My Not So Funny Valentine?

February 14th is normally associated with St Valentine, the patron saint of love. But there has often been a darker side to the date…

bee

Valentine is also the patron saint of beekeepers and plague!

St Valentine is an elusive character. The only thing historians are sure of is that he was martyred then buried north of Rome. They’re not even certain if he’s one person or a mix of two. Most of the legends about him were made up in 14th century England, mostly by Geoffrey Chaucer. It wasn’t until then that Valentine became associated with romance.

Even since that time, Valentine’s Day has not always been an occasion for hearts and roses.

Elaine: There have been wars, battles and massacres along with many sporting events and memorial plays such as Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance Of Being Earnest” opening in London. Of course, we also can’t forget Aretha Franklin’s recording of Respect.

Francesca: Indeed. Though not much ‘respect’ was shown to Richard II who was starved to death in Pontefract Castle in 1400, by the man who became Henry IV. Nor to James Cook, killed in 1779 by native Hawaiians. Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand weren’t much into love for their fellow human beings when they issued a decree in 1502 that began the Spanish Inquisition.

telephoneElaine: The valentine’s card as we know it started in the 19th Century. Until then, any flirting and declarations were made through the coded use of fans and, in a more formal way, the giving of jewellery, with gems being set in order, so all the first letters spelt a word.

Francesca: On 14th February 1876, Alexander Graham Bell applied for a patent for the telephone. I guess after that, you could ring your loved one and say, ‘I just called to say I love you.’

Elaine: When I was growing up, I don’t remember it being about a gift or going for an expensive conveyor belt meal that was surrounded by commercial sentimentality. I do remember being excited and worried at receiving a card that had no name of the giver inside and looking at people I knew for days, trying to decide if it came from any of them. It wasn’t commercial; it was fun and feeling happy that someone fancied you.

Hum, I wonder if Al Capone ordered the killing of seven gangsters in 1929, known as The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, because he never received a card. Now there’s a thought.

valentine-houseFrancesca: Perhaps these days, Scarface could channel his violent tendencies into making films on You Tube, launched on Valentine’s Day 2005.

However you celebrate Valentine’s Day, we wish you all a good one. 

@RobertsElaine11

@FCapaldiBurgess

 

 

LADIES WHO LAUNCH!

We welcome back Vivien Hampshire, a former member of Write Minds, to tell us how she organised an online launch party for her first novel, How to Win Back Your Husband.

Launching a new book is a bit like launching a new boat. Having spent so long building it, the last thing you want when you push it out into the choppy seas of the big wide world of publishing is for it to sink on its first day!how-to-win-back-your-husband-cover

I had known for a couple of months that my new romantic comedy ‘How to Win Back Your Husband’ was going to be published on 18 January. I also knew that, although my publishers HQ Digital (formerly Carina) would be promoting it quite heavily on twitter, it was going to be up to me to do a lot of shouting about it too.

I have never been a great twitter user (although I do check it every day and retweet anything I like the look of), much preferring the more intimate feel of Facebook, so that seemed to me the best place to concentrate my efforts. And there, in the sidebar of my Facebook author page, I found a little button marked ‘events’. Having pressed it, it wasn’t too tricky to set up an event of my own: a party to take place online on publication day. If I advertised it early enough and encouraged people to share, I just might attract some interest, and acquire a few new friends and readers along the way.

I wrote a short blurb, explaining what was happening and when, including the lure of a few competition prizes to entice more people in, and added a big picture of my book cover as the banner heading. Knowing it was a mid-week working day, I decided to open at 10am and stay online to welcome ‘guests’ right through until 7pm. It would be a long day, but hopefully worth it!

Now I needed party guests. Sending invitations was easy. No trawling through an address book, rummaging for envelopes or paying for stamps. Facebook very kindly threw up a list of all my ‘friends’ and all I had to do was tick the ones I wanted to invite – pretty much all of them! Within a few minutes, people were pressing the ‘interested’ button, or even more pleasingly the one that says ‘going’.

Like any good party, an element of planning was needed next. It was no good me just sitting there at my computer for nine hours on the day, typing ‘Hi. Come in and buy my book!’ every time someone new turned up. So, I started thinking about what music I should be playing to kick things off, having some (virtual) cake and champagne on offer as people arrived, maybe letting off a few fireworks once it got dark, and – of course – those competitions with prizes that I’d promised.

viv-blog-divorce-cakeI opened up a new folder on my computer and started saving stuff! Photos of balloons, champagne glasses, fireworks going off, cats partying, and lots of enticing cakes (I even found a pic of a cupcake with ‘Happy divorce day’ on top – perfect for the theme of my book), along with welcome and goodbye pictures, all of which I could dip into quickly throughout the event to help me keep things lively and fun.

Next, the prizes! I found a company that would produce some lovely ballpoint pens with an image of my book along the side and ordered enough to give a few away while still hanging on to a couple for my own use. Notebooks and post-it notes were a good idea too – perfect for both writers and readers. I found bags of heart-shaped confetti cut from romance novels, and some lovely heart-shaped stickers too, keeping one bag as a prize while opening the other so I could pop a little pink heart on the back of the envelopes when sending out prizes to the winners. Well, it is a romance novel, after all!

viv-blog-penI had a few competitions in mind, although a couple more evolved during the party itself, and it was lovely to see people joining in all through the day. One competition involved choosing the right music to reflect both the divorce and ‘wanting him back’ themes. My own daughter won that one on the day, but I deny any nepotism as her choices were just brilliant! Another involved a picture of a tie – What did that have to do with my book? It didn’t take long for two guests to arrive at the right answer at much the same time. It was made from the Ross tartan – and Ross is the surname of my main characters! A pen to each of them. Who would play my characters in a film? How old did people think my character Gladys might be, based purely on her name? Again, a couple of guests were spot on – she is 89, turning 90 during the course of the book. And the age-old question: Who is your favourite romantic hero? Mr Darcy, Romeo, Prince Charming were all put forward, but in the absence of anyone suggesting Poldark, I went for Kevin Costner in ‘Dances With Wolves’ as the winner. I do so love Kevin Costner!

It was heartening to see so many people say they had bought the book and were looking forward to reading it, and I did try to keep an eye on the Amazon rankings as the party went on. It rose from being lower than 100,000th in the Kindle store at the start of the day to around 3000th at its peak, so I like to think the buzz being created was doing its bit. Now I just need the reviews to start rolling in to encourage others to buy it too, especially while it’s still only 99 pence.

It was tiring, staying by the screen for so long, especially as I was babysitting my little granddaughter at the same time, and I was having to keep popping over to twitter to keep abreast of (and retweet) HQ’s promotional efforts, including their offer of a free copy of the book to a lucky reader at 4pm. As soon as I knew who had won, I congratulated her and invited her to the party, where she later won one of my pens in the ‘Who should play them in a film?’ competition!

But, was it worth it? Well, what a fantastic way to reach out to readers! It’s hard to say how many sales the party helped me to secure, or how many people who had never heard of me (or my book) now have, but I did enjoy it, very much, and I hope those who came along did too!

 

Facebook : https://www.facebook.com/VivienHampshireAuthor/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/VivienHampshire

Link to buy the book:   http://amzn.to/2cOjPIn

Author bio:

viv-hampshireVivien Hampshire was born and brought up in West London where she still lives and works. She has been writing short stories for almost twenty years, and regularly contributes women’s fiction to a variety of UK magazines, including Woman’s Weekly, The People’s Friend, and My Weekly. She loves cats, reading, taking part in quizzes and TV game shows, sitting in the sunshine and eating chocolate, and is an avid cryptic crossword puzzler. She is a Council member and the competitions co-ordinator for the Society of Women Writers and Journalists (SWWJ) and a member of the Romantic Novelists Association. ‘How To Win Back Your Husband’ is her first commercially published novel.

Book blurb:

how-to-win-back-your-husband-coverNicci has made one stupid and seemingly unforgivable mistake and, after eight years together, her husband Mark is divorcing her. Her best friend is determined to help her get over it, start enjoying life again and move on, but Nicci knows getting over Mark just isn’t an option – she still loves him and she wants him back! With no clear plan in mind and only thirty days left until the divorce is finalised, the race is on to prove her love, regain his trust and save her marriage, before it’s too late. A debut romantic comedy with a sprinkling of winter magic!

 

 

Thank you, Viv. We wish you all the very best for your novel.

It was the year that…

This week Francesca and Elaine review what they’ve done, writing wise, in 2016.

IMG_0840Elaine: I have to say I was quite shocked at how much time away from home has been committed to writing. 2016 has been the year of opportunity for me. I had the chance to walk away from my full time paid employment in March and I grabbed it with both hands. It is my dream, and has been for many years, to write novels for a living, but life got in the way of that dream.

The year began with me renewing my membership of the Romantic Novelist Association (RNA) New Writers’ Scheme. If you want to become a writer of romantic fiction, it is something I would highly recommend.

The London Book Fair

The London Book Fair

Since then, I have attended numerous RNA events. The London Chapter meetings, which I have to admit I haven’t attended as much as I would have liked, the RoNA Awards, the summer and winter parties, and the valuable RNA Conference in Lancaster. Smattered in between them have been The London Book Fair, several writing retreats and workshops. I also attended, for the first time, the Historical Novelists Society (HNS) Conference, which was quite enlightening.

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Elaine R, Francesca, Natalie, Elaine E in Ramsgate

Francesca: Looking through my diary, it certainly has been a busy year for writing activities. I continued with the RNA blog’s ‘Competition Monthly’ and will carry on into 2017. I attended all the things Elaine’s mentioned, apart from the HNS Conference. We also attended Foyles Discovery Day in February. 

Elaine and I did a week’s writing retreat in Ramsgate in May, along with Elaine Everest and Natalie Kleinman. I will never forget singing My Sharona with Elaine R (you had to be there!). Later in May I went to the Romance in the Court event with Elaine E and Natalie. There I got an opportunity to talk to Freya North, an author I greatly admire.

Summer was busy with the RNA Conference and for me, The Writers’ Holiday in Fishguard. Don’t be fooled by the word ‘Holiday’ – we all work jolly hard!

My White Board Plan

My White Board Plan

Elaine: For the first time, I tried my hand at writing a Victorian saga; once I got my head round the difference between a historical romance and a saga, it made life a little easier. I would like to thank Louise Buckley for explaining the differences to me at my RNA one to one with her. I was quite proud of my work and it got good reviews at the RNA and HNS Conferences from the Literary Agents and Publishers alike. Unfortunately, as much as they liked it, I was informed, both directly and indirectly, that Victorian doesn’t sell, so it was back to the drawing board or perhaps I should say white board. Of course, what I haven’t mentioned is the many hours of research that is the commitment of writing anything historical.

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London Book Fair: Elaine with Rosemary Goodacre

Francesca: Moving into autumn, Elaine and I attended the Woman’s Weekly’s historical novel workshop and visited the ‘Undressed’ Exhibition at the V&A for clothing research. In October I went to the lovely Bishop’s Palace in Wells for the results of a novel competition I’d been shortlisted in. (You win some, you lose some!) 

I got my RNA New Writers’ Scheme report back in November for A Woman Walked into a Life, and was thrilled that the reader said it read like a published book. Still a little bit of work to do but it was very encouraging.

In November Elaine and I joined the Society for Women Writers and Journalists. The first six days of December  saw me at the RNA London Christmas lunch, the SWWJ Christmas afternoon tea  and The Write Place Christmas dinner (the last two on

the same day!). 

Elaine: I am now working on another historical piece, which will also be a saga, so watch this space. I have also made a commitment to interview organisers of Literary and Book Festivals for the RNA Blog.

If anyone should ask me, am I committed to my writing, I would answer just look at my calendar, because in-between all those things, I also try to write at least a thousand words a day.

Inside A Berlin Shop At Christmas

Francesca: I’m  currently dipping my toes into an historical novel set in World War One. At the same time I have ideas going through my head for two contemporary novels. Then there’s A Woman Walked to work on. And I’ve loads of ideas for short stories.

It’s going to be a busy year for both of us. What have you got planned?

@RobertsElaine11                     @FCapaldiBurgess

 

We wish our readers a very happy Christmas and a wonderful 2017.

It’s All In The Title…

Elaine Roberts talks about wrestling with the problem of titles.

I have always read a lot; my mother used to tell me off for not going out to play when I was a child, because my nose was always stuck in a book. There was nothing I enjoyed more than losing myself in a good adventure. Books like The Famous Five, The Secret Seven and The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe were books I read over and over again. Nothing has changed in that I am still an ardent reader, except I now write as well.

Anybody who isn’t a writer would think coming up with an idea for a novel would be the hardest part, but not for me.

My White Board & Plan

My White Board & Plan

Some writers who are learning their trade, like me, may think coming up with the structure and avoiding the saggy middle is the most difficult part, but not for me.

Once the manuscript is written, some might think the editing is the worst part; now I don’t like it, but it’s not the hardest part for me.

Coming up with a title is my biggest problem. Am I the only one? It’s one I have mentioned on a few occasions to different people and have had a number of really good suggestions, yet I can’t seem to make them work.

Why is the title so important?

IMG_0143All the professionals say you should have an attention-grabbing title. The cover and the title of a novel usually draw a reader’s attention first. When you are submitting a manuscript to an agent or publisher, there is no cover to grab their attention so the title needs to make the manuscript stand out from the other hundreds they receive. So a title needs to be memorable and easily understood.

Titles can be about the theme of the novel; an example of this is Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Alternatively, they can contain the main character’s name, such as Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronté. Some titles also contain the character’s occupation or title.

It doesn’t matter whether I am writing a short story, a blog piece or a novel, my biggest sticking point is always the title. The name is meant to give an idea of what the story/article is about. What I find puzzling is that I know what my story is about and yet a catchy title seems to evade me and I don’t understand why. Writers come up with excellent titles all the time and yet I can’t seem to.IMG_7427

Several people have suggested record titles, which is an excellent idea but not one that has helped me with my latest novel. Maybe a film title, but no, that doesn’t work for me either.

Perhaps it is my Achilles heel; maybe I have a mental block on the subject.

I wonder how others decide on their titles, where do they get their inspiration? Any advice would be gratefully received.

@RobertsElaine11

 

Remember, Remember: A Novel Approach to War

As we approach Remembrance Sunday, Elaine and Francesca reflect on the wars and on their own World War One novels.

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Elaine: Remembrance Day and all that it stands for is important to me. I was brought up in the armed forces and the 11th November was sacrosanct in my home. I have made sure that my children have grown up knowing it is important to remember that men and women made the ultimate sacrifice so they can have the freedom of life and speech. I am not interested in the politics of it all; for me the poppy is a symbol of peace, courage and loss, amongst other things.

A newspaper headline the day WW1 started for Great Britain

A newspaper headline the day WW1 started for Great Britain

The research I have done for my historical novel has made this year even more poignant. The patriotism to King and country was astonishing and the numbers in which men volunteered to fight was incredible. Then there was the work that the women did on the home front. Trying to find the words to convey this in my novel, without getting carried away and it becoming a war story, has been difficult.

I have read many articles on how writing a historical romance is not taken seriously. However, the facts still have to be correct, but they are woven into the story so the readers don’t necessarily take them in, but it adds reality to the story.

While I am fortunate to have never lost anybody close to me from either World War, I have lost friends, or have friends whose lives have been changed forever, through various subsequent conflicts. The day never fails to reduce me to tears as I remember them and all that have gone before.

@RobertsElaine11

It hasn't been easy trying to translate the writing on this Italian document.

The Italian document from World War 1.

Francesca: This is always a very poignant time of year for me. As I ‘remember’ members of my families who died in both wars. I say, ‘remember’, as obviously I never met them. Despite that, I still feel a profound sense of loss. 

Two of my great uncles, Tommy and Cyril Jones were both killed in 1943 . They were 35 and 22 respectively. Tommy was killed in action in Sicily. Cyril died at sea when his ship, the HMS Fidelity, was hit by a U-boat. 

My grandfather, Lorenzo, died in 1915 at the age of 29, from septicaemia caused by a gunshot to his thigh, in a Red Cross hospital in Modena. These details are contained on a hand-written document that belonged to my father, which gives an account of Lorenzo’s death. 

But it was a kind of non-war record that got me started on the historical novel I’m currently working on. A ‘hint’ on the Ancestry website led me to discharge papers which hugh-morgan-jnr-discharge-ww1did in fact turn out to belong to a maternal great-grandfather, Hugh Morgan. I’ve never seen a photo of him (he died in 1927), but I know from the document that at 24 years of age he stood 5′ 5″, weighed 140 pounds, and that his chest measured 38″ when expanded. It also tells me he had tachycardia and that his heart beat at 130 bpm. And that’s the reason he was being discharged in 1915, after only 227 days service.

It was the stamped message on the form that gave me the story: ‘Never likely to become an efficient soldier.’ Poor bloke. He’d marched away with a Pal’s Battalion, wanting to do his bit, only to be rejected. How did he feel about it? Relieved? Annoyed?Ashamed he wasn’t up to it? Gradually I wove the beginnings of a story from it, but I’m not entirely sure where it will end. I look forward to finding out.

@FCapaldiBurgess

…And Things That Go Bump in the Night

Francesca and Elaine talk about their take on Hallowe’en!

Francesca: From ghoulies and ghosties, And long-leggedy beasties, And things that go bump in the night, Good Lord, deliver us!

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Apple Bobbing

Who remembers that poem/prayer from long ago? As a child we’d recite it every Hallowe’en. At my infants school we did apple bobbing in the hall. Apart from this, we barely marked the occasion at all.

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Reluctantly celebrating Hallowe’en. Yes, the cat is me!

How different it is nowadays. I can’t believe the amount of ‘stuff’ there is to buy for Hallowe’en. ‘Stuff’ is my polite word for ‘tut’ (as in ‘rubbish’). It’s an odd kind of tradition to encourage children to honour, a bit of a throwback and an amalgam of several festivals from different traditions. I did mostly avoid it when my own brood were young – even at the risk of being called a spoilsport. The one time it was celebrated in my house was down to my mother-in-law, who decided to buy some ‘tut’, I mean Hallowe’eeny bits, for the kids.

aunty-maureen-scary-cropped

Mum didn’t just make up good ghost stories, she loved ghostly practical jokes too!

Having said all that, the occasion is rather a gift for writers. My mother was particularly adroit at telling her own made up ghost stories, although to be honest, they frightened the life out of me – which is maybe why I avoided Hallowe’en with my own children.

I’ve written only a few ghost stories in my time but I do enjoy tapping into the darker side of fiction now and again. You really can go anywhere with it, from a benign presence in a house to a full-on terror fest. Of course you don’t need to wait until Hallowe’en to write one but those nights rapidly drawing in certainly create a better atmosphere for them than the long summer days.

@FCapaldiBurgess

 

Pumpkins carved by my family

Pumpkins carved by my family

Elaine: It’s that time of year again when old people are afraid to open their front doors and children and adults dress up as all things evil. I have never celebrated Hallowe’en and my children weren’t encouraged to either. I was more of a Guy Fawkes child, although you no longer see any homemade guys outside shops. There is something about Hallowe’en that does scare me a little, which is probably why I have only written one short story about this time of year. However, I do know from family and friends that I am in the minority.

I have watched enough films and programmes where this time of year has been part of it. You may have guessed I don’t watch scary films either, but I always thought the house decorations and the people dressing up was just part of the film. However, on my trip to Boston I discovered that is not so.

Faneuil Market Place, Boston, New England

Faneuil Market Place, Boston, New England

Early one morning, my husband and I visited Faneuil Hall Market Place, in Boston, New England, which is a beautiful market with historical buildings around it. On our way we passed dogs wearing red capes and horns and other such costumes, which made us smile, as they were being lead by their owners in similar outfits. I didn’t really think anything of it; I truly thought these people were a little eccentric, mainly because they were dressed similarly to their dogs. That was until we stopped to eat in the food court, where everyone shared long, wooden tables. My face must have looked a picture as we sat with an elderly witch, with all the accessories and her face painted, as well as a skeleton, a red horned and tailed devil, and a werewolf. I looked around to discover we were very underdressed and probably the only people in the market, at that time, not in fancy dress. There was a party atmosphere with everyone laughing, joking and admiring each other’s costumes.

If, before travelling to America, I had given it more thought I would have realised that the Salem Witch Trials had taken place just over the water.

@RobertsElaine11

Link: The History of Hallowe’en

Ill Advised?

Francesca’s been investigating the death certificates of her ancestors in the hope it will help her with research for her novel.

For anyone who’s been watching the TV series, Poldark, you’ll know that one of the characters died of something they called ‘putrid throat’. (I won’t say which, in case you haven’t caught up with the first series.) This revolting sounding affliction, it would appear, is what we in modern times call Diphtheria. There have been other names for it over the centuries like ‘putrid fever’ and ‘membranous croup’.

mother-and-sisterAlthough I tend to write more contemporary then historical fiction, I’ve recently been writing a novel set in 1915. In it, one of the characters, a young woman, dies, and I’ve had to consider what might be the cause. Her mining village is based on the one some of my ancestors lived in around this time, so I thought this might be a good place to start.

A couple of years ago I ordered a few certificates – birth, marriage and death – from the General Register Office, having found several family members on an ancestry site. I discovered that three of my female ancestors – my great gran’s mother (M), sister (S) and daughter (D) – died at age 42, 16 and 28 respectively, in 1891, 1899 and 1935.

d-and-b-1931-cert

‘D’ in c1932, with her first child.

S is recorded as dying with phthysis, D with phthsis pulmonales, while D died of pulmonary tuberculosis. Clearly the last one was TB, but I was surprised to discover the first two were also.

TB is clearly a strong contender for the death of my character. But why did so many people contract it? What conditions caused it? Was it rife in that area? Why did it only seem to strike the women in my family? These are all aspects to look into to make my story stronger.

It seems unlikely that everyday Victorian folk referred to the disease as phthisis. More likely they called it tuberculosis, TB, or consumption. Other terms over the years have included lung disease, scrofula and white plague.

Looking at death certificates for the other side of my mother’s family, I’ve discovered one great-great grandfather died in 1892, aged 46, of apoplexy. Until I read that, I thought apoplexy was a description of someone getting extremely angry. Medically it’s a type of stroke. Worth remembering.

His son died on the operating table aged 36, in 1927, during a second operation for appendectomy complications. mor-father-and-sonTalking to a friend about it she asked how it would have been paid for before the NHS came into being. Good point. The 1911 National Insurance Act provided only basic medical care. This great grandfather was also a miner, and I believe that hospitals were often provided by mine owners or jointly by them and workers via subs. Could they have paid for him to go to the Cardiff Royal Infirmary for the op? Perhaps my family simply had some savings?

Considering all this has certainly thrown up more questions than answers so far. Finding out what they died of is only the beginning. There is much scope for research.

gran-c1964

Great Gran, c 1964, who suffered much loss in her long life.

If, like me, you can mine family records, (sorry, no pun intended), they can be a good start for research. A word of caution: discovering family deaths and their circumstances can be harrowing. I cried when I found out why sixteen-year-old S had disappeared from the census. I cried again when the certificates confirmed my mother’s story of not only D’s death from TB, but that of her prematurely born baby a month later.  I try to imagine how Great Gran must have felt, losing all those family members. She was ninety-seven when she died, but never talked about it. She also lost a toddler son in 1922 and two other sons in World War Two. Life was cruel.

Perhaps if I can inject a little of that emotion into writing about a character’s death, I’ll not go far wrong.

@FCapaldiBurgess

 

A big thank you to my cousin Janine who lives in Australia. She also has undertaken much interesting research into our shared family.

Links:

Another word of caution: if you’re interested in finding your ancestors’ certificates, whether death, birth or marriage, the various ancestry web sites are a good place to start, but don’t buy them from those sites, as they’ll cost you three times as much than they will from the General Register office, which you can find here.

Another interesting web page about old names for illnesses, The Glossary of  Old Medical terms, can be found here.