A Little First Hand Research

Francesca embarks on a little seaside research on her way to Fishguard Writers’ Holiday.

[First posted in August 2015]

IMG_6831 sm

Llangrannog, or ‘Môrglas’: the view from the house of my main character, Tori.

Last week I had a wonderful time at the Writers’ Holiday in Fishguard, my second time at that location but my eighth Writers’ Holiday in all. Coincidentally, it was only a few miles from the village I’m using as a basis for the setting of my latest ‘Work in Progress’. Having only looked at it on Google Maps before, it was the ideal opportunity to investigate the real thing. Armed with my camera and my Welsh language/West Wales consultant (otherwise knows as my friend Angela Johnson!), I had a good walk around the place, snapping numerous photographs.

It was very strange being in a place I’d ‘walked’ around many times on a satellite map, as it really felt like I’d been there before. My ‘WIP’ is about a young woman called Tori, who decides to leave the high life of London and settle down in the sleepy village of Môrglas, a name I made up and which means ‘green sea’ in Welsh. When I was looking for a place on the West Wales coast in which to set my novel, Angela wrote a few ideas down for me. Although I didn’t pick one of them ultimately, they led me to Llangrannog, which is what I based Môrglas on.

‘The Green Dragon’ (Pentre Arms), with Tori’s house just showing behind. Her friend, Ruby, has the large house at the top. Angela can be spied leaning against the railings.

I’ve made a few changes to the area – put a hotel where there’s a café, made another café into an Italian restaurant, put a village hall where there are some houses, moved the church from one side of the village to the other and removed a road, for example. I find that picking a place that already exists and changing a few details for the convenience of my story is so much quicker than inventing something from scratch. In a couple of novels I’ve written, I’ve used places I know very well – Worthing and Littlehampton, where I was born and then brought up –  but again have rearranged them and renamed them.

You might have realised by now that these locations have something in common: they’re all by the sea. As I’ve said before on this blog, I no longer live by the coast and do miss it, so I guess setting stories there makes up for it a little. Out of the four novels and two novellas I’ve completed, along with the ‘WIP’, all but one is set by the sea, and the exception is set near a river (which Littlehampton also possesses).

I have writer friends who use real settings with their proper names, either in the present or in the past (which presents its own problems). Other writers I know make up completely new settings or, in the case of sci-fi, new worlds. If you’re a writer reading this, I’d love to hear how you deal with settings, so feel free to comment below.

@FCapaldiBurgess

Link to Writers’ Holiday

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!

Amazon

Blog

Facebook

Twitter

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

Back in Time For a Cup of Coffee at The Criterion

Francesca talks about the inspiration behind her 3-part serial, The Criterion, which begins in The People’s Friend this coming week. 

The Criterion in the 1970s, having gone through a name change

I know I’ve mentioned before on this blog how some of my writing has been inspired by my family history. The very first novel I wrote, a Young Adult called Sea Angel, came about because of my own experience working in the family cafe as a teenager. My short story Far From Home,  published in the anthology 7 Food Stories from Rome began as my attempt to imagine what it might be like to move to England from Italy as a young widow with a twelve-year-old son, as my grandmother did. The idea for the historical novel I’m currently working on came from a World War One document I found on Ancestry.co.uk detailing the discharge of a Welsh great-grandfather on medical grounds.

The Criterion today, now a hair salon

The first of those is a contemporary, while the latter two both take place in 1915. My serial for The People’s Friend, The Criterion shifts to a different time entirely: 1955. It’s the era of the Ten Pound Poms, and the story begins with my main female character, Gwen Hughes, talking to her disgruntled grandmother about her impending departure to Australia. Renzo Crolla, the male protagonist, owns a cafe in Worthing, The Criterion of the title.

Some of the characters in the serial are based on real people, some are an amalgam, while others are completely fictitious. The story is based only very loosely on that of my family (I might tell you the real story one day). The Criterion in Worthing, however, was a real cafe, owned by my grandmother and father, a kind of character in itself. My grandmother, a war widow, emigrated to England in 1927 with my father. Much of her family were already over here. In 1930 she bought

My mum behind the counter c1958

The Criterion from her brother. I was born in the cafe twenty-eight years later and lived there until I was nearly four-years-old. My father rented the cafe out for a further seven years. Finally he sold it in 1968. It went on being a cafe for a number of years afterwards, known as the Californian, but today it’s a hairdressing salon.

The building itself is Georgian, so what it was originally I have no idea, presumably not a cafe. Perhaps my next project will be to find out something of its history. If I gather enough material I might be able to use it for another story!

Evening trade, c1958

 

The Criterion, a 3-part serial, starts in The People’s Friend in the issue dated 27th May.

7 Food Stories from Rome is available here.

In the story, Renzo was interned on the Isle of Man during World War 2, as was my father. The piece I wrote for The Guardian about it can be viewed here

 

Me outside the cafe, 1959, with Worthing promenade in the background

Mum and Dad in 1955

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

@FCapaldiBurgess

Eurovision: Conflict, Characters, Tension, Twists and Denouements

The Eurovision Song Contest is almost upon us. Francesca takes a look at the elements of story telling within it.

Crazy characters abound

It occurred to me recently, after hearing an announcement about this year’s UK Eurovision entry, that the contest has many of the elements of a story telling, encapsulated in one evening.

For a start, there are a whole host of diverse characters who appear to have been drafted in from several different genres. Who could forget Lordy, the Finnish heavy metal band who won in 2006? They’d surely stepped out of an episode of Star Trek. Jedward, who represented Ireland in 2012, were dressed as futuristic sci-fi characters as envisaged in the 1970s, with their insane silver space suits. At the other end of the scale, grandmas who would have been at home in a Russian epic took to the stage in 2012, namely The Grannies of Buranovo. In 2013 Romanian Cesar brought horror with his (accidental?) depiction of a modern day Dracula, while singing, perversely, a sugary love song. And these are just a few of the many crazy personalities representing their countries.

All Kinds of Everything…

History is recalled in Abba’s Waterloo. For weird comedy, I present you with Ireland’s Dustin the Turkey, a puppet, who sang Irelande Douze Pointe in 2008. This turned out, appropriately, to be a ‘turkey’, not even qualifying for the show. Nil points before they’d even started.

Of course, romance abounds. Feel the profuse declarations of love in Lulu’s Boom-bang-a-bang (1969) and Cliff Richard’s Congratulations (1968), the sweetness of Dana’s All Kinds of Everything (1970). Cry at the heartbreak in Johnny Logan’s What’s Another Year? (1980).

Congratulations!

Romance, history, dystopia, comedy, sci-fi and fantasy – it’s all there. You might say crime is represented, as some of the songs are murdered (Jemini’s UK entry in 2003 anyone?). And there’s mystery – how on earth did some of them even get picked?

The show itself begins with ‘conflict’: who will triumph, who will fail, who’ll make a complete wally of themselves? The scoring, by far the best part in my opinion, provides nail biting tension. Friendships and rivalries surface, even if quite a lot of inevitability sets in. There is disappointment and elation as the show moves towards the denouement and we discover the winner.

Love songs seem to be the most popular

But then, sometimes there is a twist. Take 1968, when Cliff lost by one point to Spain. 1969 saw four winners.  In 1988, the UK’s Scott Fitzgerald was ahead by the time they reached the penultimate vote. Then Yugoslavia gave Switzerland six points, making Celine Dion the winner by one point. Gripping stuff.

Not long now till the next episode of the saga known as the Eurovision Song Contest. What new elements will be thrown into the plot this time, what new declaration of love, what rivalries, what totally bonkers characters? Whatever they are, have a good time loving it or hating it!

 

One thing you could do to generate story ideas is to look at the Eurovision song titles, maybe combining two or more of them to add other elements. What would you make, for instance, of Better the Devil You KnowKnock Knock Who’s There and Waterloo?

For more information on this year’s contest: Eurovision Song Contest

@FCapaldiBurgess

My writing competition post at the RNA blog. Still some comps open for you to enter.

 

Seek & You Shall Find…

Easter Egg hunts, flowers, aunts, cafes and writing inspiration – just some aspects of Elaine’s and Francesca’s Easters.

Forsythia

Elaine: I can’t believe it’s nearly Easter again. The sun has been shining and my garden is in full bloom with the spring flowers. The daffodils and snowdrops gave me the first lift of colour that comes with the change of season, quickly followed by the array of colour provided by the tulips. Many years ago, my aunt, who I’m sad to say is no longer with us, gave me a cutting of the forsythia from her garden. Every year, the bright yellow of the leaves lifts my spirits and reminds me of her. The Camellia I bought several years ago, at London’s Columbia Road Flower Market, steals the show this year with it’s beautiful red flowers. Unfortunately, they are quite delicate and the wind tends to blow the petals off, so it is short lived but wonderful all the same.

Camellia

Easter is a religious celebration that has been grabbed by a rabbit and become all about the chocolate eggs. Thanks to the wonders of television, great and persistent marketing over many years means commercialism wins again. There is probably a generation or two that doesn’t know what Easter is really about, which I find quite sad. Don’t worry, I’m not going to start preaching; it ends here.

Traditionally, my mother visits for a few days over the Easter bank holiday and catches up with all the family. With grown up children, I have long since stopped buying them chocolate eggs, despite their complaints.

Last year, my husband and I came up with an Easter egg hunt for our grandson, who was five at the time. We wrote out clues and hid them with mini eggs all around our house, thinking it would keep him occupied for most of the day, but we clearly underestimated his intelligence and it lasted all of ten minutes! Although, it has to be said, he wanted us to repeat it many times throughout the day. We are planning to do it again this year, but trust me, the clues are going to be much harder and we aren’t just hiding chocolate. We thought we would mix it up with puzzle books and other things he enjoys.

School Easter bonnet parade

Francesca: Of course you could argue that ‘Easter’ itself  was originally the pagan festival of the Saxon goddess of spring, Eastra, appropriated for a Christian festival. But yes, I understand where Elaine is coming from. As a child I remember there only being Easter eggs and cards in the shops, not all the paraphernalia you can buy now. And is it just me, or did Easter egg chocolate have a different, yummier taste? I’ve no idea why. These days it doesn’t seem to taste any different to ordinary chocolate. 

For many years I helped organise a children’s event called the Good Friday Project, which involved a lot of different Easter and spring crafts and the making of hot cross buns. We’d have a huge swathe of children turn up for it in the morning, at the local church hall. It was a joyous occasion (if darned hard work!). My long suffering children used to come along year after year, even when they were too old for it, latterly as helpers. The idea for one of the first stories I ever sold was based on this occasion. There are stories everywhere!

Who can get to the eggs first?

As a child and teen I spent all my Easters at my dad’s cafe. It was the beginning of the seaside cafe season. As a teenager I worked there, first as a washer-upper and later as a waitress. How I longed to spend the festival doing exactly what our customers were doing – enjoying a weekend away. I was 21 before I had my first Easter in a place other than that cafe. Hence the premise of the very first novel I ever wrote – a Young Adult – about a fourteen-year-old stuck in a cafe!

Spoils! Maisie the dog looks hopeful

My three grandchildren will be around over the Easter weekend and, like Elaine, we’ll organise an Easter egg hunt. Hopefully the weather will be good and we’ll do it out in the garden like last time. It’s lovely to catch their infectious enthusiasm and view these occasions through their eyes, instead of our usual world-weary ones. The three of them are a source of inspiration for me as I base the very young characters in my writing on them. Hope they won’t mind too much when they get older.

Happy Easter to everyone and don’t forget to let us know how you celebrate it.

@RobertsElaine11

@FCapaldiBurgess

A recent interview we did with Sophia Bennett, the winner of the Romantic Novel of the Year Award 2017

A New Chapter…

It was exactly a year ago today Elaine left paid employment for the last time. What a year it has been!

I was thrilled to be given the opportunity to concentrate solely on my writing, and what a year it has been. I work at it everyday, whether that’s planning, researching or developing my manuscript. I have a goal and I try to stick to it. My aim is always to write a thousand words per day. This is calculated over a week, allowing for peaks and troughs and for the unexpected to happen. It is always my intention to be in the office by nine am and work through until three; this allows for family time, as well as keeping my novel on schedule.

Francesca and I at an RNA RoNAs Award evening

As you already know, I am a member of The Romantic Novelists Association (RNA) New Writers Scheme (NWS) and have been to numerous events they hold. The two main events for me have been their conference, which is held every July, and the London Chapter meetings. The conferences are all about workshops, panel talks, agent one to ones and, of course, wine.

 

I also joined the Historical Novel Society (HNS) and the Society of Women Writers and Journalists (SWWJ). I even have a press card you know.

I completed my Victorian novel and went to the HNS Conference in Oxford to hear the news that the Victorian era doesn’t sell well. This was a major disappointment for me. With the help of friends I had a rethink on what to write. By the time I came away from the conference, I had a plan forming in my mind. It has taken me five months to research, plan and complete another historical novel, which I am thrilled about. It was a test I set myself, to see if I could write about anything, which in my mind I have passed. The manuscript has been sent off to the RNA NWS for critique, so it’s hold your breath time, to see if it’s any good.

Last week, I attended my first SWWJ event, which I thoroughly enjoyed. It was an awards afternoon tea and I met some lovely people there.

Of course, I still attend the creative writing class run by Elaine Everest in Dartford. My son finding the class for me has been life changing, or as writers would say, an inciting event, which started my rollercoaster journey. Over the last few years, with Elaine’s encouragement, I have attended many workshops to help hone my craft, but the ones that have been the most memorable and left a lasting impression on me are those held by Julie Cohen, such a fabulous, upbeat person who makes learning fun.

The view from our favourite restaurant in Ramsgate, on our writing retreat.

Four of us rent a house each year and spend a week enjoying the sunshine, food, and of course writing. A writing retreat focuses the mind, so alongside the week, I have also attended many one-day retreats.

Towards the end of last year, I started a monthly feature for the RNA Blog, on literary festivals and workshops. I cannot deny the thought of writing something that other writers will read terrified me, but I bit the bullet.

It has been a year of learning and enjoying being part of the writing world. Do I regret leaving work? Oh no, definitely not. Am I closer to achieving my dream? Most definitely; there are no regrets here.

If I could give advice to anybody with an ambition it would be have a plan and stick to it. Yes, things will get in the way because that’s life but as soon as you are able get back to the road that leads you to your goal do so. Try to mix with like-minded people so you know that whatever you are experiencing is not unusual, but above all else don’t give up!

 

 

@RobertsElaine11

@FCapaldiBurgess