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

Imagine…

Francesca and Elaine discuss how inspired they are when they listen to music.

Francesca: Over the years I have found songs useful not only for sparking fiction ideas, but for finding titles for short stories I’ve already written.

When will the characters meet again?

When will the characters meet again?

Some of these stories are still in idea form in my ‘Cooking’ notebook. Others have been written but not polished enough to send out, for instance This Old House, about someone visiting what used to be their home. The Night Has a Thousand Eyes was just the right title for a story about someone wishing on a star for the perfect love when he was right in front of her. When Will I See You Again was number 1 the day many of my friends left school and always reminds me of that time. It inspired a story about meeting someone again many years after, you guessed it, leaving school.

For the story of a Valentine’s dinner that burst into flames (based on a true incident in my life) I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire was the perfect title. As Tears Go By, is about a girl missing her… but if I tell you that and it’s published, I’ll give the twist away.

IMG_7427

Flicking through a record collection for inspiration.

Among the stories I have had published, Memories Are Made of This (Sweden’s Allas  and India’s Woman’s Era) seemed an apt title for the tale of a hoarding grandmother. Goat’s Head Soup (The Weekly News), is about an unusual dinner party. Waiting on a Friend (Woman’s Weekly) is about an old man about to meet a good mate he hasn’t seen in many years.

Three of my all time favourite songs/tunes, Summertime (from Porgy and Bess), Stranger on the Shore and Sleepwalk, have, oddly, never engendered any story ideas for me. I think perhaps only the middle one would make a good story title. All three do remind me of long, hot summers as a child and are therefore useful for mood creation – but that’s a different topic altogether.

It’s time I tidied up some of those unpolished stories and got them out there.

@FCapaldiBurgess

Elaine: One of my favourite pastimes is listening to music.

My grandson with his piano.

My grandson with his piano.

Music can set the mood, time and era in your writing. This is something I have included in my novels, however I do believe there is a copyright issue, depending on how much of a song or title you use.

For me, song writing is the ultimate short story and the titles are often used for these. The lyrics of songs have been known to reduce me to tears on more than one occasion. Music is linked to events in my life, the obvious one is a wedding day, but it can also send me back in time, and suddenly I’m reliving my youth, even if it’s only for three minutes. Therefore, it is logical to link music to situations.

I can’t say I have ever listened to a piece of music and been inspired to write something, which is strange in itself, as I know other authors have.

When I write a short story, it tends to stem from a situation, but as I’ve said, music sparks situations in your mind, so therefore, I will set myself a challenge to pick a song and be inspired to write a story. Am I alone in this? Let me know your thoughts.

@RobertsElaine11

 

If you’re struggling for inspiration, why not trawl through an old copy of a hit singles book or the internet for song titles/themes? This site has the top 100 UK hits for all the decades from the 1950s till now: http://www.uk-charts.top-source.info/uk-chart-history.shtml

 

We Were Just Chatting…

Francesca and I were chatting about the hobbies we’ve had in the past and present and it was only when I looked back that I realised mine were all solitary activities. knitting-bak

I used to make my own clothes, in the days before the low priced high street retailers. Choosing crocheting over knitting; I could never knit quickly enough although my mother was able to knit at lightning speed.

546px-CrosswordUK.svgAll word games have always given me immense pleasure. I can remember as a child writing the word Constantinople on a piece of paper and seeing how many words I could make out of it. The words had to be at least four letters long.

Reading was always the greatest pleasure of all. It was not unusual for me to get caught reading under the blankets with a torch when I should have been asleep. My mother worried about how much reading I did, instead of being out in the fresh air playing but that was never for me, and strangely enough it still isn’t.

Nowadays, while I still love to read, all my free time is spent with either my family or writing. report_writingWhile I love writing, I also hate it at the same time, which sounds a little strange. It makes me wonder why I persist with it. The answer is simple, I can’t help myself, it’s like a drug with the highs and the frustrating lows.

You would think from that list that I was a lonely child/adult and at times you would be correct but for best part, I think I’m quite self-sufficient. Maybe it comes from being born into a military family and moving around every couple of years.

What do you think Francesca, do you like your own company or are your hobbies more group based?

Thank you, Elaine, for sharing that. I’d say that some of my hobbies are solitary, others communal.

Writing is my very oldest hobby. Ten years ago I started participating on a Lord of the Rings forum, and writing fanfic for it. I enjoyed it immensely. It was one of the things, along with finding a creative writing class, that got me back into writing, and eventually submitting.

HobbiesOf my other hobbies, Italian has been dominant. I wasn’t raised bilingually, but joined a class as an adult. I did that for well over twenty years, gaining a GCSE and an A level. I still meet up with those friends and we have cultural trips out – often with an Italian connection.

The ‘piano badly’ is an instrument I play expertly! I had lessons as a child and have owned a piano most of my life. My father was a proficient violinist, guitarist and mandolin player. That musical gene has made my children much better musicians than me. Between them they play piano, guitar, bass, mandolin, flute, saxophone and drums. The girls are ten times better on the piano than me, and they’ve never had lessons. But tickling the ivories is a good way to relax. I have also been known to clear a room with my recorder!family tree

I took up knitting again recently and have been teaching myself crochet. I like quick patterns these days, so it’s big needles and chunky wool for me. I used to sew, in fact, I made my wedding dress and a Christening gown. I would not recommend it!

I also dabble with genealogy, that is to say, I can spend hours on end on Ancestry.co.uk. I find the social history side of it absolutely fascinating.

Music is the only one of my interests I’ve never covered in a story or novel. I’ll have to put that right some time.