the atmosphere of battle.

For a start, You Tube is full of these ‘videos’. Some are on a loop, therefore not so satisfying, so you need to explore a little. They can be anything from an hour to eight hours long. Among the many I found were rain on a tent, a sailing ship on rough sea, a campfire, an echoing cave, office sounds, an airport, Hallowe’en and various Star Wars settings! There are many other sites offering these location sounds and it’s quite easy to google them to find one that suits you.

There are also several websites where you can mix your own sounds for a bespoke atmosphere. These include historical soundscapes such as battlefields and medieval scenes (one of which was an execution!). While useful, it’s tempting to spend rather too much time on these, investigating what they do. It’s probably better to stick with the ready made sound scenes they provide, of which there are plenty.

Right, I’m off for a cup of tea and the sound of a cafe…

@FCapaldiBurgess

Some links to get you started:

You Tube 1 hour coffee shop

Calmsound nature sounds

Ambient Mixer to make own ambient sounds

myNoise sound mixer

Noisli simple mixer

 

It’s My Life…

As you all know Elaine Roberts gave up her day job at the end of March 2016, to become a full time writer.

The question is, did she?

Elaine: When you are used to getting up and going to work everyday, and have done for more years that I care to admit to here, getting into a routine is important. I am pleased to report that I have established that. In my old day job, I always had things that I had to do on a daily/weekly basis, so I have transferred this to my new routine.

The question now is, am I following my new routine?

clock5I don’t set an alarm clock to get me out of bed in the morning; in fact I very rarely do anything by the clock anymore, not even eat, unless it involves somebody else. My pressures are now self-imposed. If my children decide to visit, or babysitting duties beckon, then my laptop will always be closed while they are here. However, I have given myself a target for each month. When I took the decision to try and write 20,000 words each month, it seemed unachievable, but how wrong was I. May was the first month for that target and I am proud to say I achieved it, while also editing as I went, so now I am taking it a step further by thinking I could easily have my first draft finished in five months. I am not a quick writer and spend a lot of time dwelling on all the usual questions, what, where, who, when and how. It is all in my plan, but I find my story evolves as I am writing it, so the plan becomes null and void in some places.

So where am I at with my new career?Me Working

I finished my novel in May and sent it to the Romantic Novelists Association New Writers Scheme (RNA NWS), to be critiqued. I have everything crossed that the report won’t be too bad, but I am expecting things to need changing.

The plan for my next novel is in place and I have written 14,000 words of it. The question at the beginning of this piece was “have I become a full time writer?” The answer is, most definitely. I am not a published writer. Let me just correct that statement; I have had many short stories published, but my dream has always been about writing and publishing a novel. Therefore, for me, I am unpublished. However, for the first time ever, I truly believe I will achieve my goal, because I never stop learning and listening to others. The apprenticeship is being served, so improvements are being made all the time.

The next stop is the RNA Conference at the beginning of July; for me there is nothing better than mixing with other writers, except maybe chocolate!

Am I happy? You bet I am!!

@RobertsElaine11