The Last Post!

Welcome to the last post of 2014. When we got together at the end of 2013 to start this blog the idea was that having a joint blog would be a group learning curve until such times as we were ready to blog ourselves and our writing careers had moved along enough to need to blog (or run a website) for ourselves. That time has come quicker than we envisaged and sadly that means that some of us are moving on to fresh fields in 2015. Good luck to the writers remaining with WMWP and no doubt readers will hear more about all of us as the year progresses. Below is an update of what we got up to in 2014 and what we have planned for 2015

Vivien Hampshire

I knew back in January that 2014 was going to be a year of change and adjustment for me. I had just left the day job and was embarking on the big adventure of becoming a full-time writer. Little did I know that I would also get engaged and married before the year was out! My one big writing aim for 2014 was to finish my novel and get it out to agents, and I am pleased to say that I managed just that, all 101,000 words of it. After one near miss with a top agency, it is being read by another London agent right now – and my fingers are well

I just love crosswords!

I just love crosswords!

and truly crossed! With more time at home, I had hoped to see my general writing output go up too, and it has! I have sold fifteen women’s magazine stories throughout the year as well as continuing to produce regular non-fiction pieces and book reviews for a range of professional childcare and nursery magazines. Looking at the year ahead, I am determined to get not only the current novel published but to crack on and finish the next, while still writing the articles that bring in an income and the shorter magazine fiction I love so much. I am very much a ‘Jill of all trades’ and as long as I am writing what I want to write and know that someone somewhere is enjoying reading it, then I will be happy!

This will sadly be my last post here, but you can still catch up with me and what’s happening in my writing life over on my own blog http://vivienhampshire.blogspot.co.uk/

 Natalie Kleinman

2014 has been a pretty full on year. Having graduated from the Romantic Novelists’ (RNA) Association’s New Writers’ Scheme, I was waiting with equal measures of anxiety and excitement for the release of my first book. During this period I submitted a novella, After All These Years, to DC Thomson with the result that both books were published within three weeks of each other. The large print version of After All These Years has since been sold to Ulverscroft and will appear in libraries in due course. To add to the elation I was lucky enough, at the RNA Summer Conference, to have the opportunity of a one2one interview with Lisa Eveleigh of the Richford Becklow Literary Agency. To my delight Lisa agreed to represent me. In the meantime, due to a change in circumstances of the publisher of my debut novel, our contract was terminated by mutual agreement. The book is now available on Amazon under the new title, Safe Harbour.

The first draft of my third novel is now finished and in the editorial stage. A lot of work remains to be done but I’m hoping it will be ready to submit to publishers by late spring/early summer of 2015.

Natalie Kleinman jpeg

In January of this year I wrote a post entitled ‘A Truffle, Black Forest Gateau or Both’ concluding that I would be able to be a novelist and short story writer in tandem. So far this hasn’t proved to be the case. I have written and submitted very few of the latter. However, I recently had a story accepted in Australia and am hoping this will be the catalyst for me to write some more of what, after all, was my first love.

My most recent new venture has been to set up my own blog. Some of you may be aware that I also co-manage the RNA blog with Elaine Everest. Working on the premise that one can have too much of a good thing it is with regret that I must now withdraw from WriteMindsWritePlace to pursue my own individual venture. I wish the very best of luck to those who remain.

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Francesca Burgess

I said at the beginning of the year that I wanted to finish the novel I was working on by February, but I didn’t finish it till August, leaving very little time for editing (of which I normally do endlessly) before sending it to the RNA New Writers’ Scheme. Not a good idea, but personal and family events have rather overtaken everything else this year, so it’s a wonder I got it finished at all. What really suffered was my output of short stories, which I was hoping to get up to a reasonable level. It was not to be. As for getting a publisher for Ten Years Later, I have two currently interested, so I’m waiting for them to get back to me.FB from Winter Party 14

During November I did manage to write the rest of a novella I started a couple of years ago, adding 30,000 words to it, so that wasn’t too shabby. One of my goals for 2015 is to get that sent out and hopefully picked up. It would be great if Ten Years Later was picked by one of the interested parties, but if not, I’ll be sending it to do the rounds once more (hopefully resisting yet another edit!). I’ll also be editing my NWS entry. As for the short stories, I have hundreds of ideas outlined in notebooks, so I really need to get back to them. In addition, I have an idea for a new novel, but I need to resist it until I have some of the other items sorted out!

Currently I’m awaiting the publication of a story in an anthology, but don’t have a date as yet.

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Elaine Roberts

Looking back over my goals for 2014, I like to think I’ve done quite well.

I have completed two very different novel manuscripts, Taking it Back and Forgotten Love, which are currently with publishers; both needed changes to meet their requirements. One asked if I could change the setting, and of course I said yes, but this required a lot of research and a major rewrite. Although it was challenging, I’m proud I rose to it.

One of my goals was to write a short story each month, which I did at first, but then my novels took over and all thoughts of short stories disappeared. Looking back, this is IMG_1090something I regret. Writing and selling short stories gives me a lift in the short term. Metaphorically, novels are the marathon and short stories are the 100 yard sprint, but the short stories reinforce that my writing is on the right track, so this is something I need to get back to.

 

I have also been fortunate to have a short story accepted for an anthology, to be published by Pulse; the publication date has yet to be confirmed.

My 2015 goals are to have at least one of my novels published, although two would be great. Also, I aim to complete the novel I’m currently writing and research and start my next one, ideas are already buzzing around my head and distracting me from my current project.

I am also going to write my short stories again.

Elaine Everest

Where to begin? 2014 has been a fabulous year for me and not one that was planned twelve months ago. I’d not long seen my novel, Gracie’s War published with Myrmidon Books (Pulse). I was planning to work on a dog show related crime novel as well as another canine non-fiction book. I’d not long joined the Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA) as a committee member and was taking over control of their blog alongside Natalie Kleinman. I’d made a conscious effort to step back from my journalism work as well as short fiction in order to concentrate on writing books. A recent ‘big’ birthday had made me decide to follow my original writing dreams of being a novelist and not be side tracked any longer by shorter work.

Well, my writing life changed in January 2014 when I met literary agent, Caroline Sheldon of the eponymous Caroline Sheldon Literary Agency and was taken on for future representation. Already she has secured me a two book contract with Pan Macmillan which will see two saga based historical novels published in the next two years.

Another exciting event was in May when I was short listed for the RNA’s Joan Hessayon Award with Gracie’s War. I didn’t win but the excitement of standing alongside such good writers and the kudos being on such a short list gives a writer is something I’ll never forget.ElaineESeptember2013

So what do I have to look forward to in 2015? Hopefully the first of my books with Pan Macmillan will be published at the end of the year and Gracie’s War will go into large print in libraries during the summer. Apart from that I will be pounding the keyboards with book number two and outlining ideas for further novels. My dog show related crime novels are on hold for now but watch this space…

Like Viv and Natalie this will be my last blog post for WriteMindsWritePlace but I will shortly have my own writerly website and news of my writing and teaching can be found on www.thewriteplace.org.uk Facebook and also Twitter (@elaineeverest)

Don’t forget to keep following the WriteMindsWritePlace blog during 2015 to see what exciting things Elaine and Francesca have in store for readers.

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Out of Season

Francesca Capaldi Burgess considers seasonal writing for foreign markets

My first ever successful short story was a Christmas one, published in The Weekly News in December 2008. It was the tale of a Mother Christmas in a store, whose initial outlook wasn’t exactly that of comfort and joy. My records tell me I sent it on October 17th, so I’m guessing I wrote it that month, when the Christmas silly season had already kicked off. It was set in England so little or no research was needed for it.

The following year I started sending stories to magazines abroad, and encountered two sets of problems. The first was to do with submitting to the southern hemisphere, where the seasons are the reverse of the UK. A story I wrote in 2010, January Mornings, involved two sisters, one in England, one in Brisbane, sending emails to each other, both envious of the other’s weather and way of life. Having lost contact with my Australian relatives, I had to resort to the internet for information on the weather. Then again, they lived in Melbourne, which has a different climate. Australia is a large place and what’s true for one area won’t necessarily apply in another.

Some things are the same in Australia as the old country:  my cousins in the 60s.

Some things are the same in Australia as the old country: my cousins in the 60s.

The second problem with seasonal writing for abroad is to do with traditions. Where Christmas in Australia is concerned, many of the inhabitants have retained a number of the customs from Britain. However, judging by the photographs sent to my mum many years ago of family Christmases, (including a picnic on the beach!) things can be a little unfamiliar.

It’s a different story (so to speak) when sending magazine submissions to the Scandinavian countries. The seasons are closer to what we’re used to, but traditions aren’t necessarily the same. In Sweden and Norway, for instance, St Lucia’s day, on 13th December, is a big celebration. They also have their main festive meal on Christmas Eve, as do many European countries.

Spring and summer are often the times for weddings, but you can’t take it for granted that everyone does things our way. A friend of mine found this out when she submitted a wedding story to the Scandinavian magazines a while back. Did you know that, in Sweden, the bride is rarely given away by her father and that she often carries coins in her shoes? Or that if a Danish bride leaves a room, then all the male guests can kiss her, and vice versa? (Now that could lead to an interesting situation.) It’s not enough to change your characters’ names from Jack and Emily to Jan and Inger, and add a few Fjords. In South Africa, there is the added complication of different tribal traditions.

I’ve also had stories published in Ireland, but even there one can’t assume, just because they are nearby and familiar to us, that they do everything the same.

Shorts and bare torsos at Christmas in Australia - not like the old country!

Shorts and bare torsos at Christmas in Australia – not like the old country!

There are endless factors to consider. What about stories featuring school holidays? Term times in different countries will have different dates. Even in Scotland the summer holidays run from June to August, not July to September as in England and Wales. Do all countries experience a fall of leaves in autumn? It depends where in the world you are. Do they get snow in Australia? I know the answer is yes, due to a postcard my grandmother sent me as a child. I remember being amazed. And did you know that Africa has ski resorts?

So yes, there might even be snow in Africa this Christmastime… (Research is important!)

 

You can also read a Christmas post of mine about a visit to Santa at Nonna Blog

 

 

 

Seasons to be cheerful

Elaine Roberts tackles the dilemma of writing about the four seasons.

When the subject of the four seasons and our writing was raised, I immediately had the urge to burst into song and sing very high pitched like Frankie Valli, but not only does that show my age, but also most people won’t know who Frankie Valli is. So I controlled my urge and threw myself into my dilemma; what was I going to write about? My mind went blank. I didn’t want to write about the obvious things that we take into account in our writing, for example, clothing, food, weather and seasonal deadlines.

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERASo I asked the question, what do the four seasons mean to me, other than the song “Walk like a Man”?

With all seasons there are distractions, which can easily take us away from our writing. In the spring and summer we would probably prefer to be enjoying our gardens and all the work that entails. When the sun comes out it lifts our spirits and we are more likely to be active than in the autumn and winter. The dark mornings and evenings often have a psychological effect; it always feels like it’s in the middle of the night. Then of course there’s the lead up to the Christmas festivities, which always takes up a lot of head space, planning and organising, especially with a large family. Then there are holidays and visitors, which can obviously happen all the year round.

The four seasons are an age from birth to death, whether it’s nature or people, and IMG_0217
this is something we all write about. With every season of our ages we are gathering experiences that will influence our writing; it gives us our own voice and style. It enables us to make our characters real and for the reader to have empathy for them. It would be interesting to know whether we write about older characters and maybe mature situations the older we get. Are we more likely to write historical novels because we have a greater understanding of history than maybe we do of the modern times and technology? Most writers are people watchers; therefore they pick up body language and speech patterns, all of which give depth and realism to how characters would behave and talk.

IMG_0450As soon as we decide to put our characters into a plot, we have to know all of their history, the seasons of their lives, what makes them laugh and cry. Most of which does not appear in a story, but it determines their actions, reactions and the way they talk. It is hard work getting to know your characters and they often take on a life of their own, but it’s also fun.

With “Santa Claus is coming to town” belting out from the radio, I would like to wish all our readers a very happy Christmas and an exciting 2015.

 

 

December 1963, Oh What a Night!

Elaine Everest looks back to Christmas’s past.

When Natalie (yes, I’ll name the culprit) decided that our theme this month was to be ‘the four seasons’ I could not think past winter. In fact it was Christmas that stuck firmly in my mind. I don’t plan very much for Christmas – apart from making sure I’ve entered at least one dog show over the holiday and I’ve not lost the port, stilton and redcurrant recipe to go with our rib of beef. However, there are some Christmases I do plan with meticulous detail.fb7a86c4988cb4773eecc8da8b9454992a947dcc

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not one of those people you’ll find queuing overnight on Boxing Day to buy cheap crackers and cards in the sales for Christmas yet to come. No, my planning is for the Christmases in my novels. I write historical novels – aka sagas. My favourite time period is the thirties and forties but mainly the war years. So, a story running over a few years can include a few Christmases. Unlike modern novels where our characters can repeat the same festivities year after year with the amount of food and presents only being limited on available cash (or balance on the credit cards) my characters have to live with the threat of losing their homes, loved ones serving overseas and the loss of people they hold dear. They also have to make do and mend and cope with rationing – and work and run a home.

I enjoy discovering how women kept their families fed year after year. It  was difficult for them to cope with Christmas during the war years just as it is difficult for this author to carry my story with characters who are under a tremendous strain. I have the fear that I only have to get something slightly wrong for a reader to pop up and tell me that no one could place their hands on a bar of soap in 1943 or that shops closed early or stayed open late on Christmas Eve in 1939.

Talking of Christmas Eve and 1939 I wrote a lovely scene where my main characters went to work on the day before Christmas and certain events happened that were essential to my plot. I’d looked forward to writing the scene. I researched what would be on sale, what kinds of presents the girls would buy for each other and how they would celebrate the season. The day I wrote the scene I had gone down with a bug of some kind. Being brave and soldiering on (that means I was on a deadline) I wrote the scene through bouts of coughing and sneezing and reminding my husband I was too ill to cook. It was only later, as I lay in bed thinking about things, a nagging doubt crept into my mind. I tried to ignore it but no it kept poking at me as I tried to sleep. In the middle of the night I reached for my phone and typed into the search engine, ‘what day did Christmas Eve fall on in 1939?’ Yes, I was right to check – it was a Sunday! Not a problem for novelists writing stories set in modern times but for me it was a rewrite as shops never opened on a Sunday back then. That alone guaranteed a restless night! Next day I checked my notes and there it was in red – don’t forget that Christmas Eve falls on a Sunday in 1939! I blame not feeling well for that mistake!

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So why is December 1963 in the title of this blog piece? Apart from continuing the Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons theme it is also a Christmas I remember well. I had turned ten years of age on Christmas Eve and on the Boxing Day we went to spend the day with my Auntie May and Uncle Len. Dad did not drive so the treat was a taxi cab home late in the evening. It was only a few miles but too far to walk for us kids. However, that was the night the snow fell and fell and fell. We arrived home the next morning and what an adventure it had been just wondering if we would ever see home again. For this little girl a memory of Christmas past was formed – December 1963. Oh what a night!

Happy Christmas everyone!

 

A SPRINKLE OF SEASONING

Viv Hampshire tries adding a flavour of the season to her fiction       

Yes, it’s easy to make a Christmas story feel Christmassy. Describe the icy weather outside, mention decorating the tree and wrapping the presents, bring families together for a festive meal and the pull of a cracker,salt and pepper and everyone can instantly imagine the scene. Use a snowy cover for your novel or illustrate your short story with a suitable wintry fireside scene, and the job’s done.

Similarly, bright sunshine, the lush green of the fields, or a bikini by the pool are all we need to transport our readers straight into the heart of summer. But what about the rest of the year, the bits in between, when things aren’t quite so black and white? What suitable hints can we drop then to let our readers know the time of year without being way too heavy-handed about it? Like adding salt and pepper to a dish, we want to introduce just a hint of flavour but we don’t want to add so much that we drown out the story underneath!

I have known from the start that the plot of the novel I am working on now will reach its climax at Christmas. I also know the fairly short time period of just six weeks in which the action takes place, so all I had to do was open my diary or peer at the calendar on the kitchen wall and work backwards, to realise that quite a big chunk of my book (and crucially its opening scene-setting chapters) ‘happens’ in November.

November is one if those ‘not-quite-sure-what-to-expect’ kind of months. The chilly Novembers we have come to expect are characterised by foggy mornings and drizzling rain, with leaves changing colour and falling from the trees, and berries starting to appear, ready to feed the birds in the winter ahead. Yes, the warm weather lingered longer this year so some of nature’s usual pointers have come a little late, but mentions of the brown and gold leaves, either crisp or soggy underfoot, and a character pulling on a woolly hat and scarf before venturing out into the wind are probably enough to set the general scene for November, or at least for Autumn anyway.

But I wanted more. I needed to give a sense of the clock ticking, each scene/day/week in the story taking us nearer and nearer to Christmas and the grand finale of the novel. The weather changes would be fairly subtle over such a short time span, so how would I make that passing of time clear to the readers without awkwardly dropping in dates at every turn?

Here’s where the calendar came in handy again. Just reading through mine gave me ideas I could filter into my story as pointers to the passing of time. My main or subsidiary characters could hear fireworks at night, visit a display, light a bonfire or just pick up a dead rocket from the grass some days later. They could pass a window displaying celebratory Diwali candles. They could wear a poppy, watch a remembrance service or parade, or perhaps think of a loved one or ancestor lost in a war. Or they could spot a Scottish flag flying or pass someone wearing a kilt in the street as St Andrews Day arrived on 30th, thus subtly marking the story’s transition into December. None of these things had to necessarily be major parts of the plot. Just having them mentioned in passing or dropped into the background was enough to indicate the date.Colorful Fireworks

It also helped enormously that I was actually writing many of the November scenes during November itself. What was happening outside my window, at the shops, and in the news day by day? All this could help me sprinkle a hint of authenticity into my storyline, setting and dialogue.

What birds were visiting and which flowers were still going strong in my garden in mid-November, and which flowers were likely to be used in supermarket bouquets should my hero choose to buy one for his love? Would they buy and eat different foods at this time of year? (eg Haven’t strawberries got expensive lately?!) It hadn’t crossed my mind that Christmas trees and decorations would already be up in the town hall and shops so early either, or that the London lights would already be lit if my characters were to venture down Oxford Street before going to the theatre. In America, of course, it’s Thanksgiving, and I hadn’t even heard of that other U.S. import Black Friday and the sales frenzy it created until I saw it on the TV right at the end of the month! And would I have remembered, if writing in mid-summer for instance, that in my story the clocks would have recently gone back, so it’s already dark soon after four?

I once started a novel (sadly long since abandoned in favour of other projects) that would take place over the course of exactly one year – the year its heroine turned fifty. The plan was to have twelve chapters, one set in each month of the year, and I would write it accordingly – writing the January chapter during January, February’s in February, etc. This gave me a self-imposed deadline so the whole thing would take a year to write, but it also gave me the huge advantage of not having to do much nitty-gritty research. I could just use the weather, the hours of light and darkness, what the sky and the garden looked like, a range of seasonal events and celebrations, and all the sights and sounds that were happening around me as I wrote. Easy!

Somewhere along the line, I slipped. May had arrived and I hadn’t written beyond my March chapter, and already I had forgotten the all-important minutiae of what April looked and felt like. So I panicked and put it away, telling myself I would pick it up again the following March and continue from exactly where I’d left off. Of course, a year later, I had moved on to other things and my mind was no longer wrapped up in what was happening to those characters, so I didn’t do it… but that’s down to my lack of discipline, not any failing in the plan itself. In fact, as plans go, it really wasn’t a bad one, was it?

Oh, look. It’s chilly outside, a robin is peeping in at my window, and there’s nothing but repeats on the TV. It must be December already.

robin

 

 

          Happy Christmas!

 

 

 

The Four Seasons

With Christmas fast approaching, Natalie kicks off December by asking how the seasons affect our writing.

As writers do we make a conscious effort to link our tales to seasonal events? This can be a good selling point with our short stories but similarly it can tie us down. We have to time it right so that our story lands on the editor’s desk at the right time. If we’re writing historical novels, or even contemporary ones, how important is it to incorporate events of the time frame your book covers?

In the past I’ve been quite diligent about setting some of my short stories to match seasons and events but there is a definite downside to this practice. Without wishing to go into details of percentage uptake and rejection, not all stories are leapt upon by the editor saying they are just what’s neehaunted-house-ghosts-5675901ded. The rejection, if and when it comes, may be long enough delayed to preclude sending it on to another magazine which will by then have filled all available slots. The upshot of this is that you have a story you are quite pleased with (or you wouldn’t have submitted it in the first place) which will now have to wait another year before the opportunity arises to submit elsewhere. Has this stopped me writing a Valentine’s Day story, or one about ghouls, goblins and ghosts for Halloween? It hasn’t.

I have had some degree of success but what I also have is a stock of stories awaiting their time in a ‘to be submitted’ folder. Consequently, I can write these at my leisure and pull them up as and when appropriate.

Does the same thing obtain when applied to novels? Of course it doesn’t. None of us would write a whole book then file it 31311061away until Easter comes around just because that festival is central to our plot. What we do, what we must do, is ensure that we get our facts right. We can’t have our heroine walking around in shorts and T-shirt in the middle of winter, or eating ice-cream in a blizzard – not too sure about this one…I’m sure there are many of us who would eat ice-cream whatever the weather. Why wouldn’t you when it looks like this? Shorts and T-shirt would also not be appropriate if we’re writing a historical novel, no matter what the weather was like! These are the sort of things that challenge and inspire a writer and will often send them off on a ‘research trip’ that might lead to all sorts of fascinating things, none of which is usable in the book but my goodness they’re fun.

In my work in progress I send my heroine to Scotland over Hogmanay. It was a very enjoyable exercise investigating how they celebrate north of the border. Don’t assume just because you bring in the New Year while watching the celebrations on television that you know all about it. Sadly I had to resort to research online and could only dream about actually going up there. One day maybe.

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To sum up, seasons are not just events, they are weather, clothing, even the food we eat. It may not be necessary always to make a big deal about these things. Just alluding to them might be all we need to make a point, a little salt here, a little pepper there. Just another form of season. What we must do is be diligent and get our facts right because as sure as God made little apples someone will notice if you get it wrong.