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 was 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 Twitter

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Danger for Daisy

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

 

Retreating to the Seaside

Francesca reflects on the advantages and fun of writing retreats.

Hastings Old Town would make a good setting for a novel.

Hastings Old Town would make a good setting for a novel.

Do you ever go on writing retreats? I’ve been going on at least one a year since 2010 and I thoroughly recommend them. They’re an enjoyable way to achieve a good number of words, with no household or family day to day incidents to distract you.

That’s not to say that it’s all work, work, work. There’s got to be a balance. It helps to have an agreed format with those you’re on retreat with. In my experience it goes something along these lines:

  • Morning: work till coffee time. Go out for coffee
  • After coffee: work
  • Lunch: Snack lunch provided and shared by attendees
  • Afternoon: Write till around 3.30. Have a cup of tea and a natter.
  • Work till dinner time.
  • After dinner: Watch TV, a film, natter, feedback.
  • Work if you’re a night owl

A lovely old boat in Whitstable which could spark new story ideas

The breaks seem plentiful but are an encouragement. Plenty of mini goals can be set which I always find spurs me on. Having breaks is also an opportunity for feedback.

The proportion of work the participants get done during each period depends on whether they’re a morning, afternoon or evening person. During my retreat in Hastings, my writing buddy, Angela Johnson, achieved more in the mornings, whereas I did more in the afternoons. She also managed to get an early morning walk in most days before even starting! Another writing buddy, Elaine Roberts, is also a morning person, whereas Elaine Everest likes to work later in the day.

A feature of  some retreats I’ve been on is each person cooking an evening meal, which has provided at least four dinners during the week. The other days, particularly the first and last, we’ve eaten out. How much you do that depends on what people want to spend, so retreats can be tailored to a budget. Sharing a house obviously divides renting costs. If you’re prepared to share bedrooms (I’m afraid we never are), it brings the cost down again.

Littlehampton in the winter sun

All but one of the retreats I’ve been on have taken place by the sea –Whitstable, Littlehampton and Hastings – so there is much to inspire a thalassophiliac* like me. Perhaps mountains or woods are more your thing and you prefer to hide yourself away completely. Personally I feel it helps to have shops nearby. The one retreat we did where we were in the middle of nowhere (if you can call being seven miles from Hastings that!), we couldn’t even pop out for milk.

The final feature of all the retreats I’ve attended has been a day out in the middle to somewhere interesting. It’s another chance to recharge those batteries and could even be a chance for a little research.

If you’re looking for a cheaper alternative and you have close family living at a distance, you could always ask to spend a week at theirs. It’s particularly useful if they’re at work during the day and you can get on, while enjoying their company in the evening. It’s not something I’ve done yet but I have thought about it.

To all those on a retreat soon, happy writing – and don’t get snowed in like we nearly did our first year in Whitstable!

Whitstable beach in the snow, 2010

Whitstable beach in the snow, 2010

* A thalassophiliac is someone who loves the sea!

 @FCapaldiBurgess

 

 

 

 

A Little First Hand Research

Francesca embarks on a little seaside research on her way to Fishguard Writers’ Holiday.

[First posted in August 2015]

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Llangrannog, or ‘Môrglas’: the view from the house of my main character, Tori.

Last week I had a wonderful time at the Writers’ Holiday in Fishguard, my second time at that location but my eighth Writers’ Holiday in all. Coincidentally, it was only a few miles from the village I’m using as a basis for the setting of my latest ‘Work in Progress’. Having only looked at it on Google Maps before, it was the ideal opportunity to investigate the real thing. Armed with my camera and my Welsh language/West Wales consultant (otherwise knows as my friend Angela Johnson!), I had a good walk around the place, snapping numerous photographs.

It was very strange being in a place I’d ‘walked’ around many times on a satellite map, as it really felt like I’d been there before. My ‘WIP’ is about a young woman called Tori, who decides to leave the high life of London and settle down in the sleepy village of Môrglas, a name I made up and which means ‘green sea’ in Welsh. When I was looking for a place on the West Wales coast in which to set my novel, Angela wrote a few ideas down for me. Although I didn’t pick one of them ultimately, they led me to Llangrannog, which is what I based Môrglas on.

‘The Green Dragon’ (Pentre Arms), with Tori’s house just showing behind. Her friend, Ruby, has the large house at the top. Angela can be spied leaning against the railings.

I’ve made a few changes to the area – put a hotel where there’s a café, made another café into an Italian restaurant, put a village hall where there are some houses, moved the church from one side of the village to the other and removed a road, for example. I find that picking a place that already exists and changing a few details for the convenience of my story is so much quicker than inventing something from scratch. In a couple of novels I’ve written, I’ve used places I know very well – Worthing and Littlehampton, where I was born and then brought up –  but again have rearranged them and renamed them.

You might have realised by now that these locations have something in common: they’re all by the sea. As I’ve said before on this blog, I no longer live by the coast and do miss it, so I guess setting stories there makes up for it a little. Out of the four novels and two novellas I’ve completed, along with the ‘WIP’, all but one is set by the sea, and the exception is set near a river (which Littlehampton also possesses).

I have writer friends who use real settings with their proper names, either in the present or in the past (which presents its own problems). Other writers I know make up completely new settings or, in the case of sci-fi, new worlds. If you’re a writer reading this, I’d love to hear how you deal with settings, so feel free to comment below.

@FCapaldiBurgess

Link to Writers’ Holiday

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’