I am not a number…

Elaine Roberts is talking about a special day spent in North Wales and the thoughts it evokes. How realistic should our writing be? Can it be too realistic? 

I have recently come back from visiting my husband’s aunt in North Wales, just one of many scenic areas of Britain. While we were there, we visited Portmeirion, where the pottery originated from and where the sixties programme, The Prisoner, was filmed. What a fascinating and beautiful place it is.

An aerial photo of Portmeirion

Clough Williams-Ellis purchased the land for just less than five thousand pound in 1925 and it took him fifty years to build Portmeirion. He was a strong campaigner for the environment; at a time when it wasn’t the recognised issue it is today. He was building at a time when owners of mansion houses were struggling, so he used many reclaimed pieces.

The large oval windows are painted on because this is the rear of the property.

You may be wondering why I’m writing about this; well Clough used illusion in his architecture and created a beautiful, tranquil place, which inspired the design of the said pottery.

Patrick McGoohan, the co-creator, producer and star of the Prisoner, who also wrote and directed several of the episodes, was dealing with things that

The Prisoner was Patrick McGoohan’s brainchild, it was a 17 episode television series.

seemed too far- fetched to be realistic at the time. He covered generally unknown subjects such as covert surveillance, cordless phones, credit cards and state control. It warned of the dehumanisation of society.

My question, is society influenced by art? Did Star Trek give us the first design of the flip top phone? There are many films and books that are seen as influential, in the way we live our lives. In our small way, we are hoping to offer escapism in our writing, but are we hoping to influence people as well? As historical writers, are we hoping to bring back good childhood memories?

The garden chess board is a replica of the one used in an episode called Checkmate.

I have read many articles that have put down the writers of romantic fiction, and yet to weave a story into true historical events can be difficult, almost like a game of chess. A modern romance needs to be believable, but not too realistic, the reader doesn’t want to know the mundane detail of our heroes and heroines’ lives.

When I was at the Romantic Novelists Association (RNA) conference this year, one of the contemporary romance manuscripts I offered to a publisher was described as too real for her, which I totally understand, but what I find strange is it’s one of my favourites. I wonder if it’s because, despite everything, it all ended well. It’s a lesson for me to learn and reminded me of a job interview I went for, that wasn’t a success either. The panel of interviewers told me they didn’t want to know how things worked, as they already knew what was wrong; they wanted “an ideal world” scenario. So are we all just trying to escape the dehumanisation of our society? Perhaps we should all be influencing it, while escaping.

@RobertsElaine11

A New Chapter…

It was exactly a year ago today Elaine left paid employment for the last time. What a year it has been!

I was thrilled to be given the opportunity to concentrate solely on my writing, and what a year it has been. I work at it everyday, whether that’s planning, researching or developing my manuscript. I have a goal and I try to stick to it. My aim is always to write a thousand words per day. This is calculated over a week, allowing for peaks and troughs and for the unexpected to happen. It is always my intention to be in the office by nine am and work through until three; this allows for family time, as well as keeping my novel on schedule.

Francesca and I at an RNA RoNAs Award evening

As you already know, I am a member of The Romantic Novelists Association (RNA) New Writers Scheme (NWS) and have been to numerous events they hold. The two main events for me have been their conference, which is held every July, and the London Chapter meetings. The conferences are all about workshops, panel talks, agent one to ones and, of course, wine.

 

I also joined the Historical Novel Society (HNS) and the Society of Women Writers and Journalists (SWWJ). I even have a press card you know.

I completed my Victorian novel and went to the HNS Conference in Oxford to hear the news that the Victorian era doesn’t sell well. This was a major disappointment for me. With the help of friends I had a rethink on what to write. By the time I came away from the conference, I had a plan forming in my mind. It has taken me five months to research, plan and complete another historical novel, which I am thrilled about. It was a test I set myself, to see if I could write about anything, which in my mind I have passed. The manuscript has been sent off to the RNA NWS for critique, so it’s hold your breath time, to see if it’s any good.

Last week, I attended my first SWWJ event, which I thoroughly enjoyed. It was an awards afternoon tea and I met some lovely people there.

Of course, I still attend the creative writing class run by Elaine Everest in Dartford. My son finding the class for me has been life changing, or as writers would say, an inciting event, which started my rollercoaster journey. Over the last few years, with Elaine’s encouragement, I have attended many workshops to help hone my craft, but the ones that have been the most memorable and left a lasting impression on me are those held by Julie Cohen, such a fabulous, upbeat person who makes learning fun.

The view from our favourite restaurant in Ramsgate, on our writing retreat.

Four of us rent a house each year and spend a week enjoying the sunshine, food, and of course writing. A writing retreat focuses the mind, so alongside the week, I have also attended many one-day retreats.

Towards the end of last year, I started a monthly feature for the RNA Blog, on literary festivals and workshops. I cannot deny the thought of writing something that other writers will read terrified me, but I bit the bullet.

It has been a year of learning and enjoying being part of the writing world. Do I regret leaving work? Oh no, definitely not. Am I closer to achieving my dream? Most definitely; there are no regrets here.

If I could give advice to anybody with an ambition it would be have a plan and stick to it. Yes, things will get in the way because that’s life but as soon as you are able get back to the road that leads you to your goal do so. Try to mix with like-minded people so you know that whatever you are experiencing is not unusual, but above all else don’t give up!

 

 

@RobertsElaine11

@FCapaldiBurgess

 

 

 

 

 

 

Are You A Daydream Believer?

Elaine Roberts asks can dreams be met in isolation.

This last week has been an emotional rollercoaster. Seven writers travelled together by train, first class naturally, to attend the Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA) Conference at Lancaster University, and what a hectic four days it was. The university campus was very large and, needless to say, we did get lost, but in the process we met some lovely people who were kind enough to point us in the right direction.

 

Elaine, Francesca, Natalie and I at our Ramsgate Writing Retreat earlier this year.

Elaine, Francesca, Natalie and I at our Ramsgate Writing Retreat earlier this year.

It was wonderful to meet up with old friends and make new ones; don’t tell anyone but an awful lot of wine got drunk while we were there.

I was lucky enough to secure meetings with a couple of agents, who shall remain nameless at this stage, but they were very helpful in giving me direction and making suggested amendments to improve my work, before I send in my whole manuscript. I was thrilled with my feedback and it all helps to keep the motivation going. However, the work feels a little overwhelming and the thought of sending in the whole manuscript is quite scary!

There were some wonderful workshops and panel talks, which I attended. It is always good to be reminded of aspects of the writing world, which may have been forgotten in the rush to write a novel. All seven of us came away with good news and constructive criticism on our work, which is worth its weight in gold.

What I think is important is the support network that family, friends and the

The original WMWP Bloggers at The RoNA Awards

The original WMWP Bloggers at The RoNA Awards

RNA have given me, I am certain that without that I wouldn’t have made it as far as I have. I attend The Write Place in Dartford and Elaine Everest is very encouraging and supportive of everyone who attends there.

If you have a dream follow it and see where it takes you. There may not be time to do it full time because of work, family or other commitments, but start with small steps. Join a class, a group or an organisation. Look into an on-line course, but give yourself a chance. There will always be someone around you being negative, but don’t let them stop you from trying; as the saying goes, “it’s better to have tried and failed than to have never tried at all”. I was on social media and someone added a link to a video, Omeleto, talking about Regrets, please search and watch it to the end. It’s a highly recommended watch. It left me asking the question am I a “kinda” person? No I am not, so I am working hard on my edits and sending my work off.

Are you a “kinda” person?

Follow your dream because it can become a reality, I believe I am within touching distance of mine.

@RobertsElaine11

It’s My Life…

As you all know Elaine Roberts gave up her day job at the end of March 2016, to become a full time writer.

The question is, did she?

Elaine: When you are used to getting up and going to work everyday, and have done for more years that I care to admit to here, getting into a routine is important. I am pleased to report that I have established that. In my old day job, I always had things that I had to do on a daily/weekly basis, so I have transferred this to my new routine.

The question now is, am I following my new routine?

clock5I don’t set an alarm clock to get me out of bed in the morning; in fact I very rarely do anything by the clock anymore, not even eat, unless it involves somebody else. My pressures are now self-imposed. If my children decide to visit, or babysitting duties beckon, then my laptop will always be closed while they are here. However, I have given myself a target for each month. When I took the decision to try and write 20,000 words each month, it seemed unachievable, but how wrong was I. May was the first month for that target and I am proud to say I achieved it, while also editing as I went, so now I am taking it a step further by thinking I could easily have my first draft finished in five months. I am not a quick writer and spend a lot of time dwelling on all the usual questions, what, where, who, when and how. It is all in my plan, but I find my story evolves as I am writing it, so the plan becomes null and void in some places.

So where am I at with my new career?Me Working

I finished my novel in May and sent it to the Romantic Novelists Association New Writers Scheme (RNA NWS), to be critiqued. I have everything crossed that the report won’t be too bad, but I am expecting things to need changing.

The plan for my next novel is in place and I have written 14,000 words of it. The question at the beginning of this piece was “have I become a full time writer?” The answer is, most definitely. I am not a published writer. Let me just correct that statement; I have had many short stories published, but my dream has always been about writing and publishing a novel. Therefore, for me, I am unpublished. However, for the first time ever, I truly believe I will achieve my goal, because I never stop learning and listening to others. The apprenticeship is being served, so improvements are being made all the time.

The next stop is the RNA Conference at the beginning of July; for me there is nothing better than mixing with other writers, except maybe chocolate!

Am I happy? You bet I am!!

@RobertsElaine11

 

 

I Have A Dream…

Francesca and Elaine make plans for the coming year.

Francesca: So, it’s 2016 and time to fill diaries and make lists of goals. I never make ‘resolutions’ as such. I have an idea at the beginning of January of what I’d like to achieve, then revise it constantly throughout the year, depending on what opportunities come along, or alternatively, which have been lost.

Things don't always work out the way we've planned.

Things don’t always work out the way we’ve planned.

First of all there are goals which, by working hard, I can achieve by myself. These include finishing the current novel in progress, writing/reviving/revising more short stories, and maybe even some articles. 

Then there are the other goals, achievable but a little less tangible, ones that also need the input of others. I’m talking about actually being published. Naturally I’ve got to put in a good percentage of the effort by finding the right markets and getting whatever is required sent off (and making sure I’ve read the guidelines thoroughly). But the outcome is also in the lap of the publishing gods, so to speak. Experience has taught me that you win some and you lose some. Sometimes you nearly win but fall at the final hurdle. Either way there’s always the next submission or project to get on with along with valuable lessons learnt.

A busy year of writing and workshops requires lots of notebooks.

A busy year of writing and workshops requires lots of notebooks.

Luckily the job isn’t all about being hidden away in a writer’s garret: there are many events to pencil into the calendar that aid and stimulate the writing process. There’s a writing retreat in May, the Hay Festival, the Romantic Novelists’ Association conference, the Writers’ Holiday in Fishguard and possibly another retreat towards the end of the year. In between I’ll be attending various RNA events, including the local chapter meetings, and continue with classes at The Write Place. All these occasions serve different yet equally valid services, whether it’s to learn skills, meet publishing professionals for advice and/or networking, have a sustained quiet period to write or simply schmooze with fellow writers.

However, I am going to miss many of these events if I don’t acquire a diary. Six days into January and I am still without. Tomorrow I’m meeting up with blog partner Elaine, but first I will need to take a trip to the diary shop…

@FCapaldiBurgess

Elaine: It’s difficult to believe 2015 is over. In my case it didn’t end with a bang; it didn’t even end with a slight fizz. Due to illness, the whole New Years Eve celebrations passed me by and the beginning of 2016 has not been any better, culminating in me missing my aunt’s 100th birthday. However, I’m going to be an eternal optimist and say things can only get better, because 2016 is going to be a special time for me.

Francesca and Elaine take a photo call.

Francesca and Elaine take a photo call at an RNA event.

I have been writing for several years now but I’ve always had to fit it around a full time job, but on March 24th I am taking early retirement. There are mixed emotions, excitement and fear. The little voice in my head tells me there are no excuses now, no hiding place. For the first time, I will be able to write when I am not tired or feeling guilty because I should be spending time doing housework or being with my family. I have been liberated to enjoy writing again.

report_writingMy goals are to structure my day so I can be guilt free and to ensure I attend the fabulous Romantic Novelists Association (RNA) Conference and all other RNA events. I would like to attend the Chapter meetings more often. It has always been difficult because of my limited writing time. My main goal is to finish the saga I started last year, have it critiqued by the RNA New Writers Scheme (NWS), and make any necessary amendments, before sending it out into the world.

It’s definitely going to be a special year.

@RobertsElaine11

What are your writing goals and plans for 2016?

I Believe, I Really Do Believe…

What Elaine Roberts discovered this week is that you have to believe in yourself.

Yes, it is lovely when people give you a boost by saying how wonderful your writing is, or anything else that you are doing if it comes to that.

Francesca & I at an RNA Party

Francesca & I at an RNA Party

My dream, since time began, has been to write novels and anyone who reads this blog regularly will know I am a member of the Romantic Novelists Association New Writers Scheme (RNA NWS). My biggest problem is that it doesn’t take much to dent my confidence or for me to feel I’m being selfish, dedicating as much of my spare time, (did I say spare time?) as I can to my writing. Yes, I am improving but whether I will get there or not, hmm I’m not so sure. There are a whole lot of writers out there all fighting for the same publishing/agent places, but as they say, you have to be in it to win it.

My Daughter Made Me A Cake Of My Modern Romance "Forgotten Love" As Yet Unpublished

My Daughter Made A Cake Of My  Romantic Novel “Forgotten Love” – As Yet Unpublished

I have reached chapter ten of the saga I am writing. That’s probably about mid point, around forty eight thousand words. It has been a steep learning curve for me because prior to this, I wrote modern contemporary romance, which is a very different kettle of fish. A saga tends to be longer than the average modern romance, at least that is what I have been told, approximately an extra thirty thousand words. Consequently, I’ve had to think more about my characters; there are three generations to consider. There’s the plot and the sub plots, are they interwoven enough. Then there is the setting and how to bring that alive? Use more description, which has always been a little alien to me.

When we live in a world of speed and shortened speech, for example text speak, it has taken me a while to get my head around it all, but I am getting there and what’s more, I believe I am getting there quicker. Please note I didn’t say better because I’m still in my first draft and I have no doubt there will be several edits to come.

I Do Believe...

I Do Believe…

I don’t mind that because at the RNA Conference a couple of weeks ago, Julie Cohen gave me and all the other writers there permission to write a rubbish (that’s not the word she used, but I’m sure you get my drift) first draft. She said it’s more important to get the story written and worry about making it book shape later. This boosted my confidence because I discovered I’m not the only one to write in layers. Until then, I thought I was a little strange, and before you all start shouting that I am, I mean in the way that I write.

This leads me right back to the beginning. Mix with other like-minded people who can help with any learning, but above all else, and no matter what, believe in yourself.

@RobertsElaine11

 

 

The Tip Of The Iceberg

This week Elaine Roberts talks about where she went wrong with her work in progress.

This week I have sent my manuscript off to the Romantic Novelists Association (RNA) New Writers Scheme (NWS), to be critiqued. It is the first time I haven’t sent a completed manuscript. I have only sent the first seven chapters, which is just under 39,000 words. I thought I would send it now so I can go to the RNA Conference with a clear conscience and allow myself to enjoy the talks and workshops that are laid on. It is an exhausting but fun time with lots of writerly talk with writerly people. When the talks are finished, a copious amount of wine is drunk, although not by me of course (just in case my husband is reading this). If you can only do one event each year, this is it.

IMG_2197

My Saga Family Tree

Anyway, I’ve digressed. My current work in progress is a saga. Part of my preparation involved creating a large family tree to help me remember who is related to whom and their ages. All this preparation will hopefully see me over three novels. Although they will not be a series, some of the characters will be carried forward as the generations grow.

It was only when I got to chapter five that I realised I didn’t know enough about my main character’s backstory. As you can imagine, I was livid with myself and it brought my writing to a standstill. For anyone who is reading this but isn’t a budding writer, I’ll explain what the backstory is, without trying to bore you too much.

The backstory of a character is basically what makes them tick and why they react to things the way they do. So it is all about action and reaction. An example of this is when a child has been spoilt. How they react when they are told no is different to how someone reacts who is used to hearing the word no. This is a very basic example, but one I hope paints the picture. When I think of backstory, I relate it to an iceberg. The large amount of unseen ice is below sea level, that is the bit the readers do not read, but it forms your character’s underlining traits. The tip of the iceberg, the part that is above sea level, is what the readers will read and, hopefully, enjoy.

© Mopic | Dreamstime.com - Large Iceberg Floating In Water Photo

© Mopic | Dreamstime.com – Large Iceberg Floating In Water Photo

I had to brainstorm further into my characters backgrounds and delve into their childhoods and their standing within the family. Lots of scribbling took place and then I returned to chapter one and filled in the gaps, right through to chapter seven.

Now, I just wait and worry. I wait for the readers report to come back from the RNA NWS and worry in case they find big plot holes in my story. The good news is that if they do, it will be in the report and I can think about how to improve my work.

@RobertsElaine11

Elaine Bit The Bullet

You know, after interviewing and reading Wendy Clark’s blog post last week, it got me thinking about how my life has changed in the last three years.

report_writingThree years ago I was writing for my own pleasure, with no expectations of really being published. Then my son had a very, very long telephone conversation with Mr Everest, husband of Elaine Everest who is the proprietor of The Write Place. I was duly sent along a couple of weeks later, terrified of mixing with people who had short stories published and were actively working on novels. I was like a fish out of water, they read their work out and they were all so talented. The physical feeling of nausea was real. For all of that, I survived!

With Elaine’s and other class member’s guidance, I have had more experiences than I knew shelf 2existed. I attended the Discovery Day held at Foyles in London, another terrifying experience, pitching my novel to an agent in thirty seconds. I joined the Romantic Novelist Association (RNA) two years ago and have enjoyed everything that goes with that. The New Writer’s Scheme (NWS) and the critique that comes with it is worth its weight in gold. Attending the conference, with the talks, workshops and industry one to ones is a real experience, one I would highly recommend.

While I’m working on my third novel, the first may never see the light of day and my second is out with publishers, I have had many short stories published at home and abroad.

Has my life changed in the last three years? Yes it most definitely has. I haven’t given up my day job, the mortgage won’t allow that, but I eat, sleep and breathe writing. I take it very seriously. My novel writing is no longer just for me, I want to be published and I want to write for a living. To earn a living doing something you enjoy must be wonderful.

My son pushed me, Elaine and her students welcomed and encouraged me and there is no doubt in my mind that I would never have had the achievements, or the experiences that I’ve had, without them. I have a lot to be thankful for. That one phone call changed everything for me.

imagesIf there is something you want to achieve, bite the bullet and put yourself out there. With the Internet these days, you can find anything in minutes, so ask yourself is there anything you’d like to do. Yes it’s terrifying, but mixing with people that want to achieve the same as you is a wonderful feeling. We all need encouragement. Take the first steps and make that phone call, then the rest is up to you.

Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained

Francesca concludes the series on our publishing world observations.

The expression ‘All human life is here’ was once the motto of the now defunct News of the World. This seems to be true of the publishing world itself. Not that I mean it’s full of scandal and outrage (though I imagine they have their fair share) but that the people who inhabit that world are many and varied.

FB publications sampleI’ve dealt for many years with magazine publications and on the whole my experiences have been positive. You send a short story; you wait a while; it’s accepted or rejected. There were always two or three magazines that only contacted you if it was an acceptance, which is irritating when you don’t know whether you can submit it elsewhere. Recently there’s been a worrying trend towards this method, with other magazines jumping on the bandwagon, making the whole process much more fraught. Part of it seems to be due to lack of editing man (person?) hours, so not always the editor’s fault. But as usual, it leaves writers up poo creak without a paddle. The best thing is to impose your own waiting period, say three months, as a reasonable time before sending a story elsewhere.

Incidentally, the longest I’ve waited for an acceptance is two years and eight months. A nice surprise but still rather shocking!

As for book publishers, often they just don’t understand our brilliant work. Yes, my tongue is firmly in my cheek as this analysis tends to come from a particular type of writer. These are the ones, and many of us have met them, who think their novel (dashed off and unedited) is the best thing since pot noodle and should have been snapped up within the week. It’s often members of one particular gender who have this outlook (sorry!). Though not exclusively.

LBF sign smallIt’s true, some book publishers can be disagreeable. I’ve had a few industry appointments with publishers and editors and talked to others on spec at events such as The London Book Fair and the Romantic Novelists’ Association conference. A couple have been moody, maybe because they were fed up sitting in one place all day talking to a numpty would-be novelist like me. Happily many more publishers are perfectly helpful, appreciating the part writers play in the publishing process. You never know which sort they’re going to be before you meet them so it’s always a little fraught. If they turn out to be less than pleasant then I can’t help feeling that’s their problem. It’s pointless taking it personally.

To end on a positive note, I do currently have two publishers interested in one of my novels, which shows it can happen even to a pessimist like me. Both have suggested changes (entirely different from each other!), after which they’d like to see the novel again. I’m well aware that this doesn’t guarantee a sale, but it’s a start.

Encountering publishers personally is a scary notion, but if I hadn’t overcome the fear (or rather, felt it and done it anyway) I wouldn’t now have this chance of publication for my novel. So, if you’re thinking of approaching a publisher and feel a bit nervous, remember the old saying:

Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

http://www.thewriteplace.org.uk/page23.htm

https://twitter.com/FCapaldiBurgess 

If at first you don’t succeed…

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Elaine Roberts shares her experience of the publishing world.

I have been submitting short stories for approximately eighteen months. After several rejections, I finally received an e-mail asking to buy one. I was at home on my own, I couldn’t believe a magazine would want to buy something I had written. I danced around my front room, phone in hand, stopping intermittently to re-read the e-mail, I was convinced I had read it wrong, or worse, they had sent it to the wrong person. That was about ten stories ago, but I still get a thrill when I receive an acceptance and I don’t dwell on the rejections.

The success with my short stories has added to my already existing appetite to succeed in my novel writing. It has taught me to write tighter and sharper, because it’s all about the word count.

Since joining the Write Place, I have been lucky to receive guidance and encouragement to attend the Romantic Novelists Association (RNA) Conference, where there are opportunities to have one to ones with agents, publishers and editors. The first type of these events was the Curtis Brown Discovery Day, where I had a chance to do a thirty second pitch and hand over the first page of my novel for feedback. I have to say, up to that point, it was probably one of the scariest things I have ever done. It was with shaking hands and a pounding heart that I stepped forward to take my seat opposite the agent, yes, it was very nerve wracking. To say I was stunned when the agent asked me to send in my first three chapters is a massive understatement. However, it did get rejected, but when I read it again I could understand why.

It is important to say, in my limited experience, that everyone I have met or corresponded with, has come across as keen to advise and point me in the right direction. I do believe they want you to succeed and I’ve been fortunate to always receive good feedback about my work.

At my first RNA Conference last year, it soon became clear that the digital age has assisted new authors in becoming published. Yes, authors would like to see their book in a major bookstore, me included, when I get published. However, in the past, most major publishing companies only took on a couple of new traditionally published authors a year, against an average of half a dozen a month now being published digitally. Therefore, while we want to see our names gracing our bookshelves, there is more opportunity for new talent to be discovered. Yes, I’m aware I could digitally publish myself, but personally, going through a respected publishing company is confirming my writing is at an acceptable standard, and that is what I’m striving for. My confidence is rising everyday; it’s just a matter of time before I finally become published. It’s all about perseverance.

The modern world dictates that we use social media to market ourselves and our creations, which is something I fought against for a while, but my fellow blogger, Elaine Everest, kept telling me I had to embrace it and I hate to admit, especially on such a public forum, she was right, but please don’t tell her I said so.