Preparation for Information and Inspiration

Francesca considers the preparation needed to get the best out of writing events.

PaperworkJuly is fast approaching, a time for me that is busy with writing related trips away. Both the big ones in my writing year happen in July. I wish they were a bit more spread out, but there it is.

The two events – the Romantic Novelists Association weekend conference and the Fishguard (formerly Caerleon) Writers’ Holiday, are quite different, but I prepare for both in order to get the maximum out of them.

Natalie Kleinman, Elaine Everest and Elaine Roberts at the 2014 RNA conference.

Natalie Kleinman, Elaine Everest and Elaine Roberts at the 2014 RNA conference.

The RNA conference, only two weeks away now (where has the year gone?), is very valuable in that it provides industry one-to-ones with publishers, agents and independent editors. When the conference pack hits the mat in May I quickly email over the appointments I’d like before they’re snapped up. But before I do that, I find out which publishers/agents would be best for my book so do a little research. There’s no point in sticking a pin in and hoping I get lucky.

Having sent off the required synopses and first chapters to the organiser to be passed on, I then need to prepare any questions I’d like to ask, or think of answers to questions I might be asked, and write them down. I will not remember them at the best of times, let alone under stress.

Caerleon 2013. Rosemary Goodacre, Angela Johnson, Elaine Everest, Ann West, Natalie Kleinman, Linda Barrett.

Caerleon 2013. Rosemary Goodacre, Angela Johnson, Elaine Everest, Ann West, Natalie Kleinman, Linda Barrett.

The RNA Conference offers many brilliant talks; often there are three going on at the same time. I plough through the programme and subject matter, often looking up the people speaking so that I can pick talks that are going to enhance my writing knowledge.

With the Fishguard Writers’ Holiday it’s a lot simpler, with two courses to pick from around eight (though it’s still hard to choose!). I’m a little more relaxed with the ‘after tea’ sessions and often don’t pick which one to attend until the day. There’s only one evening talk so I don’t have to think about that at all.

But what to pack? On the computer I keep a list of items necessary for these occasions so that every year I don’t have to make them up from scratch again.

Notebooks Caerleon RNANumber one item, of course, is the notebook. Like many writers I know, I do love a beautiful cover. What’s more important is that it’s dedicated to that particular course or conference. Afterwards it gets labelled with the event and year before it’s put on my shelf. I learnt the hard way how difficult it is to find the useful info you learnt or the ideas/inspiration you had when you use the same notebook for lots of different things. Some people I know favour using a laptop or net book, which I guess helps to keep the information organised. However, some events dissuade their use because of the noise of the keys.

Though they’re often provided, I always take several folders to put the handouts in. There’s nothing worse than coming home to a scramble of notes and having to spend ages sorting through them. Paperclips are also useful for the same reason. And I wouldn’t go anywhere without my pencil case: different coloured pens can be very handy when taking notes.


Ah yes, there was one more necessity I forgot to mention…

I always take a laptop or net book to Fishguard. Since I’m away the best part of a week, it’s useful for keeping in touch on social media. There’s also time to do writing in the generous lunch and coffee breaks between courses and talks. Last year I was busy finishing off my RNA New Writers’ Scheme entry so it was necessary. I wouldn’t dream of taking my net book to the RNA Conference though – much too hectic!

And I wouldn’t go to either event without my camera. Apart from storing memories, it’s jolly useful for taking photos to fill blog space!

What do you do to prepare for writing events?


See what I’m up to as a ‘reluctant grandmother’ on Nonna Blog


Fishguard Writers’ Holiday (they also do a weekend in February)

Romantic Novelists’ Association conference (non members welcome)

Other writers’ events I’ve heard good things about:

Swanwick Writers’ Summer School

Arvon courses (run year round)

Character Building

Elaine and Francesca consider their methods for creating characters.

Elaine: I start with their age and when they were born. This gives me a star sign, which in turn gives me some character traits as a starting point. Once I’m happy with that, I do a character profile. This will involve interviewing them; it’s what I call getting to know my characters. It will involve some simple questions such as:

Forgotten Love - Main Character's Profile

Forgotten Love – Main Character’s Profile

Do you prefer to drink tea or coffee?

Do you prefer the Rolling Stones or The Beatles?

What would be your idea of a perfect day/night?

Do you believe in God?

What is your happiest memory as a child?

What is your worst memory?

And so it goes on. They are not all deep and meaningful questions but the answers will help bring out the characters back story, and that in turn will bring understanding about their actions/reactions.

I have an interview sheet that I complete, but sometimes I add extra questions, which could be relevant to the story I am writing at the time. Think of your own questions and things it might be useful to know. Type it up and you have a template for all future characters. It is also useful if you suddenly forget any detail of your character. I have been known to unwittingly change the colour of my character’s eyes before now.

Another thing I find useful is to keep a picture of someone that reminds me of my character, fictional or real. It may not be the look, but it could be a reminder of character traits. I do keep pictures of houses, streets, people and even front doors. It all helps me with my writing.


Francesca: The main characters in my novels tend to come to me reasonably well formed. I can only imagine my subconscious has been building them while I’ve been doing other things, because I usually know exactly what they look like, hair and eye colour and all. 

IMG_6562I start a new notebook for each novel, so the details of the female and male protagonists are the first two entries, taking up around twenty pages each. That notebook is my reference book throughout. I then start to flesh out their personalities, jobs, past life, education, home life, relationships, family and their secrets. Often it’s like they’re telling me their stories. Fanciful maybe, or just an over-active imagination!

Next I move onto their abodes. From time to time these also arrive fully formed, but often it’s a case of deciding roughly size and location and going onto something like Right Move to see what there is. For the current WIP, I picked a seaside village in West Wales as a template for my imaginary village, then ‘walked’ along the streets on Google Street View, until I found the perfect house for ‘Tori’.

During the course of the novel, certain problems or questions might arise that cause me to consider some aspect of the character’s life or personality. I always leave plenty of pages free in the notebook for this. Yes, it would be easier to put it on the computer, but this works for me. It also means I can take that notebook anywhere if I want to write a scene by hand, say, if I were having a coffee somewhere or on a train. Occasionally, if I’m not sure where a scene’s going, I’ll have an imaginary conversation with the characters to see what they think!

Secondary characters also get several pages in the notebook, especially if they turn out to be trouble makers as I need to work out their motivation.

IMG_6564Characters for short stories are a different matter. I tend to have an A4 sheet or two  for each story (based on a sheet from Elaine Everest’s classes) which outlines major aspects, and that will include a short paragraph about them that’s relevant to the plot.

Like Elaine, I collect pictures of people who contain some aspect of my characters. I tack them to my study door along with a plan of the main house and a map of the area. Then I’m ready to go!


Visit my Nonna Blog to catch up on my adventures as a ‘reluctant’ grandmother

It’s As Simple As…

Elaine Roberts talks about how a whole new world opened up when she decided to write her novel.

report_writingMy writing is never far from my thoughts. Thank goodness typewriters are a thing of the past, I hate to think how much Tippex and re-writing would be involved. My laptop goes practically everywhere I do. My husband and I recently drove to North Wales to visit an elderly aunt and I even tried to write in the car, but travel sickness took over. A week later, I took it to Worcester when visiting more relatives. I don’t like to miss an opportunity to move my work on a stage. To be honest, I think I’m a little obsessive. As soon as people know I’m writing, I’m constantly being asked when my “best seller” will be published.

If only life was as simple as that.

I was asked recently how I manage to write enough to produce a novel when working full time and that is a problem, especially as my job requires me to use the logical side of my brain and my writing needs me to exercise my creative muscle. I am lucky to have a very supportive family and a husband who has relieved me of any household duties, which obviously gives me a very precious commodity, time.

My time used to be spent writing short stories for women’s magazines and while it wasn’t something I ever wanted to do, it was a quick win and helped keep my belief that I was a good writer. Time wasn’t an issue either because I could write a short story in a couple of hours, then I would let it sit for a while and then return to edit it. However, it is a totally different skill, as some writers will admit they struggle writing within a strict word count and vice versa. For me it’s working an apprenticeship. If I learnt to play the piano, that wouldn’t make me a concert pianist or maybe more appropriately, a GCSE in history doesn’t make anyone a historian.

Francesca and I At An RNA Event

Francesca and I At An RNA Event

Anyway, before I start ranting, back to the writing. It is underestimated how much work is involved in writing a novel. When you first start writing seriously, you hear phrases like: show don’t tell, the five senses, ensure that your plot, characters and your sub plots all work. Then of course there is the issue of avoiding the saggy middle, haha, that’s a bit late for me. Seriously, the saggy middle is all about making sure something happens halfway through your story, to carry your reader on, so they don’t put it down and never pick it up again.

It’s simple, if only.

I plan my chapters and the structure of my novels and that makes it easier to pick up and put down.


When I begin writing, it’s always difficult to know exactly where to start, so my first chapter usually gets rewritten about a dozen times, and then I also have a habit of changing the order of my chapters. This causes another problem because I then have to check if moving a chapter has a ripple effect to something I have already written. I once had a character discussing an argument that hadn’t happened because of such a move. It’s all about the attention to detail.

What I’ve discovered with my new work in progress is that I write in layers; that wasn’t planned, it just happened. I think that is because I’m trying something new and it is much more complicated than anything I have ever written before.

So the next person that says to me “I could write a book, I just don’t have the time,” I say go for it, even if it takes years. As with all work, until you’ve worked in somebody else’s shoes, you have no idea what’s involved.

Now where was I?

Once upon a time there was a….



A Virtual Welcome to Author Jean Fullerton

Today we welcome award-winning author Jean Fullerton, whose latest novel Fetch Nurse Connie was published yesterday.

Jean Fullerton medHi, Thanks Elaine and Francesca for inviting me to be a guest on the WriteMindsWritePlace Blog.

For those of you who don’t know me I was born within the sound of Bow Bells in Whitechapel – Jack the Ripper country – and I absolutely adore my birth place of East London. My family has lived in the area since the 1820s. I use real East London locations and have my characters walking past actual shops and houses that once existed. I have also drawn on my family for many of my stories, such as the charity school, public houses and market.

I’m a qualified District Nurse and now teach nursing studies at a London University. I live with my hero of thirty-eight years just outside London in Epping Forest and have three grown-up daughters.

When did you know you wanted to write?

Unlike many of my fellow authors I am a relative latecomer to writing. In fact, I didn’t know I could write until I was sent on an NHS stress management course – yes, fact can be stranger than fiction.

I thought it was just a hobby until I got my first Romantic Novelist Association New Writers’ Scheme report back. It said I had what it took to be a published novelist because I wrote pacey stories with believable characters and sharp dialogue. Of course my reader also said I didn’t know the first thing about story structure, punctuation or presentation.

It was then I knew I had to write but it took 5 years of learning my craft before I finally got my big break.

I’ll continue to write until they prise the keyboard out from under my cold dead hand.

Jean's Banner

How long does it take you to complete a manuscript?

My novels are somewhere around the 135,000 word mark so the first draft takes me 5 months to pull together then a month re-working it before it goes off to my agent. She has been in publishing for a long time. Firstly, she was an editor with HarperCollins, Heinemann and Penguin before moving into being an agent so she always gives me insightful comments. Having incorporated those, in another month or so I’m happy to send the manuscript off to my publisher. So all in all from typing ‘Chapter one’ until hitting the send button to Orion is about 9-10 months, after which I collapse in a heap on my desk.

Can you tell us something about your ‘road’ to publication?

I’m dyslexic and when I went to school (at about the time when the Beatles were tripping off to India) the condition wasn’t recognised so English was always tortuous.

As a teenager I consumed Historical fiction of all kinds and I’d thought over the years that one day I’d write a historical novel. To my utter amazement a story tumbled out and after three months I had a 90,000 word manuscript and another story screaming to be told.

No Cure for Love

The book Jean won the Harry Bowling prize with

After writing over a 1,000,000 words my eleventh book, No Cure for Love, won the Harry Bowling Prize in 2006. I signed with my lovely agent, Laura and was offered my first two-book contract with Orion Publishing.

My first four novels were set during the Victorian era but my latest series featuring Nurse Millie Sullivan and her friend Nurse Connie Byrne are set in post-war East London. They are nurses in the pre-NHS St Dustan and St George’s Nursing Association.

Although the Nurse Millie and Connie books are stand-alone novels they have some of the same characters. How do you ensure your story lines don’t contradict each other?

It’s not easy and sometimes I end up flipping through my own book to find an answer. I have a plot grid of all my books with a timeline and notes as you can see below and I have that to hand.

Scene Events date
1 VE day Millie delivers a baby as street prepares for a Victory party. blancmange pilchards 8/5/45
2 Gets back & has to take over as the superintendent is drunk.
3 Argues with one of the nurses. Phone rings to say her father’s ill
4 At her father’s bedside with her mother as the peace is announced. Churchill spoke at 3pm
5 Calls her Aunt Ruby. King at 9pm?
6 Ch2 Goes back to work and meets her friend Connie


If you could give one piece of advice to budding authors what would it be?

Firstly, if it took me three years to become a nurse, another two to qualify as a district nurse and a further three to become a lecturer so why on earth would I think I could learn the craft of writing overnight? Very few first books are of a publishable standard. Mine wasn’t. Learn your craft!

Secondly, Write what you love. If you’re chasing a bandwagon by the time you’ve jumped on its left town.

And lastly persevere. Getting published is a long, hard road but you’ll never succeed unless you stick with it.

Thank you, Jean, it’s been lovely talking to you, as always.


Fetch Nurse Connie - Cover Feb  2015..doc-2Fetch Nurse Connie

Connie Byrne, a nurse in London’s East End working alongside Millie Sullivan from Call Nurse Millie, is planning her wedding to Charlie Ross, set to take place as soon as he returns from the war. But when she meets him off the train at London Bridge, she finds that his homecoming isn’t going to go according to plan.

Connie’s busy professional life, and the larger-than-life patients in the district, offer a welcome distraction, but for how long?

Available from Orion Fiction on Kindle, paperback and hardback on 4th June 2015.

Amazon link to buy Fetch Nurse Connie


Praise for Call Nurse Millie:

‘A delightful, well researched story that depicts nursing and the living conditions in the East End at the end of the war’ (Lesley Pearse)

‘…The writing shines off the page and begs for a sequel’ (Historical Novel Society)

‘…you will ride emotional highs and lows with each new birth and death. Beautifully written with some sharp dialogue.’ (THE LADY)

Jean’s website

Jean on Twitter