Heartbreak in the Valleys: Blog Tour

Francesca shares the dates for the upcoming blog tour for Heartbreak in the Valleys

Only one more sleep and it’ll be publication day for my debut saga, Heartbreak in the Valleys. Despite all the short stories and the three pocket novels I’ve had published, this marks a new chapter in my writing life.

The blog will be a mixture of interviews and reviews. Do pop in if you have time and say hello.

In the meantime, Heartbreak is available for downloads by reviewers and bloggers on:

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It’s the Pits

Francesca has a look at a coal miner’s life a hundred years ago, ahead of the publication of her novel, Heartbreak in the Valleys on Wednesday

In the post a couple of days back, I had a look at a working-class woman’s life a hundred years ago. Today, I thought I’d look at the life of a working-class man, a coal miner, to be exact. While it’s true women worked double the hours in the home, the life of pitmen was no bed of roses, but a backbreaking, health compromising slog.

Big Pit at Blaenavon, as it is today

Shift patterns varied a little, so these are all examples, but they tended to be eight hours a day by this time. In previous years, they’d have been longer. There were often three shifts, the morning (around 6am till 2pm), the afternoon (2pm till 10pm) and the night shift (10pm till 6am). Those who worked underground, which would have been the majority, faced eight hours in a cramped space, their immediate area lit only by a lamp, breathing in cold dust and noxious gases, among them black damp (including carbon dioxide), white damp (including carbon monoxide) and firedamp (which was highly flammable and caused many explosions).

Any food or drink they took down would have to be consumed in these gritty conditions. One account I found described taking bread and dripping (a staple of working-class diets at this time) in newspaper. To drink, they’d often take a tin water bottle containing tea (which presumably went cold quickly).

The chances of an early death were high. The local newspapers of the time are full of reports of fatal accidents. I came across over 20,000 results searching over only the four years of World War 1. Being knocked over by a runaway tram was extremely common, as was being crushed by a roof fall. Pit cages (in which men travelled down to the shafts) were occasionally known to crash and kill the occupants. Then there were the explosions, caused by the gases that accumulated, particularly firedamp. If you survived an explosion, but didn’t get out of the pit quickly, afterdamp, the toxic gas left, would quite likely see you off.

If you managed to avoid or survive the many misfortunes that could befall you in the mine, your health would likely still be compromised by an inflammatory skin condition or a respiratory disease. The latter could include pneumoconiosis, asthma, emphysema and lung cancer. One of my great grandfathers had emphysema recorded on his death certificate, and he hadn’t worked in the mine for forty years.

Abertysswg today

In 1902, there was an explosion in the McLaren Colliery in Abertysswg, Monmouthshre, the place I based my fictional village in Heartbreak in the Valley on. Sixteen men were killed, half of whom were under thirty, the youngest being seventeen. The worst ever mining accident in the United Kingdom took place at Senghenydd Colliery, near Caerphilly, in 1913. The explosion killed 439 miners.

A few years ago, on a trip out from the Writers’ Holiday in Caerleon, I visited Big Pit at Blaenavon. It’s been closed as a mine for forty years and is now a tourist attraction. Going down to the tunnels gave only a tiny taste of what it was like to have worked there. At one point our guide, a former miner, turned off the lights to give us some idea of what being trapped in real darkness would be like.

It’s not something I’d want to experience for more than a few seconds.

Link: Big Pit, Blaenavon

ABOUT HEARTBREAK IN THE VALLEYS

The world was crumbling, but her love stayed strong

November 1915. For young housemaid, Anwen Rhys, life is hard in the Welsh mining village of Dorcalon, deep in the Rhymney Valley. She cares for her ill mother and beloved younger sister Sara, all while shielding them from her father’s drunken, violent temper. Anwen comforts herself with her love for childhood sweetheart, Idris Hughes, away fighting in the Great War.

Yet when Idris returns, he is a changed man; no longer the innocent boy she loved, he is harder, more distant, quickly breaking off their engagement. And when tragedy once again strikes her family, Anwen’s heart is completely broken.

But when an explosion at the pit brings unimaginable heartache to Dorcalon, Anwen and Idris put their feelings aside to unite their mining community.

In the midst of despair, can Anwen find hope again? And will she ever find the happiness she deserves?

“Heartbreak in the Valley is a fabulous debut. Rich with well drawn characters, twists and turns, sense of history and place…  it was hard to put down. I loved it!” Author Rosie Hendry

Available on:

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Welcome to our own Francesca Capaldi and Heartbreak in the Valleys

Today Francesca is popping in to answer a few questions

 

Tell us about your setting and why you chose it?

Abertysswg today

The setting came out of the initial idea. Since that was to do with a miner being discharged from the army, it seemed likely he’d come home to a mining area. And since it was based on my own great grandfather Hugh’s experience, and he was from the Rhymney Valley, that seemed like the perfect choice. However, I didn’t even consider Hugh’s actual place of residence at the time as the basis of my imaginary village. He was living in New Tredegar. I immediately knew I wanted to set it in a village based on one up the road, Abertysswg. This is where my other great grandparents were living, along with my great great grandfather. I’d visited it a couple of times, once with my mother, who was born there, and later with one of my children, so had a better idea of its layout. It was built around 1900 as a ‘model village’, according to newspaper reports, for the workers of the McLaren pit. The houses were placed on the hillside overlooking the colliery in the dip of the valley.

As I researched the village, largely via the Welsh local newspapers which can be accessed online, I discovered there was quite a community here. The funds for both the hospital and the Workmen’s Institute were raised by the villagers themselves, through subs. Health care continued to be paid for by subs, a kind of early national health system. The Workmen’s Institute, far from being just for the men, laid on all sort of talks and social activities. It also contained a library. Studying the village was like researching my own past, knowing that my grandparents and some of their family members would have partaken of these activities.

Abertysswg with red outline showing roughly where the colliery was.

I took the decision to rename the village Dorcalon (which literally means ‘heartbreak’) because I wanted to be flexible with some details and dates. For instance, there was a mining disaster in Abertysswg in 1902, but I needed one in 1915. Where real places are concerned, I do try to be as accurate as I can. My village does sit in the same spot on the map though, with Rhymney up the road and New Tredegar down the road. The other useful aspect of picking somewhere real as a basis is that it’s easier to be consistent with places like chapels or shops.

The pit itself was closed in 1969 and is long gone. I’ve never seen it in reality, but have seen plenty of photographs which give me an idea of what it must have been like to live with such a brooding presence. It’s a character in itself.

Where do your ideas come from?

As with Heartbreak in the Valleys, quite a few of my ideas have been sparked by my family, including a serial I wrote for The People’s Friend and several short stories. A few have come from my own childhood, living on the Sussex coast. Often something will occur that makes me think, there’s a story there. Stories in the media and overheard snatches of conversation are good too.

Do you have a favourite writing place?

Whitstable – where I’ve often sat to write

If I could, I’d sit by the beach for ever, writing, but since I don’t have a seaside shack at my disposal, I tend to sit in the dining room at home so I’m overlooking the garden. I go on week-long writing retreats with writing friends every now and again, and invariably a seaside location is picked by us all. On occasion the house will overlook the sea, which is marvellous. I’m the one most likely to take my notebook down to the beach or to a café overlooking it, to write. There is something soothing about the water and the lapping of the waves.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’ve just finished the second Valleys book, which is now with the publisher. I’m not sure yet whether they’ll want a third in the series, so I’ve gone back to another saga I was writing, again set in the First World War. This time it’s set by the seaside (surprise surprise!).

 How do you select the names of your characters?

For Heartbreak in the Valleys I looked at the 1911 census, a list of top names in different decades and an online list of Welsh names. I think there are possibly more Welsh names in my novel than there would have been in that area at the time, judging by the census, but I’m unrepentant! The local newspapers were also handy for this.

 

ABOUT HEARTBREAK IN THE VALLEYS

The world was crumbling, but her love stayed strong

November 1915. For young housemaid, Anwen Rhys, life is hard in the Welsh mining village of Dorcalon, deep in the Rhymney Valley. She cares for her ill mother and beloved younger sister Sara, all while shielding them from her father’s drunken, violent temper. Anwen comforts herself with her love for childhood sweetheart, Idris Hughes, away fighting in the Great War.

Yet when Idris returns, he is a changed man; no longer the innocent boy she loved, he is harder, more distant, quickly breaking off their engagement. And when tragedy once again strikes her family, Anwen’s heart is completely broken.

But when an explosion at the pit brings unimaginable heartache to Dorcalon, Anwen and Idris put their feelings aside to unite their mining community.

In the midst of despair, can Anwen find hope again? And will she ever find the happiness she deserves?

“Heartbreak in the Valley is a fabulous debut. Rich with well drawn characters, twists and turns, sense of history and place…  it was hard to put down. I loved it!” Author Rosie Hendry

Book Links

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A Woman’s Work…

Francesca looks at how a working class woman would have spent her week a hundred odd years ago, after the research she did for her saga, Heartbreak in the Valleys.

Imagine doing without your vacuum cleaner, washing machine, fan oven with controllable temperature, dishwasher, fridge and freezer. I wonder if you could live even a week without at least some of them.

Turn back the clock a hundred or so years, and imagine yourself as a full time housewife, having none of those conveniences to hand.

Let’s start with your lack of washing machine, not to mention the tumble dryer. It’s Monday, a typical wash day. You have your washing board standing in the sink, which is full of water (boiled, as you have no running hot water). You’ve made the water nice and soapy, but not with your super powerful laundry liquid or washing powder, but with a bar of soap, maybe Puritan or Sunlight. To get the clothes clean, you haven’t got the drum action of your washing machine, but have to rub them rigorously against the washing board. You’ll change the water two or three times while you’re washing. Then comes the rinsing. Seven times should do it, if you’re lucky. Next, get them them through the mangle to squeeze out excess water. Now you can put them into your basket and hang them out on the washing line, a nice long, rope one of course, none of your rotary lines. If it’s raining, you might be lucky enough to have an indoor dryer hanging from the ceiling in the kitchen, near the range.

If you happen to be a miner’s wife, you’ll probably wash the pit clothes separately in a wooden tub in the back yard, using a dolly. As for blankets and curtains, you’ll likely wash them in the zinc bath. You’ll need to boil a few buckets of water for that.

Come Tuesday you’ll be thinking about ironing. You won’t have one of those electric ones on which you can adjust the heat. Your flat iron will be sitting on the grate, getting hot. You’ll sprinkle each item with water and roll it up to dampen it. To test the temperature, spitting on the iron is favourite. Once it’s sizzling nicely, you’ll insert it into a metal cover so that the clothes aren’t soiled by the ash it might have picked up.

Now you’ve been nicely tired out by all that activity, it must be time for a rest, yes?

No. During the course of the week you’ll in all likelihood be the first up in the morning and the last to bed at night. You’ll do around double the hours of work your husband does. It’s quite likely you’ll be short of food, especially during the First World War, but you’ll make sure your husband and children have enough –even if you go without.

You might well allocate Wednesday to baking (if there’s anything left in the shop to bake with). You’ll walk to the shops with your basket and carry home all your goods (no car), and you’ll probably do this most days.

And what of cleaning? Among the items on your list each day will be scrubbing floors, beating mats, cleaning walls and windows, polishing brass, blackleading the grate, scrubbing the front step, windowsills and pavement, sweeping and dusting, emptying and filling the grate, polishing the furniture and carrying and boiling water – particularly when your husband comes home covered in coal dust. Preparing the huge zinc bath, normally carried from the scullery to the kitchen, is a whole set of jobs on its own. Talking of coal dust, the constant presence of it in the air makes your job twice as hard.

On top of this, there’ll be preparing and cleaning away meals (don’t expect any help from your husband), nursing and caring for children (of which you may have quite a few), painting and papering walls and repairing shoes. Don’t forget the mending of clothes. At least you can have a sit down for this. If you’re nifty with a needle, perhaps you even make your own clothes.

If you’re thinking, ‘I could have some days off after all that lot, surely,’ don’t forget your neighbours will be eyeing up your efforts and making sure your house is spotless, otherwise they’ll be whispering to others about what a slattern you are.

Of course, you could be widowed, since death rates in mining were higher than in a lot of other occupations. Then you might have to on a job as well, or take in other people’s washing, or offer a mending service.

If all that has worn you out just reading it, spare a thought for the poor working class women of my imaginary village of Dorcalon in Heartbreak in the Valleys. The village might be imaginary, but the work women did back then was real enough.

So, all hail the modern household appliances. I certainly appreciate them even more now.

ABOUT HEARTBREAK IN THE VALLEYS

November 1915. For Anwen Rhys, life is hard in the Welsh mining village of Dorcalon, deep in the Rhymney Valley. She cares for her ill mother and beloved younger sister Sara, all while shielding them from her father’s drunken, violent temper. Anwen comforts herself with her love for childhood sweetheart, Idris Hughes, away fighting in the Great War.

Yet when Idris returns, he is a changed man; no longer the innocent boy she loved, he is harder, more distant, quickly breaking off their engagement.

When tragedy strikes Dorcalon, Anwen and Idris put their feelings aside to unite their mining community.

In the midst of despair, can Anwen find hope again? And will she ever find the happiness she deserves?

Published 10th June 2020 by Hera Books

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Image attributions

Wash tub: Image by Thomas Wolter

Flat Iron: Image by Greg McMahan

Other photos copyright of Francesca Burgess

Didn’t We Have a Lovely Time…

Francesca looks back at her holidays in Wales ahead of the publication of her Welsh saga, Heartbreak in the Valleys

Mountains, Gandalf!

As a child we didn’t have many holidays, mainly because my father’s business relied on spring and summer trade, so when we did go it tended to be in the autumn. We always went to the same place, to stay with my cousins in Merthyr Tydfil.

 

Cardiff Castle

Now as far as I recall, I’ve never been to Bangor, the subject of the song in the title above. However, our cousins, being very partial to a drive out, certainly took us to a lot of other places. We’d drive for hours around mountain roads, admiring the wonderful landscape. I remember being particularly fascinated by the tiny streams that used to run in crevices down the mountains. My cousins were particularly fond of picnics, so most days we’d park up in a beauty spot to enjoy some sandwiches and scenery.

With Mum and a cousin at Mumbles

I loved the trips to Swansea, particularly Mumbles, looking out at the Gower peninsular. I always remember it being sunny, which was lucky considering we always went around mid October.

 

Devil’s Bridge

Another favourite spot was Devil’s Bridge in Ceredigion. The great height of water, cascading down into an abyss (or so it seems) is quite something to behold.

Now don’t ask me why, but my family had a penchant for visiting reservoirs. I have dad’s old photographs of several dams, three of which I’ve identified as Llyn Brianne, Elan Valley and Ponsticill.

Elan Valley Reservoir

Castles, of which Wales has many, were another favoured trip out. I found the more ruined ones the most romantic, invoking tales of long ago. One trip to Cardiff Castle was particularly memorable as there was an art exhibition on. My mother, never the most subtle of people, made some comment about anyone being able to paint that rubbish, only to find the artist standing behind her. Oops. She wasn’t best pleased, as you can imagine!

Llandovery Castle

One day we drove to the house where my mum and grandma were born, the one in which my great gran lived for many years. This was in the village of Abertysswg in the Rhymney Valley. Little did I know then that I’d one day write about somewhere based on that village, except I called it Dorcalon.

Abertyssyg in the Rhymney Valley

 

ABOUT HEARTBREAK IN THE VALLEYS

November 1915. For Anwen Rhys, life is hard in the Welsh mining village of Dorcalon, deep in the Rhymney Valley. She cares for her ill mother and beloved younger sister Sara, all while shielding them from her father’s drunken, violent temper. Anwen comforts herself with her love for childhood sweetheart, Idris Hughes, away fighting in the Great War.

Yet when Idris returns, he is a changed man; no longer the innocent boy she loved, he is harder, more distant, quickly breaking off their engagement.

When tragedy strikes Dorcalon, Anwen and Idris put their feelings aside to unite their mining community.

In the midst of despair, can Anwen find hope again? And will she ever find the happiness she deserves?

Published 10th June 2020 by Hera Books

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Summer by the Seaside in the Seventies

With everyone being confined to home, Francesca gives you an opportunity to escape to the seaside for a short while. And there’s a chance to win a copy of her latest pocket novel.

Last week saw the publication of my latest pocket novel, Desperately Seeking Doreen, set  in Littlehampton in 1972 .  The idea for the novella came from my own teens. In the summer of ’72 I was fourteen-years-old, working the summer holidays in my dad’s restaurant (The Blue Sea in the story), which is under five minutes walk to where my main character, Jackie’s, (imaginary) guest house is situated. A large number of the tall, red brick Victorian houses on South Terrace, opposite the sea, were guest houses. Some still are. Jackie works part time at the funfair, which I don’t name but was in fact owned by Butlins at that time.

Jackie Harris has just moved from Suffolk to Sussex with her parents, who have decided to open up a guest house, the Mare Vista. She’s left her boyfriend, Adrian, behind, so she doubts she’ll stay, wanting mainly to make sure her parents settle in first. Then an interesting guest, artist Scott Grant, comes to stay for a few weeks. But when she discovers he’s not doing much painting and is doing a lot of creeping around, she begins to wonder what his real intentions are…

What do I remember about 1972? Going to the funfair after work with my friends, feather cuts, flares, cheesecloth, platforms, reggae, stomping my feet to Slade records at the Wednesday disco held at the United Services Club and going to my cousin’s shop to buy yet another hit single. Among many other things.

What do you remember of the early 70s?

There’s an opportunity to win a copy of Desperately Seeking Doreen by answering one of two simple questions on my Facebook Author Page. Just click the link and scroll down to the post with the photo of the pocket novel. Good luck!

A few memories of some of the settings from Desperately Seeking Doreen from the late sixties and early seventies… *

View of Pier Road from West Beach with its cafes and the beginning of South Terrace, where Jackie’s guest house is situated.

View along the River Arun to Pier Road. Butlins funfair building, where Jackie works, can be seen on the far right.

West Beach, where Jackie spends a day with her friend Val. They take the small ferry, which is how I used to get there with my friends. (Yes, that’s me!)

The walk along the River Arun to Arundel that Jackie and Scott take. I often took this walk with my parents. That’s me again, with my mum

Jackie and Scott visit Arundel and take a trip round the castle, a popular trip with my family. Elaine and I enjoyed a day out here last year.

Swanbourne Lake in Arundel Park where Jackie and Scott hire a boat.

1972 in the ‘Blue Sea Restaurant’ (actually called The Mediterranean). That’s me on the left and in the middle, my friend Val (sadly missed)

*All photos copyright of Francesca Burgess.

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Café Life and Ice Cream

Francesca looks at how growing up in cafés between the Fifties and Seventies has influenced her novels, as she continues the series inspired by The Great British Bake Off. And there’s ice cream!

After a day working at the cafe as a teen

All writers are bound to be influenced by their own upbringings, and it’s certainly true of me. The first novel I ever wrote was a YA called Sea Angel. The main character in it was fourteen-year-old Morwen. Although her fortunes and failures weren’t mine, and I didn’t have to live over the place like she did, we naturally had much in common. That included youthful resentment at having to work in the business in our spare time.

I pictured Morwen’s café to look much like our own, even if I did lift it out of Littlehampton and place it in an imaginary Sussex village called Littlebay. Recently it has featured again in both a 1970s pocket novel I’ve written and in a saga I’ve begun set in 1914, where it remains firmly in Littlehampton.

The Mediterranean in the early 60s, circled.

The business in Littlehampton (incongruously called The Mediterranean), was a seaside restaurant serving (in my humble opinion) some of the best fish and chips I’ve ever tasted. It also sold pork and lamb chops, sausages, ham, eggs, spam and spam fritters (remember those?) in different combinations with chips and a choice of beans or peas. There were also ham or cheese salads and roast beef and two veg. Over the years the menu changed little, being what the day trippers desired during the Sixties and Seventies.

View from the Mediterranean of the River Arun

The fish was delivered fresh every day from a local fishmonger. I recall a long-time chef we employed boning the cod and plaice with great skill. There was certainly nothing frozen. The kitchen housed two large fryers into which were melted huge blocks of lard. In the basement was a peeling machine that removed the skins before the potatoes were chipped. This was originally done by a type of guillotine hand slicer, then later on an electric chipper. They were then part fried and kept in an industrial sized fridge in the basement until needed. Twice fried chips before they were even a thing!

For dessert you could choose between peaches and/or ice cream, chocolate gateau, apple pie and cheesecake. We also served up a very nice frothy coffee (in the days before there were myriad variations) and strawberry, chocolate or pineapple milkshakes, made with ice cream.

The Criterion in the early 70s had a name change

Regrettably, there was never time to bake our own cakes, though we did get them delivered from a nice patisserie.  Further back, when my father had The Criterion café in Worthing, there was a time when he made his own ice cream. I never thought to ask Dad what his recipe was, though I do recall him saying it involved large cans of condensed milk.

Me, circa 1959, outside the Criterion.

This café, where I spent the first three years of my life (especially since we did live over this one), was more a snack based eating establishment. It used to open from nine in the morning till eleven at night, the evenings attracting the café youth culture of the Fifties.

The Criterion featured in a 1950s series I had published in The People’s Friend called Happy Days at the Criterion. It tells of the meeting and romance between Gwen and Renzo, based on how my own parents met and got together.

A busy evening at the Criterion, c1958

Back in the early 90s, I acquired an electric ice cream making machine. I think these days they’re much easier to use, but back then you had to keep adding combinations of salt and ice to the outside layer and the whole process was a real pain. It made me wonder what kind of effort Dad had expended in making it by hand. I persisted with the machine and made many different flavours of ice cream over the decade. One of my favourites has to be brown bread ice cream.

Brown bread ice cream originated in the Georgian era. It seems to have made a bit of a comeback recently, though I first tasted it in a restaurant in Lincoln over thirty years ago. It was this that prompted me to try making my own, once I took possession of my machine.

It’s been many years since I gave up on the contraption, but I still have the recipe for the brown bread ice cream, which I make occasionally now by hand.

Brown Bread Ice Cream

450ml milk
1 vanilla pod or 3 drops of essence
4 egg yolks
100g caster sugar
50g dry brown breadcrumbs
150ml double cream

Ice cream dishes and a tablecloth I kept from the Mediterranean

Put the milk and vanilla into a heavy-based saucepan and bring slowly to the boil. Remove from the heat, cover and stand for ten minutes. Remove vanilla pod and reheat to simmering.

Beat the egg yolks and sugar in a bowl until thick and pale yellow. Gradually pour the hot milk into the eggs, stirring continually. Strain into a heavy-based or double saucepan and stir over a gentle heat until the custard thickens enough to cover the back of a spoon. Do not boil. Allow the mixture to cool and place in a freezer for one-and-a-half hours, until mushy.

Gently toast the breadcrumbs under a low grill, turning them to ensure they toast evenly. Put aside to cool.

Beat the cream to form soft peaks. Fold the cream and breadcrumbs into the frozen custard and freeze. Beat the mixture after one hour, then seal and freeze.

Enjoy!

 

The Mediterranean was sold in 1981 and for a time became a  burger bar. It eventually returned to being a fish and chip restaurant called Osca’s. It looks very different to when we had it, but I’m pleased to report that their fish and chips, tried recently by Elaine and me, are excellent and I recommend a visit if you’re in Littlehampton.

 

Francesca’s latest novel, Heartbreak in the Valleys, a Great War saga set in Wales, will be published June 10th 2020 and is available for pre-order.

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Danger for Daisy

What’s Your Dream?

Elaine Roberts talks about what a difference a year makes.

Firstly, Francesca and I should apologise for being missing for so long, where has this year gone?

Due to a few family problems I have been in a reflective mood lately and it’s made me realise a few things, mainly how lucky I am. I thought I’d share a snippet of my world, without boring you with too much detail.

A few years ago my niece visited me and while we were talking she asked me, if I could do anything, what would it be? I told her I didn’t know. What was interesting was that, apparently, my sister had said the same thing. We came to the conclusion that we had never been asked about our own dreams and ambitions. It was from that conversation that I remembered, when I was in my early twenties, I used to write in the evening when my children had gone to bed. I had sent my work to Mills and Boon who sent me a delightful letter. It was a rejection, but it was encouraging. That was in the early eighties, I think, but then life took over.

In 2012, I joined a writing class and my dream was resurrected.

In April 2016, I had the opportunity to take redundancy from work and grabbed it with both hands, because I had a dream I wanted to follow.

In September 2016, The Foyles Bookshop Girls, which is a World War One family saga, hadn’t even been thought of. I was writing a Victorian novel.

At the end of November 2017, I signed my three-book contract with Aria.

My debut novel, The Foyles Bookshop Girls, was published in June 2018.

The second novel in the series, The Foyles Bookshop Girls At War, is published in January 2019.

I am currently writing the third novel, Christmas At The Foyles Bookshop, which is out in August 2019.

It’s all been very exciting. Since signing the contract, my life has been dogged with my own self-doubt and serious family illnesses. At times, I have wondered if I had time to write another novel, or even if I could. I have questioned myself, over and over again, but my laptop went everywhere with me in case I got ten minutes to lose myself, away from the stresses of my reality at that time.

I also wondered whether all writers go through the same emotional rollercoaster, and having spoken to a few authors, I believe the answer is yes.

Anything creative is subjective, so that is easily followed by self-doubt, because everyone has an opinion, and definitely won’t all agree with each other.

A magazine short story

It took me a long time to tell someone I was an author. I built it up in my head to be this great unveiling, and didn’t want to come across as something I’m not. Haha, it was such a let down when I finally got round to saying it out loud, because I got no response whatsoever. The second time I said it, the response was “I don’t read books”. How sad is that? I can’t imagine going through life without a book on the go. My biggest problem is not having enough time to read all the books I want to.

I love a good book, and to write a novel has been a dream of mine since I was young.

Thanks to my hard work, determination and a great support network around me, and to my readers I have achieved my goal. The biggest thanks must go to my niece for asking the question in the first place and my tutor for guiding and bullying me into writing short stories as well as the novel.

It doesn’t matter how old you are, or what life throws at you, don’t lose faith or hope that you will achieve your dream. It may not be your time now, but remember, it’s never too late.

Food, Glorious Food

Elaine and Francesca on researching food and how they use it in their writing.

Victorian China

Victorian China

Elaine: If we write short stories or novels, historical or modern, regardless of genre, we should always include food and of course plenty of cups of tea. When writing about a character eating, the author is giving the reader information about them. What food they eat could reveal their social standing in society. How they eat it could depict not only their social standing, but also when they last had a meal, and of course their manners. Food is often used in romantic and sex scenes; that was nicely depicted in the Disney film, Lady and The Tramp when they had a spaghetti dinner. What and how we eat has changed over the years and therefore, the meal could indicate the time the novel is set in.

I remember attending the opening of the first McDonalds in Britain, I believe it was 1972. The group I was with were totally shocked that we had to eat with our fingers and we decided there and then that it would never take off. Obviously, we couldn’t have been more wrong. This demonstrates the importance of making sure the food facts are correct because it is easy to get caught out.

Mrs Beaton's Cookery Book

Mrs Beaton’s Cookery Book

I am writing a first draft of a Victorian Saga and there is a lot of information about everything on the Internet; sometimes I wonder how authors managed twenty years ago. However, I purchased a Mrs Beaton’s Cookery Book, which is wonderful. It is more than a cook book. There are pages and pages of etiquette of that time, even what to do if the Queen pays you a visit.

@RobertsElaine11

Francesca: Looking through my fiction I find that food features large – quite apart from those endless cups of tea/coffee imbibed in the kitchen!

Competitions often have a food theme to comply with. I have a couple of stories in this category that have enjoyed comp success. Far From Home, set in 1915, features an Italian called Margherita who is in England without many of the ingredients normally available to her. She has to use lard instead of olive oil, for instance. Through research I also discovered that garlic wasn’t often grown and was viewed with suspicion! Food is the means by which she gets to know a handsome Canadian soldier.

A table of characters ready for a romance, a family bust up or a little mischief?

A dinner table full of characters: are they ready for romance, a family bust up or a little mischief?

Insatiable included the themes of gluttony, lust and greed (the general theme of the comp was the Seven Deadly Sins, so I thought I’d go for a few!) Cue lots of food metaphors in the lustful parts! More research, this time into 1950s food, was required, bearing in mind there was still some rationing in the early years.

But I don’t seem to need a set theme to employ food in my plots. Goat’s Head Soup is about Miranda who holds a dinner party for her husband’s condescending friends. They get their comeuppance when Miranda serves up something a little unconventional.

Then there is Thinking Outside the Cakebox (about a cupcake shop), Foolproof (where the pensioner next door saves her neighbour’s dinner party) and An Alternative Christmas  (where the local hippies save Christmas for their neighbours after a power cut because they have an Aga!).

The cafe above which I was born in the late '50s.

The cafe where I was born, in the late ’50s.

Two of the novels I’ve written are set in cafés. Not surprising since I was born in one. They are a great basis for all sorts of shenanigans. In one of these novels, and in a couple of my others, the main protagonists indulge in dinners a deux – not to be underestimated for their romantic potential.

Yes, food is certainly very handy when it comes to time and place setting, for the senses, for a family bust up, a romance or a little mischief. It’s something we can all relate to.

@FCapaldiBurgess

You can read Far From Home  in the anthology 7 Food Stories from Rome

 

To Be, Or Not To Be, That Is The Question…

Elaine Roberts touches on the relationship between author and reader.

When you read a fiction book of any genre, what are you looking for? Good plot? Great characters? Good grammar? Escapism? A good ending? Does it have to be believable? Or all of the above?

This could be my “to be read” pile.

There are lots of different types of books out there, because there are lots of different types of readers, and what it’s always good to remember is, there’s room for all of them. Just because a genre isn’t to an individuals liking, that doesn’t make it rubbish. Equally, if you don’t like a book an author has written, it doesn’t mean she is a rubbish writer. Everything in the creative world is subjective, whether it’s novels, films, music or art. It doesn’t really matter what we read, as long as we are reading and encouraging others to do the same.

Women’s commercial fiction is often described as fluffy, with no substance; such a sweeping statement. Many writers work hard at their research, to ensure the facts in the story are correct. I know some authors of women’s fiction that actually interview people that did, or do, the job they are writing about, to ensure they are getting it right. It must be heart breaking to work so hard, then read general comments about the genre. Some novels can take up to a year to write, because the story is intricately woven into historical facts.

Click on cover for more information.

As an author, I worried about how my debut novel, The Foyles Bookshop Girls, was going to be received. Was it too fluffy? Would it be lacking, so the readers found it boring?

The reviews and messages, from readers and bloggers, started to come in and I held my breath. I was absolutely thrilled and read the first one with disbelief. Were they talking about my writing, my novel, when they said they couldn’t put it down and gave it five stars? I thought it was a fluke and continued to be fearful of what everyone’s opinion would be. It’s been a rollercoaster ride of emotions, of my own making I hasten to add, but I have received some lovely messages and reviews. Thank goodness for the readers.

Whatever people may write about any genre, it is important to remember the only thing that matters are the readers, as they are your marker. Yes, I’m sure it would be lovely to be recognised by your peers as doing a brilliant job, but surely that’s not why we write is it? It’s not why I do it. I write because I love to write, and yes, I want to publish the best I can, though not for my writing peers, but for my readers.

It has taken me several years to get my first novel published and if I had any advice for budding writers, it would be do not give up, keep learning and try writing other genres, until you find one that fits you and your style.

Twitter: @RobertsElaine11

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