The Story Behind the Story

Francesca and Elaine reveal the inspiration behind some of their short stories.

Francesca: While the ideas for my short stories come from numerous sources, I have to confess that a number of them have come from my own family. The tales I build around these incidents are generally fictional, though there are exceptions. More on that later.

T to B, Allas (as 'It's My Life!) and Woman's Era.

Allas (as ‘It’s My Life!) and Woman’s Era.

On one occasion I was trying to recall my great grandmother’s old fashioned scullery for a story set in World War Two. I was wondering what happened to the numerous coronation mugs on her dresser, some dating back to Edward VII, when a new story was born. Memories Are Made of This, published in Sweden’s Allas and India’s Woman’s Era, is about, ‘Nan’, who hoards far too much memorabilia. Her daughter, rather unkindly, calls it ‘tut’ and attempts to clear it out. My gran wasn’t a hoarder like Nan, who luckily has a grandson who comes to the rescue.

'An Alternative Christmas', renamed for The Weekly News.

‘An Alternative Christmas’, renamed for The Weekly News.

The inspiration for An Alternative Christmas (published in The Weekly News as Party With a Twist) came from my older son and his partner, who are what some would call, ‘alternative’. It’s the tale of a street suffering a Christmas power cut and how you shouldn’t always take people at face value. 

Tiger Lilies for Aunty Carlota, published in Norway’s Hjemmet and Sweden’s Hemmet contains rather more of the original thirty-four-year-old tale.

R: Hemmet, L: Hjemmet

Left: Hemmet Right: Hjemmet

In it, Lottie loses her favourite great aunt and one of the older nephews, Renzo, tries to squirrel away the aunt’s possessions for himself. In the process, a tiger lily necklace, willed to Lottie, goes missing. Aunty Carlota is based on my great aunty Carmela, and Lottie is me. Renzo, in reality my dad’s cousin Luigi, did much to manipulate my aunt’s will and stole items that were meant to be part of the estate, including a necklace (a Madonna rather than a tiger lily). The tiger lilies came about because I took a bunch of them to Aunty Carmela a week before she died, as does Lottie. The story’s theme of avarice and how cheaters don’t prosper sadly wasn’t the reality.

Sometimes it’s very satisfying to put right a wrong, if only in fiction.


TAB CoverElaine: I often get ideas through conversation or people watching. The news or articles also often spark ideas, as well as looking at old photographs. Once I start mulling things over, my idea tends to sprout wings and it takes me wherever it wishes to go.

I’m not altogether sure what sparked my ideas for the short stories I have written, or the novels, mainly because some of them have been quite random.

Other story ideas that I’ve had have evolved. I wanted to write something about going to a garden centre, no idea what, but that ended up being how it ended.

I think I usually have a one sentence idea, which is usually a setting, like the garden centre or an office, but that quite often doesn’t end up being what my story is about.

The story was called One Step Closer

The story was called One Step Closer

One of my favourite short stories, A Dorothy Moment, was published in Take A Break Fiction Feast. The story was about someone retiring from work and buying a pair of high-heeled red shoes that would never be worn.

The idea came to me as I stared aimlessly out of the office window where I work, wishing I could retire, and that is how my story starts. It is written in the first person and all through the story, it is believed that the modern shoes are for that person. It is only when the end of the story is reached, it comes to light that the husband has bought them for his wife. He knows she could never possibly wear them but he has seen her eyeing them in the shop window, so it is his last extravagance before he retires.

That’s what staring aimlessly out of the window gets you.


What has inspired some of your stories?



Using Building Blocks To…

Elaine chats about building her stories from the very beginning.

Last week, Francesca and I talked about what we automatically put into our writing and also what we leave out. That made me think about my process of working, so I thought I would share it with you.

First, it’s the idea of the story, which often starts off with something vague. As an example, Forgotten Love started as a mother who had wanted to return to education. That brought up a whole list of questions.

Scene Plan

Scene Plan

Why had she left her education early?

Why had she married young?

Why did she want to return to education?

What did her family think about it?

Did they support her, if not why not?

What issues did she come across on her journey?

What relationship issues did it bring up?

How would she cope?

These are only a few of the questions, but as you can see, my vague idea has given me a lot to think about. From these questions came the brain storming, or mind mapping, no matter how ridiculous the conflict might have seemed, it was written on there. You never know where one idea can take you.

Draft Chapter Breakdown

Draft Chapter Breakdown

Once I had chosen my preferred elements of conflict, I then wrote the synopsis, which proceeded to be converted into a chapter breakdown. Excitement buzzes through me as the novel begins to take shape. Obviously there are gaps in my chapter breakdown, but that’s what gives me the artistic licence for my story to evolve.

Part of my process also involves a scene plan. To coin somebody else’s phrase, you know who you are Elaine Everest, this is a shopping list of what each scene should include, as in what I want to happen and what senses could be used. My first draft begins. In the past, I have used NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), in November, to write my first draft, mainly because it doesn’t need to be correct. My first draft is just about getting the story written, then I tear it apart and add in the obvious things I have missed out. The five senses, and often description, are the areas I’m usually lacking in.

Forgotten Love Synopsis

Forgotten Love Synopsis

After the editing process, which for me is the longest and most time consuming part of my novel writing, I revisit my synopsis. Maybe I should change that last sentence because my synopsis always feels like it takes forever to get right. To get my story onto one sheet of A4 paper always feels like a mountain I can’t climb, but obviously I do, eventually.

I am sometimes asked whether I enjoy writing and the overall answer is probably no. I enjoy the first draft, getting the story down, but getting it book shaped, as Julie Cohen calls it, I find to be painful. However, it’s like a drug, I can’t help myself. I have lost track of how many times I’ve said that’s it, I am not doing it anymore, but less than an hour later I’m back fighting the demons and getting my manuscript book-shaped.

The question is, am I alone in this? Please tell me I’m not.


More Tea Vicar? What We Include Consciously and Subconsciously

Elaine and Francesca consider those things that always crop up automatically in their writing. And a few things they’re not so good at including when they should.

Elaine: When Francesca asked me what I automatically include in my short stories and novels, I have to say my mind went totally blank.

Swallow Falls In North Wales

Swallow Falls In North Wales

So the analysing of my writing started. I can tell you I don’t automatically add in the five senses. I am getting better at adding them, but it doesn’t happen automatically. Neither does adding in the weather or description. I love being near water so you would be forgiven if you thought that would be what I automatically included, but alas, that isn’t so. My settings are always urban, mainly cities with not a river or coastline in sight.

The more I think about this, the more I’m beginning to wonder why I write, or if I am actually a good writer. Thankfully, I have had over a dozen short stories published in women’s magazines to confirm I’m not too bad.

Through all this analysis, what has shocked me is that I tend to write about suppressed women striving for control of their destiny. They may have low self esteem or be running away from a situation, but they will always be thrown back into it.

My novel, Forgotten Love, is a modern romance about a married woman, a parent who wants to return to education to achieve some qualifications, but her family doesn’t take her seriously.

Victorian Saga Family Tree

Victorian Saga Family Tree

In the Victorian saga I am currently writing, my main character, Emily, is striving to escape an arranged marriage; she wants to marry for love, which is against the family wishes.

Both of these stories are about family relationships, very different stories dealing with various aspects love.

So what do I automatically include in my writing? Love and romance.


Francesca: I posed the question, What do you include in your novel without thinking? when Elaine and I were pondering a subject for our joint blog this week. I’ve come at it from a slightly different angle and thought of specific repetitive plot and setting points.

More Tea Vicar?

More Tea Vicar?

For a start, I often have a fight in my novels (as well as with them!). Three out of the five include ‘fisticuffs’. Even the other two have heated arguments. Better on paper than in reality, I suppose. The first three novels also include hospital scenes (two of them as a result of the aforementioned fights). Since realising this, I’ve made sure the two recent novels comprise neither violence nor hospitals. Believe it or not, they do all contain love and romance too!

The main female characters in the first three novels possess quirky/off the wall/irritating best friends who they fall out with somewhere along the way. It’s perhaps not a coincidence that I disowned my ‘oldest bestest friend’ not long before I wrote the first novel, due to some very unpleasant and frankly unfriendly behaviour from her. The heroines in novels four and five seem to have got over it!

Morglas Settings

Exploring all possible settings

Then there are the ubiquitous kitchen scenes that appear in almost all my novels – and a good few of my short stories too. I know from writing friends that I’m not the only person with this problem. Along with these scenes go the inevitable and plentiful cups of tea and coffee. A recent critique of one of my books suggested I might want to get out of the kitchen a bit and re-set some of the scenes elsewhere. To that end I’ve made a list of all the settings in the book, along with other possible ones. Hopefully that will give me ideas when I do the re-write.

I’ve done the same with the WIP, because, unlike Elaine, I do set all my novels near water.  I don’t want to fall into a similar ‘overused setting’ trap as I’m already aware that the beach is featuring a little too often in the current novel, and possibly the last one too. 

Okay, the scene where I sit in my study and write this blog post is done. Time to head to the kitchen for a cup of tea, methinks…


What always crops up in your novels or short stories?