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

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Noises Off

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

Scene from a summer place.

Scene from a summer place.

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

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

Create the atmosphere of battle.

Create the atmosphere of battle.

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

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

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

@FCapaldiBurgess

Some links to get you started:

You Tube 1 hour coffee shop

Calmsound nature sounds

Ambient Mixer to make own ambient sounds

myNoise sound mixer

Noisli simple mixer

 

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?