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.

 

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

 

 

New Green Shoots of Inspiration Pushing Through the Sloth of Winter

The days are getting longer, dissipating Francesca’s winter stupor and helping her get more organised. 

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Crocuses popping up through the winter leaves

What a storm we had yesterday and last night. The trees were being blown around mercilessly, snapping twigs and even branches from trees onto the path and road. But as I took my grandson to school this morning, the sun was shining and the air was still. It was like the wind had blown winter away and brought in an early spring. In the garden much of my lawn is covered with crocuses and the first hellebores and bergenias are blooming in the flower beds.

During the winter months, especially with the dark closing in at four in the afternoon, I found myself plodding through my writing day, getting done what I could before my brain felt drugged by the gloom once more. The days upon days of grey clouds didn’t help either. I guess I’m someone who suffers from Seasonal Affective Disorder as I always feel much more depressed in the hibernal months.

Research for my latest novel

Research for my latest novel

My study desk has slowly been swamped with information and research for my various projects, as I’ve moved into the warmer dining room to use the table there instead. Apparently Roald Dahl used to work with a messy desk and look how successful he was. Despite that, I don’t agree with a recent study that decided that untidy desks help employees to think more clearly. That doesn’t work for me.

It’s nearly spring, and time for me to buck up. My books of ‘plot bunnies’ need locating and ordering. I have scores and scores of ideas but it seems sometimes it’s as big a hindrance to have too many ideas as none at all. They need organising, as does my time. I need to programme my work on the novel, short stories, competition entries and blog posts. Also I need to schedule time to submit my work. I have a writing friend who always submits on a Thursday. I think this could work for me, instead of being haphazard about it. What I need is a kind of timetable, as if I’m at school.

Desk pad, ready to fill out

Desk pad, ready to fill out

Of course, I have the luxury of doing this at the moment as I don’t currently have an editor waiting for edits on a story, a novel or a serial. On the other hand, it is useful to have someone else give you deadlines and I find I can work very efficiently when that’s the case.

So, I need the motivation to organise myself. Apart from rearranging my desk space, what else will help me? My diary comes in very useful for deadlines of competitions and for blog posts, along with the various writing events I attend. But most useful is my weekly desk pad, split into days of the week. It helps me focus my mind on what needs to be done in the present, how long each task should be given and what time of day to do it. The pad has been languishing on my desk, but now it’s time to put it back to work.

Do you find your writing is affected by the seasons? What do you do to motivate yourself and make the most of your writing time?

@FCapaldiBurgess

My February Competition Monthly on the RNA blog

As I returned home today, I found myself singing a song from the radio show ‘Sorry I’ll Read That Again’. Those of you of a certain age may remember Bill Oddie’s, Spring Spring Spring, the lyrics of which inspired the title of this blog. (My two youngest children used to do a wonderful rendition of it!)

Here it is. I hope it cheers you up and spurs you on like it did me!

Spring Spring Spring from ‘Sorry I’ll Read That Again’

 

Ill Advised?

Francesca’s been investigating the death certificates of her ancestors in the hope it will help her with research for her novel.

For anyone who’s been watching the TV series, Poldark, you’ll know that one of the characters died of something they called ‘putrid throat’. (I won’t say which, in case you haven’t caught up with the first series.) This revolting sounding affliction, it would appear, is what we in modern times call Diphtheria. There have been other names for it over the centuries like ‘putrid fever’ and ‘membranous croup’.

mother-and-sisterAlthough I tend to write more contemporary then historical fiction, I’ve recently been writing a novel set in 1915. In it, one of the characters, a young woman, dies, and I’ve had to consider what might be the cause. Her mining village is based on the one some of my ancestors lived in around this time, so I thought this might be a good place to start.

A couple of years ago I ordered a few certificates – birth, marriage and death – from the General Register Office, having found several family members on an ancestry site. I discovered that three of my female ancestors – my great gran’s mother (M), sister (S) and daughter (D) – died at age 42, 16 and 28 respectively, in 1891, 1899 and 1935.

d-and-b-1931-cert

‘D’ in c1932, with her first child.

S is recorded as dying with phthysis, D with phthsis pulmonales, while D died of pulmonary tuberculosis. Clearly the last one was TB, but I was surprised to discover the first two were also.

TB is clearly a strong contender for the death of my character. But why did so many people contract it? What conditions caused it? Was it rife in that area? Why did it only seem to strike the women in my family? These are all aspects to look into to make my story stronger.

It seems unlikely that everyday Victorian folk referred to the disease as phthisis. More likely they called it tuberculosis, TB, or consumption. Other terms over the years have included lung disease, scrofula and white plague.

Looking at death certificates for the other side of my mother’s family, I’ve discovered one great-great grandfather died in 1892, aged 46, of apoplexy. Until I read that, I thought apoplexy was a description of someone getting extremely angry. Medically it’s a type of stroke. Worth remembering.

His son died on the operating table aged 36, in 1927, during a second operation for appendectomy complications. mor-father-and-sonTalking to a friend about it she asked how it would have been paid for before the NHS came into being. Good point. The 1911 National Insurance Act provided only basic medical care. This great grandfather was also a miner, and I believe that hospitals were often provided by mine owners or jointly by them and workers via subs. Could they have paid for him to go to the Cardiff Royal Infirmary for the op? Perhaps my family simply had some savings?

Considering all this has certainly thrown up more questions than answers so far. Finding out what they died of is only the beginning. There is much scope for research.

gran-c1964

Great Gran, c 1964, who suffered much loss in her long life.

If, like me, you can mine family records, (sorry, no pun intended), they can be a good start for research. A word of caution: discovering family deaths and their circumstances can be harrowing. I cried when I found out why sixteen-year-old S had disappeared from the census. I cried again when the certificates confirmed my mother’s story of not only D’s death from TB, but that of her prematurely born baby a month later.  I try to imagine how Great Gran must have felt, losing all those family members. She was ninety-seven when she died, but never talked about it. She also lost a toddler son in 1922 and two other sons in World War Two. Life was cruel.

Perhaps if I can inject a little of that emotion into writing about a character’s death, I’ll not go far wrong.

@FCapaldiBurgess

 

A big thank you to my cousin Janine who lives in Australia. She also has undertaken much interesting research into our shared family.

Links:

Another word of caution: if you’re interested in finding your ancestors’ certificates, whether death, birth or marriage, the various ancestry web sites are a good place to start, but don’t buy them from those sites, as they’ll cost you three times as much than they will from the General Register office, which you can find here.

Another interesting web page about old names for illnesses, The Glossary of  Old Medical terms, can be found here.

Don’t They Know It Isn’t Christmas?

As the summer holidays end, Francesca and Elaine wonder whether it’s too soon to get ready for Christmas, particularly as a writer. And how do we get inspired by snow in the middle of a heatwave?

Fabulous Entrance To A Department Store In Berlin

Fabulous entrance to a department store in Berlin

Elaine: In the middle of August I went shopping for birthday cards and you can imagine my dismay at finding several shelves already filled with Christmas cards, but what is worse than that is that I was actually tempted to buy some, but deciding it was all a bit crackers, excuse the pun, I didn’t. Since then, I have seen adverts for Christmas items in sales; although they are probably old stock, it does beg the question how early should the commercialism of Christmas start and does it get earlier each year, or is it just me getting older?

Francesca: Ugh, don’t get me started! If Christmas didn’t appear in the shops before December 1st, I’d be quite happy. I was talking to a fellow writer, Ann,  about it this evening, and she suggested after Bonfire Night was okay, which I guess is reasonable. And there are certain things that need to be considered ahead of time.

London Chapter Christmas Lunch Gifts

RNA London Chapter Christmas lunch gifts

Elaine: A cook will plan ahead to make the cakes and puddings along with pickling onions. A writer also needs to have one eye on the calendar so he/she can plan accordingly. If you are a writer of short stories, then now is the time to be considering sending them off to be included in December editions of magazines. If you write novels, and they are going into paperback, then you are too late for this year.

Francesca: Of course some magazines will already have their stock of Christmas stories ready; the time for submitting seems to get earlier each year. I think the latest I’ve sent in a Christmas story is November, after a call out. It’s worth checking with the magazine. But as you say Elaine, it’s definitely too late for a Christmas novel this year. How on earth does one go about setting a story during winter celebrations when it’s still summer, especially in the middle of a heatwave? 

Elaine: To get into the mood for writing a Christmas story, you can obviously draw on memories, or watching films can inspire you. A few of my favourites are It’s A Wonderful Life, Love Actually and Miracle On 34th Street, all feel good films that spread the love. Music is also a good way of setting the mood. Playing Christmas carols or the usual pop songs that get wheeled out every year definitely gives the feel good factor.

Children and Christmas: always a winning combination

Children and Christmas: always a winning combination

Francesca: Miracle on 34th Street is a favourite of mine too (the original version, with Natalie Wood), but I also love The Muppet Christmas Carol.  Despite that, watching either during the summer is something I would personally find quite annoying. Ditto Christmas songs. Christmas photos might be a good place to start, especially if you have boxes / files full as I do. I have been known to decorate the dining room with lights and table decorations to evoke the mood in August, before sitting at the table to write. Yes, you heard it here first – I am quite mad!

Apparently Selfridges opened their Christmas shop on August 1st this year. Now that is barmy. But if you’re desperate for inspiration it would be a great venue to hang out in and jot down some ideas. There’s also a place called the Icebar in London’s Heddon Street, which I visited a few years ago. Fascinating. Cold. Perhaps inspiring. Difficult to write anything down though when you’re having to wear a thick coat and gloves!

Elaine: Of course, you could just use this year’s celebration to write and get a novel published in time for next year.

Family photos, a good source of inspiration - especially with interesting characters!

Family photos, a good source of inspiration – what are this lot up to?

Francesca: Indeed. Ultimately, the best time to write Christmas fiction, whether a novel, a short story or a serial, is at Christmas. Obvious really. One year I managed to write three Christmas stories during December and it was so much easier than doing it in July. It’s a matter of getting organised. It also helps to put a note somewhere to remind yourself to send them off when the time’s right, as it’s very easy to forget about them.

Tell us, how do you get inspired to write seasonal stories at the wrong time of year?

 

 

 

 

Who’d Live in a House Like This?

Francesca looks at finding the right home for a story’s characters. And she has good news!

All novels, short stories and serials need settings. All characters need somewhere to live (unless they’re vagrants – but I guess even they’d need a place to shelter).

The houses in my stories have a number of origins. The cafe in my first novel was based on my dad’s, that in the fourth novel on one in Whitstable. The main house in my second novel was based very loosely on my own (though so much neater and tidier!). The abode in my third novel was completely out of my head, yet I can picture it as if I’ve lived there. Houses in my current novel are based on those that exist in the village I’ve based my setting on, if you see what I mean! Though I’ve had to make up the interiors.

Some of you might know a computer game called The Sims, where you build homes and people, then control their destinies. I’ve used this program more than once just to build my characters’ houses, to see what they look like.

What does one need to consider when creating a house? How many rooms / bedrooms are needed for a start. Is it a small or large house? Are the characters crowded in or rattling around? What’s their financial status, and does it match or mismatch the house? Is the house in the right period for the story? It would be bad form to have a Georgian family in a Victorian house (unless it’s some kind of time slip), or to give a Tudor house sash windows. The publisher, Countryside Books, has a number of guides on houses from different eras, as well as other period knowledge, which can be very useful for this kind of research.

So, who’d live in a house like this? Do any of them conjure up a character or characters. What’s their story?

Whitstable

Llangrannog

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Llangrannog Tori

Tintagel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tenby

Newcastle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amsterdam

Ightham playground

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Newcastle 2

Hastings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapel House Pembrokeshire

Wendy House

 

 

 

 

 

 

Scotney

Middle Coombe Farm Devon

 

 

 

 

 

 

South Downs

Arundel Castle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Any idea what or where any of these buildings are?

Lastly, my good news. First of all, having been a runner up in the People’s Friend serial competition last year, I’m now completing the serial for them. No news yet of when it’ll be published, but I’ll post about it when I know. Secondly, I was longlisted in the Frome short story competition. Lastly, I’ve been shortlisted in the Wells Festival of Literature competition for a children’s story, with my second Young Adult novel, How to Handle Plan B. I won’t know the result of that until mid October.

Happy house hunting!

Links: Countryside Books

 

Noises Off

Francesca discovered that there’s more to creating a sound atmosphere for writing than simply listening to music.

Scene from a summer place.

Scene from a summer place.

I often use music to set a scene for myself when I’m writing. Sometimes this is because that particular music is being played in the scenario concerned (like Scheherazade, well loved by one of my characters). Often it’s because the music evokes the setting I’m writing. Songs like Gershwin’s Summertime and Theme from a Summer Place summon up long, hot summer days on the beach. Well they do for me. Apart from this, I’m someone who, on the whole, tends to like to work in quiet.

My daughter Giovanna, on the other hand, hates silence, preferring background noise. It doesn’t have to be music. She recently revealed she often studies to the sound of a cafe, or rain, a new idea in boosting productivity. I have relaxation CDs of nature sounds myself, rain, sea and so on. But cafes? It turns out there are many sites on the internet where you can listen to all manner of sounds. Now that, I thought, could be really useful in evoking a setting while I’m writing, so I did a little investigation.

Create the atmosphere of battle.

Create the atmosphere of battle.

For a start, You Tube is full of these ‘videos’. Some are on a loop, therefore not so satisfying, so you need to explore a little. They can be anything from an hour to eight hours long. Among the many I found were rain on a tent, a sailing ship on rough sea, a campfire, an echoing cave, office sounds, an airport, Hallowe’en and various Star Wars settings! There are many other sites offering these location sounds and it’s quite easy to google them to find one that suits you.

There are also several websites where you can mix your own sounds for a bespoke atmosphere. These include historical soundscapes such as battlefields and medieval scenes (one of which was an execution!). While useful, it’s tempting to spend rather too much time on these, investigating what they do. It’s probably better to stick with the ready made sound scenes they provide, of which there are plenty.

Right, I’m off for a cup of tea and the sound of a cafe…

@FCapaldiBurgess

Some links to get you started:

You Tube 1 hour coffee shop

Calmsound nature sounds

Ambient Mixer to make own ambient sounds

myNoise sound mixer

Noisli simple mixer