To Be, Or Not To Be, That Is The Question…

Elaine Roberts touches on the relationship between author and reader.

When you read a fiction book of any genre, what are you looking for? Good plot? Great characters? Good grammar? Escapism? A good ending? Does it have to be believable? Or all of the above?

This could be my “to be read” pile.

There are lots of different types of books out there, because there are lots of different types of readers, and what it’s always good to remember is, there’s room for all of them. Just because a genre isn’t to an individuals liking, that doesn’t make it rubbish. Equally, if you don’t like a book an author has written, it doesn’t mean she is a rubbish writer. Everything in the creative world is subjective, whether it’s novels, films, music or art. It doesn’t really matter what we read, as long as we are reading and encouraging others to do the same.

Women’s commercial fiction is often described as fluffy, with no substance; such a sweeping statement. Many writers work hard at their research, to ensure the facts in the story are correct. I know some authors of women’s fiction that actually interview people that did, or do, the job they are writing about, to ensure they are getting it right. It must be heart breaking to work so hard, then read general comments about the genre. Some novels can take up to a year to write, because the story is intricately woven into historical facts.

Click on cover for more information.

As an author, I worried about how my debut novel, The Foyles Bookshop Girls, was going to be received. Was it too fluffy? Would it be lacking, so the readers found it boring?

The reviews and messages, from readers and bloggers, started to come in and I held my breath. I was absolutely thrilled and read the first one with disbelief. Were they talking about my writing, my novel, when they said they couldn’t put it down and gave it five stars? I thought it was a fluke and continued to be fearful of what everyone’s opinion would be. It’s been a rollercoaster ride of emotions, of my own making I hasten to add, but I have received some lovely messages and reviews. Thank goodness for the readers.

Whatever people may write about any genre, it is important to remember the only thing that matters are the readers, as they are your marker. Yes, I’m sure it would be lovely to be recognised by your peers as doing a brilliant job, but surely that’s not why we write is it? It’s not why I do it. I write because I love to write, and yes, I want to publish the best I can, though not for my writing peers, but for my readers.

It has taken me several years to get my first novel published and if I had any advice for budding writers, it would be do not give up, keep learning and try writing other genres, until you find one that fits you and your style.

Twitter: @RobertsElaine11

Facebook: elainerobertsauthor

They came, they queued, they pitched.

With pitches and first pages of novels in hand, Elaine and Francesca travelled up to London last weekend for this year’s Discovery Day at Foyles bookshop, to speak with agents from Curtis Brown and Conville and Walsh.

IMG_0166 cropped ERElaine: Saturday the 27th February 2016 had arrived. The nerves had suddenly come to the fore. Hundreds of unpublished writers travelled to the Curtis Brown Discovery Day at Foyles Bookshop in London. Everyone of us excited to have the first page of our novels critiqued by one of their agents.

I sat, with paperwork in hand, and spoke to the lovely Sophie Lambert who is an agent with Conville and Walsh Literary Agency. I give my thanks to her because my nerves disappeared and I was able to talk about my Victorian Saga with ease. Sophie showed a great deal of interest in my novel and pointed me in the direction of another agent, Rebecca Ritchie of Curtis Brown, whom she thought would be interested in my genre.




A glimpse into the pitching room.

IMG_0171 cropped

Were they trying to tell us something?

IMG_0780Francesca: I must admit, I wasn’t as nervous this year, maybe because I knew the agents weren’t there to snap people up but to give sound advice. I was lucky to land Clare Conville of Conville and Walsh. Although not representing my genre, she had some good suggestions about what to add to the opening. She also said it was ‘sharp and funny’, which was encouraging. She gave me the name of two agents from Curtis Brown, so I’m storing those up for when I’ve finished the novel.

After the one-to-one, we were sent in groups for the surgery session. Here we had an opportunity to ask any questions about writing, submitting and publishing. 


Claire, on the stairs ahead of us.

Rosemary, pitch in hand.

Rosemary, pitch in hand.

Elaine: At the end of the pitching and surgery sessions, Francesca and I, along with our writing friends, Rosemary Goodacre and Claire Verillo, stayed for the panel talk. This was chaired by Anna Davis.  Also on the panel were Emma Healey, author of Elizabeth is Missing, Karolina Sutton, Emma’s Curtis Brown agent, and Venetia Butterfield, from Emma’s publishing company, Viking. Anna informed us that the agents had spoken to over seven hundred writers, which is a staggering figure.

The panel discussion was mainly about how everyone has to pitch to sell the novel, from the author, agent and the buyer of the publishing company, who then has to try and sell it to the Sales Team and the Marketing Department. They also talked about what attracts them to a novel. The answer can probably be broken down into three words; Emotion, Characters, and Plot, but not necessarily in that order.

All relieved now it's all over. Surgery session in the background.

Relieved it’s all over. Surgery session in the background.

IMG_0180 cropped

Giovanna, asking which queue she should join for YA.


Anna Davis, MD of Curtis Brown Creative, introducing the speakers.

Francesca: I think the location within the store and the queueing system worked a lot better this year (Foyles has been refurbished since we were there last). We didn’t have to wait around for so long and there was a cafe to hang out in until your time slot arrived.

I understand the experience of those pitching Young Adult novels wasn’t quite as smooth. My daughter, Giovanna Burgess, was there to pitch a YA fantasy and her queue did move a lot slower. To speed it up, some of the writers ended up seeing non YA agents and even an agency reader. Despite this, Giovanna was more than happy with the advice she received.


It’s pretty safe to say we all had a good day and it is definitely something we would recommend. The opportunity to meet with agents and get feedback on your first page is priceless.

Were you there? What was your experience?

Twitter: @RobertsElaine11            @FCapaldiBurgess


Dreaming Of a Write Christmas?

Francesca and Elaine compare Christmas preparations with their writing

No wonder it took us till 6.30pm to unwrap the presents!

No wonder it took us till 6.30pm one year to unwrap the presents!

Francesca: In recent years, my immediate family has more than doubled from six to thirteen, with the addition of partners, grandchildren and step grandchildren. It’s made Christmas quite expensive, and time consuming, as you can imagine. Eight adults buying presents for seven adults each equals at least fifty-six presents.

This year, one of my daughters came up with the idea of doing a secret Santa for the adults. Our names have gone into a draw and we each have only three people to buy for. One present is chosen off that person’s gift list. One is maybe a smelly or foody present up to a maximum of £10. The third is to be a recycled or pre-loved present, therefore costing nothing.

Perhaps re-set the story in the 1960s?

Perhaps re-set the story in the 1960s?

It got me thinking about my writing. With time a premium in December, can I fit in anything beyond editing my novel? I’ve been thinking of getting back to writing short stories. Perhaps I could take the ‘Secret Santa’ approach here too. One story could be completely new, a longer piece, say two to three thousand words (which some magazines are calling for). A second could be shorter, a maximum of a 1,000 words. There are a number of competitions around currently requiring this word count or less that would be ideal. A third story could be a recycling of a pre-loved one. I have plenty that I like but have never sold. Clearly something about them was unsuitable but it might easily be put right. What if I changed the age of a character, or the gender? The setting could be altered from town to country, or vice versa. The main character might have a different job. Perhaps the ending is lacklustre and in need of some zing. Then there’s the title.

If things go to plan, by December 25th I’ll have three stories in my outbox and three nice presents under the tree.


Elaine: When Francesca and I discussed Christmas, we were astounded to discover that our families were doing similar things. I also have an ever-expanding family; in recent years there have been fourteen around our table, so we are also doing a Secret Santa. Of course, that doesn’t include other family members that I buy presents for, so Christmas is a well-planned campaign.

I can easily relate our day to a novel structure.IMG_1845

First, there’s the preparation before everyone arrives. The present and food buying are the obvious ones. Then there’s preparing vegetables, setting the table and writing out the times everything has to be switched on or placed in the oven. This is not that dissimilar to planning your novel, with the research, synopsis and chapter breakdown. It’s all in the planning. Fail to plan and you are planning to fail.

Everyone arrives at my house at ten in the morning and an hour is spent catching up with each other; some get impatient to start opening their presents. This is the beginning, our normal life.

The plot really starts as we open our presents, one at a time, in age order, starting with the youngest. There are highs and lows as the presents are opened.

A happy little boy

A happy little boy

There is always the excitement building, before any opening begins. Of course, there’s the disappointment if an item of clothing doesn’t fit and the frantic search for the receipt, which will enable the item to be changed. The happiness when a much wanted gift is opened. Then we have the adults attempting to put toys together for our grandson. One year, nine people tried to breathe life into a blow up goal for a two year old. Now that was funny, but again it had it’s highs and lows as people fell by the wayside because it wouldn’t blow up. Perseverance prevailed and a two year old was very happy to kick a soft ball into a goal that filled my front room.

The darkest moment of the day is when I realise my potatoes are never going to roast and, as usual, I’ve forgotten to cook something. One year it was the Yorkshire puddings, which went down well, as you can imagine. 

IMG_1849The climax of the story is obviously a very happy ending. A good day with excellent memories already stored away, to be told another day.

What will I write over the Christmas holidays? Well, Elaine Everest recently said if you write 100 words a day, that’s 700 words a week, so if you exclude Christmas day, that’s 3,000 words in December. Elaine’s words have made me think, because I often don’t write at all if I haven’t got time to write 500 – 1,000 words, as I think it’s not worth doing. How wrong am I!



Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre…

Elaine Roberts compares her driving lessons with her writing structure.

The clear road ahead

The optimism of the clear road ahead

It was over forty years ago when I took my driving lessons. It was a struggle for me to take in the process of working my feet, hands and eyes all at the same time. I often hear people say how they passed on their first driving test. It took me three attempts before I passed, admittedly the second examiner had just come back from having a nervous breakdown, and no, I didn’t have him the first time.

You might be asking why I am talking about driving lessons and tests; well, I’m going to tell you. When I was learning to drive, there was always a lot to remember. I’m not going to go into getting your feet to hit the right pedals in the right order. However, the term that has always stayed with me is “mirror, signal, and manoeuvre.”

The question I ask is, can you relate it to your writing?

Wing mirrors give a different view to the rear view mirror

Wing mirrors giving a different view.


When sitting in the driving seat and you look at the rear view mirror, or the wing mirror, you are looking at what is behind you. Hhmm, could that be the back story of your characters? Do you need to know where they have been, or what they have been through, to be able to move them forward?


Before pulling away, or turning, the driver flicks on the indicator to signal to other drivers where they are going.

Signalling where the reader is being taken

Signalling where the reader is being taken

When we write a story, should we be signalling what could be coming? I believe that, in this context, it could be called signposting. It amounts to the same thing. We have our characters acting out, but the reader doesn’t necessarily understand why until much later in the story, but when the penny drops, the reader gets an “ah” moment.




In driving terms, this could be reversing round a corner, doing a three point turn, hill start, an emergency stop or just basically moving forward.

The grey sky and busy road of the conflicts along the way.

The grey sky and busy road of the conflicts along the way.

In writing terms, the manoeuvre is the twists and turns of the story. It’s the plot, sub plots and the conflicts. It’s the twists and turns that the characters take when they hit a traffic jam, or something that stops them from getting to their end goal, or destination.

Perhaps, for me, the way forward isn’t to remember all the acts, scenes, chapters and saggy middles in writing, but just trying to remember mirror, signal and manoeuvre and then I’ll reach my destination.


It’s As Simple As…

Elaine Roberts talks about how a whole new world opened up when she decided to write her novel.

report_writingMy writing is never far from my thoughts. Thank goodness typewriters are a thing of the past, I hate to think how much Tippex and re-writing would be involved. My laptop goes practically everywhere I do. My husband and I recently drove to North Wales to visit an elderly aunt and I even tried to write in the car, but travel sickness took over. A week later, I took it to Worcester when visiting more relatives. I don’t like to miss an opportunity to move my work on a stage. To be honest, I think I’m a little obsessive. As soon as people know I’m writing, I’m constantly being asked when my “best seller” will be published.

If only life was as simple as that.

I was asked recently how I manage to write enough to produce a novel when working full time and that is a problem, especially as my job requires me to use the logical side of my brain and my writing needs me to exercise my creative muscle. I am lucky to have a very supportive family and a husband who has relieved me of any household duties, which obviously gives me a very precious commodity, time.

My time used to be spent writing short stories for women’s magazines and while it wasn’t something I ever wanted to do, it was a quick win and helped keep my belief that I was a good writer. Time wasn’t an issue either because I could write a short story in a couple of hours, then I would let it sit for a while and then return to edit it. However, it is a totally different skill, as some writers will admit they struggle writing within a strict word count and vice versa. For me it’s working an apprenticeship. If I learnt to play the piano, that wouldn’t make me a concert pianist or maybe more appropriately, a GCSE in history doesn’t make anyone a historian.

Francesca and I At An RNA Event

Francesca and I At An RNA Event

Anyway, before I start ranting, back to the writing. It is underestimated how much work is involved in writing a novel. When you first start writing seriously, you hear phrases like: show don’t tell, the five senses, ensure that your plot, characters and your sub plots all work. Then of course there is the issue of avoiding the saggy middle, haha, that’s a bit late for me. Seriously, the saggy middle is all about making sure something happens halfway through your story, to carry your reader on, so they don’t put it down and never pick it up again.

It’s simple, if only.

I plan my chapters and the structure of my novels and that makes it easier to pick up and put down.


When I begin writing, it’s always difficult to know exactly where to start, so my first chapter usually gets rewritten about a dozen times, and then I also have a habit of changing the order of my chapters. This causes another problem because I then have to check if moving a chapter has a ripple effect to something I have already written. I once had a character discussing an argument that hadn’t happened because of such a move. It’s all about the attention to detail.

What I’ve discovered with my new work in progress is that I write in layers; that wasn’t planned, it just happened. I think that is because I’m trying something new and it is much more complicated than anything I have ever written before.

So the next person that says to me “I could write a book, I just don’t have the time,” I say go for it, even if it takes years. As with all work, until you’ve worked in somebody else’s shoes, you have no idea what’s involved.

Now where was I?

Once upon a time there was a….