It was the year that…

This week Francesca and Elaine review what they’ve done, writing wise, in 2016.

IMG_0840Elaine: I have to say I was quite shocked at how much time away from home has been committed to writing. 2016 has been the year of opportunity for me. I had the chance to walk away from my full time paid employment in March and I grabbed it with both hands. It is my dream, and has been for many years, to write novels for a living, but life got in the way of that dream.

The year began with me renewing my membership of the Romantic Novelist Association (RNA) New Writers’ Scheme. If you want to become a writer of romantic fiction, it is something I would highly recommend.

The London Book Fair

The London Book Fair

Since then, I have attended numerous RNA events. The London Chapter meetings, which I have to admit I haven’t attended as much as I would have liked, the RoNA Awards, the summer and winter parties, and the valuable RNA Conference in Lancaster. Smattered in between them have been The London Book Fair, several writing retreats and workshops. I also attended, for the first time, the Historical Novelists Society (HNS) Conference, which was quite enlightening.

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Elaine R, Francesca, Natalie, Elaine E in Ramsgate

Francesca: Looking through my diary, it certainly has been a busy year for writing activities. I continued with the RNA blog’s ‘Competition Monthly’ and will carry on into 2017. I attended all the things Elaine’s mentioned, apart from the HNS Conference. We also attended Foyles Discovery Day in February. 

Elaine and I did a week’s writing retreat in Ramsgate in May, along with Elaine Everest and Natalie Kleinman. I will never forget singing My Sharona with Elaine R (you had to be there!). Later in May I went to the Romance in the Court event with Elaine E and Natalie. There I got an opportunity to talk to Freya North, an author I greatly admire.

Summer was busy with the RNA Conference and for me, The Writers’ Holiday in Fishguard. Don’t be fooled by the word ‘Holiday’ – we all work jolly hard!

My White Board Plan

My White Board Plan

Elaine: For the first time, I tried my hand at writing a Victorian saga; once I got my head round the difference between a historical romance and a saga, it made life a little easier. I would like to thank Louise Buckley for explaining the differences to me at my RNA one to one with her. I was quite proud of my work and it got good reviews at the RNA and HNS Conferences from the Literary Agents and Publishers alike. Unfortunately, as much as they liked it, I was informed, both directly and indirectly, that Victorian doesn’t sell, so it was back to the drawing board or perhaps I should say white board. Of course, what I haven’t mentioned is the many hours of research that is the commitment of writing anything historical.

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London Book Fair: Elaine with Rosemary Goodacre

Francesca: Moving into autumn, Elaine and I attended the Woman’s Weekly’s historical novel workshop and visited the ‘Undressed’ Exhibition at the V&A for clothing research. In October I went to the lovely Bishop’s Palace in Wells for the results of a novel competition I’d been shortlisted in. (You win some, you lose some!) 

I got my RNA New Writers’ Scheme report back in November for A Woman Walked into a Life, and was thrilled that the reader said it read like a published book. Still a little bit of work to do but it was very encouraging.

In November Elaine and I joined the Society for Women Writers and Journalists. The first six days of December  saw me at the RNA London Christmas lunch, the SWWJ Christmas afternoon tea  and The Write Place Christmas dinner (the last two on

the same day!). 

Elaine: I am now working on another historical piece, which will also be a saga, so watch this space. I have also made a commitment to interview organisers of Literary and Book Festivals for the RNA Blog.

If anyone should ask me, am I committed to my writing, I would answer just look at my calendar, because in-between all those things, I also try to write at least a thousand words a day.

Inside A Berlin Shop At Christmas

Francesca: I’m  currently dipping my toes into an historical novel set in World War One. At the same time I have ideas going through my head for two contemporary novels. Then there’s A Woman Walked to work on. And I’ve loads of ideas for short stories.

It’s going to be a busy year for both of us. What have you got planned?

@RobertsElaine11                     @FCapaldiBurgess

 

We wish our readers a very happy Christmas and a wonderful 2017.

It’s Only Words, Isn’t It?

As the new term gets started, Elaine and Francesca think about their writing year ahead.

September and the new school year is upon us. For some it is a momentous occasion, with children going into the next level of education. Whether their son/daughter has gone from nursery to reception or from sixth form to university, or anything in between, many tears have flowed.

Just as it’s a new beginning for the children/grandchildren, so it is for the writers amongst us. It’s a challenge, getting back into the swing of sitting still long enough to write some words, after the hustle and bustle of the summer holidays.

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Elaine’s novel planning whiteboard

Elaine: Earlier this month I attended the Historical Novel Society Conference and a Woman’s Weekly workshop on historical writing. Although they were obviously very different, both were a first for me. I gained something from both of them but what astounded me more is that I know more than I realised; it is clearly about putting that knowledge into practice.

My Victorian Saga is technically finished and out trying to get snapped up, although I am sure changes will need to be made. While I am waiting for those decisions, I am planning my next novel. That means I am up to my neck in research, learning some fascinating facts that I hope I can slip into my novel. It’s pretty safe to say there have been times when I thought my head would explode.

I have paper and Post It Notes everywhere. Luckily for me, I have an understanding husband because while I have an office, I have also commandeered the dining table as well!

Francesca: It always seems that I start new novels in September, as if studying for a new course. I guess this is because of sending novels off to the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme several summers in a row.

Islwyn Morgan, late 1930s.

Francesca’s historical idea came from an incident in her grandfather Islwyn’s family.

Like Elaine, I attended the Woman’s Weekly workshop on historical fiction. Although I tend to write contemporary novels, and have just started a new one, I’ve had an idea for an historical bubbling away for some time that the workshop helped me develop. So which to continue with? 

Because I did a history degree back in the dim distant past, several people have asked me why I don’t pursue that genre of novel. I have written several historical short stories and a serial, but I always seem to come up with masses of ideas for contemporary novels. It would be interesting to proceed with the historical, though there’s a danger I’ll get carried away with the research, for which I’ve acquired several books!

My other goal is to return to short stories. In the past I’ve had sixty-odd ‘out theres’ sent to various magazines, but I’ve sadly neglected them in favour of novels recently. And I’d like to write another serial. 

Time to just get on with it, because as Bruce Lee once apparently observed, ‘If you spend too much time thinking about a thing, you’ll never get it done.’ Good luck with your own ‘new term’. 

Do you have plans for the new school year or are you just enjoying the peace and quiet?

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?

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

 

More Tea Vicar? What We Include Consciously and Subconsciously

Elaine and Francesca consider those things that always crop up automatically in their writing. And a few things they’re not so good at including when they should.

Elaine: When Francesca asked me what I automatically include in my short stories and novels, I have to say my mind went totally blank.

Swallow Falls In North Wales

Swallow Falls In North Wales

So the analysing of my writing started. I can tell you I don’t automatically add in the five senses. I am getting better at adding them, but it doesn’t happen automatically. Neither does adding in the weather or description. I love being near water so you would be forgiven if you thought that would be what I automatically included, but alas, that isn’t so. My settings are always urban, mainly cities with not a river or coastline in sight.

The more I think about this, the more I’m beginning to wonder why I write, or if I am actually a good writer. Thankfully, I have had over a dozen short stories published in women’s magazines to confirm I’m not too bad.

Through all this analysis, what has shocked me is that I tend to write about suppressed women striving for control of their destiny. They may have low self esteem or be running away from a situation, but they will always be thrown back into it.

My novel, Forgotten Love, is a modern romance about a married woman, a parent who wants to return to education to achieve some qualifications, but her family doesn’t take her seriously.

Victorian Saga Family Tree

Victorian Saga Family Tree

In the Victorian saga I am currently writing, my main character, Emily, is striving to escape an arranged marriage; she wants to marry for love, which is against the family wishes.

Both of these stories are about family relationships, very different stories dealing with various aspects love.

So what do I automatically include in my writing? Love and romance.

@RobertsElaine11

Francesca: I posed the question, What do you include in your novel without thinking? when Elaine and I were pondering a subject for our joint blog this week. I’ve come at it from a slightly different angle and thought of specific repetitive plot and setting points.

More Tea Vicar?

More Tea Vicar?

For a start, I often have a fight in my novels (as well as with them!). Three out of the five include ‘fisticuffs’. Even the other two have heated arguments. Better on paper than in reality, I suppose. The first three novels also include hospital scenes (two of them as a result of the aforementioned fights). Since realising this, I’ve made sure the two recent novels comprise neither violence nor hospitals. Believe it or not, they do all contain love and romance too!

The main female characters in the first three novels possess quirky/off the wall/irritating best friends who they fall out with somewhere along the way. It’s perhaps not a coincidence that I disowned my ‘oldest bestest friend’ not long before I wrote the first novel, due to some very unpleasant and frankly unfriendly behaviour from her. The heroines in novels four and five seem to have got over it!

Morglas Settings

Exploring all possible settings

Then there are the ubiquitous kitchen scenes that appear in almost all my novels – and a good few of my short stories too. I know from writing friends that I’m not the only person with this problem. Along with these scenes go the inevitable and plentiful cups of tea and coffee. A recent critique of one of my books suggested I might want to get out of the kitchen a bit and re-set some of the scenes elsewhere. To that end I’ve made a list of all the settings in the book, along with other possible ones. Hopefully that will give me ideas when I do the re-write.

I’ve done the same with the WIP, because, unlike Elaine, I do set all my novels near water.  I don’t want to fall into a similar ‘overused setting’ trap as I’m already aware that the beach is featuring a little too often in the current novel, and possibly the last one too. 

Okay, the scene where I sit in my study and write this blog post is done. Time to head to the kitchen for a cup of tea, methinks…

@FCapaldiBurgess

What always crops up in your novels or short stories?

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.

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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