Fail To Plan, Plan To Fail

Elaine Roberts has been thinking about what people do to motivate themselves and carry on when things get too much. She’s had a lot going on in her personal life so, consequently, has been feeling too tired and demotivated to do anything. 

When my children get those same feelings, I always tell them life is all about small steps, which lead to bigger steps that occur naturally.

NaNoWriMo Logo

I came to the conclusion I should practice what I preach, so to speak. As a writer, NaNoWriMo (National November Writing Month) is a motivation, and the aim is to write fifty thousand words in a month. Straight away, the immediate and automatic reaction was “whoa, I could never do that”. Then I thought, what if I aim for fifty thousand, but not worry if I don’t make it because that way, the daily word count would increase.

 

That’s fine if you’re a writer, but what if you’re not. Here are some of the things that have worked for me, which I would recommend:

  • Have an overall plan. My plan is to be published, but my dream is to walk into bookshops and supermarkets and see my books on the shelves.
  • Set specific achievable goals that are measureable, with a realistic timescale for you and the life you lead. It doesn’t matter about how small the goal is, because it’s about stacking the building blocks, towards achieving the plan that you have decided upon.
  • Celebrate when you reach those goals, even if it’s only with a cup of tea and a happy dance around the front room.
  • Put yourself out there, wherever out there is for you. It can be intimidating, but there’s nothing like mixing with people who are aiming for similar things. With the Internet and social media, there are forums and groups you can join.
  • Be positive. I always say to my children, if it was easy everyone would be doing it, whatever “it” is. Don’t take on board other people’s negativity; that is their issue, not yours.
  • Give yourself time to serve your apprenticeship. Learn your craft properly. I have several written novels that I thought were great at the time. When the rejections came through, I was crushed, but now my knowledge has increased, I’m quite relieved they didn’t get anywhere.
  • Write a list. We all love a list. You can’t beat ticking things off a list, to make you feel you’ve achieved something.
  • Whatever the plan is, do your research. Look at what others are achieving and how they are doing it. I’ve come to the conclusion there is nothing you can’t find on the Internet.
  • Above all else, don’t give up. Whenever I feel like that, I remind myself how some of the best authors have struggled to be published, and I don’t put myself in the same bracket as them.
  • Remember it’s all about the journey, not forgetting where you started from and what you can do to encourage others to achieve their goals.

Be Positive

Whatever you want to do, go for it. Make time for yourself and your dreams. The harder you work, the luckier you get.

Good luck xx

@RobertsElaine11

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Elaine Everest Steps Back In Time

Today we welcome back saga writer Elaine Everest, whose latest novel, Christmas at Woolworths, was published on 2nd November. What are her own memories of the setting, and how does she research the historical backdrop of her stories? 

Thank you for inviting me onto your blog today. It’s lovely to be back. What interesting questions!

Your family are from the area you’ve set the Woolworths novels in, so are there any family stories you could share with us?

Elaine Everest

I grew up listening to my mum tell me of her experiences during WW2. She was born in 1931 so still quite young when war broke out. Her family still had the family fairground at that time and they lived close to the banks of the River Thames in Belvedere, Kent. Along with her siblings they survived the war as best they could although it was a tough time. A memory she shared with me was of the time she almost lost her life. Mum and her sister were sent to collect food for my granddad’s tea but as they approached the end of their lane the sirens went off and they spent hours in the public shelter. Being worried they would get in trouble for not returning home they managed to slip out of the shelter and were almost at the shops close to Belvedere station when a bomb landed nearby wiping out houses and killing many people. Mum was fine but as she looked around she noticed her sister had been blown clear through the shop window and didn’t have a scratch on her even though she’d lost her knickers in the explosion. Arriving home the girls were scolded for being late and returning without their dad’s tea.

What about your own memories of your youth in Erith?

I was born in Erith at the Hainault Maternity Home, Christmas 1953 and grew up in the Erith and Slades Green area. When I married in 1972 we purchased a house in Erith. This was the house where Ruby lives in the series of Woolworths books. Older neighbours, who’d lived in the terrace of Victorian houses, told me how the street survived the war. It was also explained that a crooked wall in our hall was caused by a bomb dropping close by. I’d often thought that it would have been exciting to live through the war and experience all that happened and as long as I lived at number thirteen I would be fine as it also survived. It is strange to think that many years later the house and town would feature in my books and be so popular.

Since you weren’t born until well after the war, where does your research of the 1940s come from? Is it purely from books, or is it more hands on?

Erith Woolwichs 1930 Credit: Supplied to the author by The Woolworths Museum

I grew up knowing the setting for my books, which in itself is a gift. I recall the town, as it would have been for Sarah, Freda and Maisie although the ‘old Erith’ that locals still talk of and miss, was knocked down in 1966. I could cry when I think back to the beautiful old buildings that were replaced by a concrete jungle. That jungle has now been replaced by another soulless area and Alexandra Road is one of only a few streets still remaining from the good old days. I was a Woolworths Girl, although it was for a short while whilst still at school in the late 1960s and in the nearby town of Dartford. Erith Woolies was where I shopped and I can still picture the high counters and polished wood floors.

Erith Woolworths 2005 Credit: Supplied to the author by The Woolworths Museum

Erith is now part of the London Borough of Bexley, although true locals still refer to us being part of Kent. LB Bexley has a wonderful archive service, which is a gift for writers and anyone researching their hometown. An author can never have enough books and my collection of non-fiction books must number at least one hundred by now. I’m fascinated by old books and love nothing more than to spend an afternoon browsing in second hand bookshops before enjoying afternoon tea with fellow authors. Perfect!

I like to visit places associated with WW2 to get a feel of the time and to look for details I can use in my stories. I have fond memories of visiting Ramsgate for the 75th anniversary of the ‘small ships’ rescuing troops from Dunkirk in 2015. A few of the boats were able to make the journey from Ramsgate over to France while overhead a Spitfire circled the cheering crowds. I defy anyone not to have a tear in their eyes. The Ramsgate Tunnels is a favourite place to visit to experience what it was like to shelter from the bombing and to listen to relatives of the survivors when the town met such destruction during WW2. In fact I find anything related to the thirties onwards is a magnet for this writer. I’m often surprised how some writers only use the Internet for their research when there is such a wealth of places to visit and enjoy.

Summary:
Even though there was a war on, the Woolworths girls brought Christmas cheer to their customers

Best friends Sarah, Maisie and Freda are brought together by their jobs at Woolworths. With their loved ones away on the front line, their bonds of friendship strengthen each day. Betty Billington is the manager at Woolworths, and a rock for the girls, having given up on love . . . Until a mysterious stranger turns up one day – could he reignite a spark in Betty?

As the year draws to a close, and Christmas approaches, the girls must rely on each other to navigate the dark days that lie ahead . . .

With so much change, can their friendship survive the war?

Information about the Book
Title: Christmas at Woolworths
Author: Elaine Everest
Genre: Historical Saga
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Format: Paperback
Release Date: 2nd November 2017

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Author Information

Elaine Everest, author of Bestselling novel The Woolworths Girls and The Butlins Girls was born and brought up in North West Kent, where many of her books are set. She has been a freelance writer for twenty years and has written widely for women’s magazines and national newspapers, with both short stories and features. Her non-fiction books for dog owners have been very popular and led to broadcasting on radio about our four legged friends. Elaine has been heard discussing many topics on radio from canine subjects to living with a husband under her feet when redundancy looms.

When she isn’t writing, Elaine runs The Write Place creative writing school at The Howard Venue in Hextable, Kent and has a long list of published students.

Elaine lives with her husband, Michael, and their Polish Lowland Sheepdog, Henry, in Swanley, Kent and is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, Crime Writers Association, The Society of Women Writers & Journalists and The Society of Authors as well as Slimming World where she can been sitting in the naughty corner.

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Wintertime Blues: Seasonally Affected Settings?

Francesca considers her wintertime blues and wonders whether this affects the seasons she sets her stories in.

Winter sunset – pretty but too early in the day (Devon)

As a child I don’t think I paid much heed to the clock change of late October that caused daylight to disappear an hour earlier in the afternoons. To me at that time it meant apple bobbing at school, Guy Fawkes Night and ultimately, Christmas. The Yuletide period didn’t appear in the shops so early back then, certainly not in September, and definitely not August when the seasonal catalogues tend to plop through the letterbox these days.

Even now, the earliest I am willing to entertain Christmas is November. I’ve wondered recently whether I’ve picked this random date because the clocks change around the same time and dark afternoons become a reality. After this event I wait eagerly for the first of the Christmas lights to appear in front gardens and windows, as I drive along the road.

One of the summer settings I’ve used (Littlehampton)

Once the festive season is over and the decorations are packed away, I look each evening for signs of later sunsets. I dread the winter months, not because of the cold weather but because of the short days. Possibly this is the reason that five of the six contemporary novels I’ve written are set largely over spring and summer, as is the serial and many of my short stories. Could this be a manifestation of something I shall call Writer’s SAD?

The novel that does have a large winter element ends in July. Two others that begin in late winter likewise end in the summer. The historical I’m currently working on, set in a Welsh mining village in the Valleys in World War I, starts in a November. There is a real life reason for this, but this will also end in July because I want it to.

Maybe you prefer a winter setting (Amsterdam)

Maybe there is something symbolic about beginning a novel in winter and ending it in the summer, for me at least. They start at a ‘dark’ time, ending with sunshine and ‘light’. I could be reading too much into this and it’s probably simply that I like spring and summer so I contrive, albeit subconsciously, to set most of the action then.

Do any of you have a favoured season in which to set your novels, or is it just me?

@FCapaldiBurgess

I am not a number…

Elaine Roberts is talking about a special day spent in North Wales and the thoughts it evokes. How realistic should our writing be? Can it be too realistic? 

I have recently come back from visiting my husband’s aunt in North Wales, just one of many scenic areas of Britain. While we were there, we visited Portmeirion, where the pottery originated from and where the sixties programme, The Prisoner, was filmed. What a fascinating and beautiful place it is.

An aerial photo of Portmeirion

Clough Williams-Ellis purchased the land for just less than five thousand pound in 1925 and it took him fifty years to build Portmeirion. He was a strong campaigner for the environment; at a time when it wasn’t the recognised issue it is today. He was building at a time when owners of mansion houses were struggling, so he used many reclaimed pieces.

The large oval windows are painted on because this is the rear of the property.

You may be wondering why I’m writing about this; well Clough used illusion in his architecture and created a beautiful, tranquil place, which inspired the design of the said pottery.

Patrick McGoohan, the co-creator, producer and star of the Prisoner, who also wrote and directed several of the episodes, was dealing with things that

The Prisoner was Patrick McGoohan’s brainchild, it was a 17 episode television series.

seemed too far- fetched to be realistic at the time. He covered generally unknown subjects such as covert surveillance, cordless phones, credit cards and state control. It warned of the dehumanisation of society.

My question, is society influenced by art? Did Star Trek give us the first design of the flip top phone? There are many films and books that are seen as influential, in the way we live our lives. In our small way, we are hoping to offer escapism in our writing, but are we hoping to influence people as well? As historical writers, are we hoping to bring back good childhood memories?

The garden chess board is a replica of the one used in an episode called Checkmate.

I have read many articles that have put down the writers of romantic fiction, and yet to weave a story into true historical events can be difficult, almost like a game of chess. A modern romance needs to be believable, but not too realistic, the reader doesn’t want to know the mundane detail of our heroes and heroines’ lives.

When I was at the Romantic Novelists Association (RNA) conference this year, one of the contemporary romance manuscripts I offered to a publisher was described as too real for her, which I totally understand, but what I find strange is it’s one of my favourites. I wonder if it’s because, despite everything, it all ended well. It’s a lesson for me to learn and reminded me of a job interview I went for, that wasn’t a success either. The panel of interviewers told me they didn’t want to know how things worked, as they already knew what was wrong; they wanted “an ideal world” scenario. So are we all just trying to escape the dehumanisation of our society? Perhaps we should all be influencing it, while escaping.

@RobertsElaine11

The End of an Era: Fishguard/Caerleon Summer Writers’ Holiday

Francesca waves a fond farewell to the summer Writers’ Holiday in Fishguard and takes a trip down memory lane

During my stay at the Writers’ Holiday in Fishguard this July, I was very sad to learn that it would be the last such summer event. I’ve attended the summer Writers’ Holiday every year since 2008, when it was still being held in Caerleon. It switched venues in 2014. Here, in no particular order, (apart from vaguely chronological) are some photo memories, some of the venue, some of the area, some of trips during the ‘holiday’ (we all used to work jolly hard, honestly!). Some people seem to be missing from my photos, and some years I can’t locate at all, for which I apologise.  I’m not putting names to anybody, but if you spot yourself in a photo, or you have your own memories of the Writers’ Holiday, feel free to leave a comment. 

Huge thanks, as always, to Anne and Gerry Hobbs for all the hard work and devotion they put into the event over the thirty plus years – for all the courses, after-teas, talks, trips out, pick-ups, choir evenings and everything else they and their family organised. So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, hwyl fawr. Though of course, it’s not entirely the end…

 

 

…No, it’s not the end of Writers’ Holiday altogether, as the February weekend event will still be running. It will now also  feature the wonderful Cwmbach Male Choir, who’ve entertained us all these years at the summer event. More details here.

@FCapaldiBurgess

 

Natalie Kleinman Escapes To The Cotswolds

We would like to extend a warm welcome to Natalie and her new novel Escape To The Cotswolds

Thank you for welcoming me to your blog. It’s lovely to be back here.

Photo courtesy of MJE Photography

How long on average does it take you to write a book?

It’s difficult to quantify. It may be that an idea rolls around in my head for some time while I’m still working on another project. It’s in the background but it is there, occasionally making its presence felt but most of the time just simmering away. A plot never arrives fully formed but I always know the beginning and end. It’s how to get from one to the other that’s the problem! That said, once I put fingers to keyboard the actual writing process takes anything from four to six months, which includes editing as I go. I’m very lucky to have beta readers who are ruthless with me and when the manuscript is finished it will be read and reread until we are all satisfied it’s as good as it can be before submission. All in all I would say the whole process takes between six and eight months, depending on how long it takes to complete the first draft.

What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?

Finding a plot I’m happy to work with. I know many writers who have a list of works just waiting to be written. I’m just not one of them. As I’ve said above, an idea may occur to me while I’m entrenched in my current project but usually I’m so engrossed there isn’t room in my small brain for any more. If anything does occur to me I’ll jot it down. Having said that, once subbing begins and my mind is clear something usually jumps into my head and that’s always very exciting.

The main characters in your Escape to the Cotswolds are called Holly Hunter and Adam Whitney. How do you select the names of your characters?

A good question for which I don’t have a satisfactory answer. They come seemingly out of nowhere and are frequently changed when the character lets me know very firmly that their name does not fit their personality and they demand it be changed. In Escape to the Cotswolds Holly was Holly from the word go. Adam went through two incarnations before he was happy with his name.

Do you have a special time to write or how is your day structured and how many hours a day do you write?

I don’t have a rigid regime although I try to write in the morning, not to get it out of the way but because I become riddled with guilt if I haven’t got something under my belt by lunchtime. If life (yes, contrary to some people’s opinion I do have one) doesn’t get in the way I might be at my laptop from morning to night. It’s not all writing time of course. Social media has to be fitted in and my daily several online Scrabble games with my sister are a must.

Your novel is set, obviously, in the beautiful Cotswolds. What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning?

It depends on whether I’m writing contemporary or historical – I write both. There’s a lot of online research if I’m writing a Regency and it’s very easy to get carried away so I restrict myself timewise or I’d never get the book finished. With a contemporary though it’s a different process. I’m lucky enough to live within striking distance of the Cotswolds and have visited the area many times. My second novel, Honey Bun, was also set in this lovely part of England. Google Earth is an amazing tool but there’s nothing quite like being there, so there I go…often. Or as often as possible. While I didn’t ‘lift’ it in its entirety, Cuffingham, where Holly lives, is based on a much loved much visited Cotswolds town.

How did publishing your first book, Safe Harbour, change your process of writing?

It didn’t so much change the process as my attitude to the process. It changed my focus. I’ve been committed to my writing since I began some fourteen years ago. I worked very hard and was lucky enough to have several short stories published before I decided I wanted to write a book. Prior to Safe Harbour being published the notion of having a book with my name on the cover was still a dream. When that was realised it wasn’t the end of the dream, it was merely the beginning. I couldn’t stop now if I wanted to. It’s become part of who I am – a very large part.

Does writing energise or exhaust you?

Both. I think you will probably have grasped from my previous answer that I am pretty motivated and I now wake two hours earlier than I used to (I was never an early riser) because I can’t wait to get at it. That said, it’s often a very tired author who falls into bed at the end of the day.

Give us an insight into your main character, Holly. What does she do that is so special?

Holly deserves better than the cheating husband she got. After accepting her marriage wasn’t the forever relationship she’d always hoped for, she picks herself up, moves from town to country and starts over. It takes guts to do that. So I guess I’d say Holly is a big personality in a diminutive body.

What are you working on at the minute?

I’ve just started work on a book which is again set in the Cotswolds – there’s a bit of a theme going on here – but this time my heroine is an interior designer working on the renovation of an old country house. Like many old houses, this one is hiding a secret.

What a lovely set of questions. Thank you.

Biography: Natalie, a born and bred Londoner, has a not-so-secret wish to live in the area she so enjoys writing about. While this isn’t practical at the moment she stills allows herself to dream of honey-coloured stone cottages, quaint villages and rippling brooks. Maybe one day.

A late-comer to writing, she has two published novels prior to Escape to the Cotswolds and many short stories to her name. She attributes her success to a determination to improving her craft, attending any and every writing event she can. All that and a weekly attendance at The Write Place Creative School in Dartford where cream cakes are frequently on the agenda.

Natalie lives with her husband, Louis, in Blackheath, south-east London – except when she’s tripping off to The Cotswolds in the name of research. Somebody has to do it!

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Escape to the Cotswolds

Artist Holly Hunter is turning her life upside-down! She’s leaving the bright lights of London (and a cheating husband) behind her and hoping for a fresh start as she escapes to the peaceful Cotswolds countryside.

Men are off the cards for Holly. Instead, she’s focusing on her little gallery and adopting an adorable Border Collie puppy named Tubs. Or so she thought…

Because no matter how hard she tries to resist him, local vet Adam Whitney is utterly gorgeous. And in a village as small as this one, Holly can only avoid Adam for so long!

@RobertsElaine11

@FCapaldiBurgess

To Dream The Impossible Dream…

Elaine Roberts talks about her time on the music trail in America.

I have never been on a coach-touring holiday before, so this was very much a first for me. Twelve days spent with the same thirty or so people, who were very friendly, but for someone who spends her days sitting at her laptop typing away, this was thrusting me into people’s company, whether I wanted it or not. Despite being ill for the whole of my holiday, at times only being kept upright by medication, I was armed with a notepad and pen so I could write any ideas or things people said, for either my current or future novels. Taking lots of photographs and memorising body language also helped. The culture your characters grew up in forms their views on life. As a writer you never stop working or learning.

Chicago Skyline

The holiday started in Chicago, with a skyline not dissimilar to New York. I had my first experience of going to a blues club, Buddy Guy’s Legends. Apparently, the man himself usually only performs there in January, but I had the honour of hearing him sing there in May.

Buddy Guy at The Legends Blues Club, Chicago

He maybe in his eighties, but what a great voice and personality he has. I’ll be honest, I did have to Google him. He is a big name on the blues and jazz scene, having won six Grammy Awards, along with a lifetime achievement Grammy Award. The Rolling Stone magazine ranked him 23rd in its list of one hundred greatest guitarists of all time. Eric Clapton has been quoted as saying “Buddy Guy is to me as Elvis is to others”. Having listened to Buddy Guy, I can see why he has achieved so much, despite leaving school at fourteen with nothing. He is an inspiration to challenge yourself and work towards your goals, even if the odds are stacked against you.

 

Abraham Lincoln’s Statue

After Chicago, we moved onto Springfield, and no we weren’t there to see anything to do with the Simpsons cartoon series. We were there to see the burial site, home and museum of Abraham Lincoln. I found this day to be quite emotional as information about the American President unfolded. He started from nothing and taught himself to read and believed in himself. If ever there was an inspiration to reach for the stars, to achieve your dream, here he is. As a writer, there is always a lot of doubt and even the most famous authors have suffered from many rejections. The people rejected Abraham Lincoln when he tried to be elected as a politician and yet he became president. Why? He believed in himself, his wife believed in him, he picked himself up and kept going and he gained a place in American history. As a writer, my aspirations are not nearly so grand, but the belief has to be the same.

Gateway Arch, St. Louis

Our next stop was St. Louis. We visited the Gateway Arch there and watched a film on how it was built. As a writer of historical novels, it was good, if not scary, to be reminded there was not much health and safety around in 1963 when it was built. It is the world’s tallest arch at 630 feet high and 630 feet wide and to see the builders gripping tightly on to steel ropes, with the wind attempting to blow them off and no sign of any hard hats, safety harnesses or special boots, took my breath away. The film told how they expected to lose thirteen lives in the building of it, but miraculously none were lost.

 

Elvis’ Sitting Room at Gracelands

Memphis was the next stop. This obviously involved a tour of Graceland, Elvis’s home and a couple of evening visits to Beale Street, where music-wise it all happens. The police had set up a cordon to enter the street; they checked ID’s and tagged us. They didn’t check my ID, but I don’t know if that was because I was British, or clearly over twenty-one, which is their legal drinking age. The street was full of restaurants and bars, each having live singers/bands. There was a party atmosphere along the whole of the street. Having been there, I can understand how Elvis was influenced by the music of his hometown. Of course, no visit to Memphis would be complete without a tour of Sun Studios, where Elvis, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash all started, to name just a few. What a fabulous tour it was. Our guide was humorous and gave the group so much information. It was also good to know that modern groups still record there; Maroon 5 and U2 have recorded there in recent times.

Paddle Steamer

The trip ended in New Orleans, which bore the brunt of Hurricane Katrina twelve years ago. So many sad stories came from the tour of that city, but also stories of how people have picked themselves up. It has to be said that it’s not the case everywhere, but they are getting there. The French Quarter occupied the daytime and the two evenings there were spent in Bourbon Street, popular for its live music, which could be heard from every club and bar on the road. We had lunch on a paddle steamer and a jazz band played as we cruised up the Mississippi river.

However you spend your time, or wherever you go on trips, there is always inspiration and ideas to be taken away. My trip was based mainly on music and historical events, information and ideas I’m sure will be used in the future. Music obviously played a big part in our tour and it was a reminder that, whatever you are writing, you should add it into your work where possible.

If you don’t wish to be a writer, work out what you do want and start putting your building blocks in place to achieve it. There are an awful lot of people out there that started with nothing, but have achieved greatness in their chosen field.

@RobertsElaine11