Back in Time For a Cup of Coffee at The Criterion

Francesca talks about the inspiration behind her 3-part serial, The Criterion, which begins in The People’s Friend this coming week. 

The Criterion in the 1970s, having gone through a name change

I know I’ve mentioned before on this blog how some of my writing has been inspired by my family history. The very first novel I wrote, a Young Adult called Sea Angel, came about because of my own experience working in the family cafe as a teenager. My short story Far From Home,  published in the anthology 7 Food Stories from Rome began as my attempt to imagine what it might be like to move to England from Italy as a young widow with a twelve-year-old son, as my grandmother did. The idea for the historical novel I’m currently working on came from a World War One document I found on Ancestry.co.uk detailing the discharge of a Welsh great-grandfather on medical grounds.

The Criterion today, now a hair salon

The first of those is a contemporary, while the latter two both take place in 1915. My serial for The People’s Friend, The Criterion shifts to a different time entirely: 1955. It’s the era of the Ten Pound Poms, and the story begins with my main female character, Gwen Hughes, talking to her disgruntled grandmother about her impending departure to Australia. Renzo Crolla, the male protagonist, owns a cafe in Worthing, The Criterion of the title.

Some of the characters in the serial are based on real people, some are an amalgam, while others are completely fictitious. The story is based only very loosely on that of my family (I might tell you the real story one day). The Criterion in Worthing, however, was a real cafe, owned by my grandmother and father, a kind of character in itself. My grandmother, a war widow, emigrated to England in 1927 with my father. Much of her family were already over here. In 1930 she bought

My mum behind the counter c1958

The Criterion from her brother. I was born in the cafe twenty-eight years later and lived there until I was nearly four-years-old. My father rented the cafe out for a further seven years. Finally he sold it in 1968. It went on being a cafe for a number of years afterwards, known as the Californian, but today it’s a hairdressing salon.

The building itself is Georgian, so what it was originally I have no idea, presumably not a cafe. Perhaps my next project will be to find out something of its history. If I gather enough material I might be able to use it for another story!

Evening trade, c1958

 

The Criterion, a 3-part serial, starts in The People’s Friend in the issue dated 27th May.

7 Food Stories from Rome is available here.

In the story, Renzo was interned on the Isle of Man during World War 2, as was my father. The piece I wrote for The Guardian about it can be viewed here

 

Me outside the cafe, 1959, with Worthing promenade in the background

Mum and Dad in 1955

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

@FCapaldiBurgess

Hi-de-Hi! Welcome back to Elaine Everest, with her new novel, The Butlins Girls

Elaine Everest’s new novel, The Butlins Girls, is released today. We’re thrilled to welcome her back to the blog to tell us about it.

Thank you both for hosting me on your blog. I see you’ve moved the furniture about since I was last here and there’s more wine in the fridge! Ready to celebrate, Elaine!

It was nice meeting Freda again in The Butlins Girls. Did you enjoy bringing characters forward from The Woolworths Girls, and is it something you will continue to do?

I really like moving my characters from novel to novel. Even a small mention of a character will have a reader stop and think… Freda was the ideal person to appear in The Butlins Girls as, like Molly and her mother, she had links to the local Girl Guides and Brownies and in 1946 did not have a husband or young family.

What or who inspired the character Johnny Johnson?

I found Johnny because of my love of old musicals. I was watching Easter Parade, starring Fred Astaire and Judy Garland, when ‘my Johnny’ appeared as Jonathan Harrow III played by Peter Lawford. A tall handsome man with just a hint of humour – perfect!

Without giving too much away, Harriet and Simon are not very nice people. Do you enjoy writing the bad characters?

I love a baddie! They can do horrid things, and say almost what they like, then we can give them their comeuppance – great fun for a writer. I also like to see how my pleasant characters cope when they are faced with these kind of people.

The covers of your novels are very eye catching, particularly with the red spine. Do you have any input into them?

I’m fortunate in that Pan Macmillan included me when the models were chosen for the cover of The Woolworths Girls along with designs of the uniforms of that time. This set the style of my covers and the design team have so far kept faithfully to that theme. Having just seen the cover design for the next Woolworths book I can say that they have done another great job!

I’m sure your readers will love to know how you come up with the ideas for your novels.

I usually start with my setting. I like to keep my ‘patch’ as South East London. Erith was still in Kent ‘back then’ but, as London grew, it was swallowed up and lost the image of a little town on the banks of the Thames. These days older people have only memories of the town as it used to be and it is these memories I keep true when writing my books. I like to find out what was happening at the time I set the book and then weave my characters through this with their problems and dreams.

Your books are sagas, so are traditionally longer then contemporary novels. How much time do you allow for writing them?

Sometimes not enough when a deadline is looming! My writing time would be 5 – 6 months but before that I’d be thinking what to write and jotting down ideas and links to research material. I’ve been busier this past year as there is more than my one book being published in 2017.

Research is obviously involved with your books. How much do you do and how do you resource it?

When I plan a story I like to do this fairly quickly and pencil in any research I need to do. At the stage where I flesh out my outline into a chapter breakdown I add links to information and start to pile up my collection of non-fiction books and articles that I’ve collected over the years. Most of these books remain on the table until I type ‘the end’. Apart from written material I will use online sources as well as local council archives. You will also find me watching old movies and documentaries to get a flavour of what life was like in the period of time where my book is set.

What’s next?

I’d like to say a six-month cruise but no, I’m already working on another novel that’s due for publication in May 2018 and my deadline is five months away. I’m thrilled there is another Woolworths novel being published in time for Christmas and that I can revisit my Woolies Girls and also introduce a few new characters and romances.

Thank you for your interesting questions.

Thank you, Elaine, and good luck with the book.

 

About Elaine

Elaine Everest was born and brought up in North West Kent, where many of her books are set. She has written widely for women’s magazines, with both short stories and features. When she isn’t writing, Elaine runs The Write Place creative writing school in Dartford, Kent, and runs social media for the Romantic Novelists’ Association.

Elaine lives with her husband, Michael, and their Polish Lowland Sheepdog, Henry, in Swanley, Kent.

Facebook Author Page

Twitter: @ElaineEverest

 

Molly Missons gazed around in awe. So this was Butlin’s. Whitewashed buildings, bordered by rhododendrons, gave a cheerful feeling to a world still recovering from six years of war. The Skegness holiday camp covered a vast area, much larger than Molly expected to see.’

Molly Missons hasn’t had the best of times recently. Having lost her parents, now some dubious long-lost family have darkened her door – attempting to steal her home and livelihood…

After a horrendous ordeal, Molly applies for a job as a Butlin’s Aunty. When she receives news that she has got the job, she immediately leaves her small hometown – in search of a new life in Skegness.

Molly finds true friendship in Freda, Bunty and Plum. But the biggest shock is discovering that star of the silver screen, Johnny Johnson, is working at Butlin’s as head of the entertainment team. Johnny takes an instant liking to Molly and she begins to shed the shackles of her recent traumas. Will Johnny be just the distraction Molly needs – or is he too good to be to be true?

Published by Pan Macmillan on May 4th and available from Amazon

Eurovision: Conflict, Characters, Tension, Twists and Denouements

The Eurovision Song Contest is almost upon us. Francesca takes a look at the elements of story telling within it.

Crazy characters abound

It occurred to me recently, after hearing an announcement about this year’s UK Eurovision entry, that the contest has many of the elements of a story telling, encapsulated in one evening.

For a start, there are a whole host of diverse characters who appear to have been drafted in from several different genres. Who could forget Lordy, the Finnish heavy metal band who won in 2006? They’d surely stepped out of an episode of Star Trek. Jedward, who represented Ireland in 2012, were dressed as futuristic sci-fi characters as envisaged in the 1970s, with their insane silver space suits. At the other end of the scale, grandmas who would have been at home in a Russian epic took to the stage in 2012, namely The Grannies of Buranovo. In 2013 Romanian Cesar brought horror with his (accidental?) depiction of a modern day Dracula, while singing, perversely, a sugary love song. And these are just a few of the many crazy personalities representing their countries.

All Kinds of Everything…

History is recalled in Abba’s Waterloo. For weird comedy, I present you with Ireland’s Dustin the Turkey, a puppet, who sang Irelande Douze Pointe in 2008. This turned out, appropriately, to be a ‘turkey’, not even qualifying for the show. Nil points before they’d even started.

Of course, romance abounds. Feel the profuse declarations of love in Lulu’s Boom-bang-a-bang (1969) and Cliff Richard’s Congratulations (1968), the sweetness of Dana’s All Kinds of Everything (1970). Cry at the heartbreak in Johnny Logan’s What’s Another Year? (1980).

Congratulations!

Romance, history, dystopia, comedy, sci-fi and fantasy – it’s all there. You might say crime is represented, as some of the songs are murdered (Jemini’s UK entry in 2003 anyone?). And there’s mystery – how on earth did some of them even get picked?

The show itself begins with ‘conflict’: who will triumph, who will fail, who’ll make a complete wally of themselves? The scoring, by far the best part in my opinion, provides nail biting tension. Friendships and rivalries surface, even if quite a lot of inevitability sets in. There is disappointment and elation as the show moves towards the denouement and we discover the winner.

Love songs seem to be the most popular

But then, sometimes there is a twist. Take 1968, when Cliff lost by one point to Spain. 1969 saw four winners.  In 1988, the UK’s Scott Fitzgerald was ahead by the time they reached the penultimate vote. Then Yugoslavia gave Switzerland six points, making Celine Dion the winner by one point. Gripping stuff.

Not long now till the next episode of the saga known as the Eurovision Song Contest. What new elements will be thrown into the plot this time, what new declaration of love, what rivalries, what totally bonkers characters? Whatever they are, have a good time loving it or hating it!

 

One thing you could do to generate story ideas is to look at the Eurovision song titles, maybe combining two or more of them to add other elements. What would you make, for instance, of Better the Devil You KnowKnock Knock Who’s There and Waterloo?

For more information on this year’s contest: Eurovision Song Contest

@FCapaldiBurgess

My writing competition post at the RNA blog. Still some comps open for you to enter.

 

Seek & You Shall Find…

Easter Egg hunts, flowers, aunts, cafes and writing inspiration – just some aspects of Elaine’s and Francesca’s Easters.

Forsythia

Elaine: I can’t believe it’s nearly Easter again. The sun has been shining and my garden is in full bloom with the spring flowers. The daffodils and snowdrops gave me the first lift of colour that comes with the change of season, quickly followed by the array of colour provided by the tulips. Many years ago, my aunt, who I’m sad to say is no longer with us, gave me a cutting of the forsythia from her garden. Every year, the bright yellow of the leaves lifts my spirits and reminds me of her. The Camellia I bought several years ago, at London’s Columbia Road Flower Market, steals the show this year with it’s beautiful red flowers. Unfortunately, they are quite delicate and the wind tends to blow the petals off, so it is short lived but wonderful all the same.

Camellia

Easter is a religious celebration that has been grabbed by a rabbit and become all about the chocolate eggs. Thanks to the wonders of television, great and persistent marketing over many years means commercialism wins again. There is probably a generation or two that doesn’t know what Easter is really about, which I find quite sad. Don’t worry, I’m not going to start preaching; it ends here.

Traditionally, my mother visits for a few days over the Easter bank holiday and catches up with all the family. With grown up children, I have long since stopped buying them chocolate eggs, despite their complaints.

Last year, my husband and I came up with an Easter egg hunt for our grandson, who was five at the time. We wrote out clues and hid them with mini eggs all around our house, thinking it would keep him occupied for most of the day, but we clearly underestimated his intelligence and it lasted all of ten minutes! Although, it has to be said, he wanted us to repeat it many times throughout the day. We are planning to do it again this year, but trust me, the clues are going to be much harder and we aren’t just hiding chocolate. We thought we would mix it up with puzzle books and other things he enjoys.

School Easter bonnet parade

Francesca: Of course you could argue that ‘Easter’ itself  was originally the pagan festival of the Saxon goddess of spring, Eastra, appropriated for a Christian festival. But yes, I understand where Elaine is coming from. As a child I remember there only being Easter eggs and cards in the shops, not all the paraphernalia you can buy now. And is it just me, or did Easter egg chocolate have a different, yummier taste? I’ve no idea why. These days it doesn’t seem to taste any different to ordinary chocolate. 

For many years I helped organise a children’s event called the Good Friday Project, which involved a lot of different Easter and spring crafts and the making of hot cross buns. We’d have a huge swathe of children turn up for it in the morning, at the local church hall. It was a joyous occasion (if darned hard work!). My long suffering children used to come along year after year, even when they were too old for it, latterly as helpers. The idea for one of the first stories I ever sold was based on this occasion. There are stories everywhere!

Who can get to the eggs first?

As a child and teen I spent all my Easters at my dad’s cafe. It was the beginning of the seaside cafe season. As a teenager I worked there, first as a washer-upper and later as a waitress. How I longed to spend the festival doing exactly what our customers were doing – enjoying a weekend away. I was 21 before I had my first Easter in a place other than that cafe. Hence the premise of the very first novel I ever wrote – a Young Adult – about a fourteen-year-old stuck in a cafe!

Spoils! Maisie the dog looks hopeful

My three grandchildren will be around over the Easter weekend and, like Elaine, we’ll organise an Easter egg hunt. Hopefully the weather will be good and we’ll do it out in the garden like last time. It’s lovely to catch their infectious enthusiasm and view these occasions through their eyes, instead of our usual world-weary ones. The three of them are a source of inspiration for me as I base the very young characters in my writing on them. Hope they won’t mind too much when they get older.

Happy Easter to everyone and don’t forget to let us know how you celebrate it.

@RobertsElaine11

@FCapaldiBurgess

A recent interview we did with Sophia Bennett, the winner of the Romantic Novel of the Year Award 2017

A New Chapter…

It was exactly a year ago today Elaine left paid employment for the last time. What a year it has been!

I was thrilled to be given the opportunity to concentrate solely on my writing, and what a year it has been. I work at it everyday, whether that’s planning, researching or developing my manuscript. I have a goal and I try to stick to it. My aim is always to write a thousand words per day. This is calculated over a week, allowing for peaks and troughs and for the unexpected to happen. It is always my intention to be in the office by nine am and work through until three; this allows for family time, as well as keeping my novel on schedule.

Francesca and I at an RNA RoNAs Award evening

As you already know, I am a member of The Romantic Novelists Association (RNA) New Writers Scheme (NWS) and have been to numerous events they hold. The two main events for me have been their conference, which is held every July, and the London Chapter meetings. The conferences are all about workshops, panel talks, agent one to ones and, of course, wine.

 

I also joined the Historical Novel Society (HNS) and the Society of Women Writers and Journalists (SWWJ). I even have a press card you know.

I completed my Victorian novel and went to the HNS Conference in Oxford to hear the news that the Victorian era doesn’t sell well. This was a major disappointment for me. With the help of friends I had a rethink on what to write. By the time I came away from the conference, I had a plan forming in my mind. It has taken me five months to research, plan and complete another historical novel, which I am thrilled about. It was a test I set myself, to see if I could write about anything, which in my mind I have passed. The manuscript has been sent off to the RNA NWS for critique, so it’s hold your breath time, to see if it’s any good.

Last week, I attended my first SWWJ event, which I thoroughly enjoyed. It was an awards afternoon tea and I met some lovely people there.

Of course, I still attend the creative writing class run by Elaine Everest in Dartford. My son finding the class for me has been life changing, or as writers would say, an inciting event, which started my rollercoaster journey. Over the last few years, with Elaine’s encouragement, I have attended many workshops to help hone my craft, but the ones that have been the most memorable and left a lasting impression on me are those held by Julie Cohen, such a fabulous, upbeat person who makes learning fun.

The view from our favourite restaurant in Ramsgate, on our writing retreat.

Four of us rent a house each year and spend a week enjoying the sunshine, food, and of course writing. A writing retreat focuses the mind, so alongside the week, I have also attended many one-day retreats.

Towards the end of last year, I started a monthly feature for the RNA Blog, on literary festivals and workshops. I cannot deny the thought of writing something that other writers will read terrified me, but I bit the bullet.

It has been a year of learning and enjoying being part of the writing world. Do I regret leaving work? Oh no, definitely not. Am I closer to achieving my dream? Most definitely; there are no regrets here.

If I could give advice to anybody with an ambition it would be have a plan and stick to it. Yes, things will get in the way because that’s life but as soon as you are able get back to the road that leads you to your goal do so. Try to mix with like-minded people so you know that whatever you are experiencing is not unusual, but above all else don’t give up!

 

 

@RobertsElaine11

@FCapaldiBurgess

 

 

 

 

 

 

When The Saints Come Marching In…

With the majority of the British Isles’ saints’ days occurring this time of year, Elaine and Francesca consider their usefulness in story telling

Shamrock Bear, collected by the children many years ago.

Elaine: March is a month where we start to feel uplifted as signs of colour appear on our landscape. Spring has arrived but it also has a couple of celebrated saints days in it. The 1st March was St David’s Day and the 17th March will be St Patrick’s Day.

April has St George’s Day and November has St Andrew’s Day. Each saint represents a different country within the British Isles. The title “Saint” usually denotes someone who has been canonised, although in today’s modern language we often use it to describe someone who is regarded as an exemplary model or an extraordinary teacher.

Eilean Donan – iconic Scottish castle

Now you may wonder why we have raised this. Well no matter what genre you read or write in, do the saints get mentioned? As we know, the public views these saints in very different ways. So would your characters. Although typecasting would be a little boring, their activities could be a catalyst for things to come.

For example in a contemporary novel the characters may have a night out celebrating, which could involve food and alcohol. There could be a scene written for such a celebration. Is a character a mean drunk or a teetotal? Could a crime be committed because of the celebrations, or a love tryst begin? Could the main character have kissed someone and then regretted it the following morning?

In times gone by maybe the characters would have been more reverent and celebrated such days by going to church or committing good deeds.

St David’s Cathedral

All of their actions and reactions would probably depend on their backstory.

Francesca: I have an example of using saints in my most recent contemporary novel, set in West Wales. The second day of the novel takes place on March 1st, giving a neighbour of the main character, Tori, an opportunity to welcome her with daffodils and Welsh cakes. It also marks the time of year without being too obvious. Later on in the novel, Tori takes a trip to St David’s splendid cathedral, a good chance for her to get to know the male protagonist, Coel, better.

St Caranog

The village I based my imaginary village on has its own saint, called St Caranog. Not wanting to identify too closely with the real village, I made up my own saint, calling him St Dynogof. The church there is named after him, another setting where things happen in the novel. I had fun making up his story, based loosely on that of Caranog’s and a couple of other Welsh saints, and he plays a small part in the novel.

I have lots of ideas for future stories set in my made-up village of ‘Môrglas’, and dear old St Dynogof might get a further role in one of them.

Elaine is right when she says people would have shown more reverence to saints’ days in

Probably not what St George’s dragon was supposed to look like!

the past. But it does depend on the time, the place and what denomination of people you’re talking about. The historical novel I’m currently writing is set in a Welsh mining town in World War One. There would have been a lot of nonconformists and therefore people who were less inclined to celebrate saints’ days. Many of the incomers from England and Ireland (and there were quite a few here at this time) would have been Anglicans and Catholics, so would have taken a greater interest in saints. Maybe it would have even caused some friction? It’s certainly something to consider.

So, for the past, present and future… 

Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus     Lá fhéile Pádraig sona dhuit     Latha Naomh Anndra sona dhuibh     and Happy St George’s day!

(apologies for any mistakes – blame google!)

 

@RobertsElaine11

@FCapaldiBurgess

Francesca and Elaine also write the ‘Competition Monthly’ and ‘Festivals and Workshops’ posts for the Romantic Novelists’ Association blog. You can read their current posts here:

Competition Monthly

Festivals and Workshops

 

 

New Green Shoots of Inspiration Pushing Through the Sloth of Winter

The days are getting longer, dissipating Francesca’s winter stupor and helping her get more organised. 

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Crocuses popping up through the winter leaves

What a storm we had yesterday and last night. The trees were being blown around mercilessly, snapping twigs and even branches from trees onto the path and road. But as I took my grandson to school this morning, the sun was shining and the air was still. It was like the wind had blown winter away and brought in an early spring. In the garden much of my lawn is covered with crocuses and the first hellebores and bergenias are blooming in the flower beds.

During the winter months, especially with the dark closing in at four in the afternoon, I found myself plodding through my writing day, getting done what I could before my brain felt drugged by the gloom once more. The days upon days of grey clouds didn’t help either. I guess I’m someone who suffers from Seasonal Affective Disorder as I always feel much more depressed in the hibernal months.

Research for my latest novel

Research for my latest novel

My study desk has slowly been swamped with information and research for my various projects, as I’ve moved into the warmer dining room to use the table there instead. Apparently Roald Dahl used to work with a messy desk and look how successful he was. Despite that, I don’t agree with a recent study that decided that untidy desks help employees to think more clearly. That doesn’t work for me.

It’s nearly spring, and time for me to buck up. My books of ‘plot bunnies’ need locating and ordering. I have scores and scores of ideas but it seems sometimes it’s as big a hindrance to have too many ideas as none at all. They need organising, as does my time. I need to programme my work on the novel, short stories, competition entries and blog posts. Also I need to schedule time to submit my work. I have a writing friend who always submits on a Thursday. I think this could work for me, instead of being haphazard about it. What I need is a kind of timetable, as if I’m at school.

Desk pad, ready to fill out

Desk pad, ready to fill out

Of course, I have the luxury of doing this at the moment as I don’t currently have an editor waiting for edits on a story, a novel or a serial. On the other hand, it is useful to have someone else give you deadlines and I find I can work very efficiently when that’s the case.

So, I need the motivation to organise myself. Apart from rearranging my desk space, what else will help me? My diary comes in very useful for deadlines of competitions and for blog posts, along with the various writing events I attend. But most useful is my weekly desk pad, split into days of the week. It helps me focus my mind on what needs to be done in the present, how long each task should be given and what time of day to do it. The pad has been languishing on my desk, but now it’s time to put it back to work.

Do you find your writing is affected by the seasons? What do you do to motivate yourself and make the most of your writing time?

@FCapaldiBurgess

My February Competition Monthly on the RNA blog

As I returned home today, I found myself singing a song from the radio show ‘Sorry I’ll Read That Again’. Those of you of a certain age may remember Bill Oddie’s, Spring Spring Spring, the lyrics of which inspired the title of this blog. (My two youngest children used to do a wonderful rendition of it!)

Here it is. I hope it cheers you up and spurs you on like it did me!

Spring Spring Spring from ‘Sorry I’ll Read That Again’