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

 

 

 

 

 

 

When The Saints Come Marching In…

With the majority of the British Isles’ saints’ days occurring this time of year, Elaine and Francesca consider their usefulness in story telling

Shamrock Bear, collected by the children many years ago.

Elaine: March is a month where we start to feel uplifted as signs of colour appear on our landscape. Spring has arrived but it also has a couple of celebrated saints days in it. The 1st March was St David’s Day and the 17th March will be St Patrick’s Day.

April has St George’s Day and November has St Andrew’s Day. Each saint represents a different country within the British Isles. The title “Saint” usually denotes someone who has been canonised, although in today’s modern language we often use it to describe someone who is regarded as an exemplary model or an extraordinary teacher.

Eilean Donan – iconic Scottish castle

Now you may wonder why we have raised this. Well no matter what genre you read or write in, do the saints get mentioned? As we know, the public views these saints in very different ways. So would your characters. Although typecasting would be a little boring, their activities could be a catalyst for things to come.

For example in a contemporary novel the characters may have a night out celebrating, which could involve food and alcohol. There could be a scene written for such a celebration. Is a character a mean drunk or a teetotal? Could a crime be committed because of the celebrations, or a love tryst begin? Could the main character have kissed someone and then regretted it the following morning?

In times gone by maybe the characters would have been more reverent and celebrated such days by going to church or committing good deeds.

St David’s Cathedral

All of their actions and reactions would probably depend on their backstory.

Francesca: I have an example of using saints in my most recent contemporary novel, set in West Wales. The second day of the novel takes place on March 1st, giving a neighbour of the main character, Tori, an opportunity to welcome her with daffodils and Welsh cakes. It also marks the time of year without being too obvious. Later on in the novel, Tori takes a trip to St David’s splendid cathedral, a good chance for her to get to know the male protagonist, Coel, better.

St Caranog

The village I based my imaginary village on has its own saint, called St Caranog. Not wanting to identify too closely with the real village, I made up my own saint, calling him St Dynogof. The church there is named after him, another setting where things happen in the novel. I had fun making up his story, based loosely on that of Caranog’s and a couple of other Welsh saints, and he plays a small part in the novel.

I have lots of ideas for future stories set in my made-up village of ‘Môrglas’, and dear old St Dynogof might get a further role in one of them.

Elaine is right when she says people would have shown more reverence to saints’ days in

Probably not what St George’s dragon was supposed to look like!

the past. But it does depend on the time, the place and what denomination of people you’re talking about. The historical novel I’m currently writing is set in a Welsh mining town in World War One. There would have been a lot of nonconformists and therefore people who were less inclined to celebrate saints’ days. Many of the incomers from England and Ireland (and there were quite a few here at this time) would have been Anglicans and Catholics, so would have taken a greater interest in saints. Maybe it would have even caused some friction? It’s certainly something to consider.

So, for the past, present and future… 

Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus     Lá fhéile Pádraig sona dhuit     Latha Naomh Anndra sona dhuibh     and Happy St George’s day!

(apologies for any mistakes – blame google!)

 

@RobertsElaine11

@FCapaldiBurgess

Francesca and Elaine also write the ‘Competition Monthly’ and ‘Festivals and Workshops’ posts for the Romantic Novelists’ Association blog. You can read their current posts here:

Competition Monthly

Festivals and Workshops

 

 

My Not So Funny Valentine?

February 14th is normally associated with St Valentine, the patron saint of love. But there has often been a darker side to the date…

bee

Valentine is also the patron saint of beekeepers and plague!

St Valentine is an elusive character. The only thing historians are sure of is that he was martyred then buried north of Rome. They’re not even certain if he’s one person or a mix of two. Most of the legends about him were made up in 14th century England, mostly by Geoffrey Chaucer. It wasn’t until then that Valentine became associated with romance.

Even since that time, Valentine’s Day has not always been an occasion for hearts and roses.

Elaine: There have been wars, battles and massacres along with many sporting events and memorial plays such as Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance Of Being Earnest” opening in London. Of course, we also can’t forget Aretha Franklin’s recording of Respect.

Francesca: Indeed. Though not much ‘respect’ was shown to Richard II who was starved to death in Pontefract Castle in 1400, by the man who became Henry IV. Nor to James Cook, killed in 1779 by native Hawaiians. Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand weren’t much into love for their fellow human beings when they issued a decree in 1502 that began the Spanish Inquisition.

telephoneElaine: The valentine’s card as we know it started in the 19th Century. Until then, any flirting and declarations were made through the coded use of fans and, in a more formal way, the giving of jewellery, with gems being set in order, so all the first letters spelt a word.

Francesca: On 14th February 1876, Alexander Graham Bell applied for a patent for the telephone. I guess after that, you could ring your loved one and say, ‘I just called to say I love you.’

Elaine: When I was growing up, I don’t remember it being about a gift or going for an expensive conveyor belt meal that was surrounded by commercial sentimentality. I do remember being excited and worried at receiving a card that had no name of the giver inside and looking at people I knew for days, trying to decide if it came from any of them. It wasn’t commercial; it was fun and feeling happy that someone fancied you.

Hum, I wonder if Al Capone ordered the killing of seven gangsters in 1929, known as The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, because he never received a card. Now there’s a thought.

valentine-houseFrancesca: Perhaps these days, Scarface could channel his violent tendencies into making films on You Tube, launched on Valentine’s Day 2005.

However you celebrate Valentine’s Day, we wish you all a good one. 

@RobertsElaine11

@FCapaldiBurgess

 

 

It was the year that…

This week Francesca and Elaine review what they’ve done, writing wise, in 2016.

IMG_0840Elaine: I have to say I was quite shocked at how much time away from home has been committed to writing. 2016 has been the year of opportunity for me. I had the chance to walk away from my full time paid employment in March and I grabbed it with both hands. It is my dream, and has been for many years, to write novels for a living, but life got in the way of that dream.

The year began with me renewing my membership of the Romantic Novelist Association (RNA) New Writers’ Scheme. If you want to become a writer of romantic fiction, it is something I would highly recommend.

The London Book Fair

The London Book Fair

Since then, I have attended numerous RNA events. The London Chapter meetings, which I have to admit I haven’t attended as much as I would have liked, the RoNA Awards, the summer and winter parties, and the valuable RNA Conference in Lancaster. Smattered in between them have been The London Book Fair, several writing retreats and workshops. I also attended, for the first time, the Historical Novelists Society (HNS) Conference, which was quite enlightening.

img_0552

Elaine R, Francesca, Natalie, Elaine E in Ramsgate

Francesca: Looking through my diary, it certainly has been a busy year for writing activities. I continued with the RNA blog’s ‘Competition Monthly’ and will carry on into 2017. I attended all the things Elaine’s mentioned, apart from the HNS Conference. We also attended Foyles Discovery Day in February. 

Elaine and I did a week’s writing retreat in Ramsgate in May, along with Elaine Everest and Natalie Kleinman. I will never forget singing My Sharona with Elaine R (you had to be there!). Later in May I went to the Romance in the Court event with Elaine E and Natalie. There I got an opportunity to talk to Freya North, an author I greatly admire.

Summer was busy with the RNA Conference and for me, The Writers’ Holiday in Fishguard. Don’t be fooled by the word ‘Holiday’ – we all work jolly hard!

My White Board Plan

My White Board Plan

Elaine: For the first time, I tried my hand at writing a Victorian saga; once I got my head round the difference between a historical romance and a saga, it made life a little easier. I would like to thank Louise Buckley for explaining the differences to me at my RNA one to one with her. I was quite proud of my work and it got good reviews at the RNA and HNS Conferences from the Literary Agents and Publishers alike. Unfortunately, as much as they liked it, I was informed, both directly and indirectly, that Victorian doesn’t sell, so it was back to the drawing board or perhaps I should say white board. Of course, what I haven’t mentioned is the many hours of research that is the commitment of writing anything historical.

img_0166

London Book Fair: Elaine with Rosemary Goodacre

Francesca: Moving into autumn, Elaine and I attended the Woman’s Weekly’s historical novel workshop and visited the ‘Undressed’ Exhibition at the V&A for clothing research. In October I went to the lovely Bishop’s Palace in Wells for the results of a novel competition I’d been shortlisted in. (You win some, you lose some!) 

I got my RNA New Writers’ Scheme report back in November for A Woman Walked into a Life, and was thrilled that the reader said it read like a published book. Still a little bit of work to do but it was very encouraging.

In November Elaine and I joined the Society for Women Writers and Journalists. The first six days of December  saw me at the RNA London Christmas lunch, the SWWJ Christmas afternoon tea  and The Write Place Christmas dinner (the last two on

the same day!). 

Elaine: I am now working on another historical piece, which will also be a saga, so watch this space. I have also made a commitment to interview organisers of Literary and Book Festivals for the RNA Blog.

If anyone should ask me, am I committed to my writing, I would answer just look at my calendar, because in-between all those things, I also try to write at least a thousand words a day.

Inside A Berlin Shop At Christmas

Francesca: I’m  currently dipping my toes into an historical novel set in World War One. At the same time I have ideas going through my head for two contemporary novels. Then there’s A Woman Walked to work on. And I’ve loads of ideas for short stories.

It’s going to be a busy year for both of us. What have you got planned?

@RobertsElaine11                     @FCapaldiBurgess

 

We wish our readers a very happy Christmas and a wonderful 2017.

It’s All In The Title…

Elaine Roberts talks about wrestling with the problem of titles.

I have always read a lot; my mother used to tell me off for not going out to play when I was a child, because my nose was always stuck in a book. There was nothing I enjoyed more than losing myself in a good adventure. Books like The Famous Five, The Secret Seven and The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe were books I read over and over again. Nothing has changed in that I am still an ardent reader, except I now write as well.

Anybody who isn’t a writer would think coming up with an idea for a novel would be the hardest part, but not for me.

My White Board & Plan

My White Board & Plan

Some writers who are learning their trade, like me, may think coming up with the structure and avoiding the saggy middle is the most difficult part, but not for me.

Once the manuscript is written, some might think the editing is the worst part; now I don’t like it, but it’s not the hardest part for me.

Coming up with a title is my biggest problem. Am I the only one? It’s one I have mentioned on a few occasions to different people and have had a number of really good suggestions, yet I can’t seem to make them work.

Why is the title so important?

IMG_0143All the professionals say you should have an attention-grabbing title. The cover and the title of a novel usually draw a reader’s attention first. When you are submitting a manuscript to an agent or publisher, there is no cover to grab their attention so the title needs to make the manuscript stand out from the other hundreds they receive. So a title needs to be memorable and easily understood.

Titles can be about the theme of the novel; an example of this is Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Alternatively, they can contain the main character’s name, such as Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronté. Some titles also contain the character’s occupation or title.

It doesn’t matter whether I am writing a short story, a blog piece or a novel, my biggest sticking point is always the title. The name is meant to give an idea of what the story/article is about. What I find puzzling is that I know what my story is about and yet a catchy title seems to evade me and I don’t understand why. Writers come up with excellent titles all the time and yet I can’t seem to.IMG_7427

Several people have suggested record titles, which is an excellent idea but not one that has helped me with my latest novel. Maybe a film title, but no, that doesn’t work for me either.

Perhaps it is my Achilles heel; maybe I have a mental block on the subject.

I wonder how others decide on their titles, where do they get their inspiration? Any advice would be gratefully received.

@RobertsElaine11

 

Remember, Remember: A Novel Approach to War

As we approach Remembrance Sunday, Elaine and Francesca reflect on the wars and on their own World War One novels.

2014-08-24-12-42-45

Elaine: Remembrance Day and all that it stands for is important to me. I was brought up in the armed forces and the 11th November was sacrosanct in my home. I have made sure that my children have grown up knowing it is important to remember that men and women made the ultimate sacrifice so they can have the freedom of life and speech. I am not interested in the politics of it all; for me the poppy is a symbol of peace, courage and loss, amongst other things.

A newspaper headline the day WW1 started for Great Britain

A newspaper headline the day WW1 started for Great Britain

The research I have done for my historical novel has made this year even more poignant. The patriotism to King and country was astonishing and the numbers in which men volunteered to fight was incredible. Then there was the work that the women did on the home front. Trying to find the words to convey this in my novel, without getting carried away and it becoming a war story, has been difficult.

I have read many articles on how writing a historical romance is not taken seriously. However, the facts still have to be correct, but they are woven into the story so the readers don’t necessarily take them in, but it adds reality to the story.

While I am fortunate to have never lost anybody close to me from either World War, I have lost friends, or have friends whose lives have been changed forever, through various subsequent conflicts. The day never fails to reduce me to tears as I remember them and all that have gone before.

@RobertsElaine11

It hasn't been easy trying to translate the writing on this Italian document.

The Italian document from World War 1.

Francesca: This is always a very poignant time of year for me. As I ‘remember’ members of my families who died in both wars. I say, ‘remember’, as obviously I never met them. Despite that, I still feel a profound sense of loss. 

Two of my great uncles, Tommy and Cyril Jones were both killed in 1943 . They were 35 and 22 respectively. Tommy was killed in action in Sicily. Cyril died at sea when his ship, the HMS Fidelity, was hit by a U-boat. 

My grandfather, Lorenzo, died in 1915 at the age of 29, from septicaemia caused by a gunshot to his thigh, in a Red Cross hospital in Modena. These details are contained on a hand-written document that belonged to my father, which gives an account of Lorenzo’s death. 

But it was a kind of non-war record that got me started on the historical novel I’m currently working on. A ‘hint’ on the Ancestry website led me to discharge papers which hugh-morgan-jnr-discharge-ww1did in fact turn out to belong to a maternal great-grandfather, Hugh Morgan. I’ve never seen a photo of him (he died in 1927), but I know from the document that at 24 years of age he stood 5′ 5″, weighed 140 pounds, and that his chest measured 38″ when expanded. It also tells me he had tachycardia and that his heart beat at 130 bpm. And that’s the reason he was being discharged in 1915, after only 227 days service.

It was the stamped message on the form that gave me the story: ‘Never likely to become an efficient soldier.’ Poor bloke. He’d marched away with a Pal’s Battalion, wanting to do his bit, only to be rejected. How did he feel about it? Relieved? Annoyed?Ashamed he wasn’t up to it? Gradually I wove the beginnings of a story from it, but I’m not entirely sure where it will end. I look forward to finding out.

@FCapaldiBurgess