Elaine Roberts – The Woman Behind The Words

It’s strange how life works out, inadvertently, I have become a firm believer in fate.

While I was at school, I wanted to be an actress or a drama teacher but that fell by the wayside when I was fourteen, when my father, a member of the armed forces, was posted to Hanover, Germany. There was no school place available for a year so I fell into working in the Navy, Army, Air Force Institute (NAAFI) shop. Obviously, when a school place became available, I’d worked for nearly a year and had no interest in going to school and in true “I know it all” teenage style, I didn’t and my working life began. While I stopped work to have my children, all my working life has been in a customer-focussed environment. I’ve held my current position for fifteen years, which is a record for me. I’ve always had a creative itch that was scratched through various forms of needlework and reading endless books, it never occurred to me to become a writer, although I always wrote for my own pleasure.

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Growing up in the forces and moving around every couple of years, I’ve lost track of the number of schools I attended but it’s taught me to be adaptable and only rely on myself. I was born in Cyprus and we were lucky to return there when I was nine, I spent three wonderful years living in the sun, such great memories. I live in Kent now and have done for eighteen years. I love my home; it’s my haven from the mad world we live in. I have lived with my husband for twenty one years and I’m one of the lucky ones that found true love the second time around. He is very supportive in everything I do. There’s no doubt in my mind that I couldn’t achieve what I do without him.

Our children are all grown, there are five in all, and I have one grandchild who is adored by everyone. When my children were young, I would have bitten your hand off to live by the coast or a river, I’m always drawn to water, but I’d hate to live too far away from my family now. My family will always come first and in my mind, there is nothing more important. I have great support from them all. As they’ve grown older, they’ve all discovered their creative itch and do various things to scratch it. My son was the instigator of my writing career, pushing me to follow my ambition seriously. He regularly discusses my writing with me and continually questions what I write. It’s very annoying, of that there is no doubt, but my writing is stronger because of it, but please don’t tell him I said that.

In the past, I’ve had lots of hobbies, sewing; crocheting; crosswords; reading; writing and watching crime programmes. When the hobbies are listed like that, I realise they are all solitary ones, perhaps that’s a result of moving around a lot as a child. Now I spend most of my free time writing, I’m looking forward to the time I can give up my day job to do the things I love.

At sixteen, I was shy and lacked confidence and truly thought I wasn’t worthy of love, let alone achieve anything at all, career wise, despite being an A grade pupil at school. If I could give my sixteen year old self some advice it would be, “You can be anything you want, if you work hard enough at it. Have faith and believe in yourself, don’t let other’s beliefs hold you back.”

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERAIf I could invite two people to a dinner party it would be John Lennon and Margaret Thatcher, not for any political reasons, but because I would love to have conversations with them about their perseverance, determination and self-belief, to achieve what they believed was right, despite opposition.

Who would you invite for dinner and why?

 

 

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WHO IS VIVIEN? WHAT IS SHE?

Vivien Hampshire reveals the inside story of the woman behind the pen

When it was suggested that, for the theme of this blog during November, we all write a few interesting snippets about ourselves, for some reason I found myself singing the opening lines of Shakespeare’s song from The Two Gentlemen of Verona!

Who is Silvia? What is she,

That all our swains commend her?

Holy, fair and wise is she.

Nose in a book as ever!

Nose in a book as ever!

It’s easy to hide behind our writing. In our stories, given the right research, we can visit places we have never been and act out thrilling, romantic or even sexy scenes we have never experienced in real life – and hopefully make our readers believe every word. Many of us may take on a pen name, maybe going so far as to change gender in the process, so our readers, and maybe even our nearest and dearest, don’t have to know who we are if we choose not to tell them. Writing is a wonderful smoke screen behind which we can happily hide our true selves and revel in make-believe.

So, who is Vivien? What is she? What can I tell you about me that you are not able to guess from looking at my Amazon author page or from reading my fiction? Well… holy, fair and wise I cannot claim to be, but (in case you’re curious) here’s a potted history of me – the me when I am not wearing my writer’s hat – and leaving out most of the boring bits!

I left school earlier than planned because my dad was ill, but that didn’t stop me from finishing my exams. I managed the second year of my A level studies while holding down a full-time job in a bank, thanks to a couple of close friends who brought me their lesson notes and passed on homework details, and teachers who continued to mark it even though I was no longer a pupil. I took time off and joined my former classmates on exam days, and passed three subjects with flying colours. And I’m pretty sure the experience has been an enormous help to me in managing my time and juggling the conflicting demands of work, children and writing in the years since.

After around ten years in banking I went to work for a London council in their accountancy department and stayed there for a further eight, before leaving to bring up my children. I was always surprisingly good with money, figures, balance sheets and budgets, even though, had anyone asked, I would have said (and still do) that I am a words girl, not a numbers one! Give me a crossword over a Sudoku any day. But somehow I had fallen into a career path that I would never have consciously chosen. Again, handy in later life though. I never have trouble balancing my bank account, sending out invoices or filling in my tax returns, and apart from a mortgage (now repaid) and a not-to-be-missed interest free deal on my new car, I have never had to take out a loan for anything either.

From the age of sixteen, although I worked with numbers, I really just wanted to write. Poems at first, then stories, and eventually a novel – the opening to which won a national competition and brought two literary agents knocking at my door without me having to seek them out at all. Oh, dear. The book didn’t sell, despite some very near misses, but I went on to write another two, both unpublished but great practice for later on. And while all that was going on… I gave birth to twins! After an ectopic pregnancy, years of infertility and five rounds of IVF, the miracle happened and life changed – more hectic, different priorities, and less time. I registered as a childminder and, for the next ten years (still writing as a hobby when I could), I looked after other people’s kids as well as my own, followed by my best job ever, helping very young children to gain a love of books and reading in a children’s centre and running storytelling and rhyme sessions in libraries. All this daily contact with toddlers turned out very useful for helping me create the character of Lydia, a childminder who ‘loses’ a baby in her care, in my first (self-)published novel, Losing Lucy  – and in writing my newest book about a child left alone at home. This novel, the one I have enjoyed writing the most, is still trying to find itself an agent and ultimately a publishing deal.

I just love crosswords!

I just love crosswords!

But, always, whatever job I was doing, bubbling underneath were words! The constant urge to read (here I am in the photo above, reading the fantastic charity short stories anthology Diamonds and Pearls ), to dip into dictionaries, to play around with words and learn their meanings, to complete ever harder cryptic crosswords, and to write. It never went away. And now I’m sixty, the kids are grown and gone, and I have a new husband who follows his own hobbies and leaves me plenty of time to pursue my own. Life feels right. And the time feels right too. I have written well over a hundred published woman’s magazine stories and a book about my crossword passion, How to Crack Cryptic Crosswords – and now I’m back writing novels again, with a vengeance!

If I could go back, I doubt I would do anything very differently. I don’t feel I’ve missed out on much. Marriage, children, good health, enough money to get by – I’ve been lucky enough to have had all those. I have never dreamed of setting off on major foreign travel trips, of doing a parachute jump or learning to play the piano, or even of winning the lottery. No, my dream is much more modest, but sometimes feels just as unattainable. I want that bestseller, and I want it NOW!

 

 

Francesca Capaldi Burgess: It’s All Going in the Book…

Francesca finds fiction fodder in her own life

I can’t say my life has been remarkable, but many elements of it have served as starting points for my short stories and novels, even if the stories themselves have taken a different path.

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Outside the cafe in Worthing

So, what of my life? I was born above a café in Worthing in nineteen hundred and frozen to death (otherwise known as 1957), to an Italian father and Welsh mother. One of my first memories is standing on the tiny bedroom balcony, looking out to sea. When I was three we moved to Littlehampton, where my dad had a café facing the river. We lived in a house a mile away.

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How I wish I could grow my hair this long again.

My childhood was complicated as my mother, haunted by several demons in her life, descended into alcoholism. She regularly left me outside pubs for hours. To occupy myself, I used to make up stories. I guess it was the start of my writing life. For all her problems my mum, like many from the Celtic races, was a brilliant story teller, weaving tales that she sometimes taped for me on an old tape recorder.

Me and Mum

Me and Mum

When I was twelve, she got Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, a kind of long term alcohol poisoning caused by the lack of vitamin B1. Ironically it saved her – and me, I think. She died at fifty of a heart attack when I was twenty-six. My father followed six weeks later, broken hearted.

Cafe in Littlehampton c1968. Great Gran is the little lady.

Cafe in Littlehampton c1968. Great Gran is the little lady.

Some of my happiest memories were spent in my Welsh great gran’s house. She was a no nonsense type of lady, but kind. I was twenty-nine when she died at the age of 97, so she filled much of my young adult life. I still miss her.

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Maxis the first time round.

Having an Italian name left me open to a fair amount of bullying at school, thanks to Mussolini’s antics twenty years earlier. It wasn’t only the pupils who were guilty. Despite that, I made good friends and did well at school. As a teen, I worked the summer holidays in the café. In winter, I’d get up at some godforsaken hour, catch the minibus in the damp pre-dawn and spend the morning in windowless sheds picking mushrooms. I left school at eighteen to attend Froebel College in Roehampton, where I did a degree in history and education, followed by a PGCE.

Young love at the disco.

Young love at the disco.

I met Andrew while we were still at uni. Froebel was 90% women, Imperial College, where he went, 90% men. It was a no-brainer that we should frequent each other’s discos. Quite a few of our friends married too. When we graduated, I became a primary school teacher in London. I did consider doing archive studies, but teaching won out. After we moved to Kent we started a family. Our four children are now 31, 29, 25 and 23, which I find totally shocking to think about!

Was I ever this thin?

Was I ever this thin?

While I was bringing them up, I found plenty of voluntary work to do. I was the supplies officer for the local nursery school. I joined the National Childbirth Trust and was a post natal support coordinator and chairman of the local branch. I also ran their toddler group in the village for several years. At the parish church, I was the magazine editor (and wrote many of the articles!), helped run the buggy service and was a junior church leader for ten years. In the local school I did an afternoon a week teaching library skills.

My interests, apart from writing, are Italian and family research. I attended an Italian class for over twenty years, gaining an A level and good friends. I’ve investigated much of my mother’s family. Despite being humble mining/farming folk, their lives, intrigues and tragedies make fascinating reading. I was amazed at how many shot gun weddings there were! Delving into my father’s Italian family is more difficult, though I’m lucky to have a lot of first hand information. My father’s story is begging to be adapted into a novel. One day I will learn Welsh (maybe!).

When the children were young.

Before my children had their own children

I decided to take my writing further in 2006, thanks to an Adult Education creative writing class run by Elaine Everest. Soon after, I also accepted a part time job as a lead exam invigilator at a nearby secondary school. If I wrote down those tales, nobody would believe them! I gave that up three years ago, the same time, coincidentally, as I became a ‘nonna’. I now have three gorgeous grandchildren and a blog about them I update occasionally called Nonna Blog.

Littlehampton today

Littlehampton today

I have never got used to living inland and would love to reside by the sea again. Having lived on the south coast, I find the Kentish north coast weird – the sun rises and sets in the wrong places! I dream of opening my curtains of a morning and spying the beach, much as I would have done as a toddler. It would be like coming full circle.

Aged 16

Aged 16

If I could time shift back to 1974 to talk to my teenage self, what would I say? Firstof all I’d tell her she’s tired all the time because she has an underactive thyroid and to get the doctor post haste!

I’d also tell her that it is possible to get published and not to put it on the back boiler for another thirty-two years.

@FCapaldiBurgess

 

Two of my stories based on incidents from my life or that of a family member can be found in these anthologies:

Diamonds and Pearls: A Sparkling Collection of Short Story Gems

7 Food Stories from Rome

Other true stories from my life published in The Guardian:

Dad’s lucky escape in the war

Dining room dancing with mum

A song for my daughter, Carmela

 

 

She’s No Mary Poppins

Was I ever this young!

Was I ever this young!

Natalie sings her heart out – but in private.

If anyone had told me in my teens I would end up being a writer I might not have been as surprised as if it had been mooted some years later. At that tender age I always had my nose in a book and I loved writing history essays at school though it ruined my handwriting forever. However, having trained as a secretary (I had a living to earn) I quickly rose to the dizzy heights of personal assistant to a managing director.

Had I had the courage the career I would have chosen for myself was singer. It has been said, not by me I hasten to add, that my voice was comparable to that of Julie Andrews. However, this sweet young and very shy thing, though bursting with song around the house, was too timid to perform in public. My parents begged me to have my voice trained but I refused. It is perhaps the one thing in my life I truly regret.

Me and My Girls

Me and My Girls

I married at twenty-three and was the mother of two by the age of twenty-six. I was an at home mum for many years. Then I took up riding and fell in love – with a beautiful skittish half-Arab gelding called Freddie (Fredrickson). Frightened of the merest shadow, or none at all, he once took exception to a milk float while I was on his back. I had no time to be scared because I had to reassure him, poor darling! Sadly, though it broke my heart, I had to let him go when divorce during my children’s teenage years necessitated me going back to work.

Wasn't I lucky!

Wasn’t I lucky!

There must be something about me and managing directors as I became PA to a very important man heading a very important company. My children went to university and eventually I met my husband. Only trouble was, he lived in southeast London and I lived in northwest London. Something had to give. He was running his own dental practice and had a son still at school. It was a no-brainer so I uprooted and crossed the capital, bringing two dogs and a cat with me.

Looks clever - was clever

Looks clever – was clever

Remained her whole life as scared as she looks here

Remained her whole life as scared as she looks here

We have been officially retired for some time now and neither of us has ever worked as hard before. My husband, whose affinity with his patients still causes them to stop him in the street after all this time, moved on to voluntary work in the health sector. I undertook an Open University science degree course which I abandoned after two years, not because I couldn’t cope – I was doing very well – but because I thought it was taking too much of the little time we had together. So I took up writing instead! Those writers among you who are reading this will appreciate the joke.

Cute kitten, beautiful cat

Cute kitten, beautiful cat

My love of animals didn’t stop with my own family pets, sadly now long gone, and were I able to go back in time I would most certainly have followed a career that in some way involved animals. I’m not embarrassed to say I’m absolutely silly about them and certainly there is nothing to compare with the unconditional love given by your own.

Most of my time these days is spent writing, though I am partial to the practice known as ladies who lunch, or even couples who lunch. My husband and I both enjoy visiting museums and galleries but somehow these activities always seem to involve food as well. I have just embarked on another diet – yet again!

So, would I do anything differently if I had my time over again? I’d like to say I’d follow that singing career but I’m honest enough to know that I still probably wouldn’t have the courage. What I do have now is a self-belief that eluded me for many years. I am happy in my skin and get a great deal of joy out of what I do. How many people can truly say that?

 

Elaine Everest: Barking Mad!

This month the WMWP ladies are writing about themselves. We thought it would be good for our readers and followers to see what makes us tick and where we come from. We hope you enjoy what we have to say and if you do why not add a comment at the bottom of the blog posts and tell us all about your life?

Elaine, talking about herself!

I’m a Christmas baby, born in 1953 only twenty minute before Christmas Day. It kind of made me feel as though I’ve always just missed out on things. I missed out on having birthday parties on the proper day as everyone was too busy preparing for the main event. I never had a birthday cake as a child as back then they were made just like Christmas cakes and no one wants two of those half eaten and still in the pantry come January. I did once have an ice cream cake but it wasn’t a great success as we only had a fridge and it was a pile of slop come the party – three days before the actual event. However, I do have fiftygraphicwonderful memories of time spent alone with my dad on my birthday when we took the train from Slade Green to Woolwich to buy nuts and fruit in the market. I recall pointing out to Dad that a ‘funny man was falling between the stationary train and the platform’ – a drunk! To this day I make sure that I ‘mind the gap!’ I can also remember when we popped into the Railway Hotel on the way home and I announced to all and sundry that it was my birthday and I was five. Try explaining to Mum why I had a pocketful of shiny sixpences when we were supposed to have come straight home!

I had an average education at an average secondary modern school in the sixties. Again, just missing out for a place at Grammar school due to only being seven places available. I was number eleven of fourteen. It was explained, to my extremely annoyed mum, that I would get a chance to take the thirteen plus exam – they cancelled it when I was twelve. However, I was a quiet child (yes, really!) but I was a rebel. Not for me the job of nurse or secretary at the Woolwich Equitable which seemed to be the only advice the careers officer ever doled out, even to those in the top stream.

I decided not to stay at school for ‘A’ levels but sent myself off to Erith College of Technology to study accountancy and ‘business machines’ working as a Saturday girl at Woolworths in Dartford so as not to be a burden to my parents. It was also handy research for my novels even if I didn’t know it at the time! I had excellent grades from 5th year exams and secured a college place with ease. I now have many qualifications in business studies as well as accounting machines that can only be seen in museums these days. I am a proficient Comptometer operator with a diploma from Sumlock that BPCSumlomatic-797-IMG_2495-3states I can put the word ‘comp’ after my name and that I passed at 98%.  Never heard of them? Google the word and see how knowledgeable the operators had to be in Maths.  The training and work experience soon had me heading accounts departments and gradually moving on to office management. ‘Back then’ managers had to be able to do every task they set their staff and I pride myself in knowing, even today, how to undertake all accounts procedures manually.

I was born in Erith, brought up in Slade Green and moved to Erith when I married at the age of eighteen and we purchased our first home. We moved to Swanley 22 years ago when we built our own house. Looking into my ancestry I find I am typical of many generations of my family who never moved from Kent. My dream has always been to live in Cornwall. We almost bought a building plot in St Keverne on the Lizard Peninsular but changed our minds when my dad fell ill. Instead we built a house in Swanley – one of the biggest mistakes of our life.  I’ve written about why we chose not to have children which was something we decided upon quite early on.

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Throughout our married life we’ve owned Old English Sheepdogs. Not just owned them but bred, exhibited, judged and also sat on canine committees often campaigning for the pedigree world. Dogs have always come first in our lives. At the moment we just have the one dog, Henry, a rather lovely chocolate brown Polish Lowland Sheepdog that we imported from France. We still exhibit and Henry is doing very well (Seen here being handled by our friend, Rachel). My activities in the dog world led me to start writing articles for year books and gave me the impetus to submit articles alongside fiction. Dog books followed as well as columns and broadcasting work.

 

If I could go back and chat to that shy sixteen year old girl I’d tell her not to worry about the pressure of exams as we make our own path in life and education isn’t everything. I’d tell her to be proud of the certificate she was awarded at speech night for creative writing and not hide it away afraid of taunts from fellow students. I’d tell her to make her mum go to see a doctor – don’t we all wish we could go back and do that? Most of all I’d tell her that she will meet and make the most marvellous friends through the world of dogs as well as in her writing life.