Francesca and Elaine discuss how inspired they are when they listen to music.

Francesca: Over the years I have found songs useful not only for sparking fiction ideas, but for finding titles for short stories I’ve already written.

When will the characters meet again?

When will the characters meet again?

Some of these stories are still in idea form in my ‘Cooking’ notebook. Others have been written but not polished enough to send out, for instance This Old House, about someone visiting what used to be their home. The Night Has a Thousand Eyes was just the right title for a story about someone wishing on a star for the perfect love when he was right in front of her. When Will I See You Again was number 1 the day many of my friends left school and always reminds me of that time. It inspired a story about meeting someone again many years after, you guessed it, leaving school.

For the story of a Valentine’s dinner that burst into flames (based on a true incident in my life) I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire was the perfect title. As Tears Go By, is about a girl missing her… but if I tell you that and it’s published, I’ll give the twist away.


Flicking through a record collection for inspiration.

Among the stories I have had published, Memories Are Made of This (Sweden’s Allas  and India’s Woman’s Era) seemed an apt title for the tale of a hoarding grandmother. Goat’s Head Soup (The Weekly News), is about an unusual dinner party. Waiting on a Friend (Woman’s Weekly) is about an old man about to meet a good mate he hasn’t seen in many years.

Three of my all time favourite songs/tunes, Summertime (from Porgy and Bess), Stranger on the Shore and Sleepwalk, have, oddly, never engendered any story ideas for me. I think perhaps only the middle one would make a good story title. All three do remind me of long, hot summers as a child and are therefore useful for mood creation – but that’s a different topic altogether.

It’s time I tidied up some of those unpolished stories and got them out there.


Elaine: One of my favourite pastimes is listening to music.

My grandson with his piano.

My grandson with his piano.

Music can set the mood, time and era in your writing. This is something I have included in my novels, however I do believe there is a copyright issue, depending on how much of a song or title you use.

For me, song writing is the ultimate short story and the titles are often used for these. The lyrics of songs have been known to reduce me to tears on more than one occasion. Music is linked to events in my life, the obvious one is a wedding day, but it can also send me back in time, and suddenly I’m reliving my youth, even if it’s only for three minutes. Therefore, it is logical to link music to situations.

I can’t say I have ever listened to a piece of music and been inspired to write something, which is strange in itself, as I know other authors have.

When I write a short story, it tends to stem from a situation, but as I’ve said, music sparks situations in your mind, so therefore, I will set myself a challenge to pick a song and be inspired to write a story. Am I alone in this? Let me know your thoughts.



If you’re struggling for inspiration, why not trawl through an old copy of a hit singles book or the internet for song titles/themes? This site has the top 100 UK hits for all the decades from the 1950s till now:


Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre…

Elaine Roberts compares her driving lessons with her writing structure.

The clear road ahead

The optimism of the clear road ahead

It was over forty years ago when I took my driving lessons. It was a struggle for me to take in the process of working my feet, hands and eyes all at the same time. I often hear people say how they passed on their first driving test. It took me three attempts before I passed, admittedly the second examiner had just come back from having a nervous breakdown, and no, I didn’t have him the first time.

You might be asking why I am talking about driving lessons and tests; well, I’m going to tell you. When I was learning to drive, there was always a lot to remember. I’m not going to go into getting your feet to hit the right pedals in the right order. However, the term that has always stayed with me is “mirror, signal, and manoeuvre.”

The question I ask is, can you relate it to your writing?

Wing mirrors give a different view to the rear view mirror

Wing mirrors giving a different view.


When sitting in the driving seat and you look at the rear view mirror, or the wing mirror, you are looking at what is behind you. Hhmm, could that be the back story of your characters? Do you need to know where they have been, or what they have been through, to be able to move them forward?


Before pulling away, or turning, the driver flicks on the indicator to signal to other drivers where they are going.

Signalling where the reader is being taken

Signalling where the reader is being taken

When we write a story, should we be signalling what could be coming? I believe that, in this context, it could be called signposting. It amounts to the same thing. We have our characters acting out, but the reader doesn’t necessarily understand why until much later in the story, but when the penny drops, the reader gets an “ah” moment.




In driving terms, this could be reversing round a corner, doing a three point turn, hill start, an emergency stop or just basically moving forward.

The grey sky and busy road of the conflicts along the way.

The grey sky and busy road of the conflicts along the way.

In writing terms, the manoeuvre is the twists and turns of the story. It’s the plot, sub plots and the conflicts. It’s the twists and turns that the characters take when they hit a traffic jam, or something that stops them from getting to their end goal, or destination.

Perhaps, for me, the way forward isn’t to remember all the acts, scenes, chapters and saggy middles in writing, but just trying to remember mirror, signal and manoeuvre and then I’ll reach my destination.


Six Things You Didn’t Know About Us

Elaine and Francesca reveal six snippets each about themselves you may not know.


1: I wrote my first novel when I was in my mid-twenties, I’m not going to tell you how long ago that was, but it’s suffice to say I’m now a grandmother. I sent it off to Mills and Boon, as they were known then, and received a lovely rejection. However, it was at this point that life got in the way and the decision was made to bury my dream, because things like that don’t happen to people like me. Joining The Write Place and The Romantic Novelists Association (RNA) has taught me to follow my dreams, because every author I have met has been like every other person you meet.

Alas CD's and not vinyls.

Alas CD’s and not vinyls.

2: I grew up listening to various types of music, my mum was a Rat Pack fan and my father was a massive Beatles fan and both play a huge part in my music collection. However, what was a shock to me, and consequently I am sure no-one else could possibly know, is that my favourite decade for music is the sixties. The only exception is the Glam Rock years, ahh my teenage years.

3: Before the writing took hold, my creativity was in the form of needlework and crocheting. I found it relaxing, with some wonderful finished items. It was always a favourite hobby of mine and as a young mum, I saved money by making my own clothes and my children’s. I also did alterations and made outfits for other people.

IMG_01434: For as long as I can remember I have been a home girl. There is nothing I like better then being curled up in a chair with a good book. As a child, my mother worried I wasn’t getting enough fresh air, and in her mind I should have been out playing, having fun; what she didn’t understand was that I was having fun in my imaginary world. Unfortunately, the more I write, the less I read and that is something I do miss.

5: My father was a military man and when I was just over fourteen, we moved to Germany. I had to wait several months for a school place and consequently found a job working for the Navy, Army, Air Force Institute (NAAFI) and I stayed working there for nearly three years.

Elaine at the RNA Awards evening.

Me at the RNA Awards evening.

6: I am going to end on something that might astound some people. I am a very shy person. It takes a lot for me to walk into a room of strangers and I will very rarely speak to someone I don’t know. I always assume nobody will remember me. It probably comes across as standoffish and that is hopefully not what I am. If you see me at an event at any time, please come and say hello because I will definitely be too shy to come over to you. I am more secure in my imaginary world.


1: Anita Roddick of Body Shop fame was my second cousin. Both her father and step father were first cousins of my dad, and of each other. Her parents’ love story, both complicated and fascinating, is detailed in Anita’s biography. It would make a great premise for a novel. FB & EJ

2: Several years ago I met actor Elijah Wood and had this photograph taken with him. I was at a London Comic Con with fellow Lord of the Rings fans. Elijah was utterly charming.

3: I’ve spoken often of being half Italian and half Welsh, but in fact I am one sixteenth Devonshire on my mum’s side. Many people in the late 19th/early 20th century, farm labourers and tin miners for instance, moved from the West Country to South Wales to work in the coal mines. Most of the rest of my Welsh family came from farming in West Wales and the slate mines in North Wales. I’ve written two stories based on them so far and I’m sure there are many more stories to be told.

Lorenzo Capaldi, c1908. He won a medal for his work during the 1908 earthquake.

Lorenzo Capaldi, c19o8

4: One of my middle names is a boy’s name. Andrea (pronounced ‘Andraya’) means ‘Andrew’ in Italian and is never used for girls.  My mother wanted it as my first name but my father wouldn’t hear of it. My other middle name is Giuliana.

Islwyn Morgan, late 1930s.

Islwyn Morgan, late 1930s.

5: Both my grandfathers died long before I was born. My maternal grandfather, Islwyn Morgan, died of cancer at the age of 30 during World War II. My paternal grandfather, Lorenzo Capaldi, was killed in World War I in his early thirties. His widow and son (ie, my grandmother and father) featured in an imagined short story I wrote that you can read in the anthology 7 Food Stories from Rome.

6: I was a millionairess for ten years… That is to say, I was a lire millionairess! After my aunty Carmela died she left my father several million Italian lire. It took ten years for Italy to release the money, by which time my father had died and I became the ‘heiress’. The resultant money was worth around £2,500.

Have you any little nuggets to share?


Sunday Supplement: RNA York Tea

Elaine and Francesca headed up country to York yesterday, to partake of the Romantic Novelists’ Association afternoon tea. Here are just a few photos of their day.

The morning began with tea at Betty's

The morning began with tea at the wonderful Betty’s – where else?


We met up with Carol Wareham, Natalie Kleinman and Elaine Everest. Look at the queue outside!


A visit to the Shambles was a must.

A visit to the Shambles was a must.


The smallest road in the country - what a great name!

The shortest road in York with the biggest name – sounds like it’s straight out of an erotic novel, or a Carry On film!


Entrance to the Guild Hall, where the tea was held.

Entrance to the Guild Hall, where the tea was held. The original 15th structure was a partly rebuilt after significant damage in World War II.


Inside the Guildhall all laid up and ready.

Inside the Guildhall all laid up and ready.


Stain glass window in the Guildhall chronicling the history of York.

Stain glass window in the Guildhall chronicling the history of York.


So elegant.

Such elegance.


Making new friends.

Making new friends.


Milly Johnson's talk was wonderful. What a funny lady she is.

Milly Johnson’s talk was wonderful. What a funny lady she is.


A big thank you to Lynda Stacey and Jane Lovering for organising this great occasion. 


In Praise of the Beta Male.

Francesca confesses her preference for fictional Beta males over the Alpha variety.

A couple of years ago, during a one-to-one at the Romantic Novelists’ Association conference, an editor wrote on my synopsis, Perhaps more interesting if Nate were more successful? Nate, in my novel Ten Years Later, is a Beta male, and I make no apology for it. He’s an accountant in a successful practice but he’s not big time and has no hugely famous clients. He earns enough to be nicely comfortable, have good holidays and not worry too much. He is intelligent, sensitive, doesn’t feel threatened by smart women and is happy to be a hands-on dad. And that’s how I like him.

Are you more into the King of the Jungle type?..

Are you into the King of the Jungle type?..

Alpha males don’t interest me nearly as much as Beta males, who often have less obvious good qualities. Alpha characteristics include being ultra successful, getting the girls, having oodles of self esteem (some might say arrogance) and are often physically fit. They’re protective of women, but often chauvinistic. They’re inclined to have little emotional intelligence and don’t expect to do housework or childcare. This is, of course, a gross generalisation! In real life I guess you’d call people like Brad Pitt, David Beckham, Tom Jones, Daniel Craig, Donald Trump, David Cameron, John F Kennedy, Mike Tyson and John Terry Alpha males, even though they’re all very different.

...or does the cute, thoughtful Beta male float your boat?

…or does the cute, thoughtful Beta male float your boat?

Beta males are often seen as less ambitious, not as tough, and physically weaker. They have less confidence (so maybe more humility?) Women don’t flock round them. But they’re often less chauvinistic, don’t have the same issues with women in positions of importance, will look after the kids and don’t mind mucking in. They’re often more intellectual. They can be more sensitive and emotionally aware.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking Alpha heroes in novels. Plenty of readers love Alpha male protagonists, and there are writers more than happy to invent them: all power to their elbow. But I also think there are as many readers who prefer a Beta male, someone more realistic who they can relate to.  Not someone who is rich, impossibly handsome, too powerful and muscle bound, but someone they could come across in the street, is attractive enough as well as thoughtful and generous without wads of cash . He can still be successful in his own way.

My attraction to Beta males goes back to before there were any such labels. As a teenager, geeky boys were more likely to appeal to me. The obviously handsome tended to leave me cold. One boy I liked had a face full of very dark freckles, wasn’t tall and was very skinny. However, he had the most amazing dark eyes which made up for all. My friends and I used to refer to him as ‘Owl’. Sadly, I didn’t know him well enough to be a real judge of his personality, though he did nothing to persuade me he was anything but a half-decent guy.

Handsome devil!

Handsome devil!

I was also quite enamoured of two ginger haired young men, though red-headed heroes never seem to make any kind of appearance in fiction. In fact, an established writer once told me that publishers aren’t fond of them, or Titian heroines, come to that (though I’m not convinced about the latter). How utterly scandalous. In response, I made the male and female protagonists in my next novel auburn! Time will tell if a publisher approves. The ‘hero’ in my current Work in Progress is a moody Welsh blacksmith with a troubled past. 

Mmm. Moody Welsh blacksmith. Excuse me while I carry on with the WIP…

Do you prefer Alpha or Beta males?


There’s an interesting article on Alpha and Beta males you can read here

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