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

 

 

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

 

More Tea Vicar? What We Include Consciously and Subconsciously

Elaine and Francesca consider those things that always crop up automatically in their writing. And a few things they’re not so good at including when they should.

Elaine: When Francesca asked me what I automatically include in my short stories and novels, I have to say my mind went totally blank.

Swallow Falls In North Wales

Swallow Falls In North Wales

So the analysing of my writing started. I can tell you I don’t automatically add in the five senses. I am getting better at adding them, but it doesn’t happen automatically. Neither does adding in the weather or description. I love being near water so you would be forgiven if you thought that would be what I automatically included, but alas, that isn’t so. My settings are always urban, mainly cities with not a river or coastline in sight.

The more I think about this, the more I’m beginning to wonder why I write, or if I am actually a good writer. Thankfully, I have had over a dozen short stories published in women’s magazines to confirm I’m not too bad.

Through all this analysis, what has shocked me is that I tend to write about suppressed women striving for control of their destiny. They may have low self esteem or be running away from a situation, but they will always be thrown back into it.

My novel, Forgotten Love, is a modern romance about a married woman, a parent who wants to return to education to achieve some qualifications, but her family doesn’t take her seriously.

Victorian Saga Family Tree

Victorian Saga Family Tree

In the Victorian saga I am currently writing, my main character, Emily, is striving to escape an arranged marriage; she wants to marry for love, which is against the family wishes.

Both of these stories are about family relationships, very different stories dealing with various aspects love.

So what do I automatically include in my writing? Love and romance.

@RobertsElaine11

Francesca: I posed the question, What do you include in your novel without thinking? when Elaine and I were pondering a subject for our joint blog this week. I’ve come at it from a slightly different angle and thought of specific repetitive plot and setting points.

More Tea Vicar?

More Tea Vicar?

For a start, I often have a fight in my novels (as well as with them!). Three out of the five include ‘fisticuffs’. Even the other two have heated arguments. Better on paper than in reality, I suppose. The first three novels also include hospital scenes (two of them as a result of the aforementioned fights). Since realising this, I’ve made sure the two recent novels comprise neither violence nor hospitals. Believe it or not, they do all contain love and romance too!

The main female characters in the first three novels possess quirky/off the wall/irritating best friends who they fall out with somewhere along the way. It’s perhaps not a coincidence that I disowned my ‘oldest bestest friend’ not long before I wrote the first novel, due to some very unpleasant and frankly unfriendly behaviour from her. The heroines in novels four and five seem to have got over it!

Morglas Settings

Exploring all possible settings

Then there are the ubiquitous kitchen scenes that appear in almost all my novels – and a good few of my short stories too. I know from writing friends that I’m not the only person with this problem. Along with these scenes go the inevitable and plentiful cups of tea and coffee. A recent critique of one of my books suggested I might want to get out of the kitchen a bit and re-set some of the scenes elsewhere. To that end I’ve made a list of all the settings in the book, along with other possible ones. Hopefully that will give me ideas when I do the re-write.

I’ve done the same with the WIP, because, unlike Elaine, I do set all my novels near water.  I don’t want to fall into a similar ‘overused setting’ trap as I’m already aware that the beach is featuring a little too often in the current novel, and possibly the last one too. 

Okay, the scene where I sit in my study and write this blog post is done. Time to head to the kitchen for a cup of tea, methinks…

@FCapaldiBurgess

What always crops up in your novels or short stories?

Love Is All Around Us, Or Is it?

Is romance alive and kicking? Elaine & Francesca give their take on it.

Elaine: It’s Valentine’s week. The week of love, romance, hearts and flowers. As romance writers, we write about attraction and love.Hearts

“Their eyes lock and she swiftly looks away.”

“Her body tingles at his touch.”

These are typical words from romance novels describing the first flourish of desire and love. What if you’re in a long-term relationship? What if you have children, does love and romance get lost as life takes over? How does the modern world and romance sit together, or don’t they?

I’m married, between us we have five children and one grandchild, my home is described as having a revolving front door. Or like living on Waterloo Station, which, for anyone who doesn’t know, is a main train station in London. Would I change it? No, I love it. Family is everything to me.

Roses2So how do we fit romance into our lives? I get random texts during the day, when we are at work, saying, “I love you”. My husband will pop out for milk and return with a bunch of flowers as well. We are tactile people so there’s the touch of the hand, the kiss when we part company. When we are not in a position to touch there will be looks across the room, (I was so tempted to say across a crowded room).

The question is, do we need Valentines Day with its commercialism and pressure to make grand gestures. Where restaurant meals, in my experience, tend to be overpriced with extra tables crammed in. I sound quite cynical, but then maybe I am. For me love and romance isn’t about one day a year and no one should be judged on how they perform on that day. Love and romance is about all the little things that happen, and oftenLove taken for granted. When someone gives his or her heart and time to you, that is more precious then any amount of money spent on a gift or card. Let me know what romance means to you? I’m sure it’ll be different for all of us.

Twitter: @RobertsElaine11

Francesca: I agree about the commercialism, Elaine. I like receiving a card and flowers on Valentine’s day, and love going out for a meal, but it has all been rather overhyped as the years have gone on.

heart porcelain teddyDo we really need endless Valentine’s keyrings, mugs, cuddly toys, noticeboards, photo frames, figurines, notebooks, fluffy pens, lights, cookie cutters, tea towels, mittens, tote bags, measuring spoons, ice cream scoops and hot water bottles? These are just some of the items I’ve come across on sale this year for February 14th. I am ‘guilty’ of having some of these items myself, but at the same time get tired of seeing them rolled out every year even before the last of the yule log crumbs have been swept away.heart votives

Romance isn’t about what knick-knacks you buy someone.It’s a walk on the beach at sunset (corny but rather lovely anyway). It’s a glass of wine and a DVD, listening to your favourite music together by candlelight or a picnic in the country, stale sandwiches or otherwise. For me, romance is about being together.

love me do badgeTalking of favourite music, I didn’t know that my husband and I had an ‘Our Tune’ until a few years back when someone asked us. I was surprised to hear Andrew tell them it was Take Me I’m Yours by Squeeze. It was played a lot in our “courting” days (does anyone apart from our parents’ generation use that term anymore?) Normally it’s the men who are accused of not knowing such things!

So, do you have an ‘Our Tune’?

Twitter: @FCapaldiBurgess

Link: Take Me I’m Yours by Squeeze

heart house