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

 

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Never Work with… Children?

Francesca wonders whether the WC Fields quote applies in writing also. Is creating young characters troublesome?

The original ‘Cosmo’.

A couple of years ago, I received a critique for a novel that featured three-year-old twins, Elin and Rhys. The feedback was greatly encouraging, though it did call into question whether my toddlers would speak and act the way they did. The critiques are done anonymously, so I didn’t have an opportunity to say yes, they would, because they’re based heavily on my eldest grandson, Luca, himself three at the time. For that reason I felt confident I’d got them more or less right.

It wasn’t the first, or last, piece of writing where the child characters were inspired by my own progeny. Around the same time I wrote a long short story (if you get what I mean) about a cute three-year-old called Cosmo, who loved ‘woowoos’, ie, emergency vehicles. He was also based on Luca. The story was sadly commissioned for an anthology that never saw the light of day – but I’m not bitter!

It’s not only Luca who gets to hog the limelight. The third short story I had published,  A New Beginning, in The Weekly News back in 2009, featured teenager Peter. It’s no coincidence that Peter is the name of my oldest son. Since then each of my four children have appeared in at least one story, though not always under their own names. Using them as models for characters has been useful though.

To date I’ve written eleven short stories and five novels that feature children or teens. My first two novels were, in fact, Young Adult. The second of those (shortlisted for the Wells Festival of Literature Children’s Competition in 2016) featured several sixteen-year-olds. While none of them were based on my children, I did use them as source material on various aspects of young adult life. There’s nothing funnier than hearing your teenage son on the phone go, ‘Yeah man, sweet, sweet. Sick!’

Peter in his ‘Bluestone’ days.

Peter and my younger son Jack have both been involved in the music scene, one as a musician, the other as a club DJ. This has been useful for research. Peter even made me a CD compilation of club music, to play and refer to while writing a party scene. I can tell you it’s weird hearing a sample of Thomas the Tank Engine in the middle of a drum and bass piece!

With or without your own progeny, there are plenty of other ways to research children and teens. Observe them in cafes and on trains. Children’s and youth magazines are useful. What’s in with the little kids these days? What are teens wearing, listening to, watching? Get a TV guide and see what programmes are popular. Watch a bit of BBC 3.

Dear Diary…

It also helps if you have a good memory – and a diary. I’ve long been in possession of a journal written in the summer 1971, by half-a-dozen of us who worked at my dad’s cafe. We were thirteen/fourteen at the time. Yes, it was common for that age group to do seasonal cafe work back then. We were fascinated and frightened by boys in equal measure. The diary reveals us to be crazy, bitchy, moody and inclined to stomp off and cry (the others, not me of course!). I’ve recently used the diary, along with my own memories, for a short story set in 1971 about Sandi and Steve. It was a hoot revisiting those mad days of funfairs and discos. Diaries from one’s youth are handy for recalling what it was like to be young.

As the WC Fields quote goes, Don’t work with animals and children. Animals in writing is a whole other subject I might cover another time, but I’d contest the children part. I’ve enjoyed creating children older and younger, playing out their stories on paper. They’re complex, wonderful, exasperating, worrying and hilarious. What more could you ask of a character? And I’ll let you into a secret. Despite coining that quote, WC Fields secretly admired children greatly. So there you go. Do work with children, on the page in a writer’s case. It’s fun!

@FCapaldiBurgess

 

Natalie Kleinman Escapes To The Cotswolds

We would like to extend a warm welcome to Natalie and her new novel Escape To The Cotswolds

Thank you for welcoming me to your blog. It’s lovely to be back here.

Photo courtesy of MJE Photography

How long on average does it take you to write a book?

It’s difficult to quantify. It may be that an idea rolls around in my head for some time while I’m still working on another project. It’s in the background but it is there, occasionally making its presence felt but most of the time just simmering away. A plot never arrives fully formed but I always know the beginning and end. It’s how to get from one to the other that’s the problem! That said, once I put fingers to keyboard the actual writing process takes anything from four to six months, which includes editing as I go. I’m very lucky to have beta readers who are ruthless with me and when the manuscript is finished it will be read and reread until we are all satisfied it’s as good as it can be before submission. All in all I would say the whole process takes between six and eight months, depending on how long it takes to complete the first draft.

What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?

Finding a plot I’m happy to work with. I know many writers who have a list of works just waiting to be written. I’m just not one of them. As I’ve said above, an idea may occur to me while I’m entrenched in my current project but usually I’m so engrossed there isn’t room in my small brain for any more. If anything does occur to me I’ll jot it down. Having said that, once subbing begins and my mind is clear something usually jumps into my head and that’s always very exciting.

The main characters in your Escape to the Cotswolds are called Holly Hunter and Adam Whitney. How do you select the names of your characters?

A good question for which I don’t have a satisfactory answer. They come seemingly out of nowhere and are frequently changed when the character lets me know very firmly that their name does not fit their personality and they demand it be changed. In Escape to the Cotswolds Holly was Holly from the word go. Adam went through two incarnations before he was happy with his name.

Do you have a special time to write or how is your day structured and how many hours a day do you write?

I don’t have a rigid regime although I try to write in the morning, not to get it out of the way but because I become riddled with guilt if I haven’t got something under my belt by lunchtime. If life (yes, contrary to some people’s opinion I do have one) doesn’t get in the way I might be at my laptop from morning to night. It’s not all writing time of course. Social media has to be fitted in and my daily several online Scrabble games with my sister are a must.

Your novel is set, obviously, in the beautiful Cotswolds. What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning?

It depends on whether I’m writing contemporary or historical – I write both. There’s a lot of online research if I’m writing a Regency and it’s very easy to get carried away so I restrict myself timewise or I’d never get the book finished. With a contemporary though it’s a different process. I’m lucky enough to live within striking distance of the Cotswolds and have visited the area many times. My second novel, Honey Bun, was also set in this lovely part of England. Google Earth is an amazing tool but there’s nothing quite like being there, so there I go…often. Or as often as possible. While I didn’t ‘lift’ it in its entirety, Cuffingham, where Holly lives, is based on a much loved much visited Cotswolds town.

How did publishing your first book, Safe Harbour, change your process of writing?

It didn’t so much change the process as my attitude to the process. It changed my focus. I’ve been committed to my writing since I began some fourteen years ago. I worked very hard and was lucky enough to have several short stories published before I decided I wanted to write a book. Prior to Safe Harbour being published the notion of having a book with my name on the cover was still a dream. When that was realised it wasn’t the end of the dream, it was merely the beginning. I couldn’t stop now if I wanted to. It’s become part of who I am – a very large part.

Does writing energise or exhaust you?

Both. I think you will probably have grasped from my previous answer that I am pretty motivated and I now wake two hours earlier than I used to (I was never an early riser) because I can’t wait to get at it. That said, it’s often a very tired author who falls into bed at the end of the day.

Give us an insight into your main character, Holly. What does she do that is so special?

Holly deserves better than the cheating husband she got. After accepting her marriage wasn’t the forever relationship she’d always hoped for, she picks herself up, moves from town to country and starts over. It takes guts to do that. So I guess I’d say Holly is a big personality in a diminutive body.

What are you working on at the minute?

I’ve just started work on a book which is again set in the Cotswolds – there’s a bit of a theme going on here – but this time my heroine is an interior designer working on the renovation of an old country house. Like many old houses, this one is hiding a secret.

What a lovely set of questions. Thank you.

Biography: Natalie, a born and bred Londoner, has a not-so-secret wish to live in the area she so enjoys writing about. While this isn’t practical at the moment she stills allows herself to dream of honey-coloured stone cottages, quaint villages and rippling brooks. Maybe one day.

A late-comer to writing, she has two published novels prior to Escape to the Cotswolds and many short stories to her name. She attributes her success to a determination to improving her craft, attending any and every writing event she can. All that and a weekly attendance at The Write Place Creative School in Dartford where cream cakes are frequently on the agenda.

Natalie lives with her husband, Louis, in Blackheath, south-east London – except when she’s tripping off to The Cotswolds in the name of research. Somebody has to do it!

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Escape to the Cotswolds

Artist Holly Hunter is turning her life upside-down! She’s leaving the bright lights of London (and a cheating husband) behind her and hoping for a fresh start as she escapes to the peaceful Cotswolds countryside.

Men are off the cards for Holly. Instead, she’s focusing on her little gallery and adopting an adorable Border Collie puppy named Tubs. Or so she thought…

Because no matter how hard she tries to resist him, local vet Adam Whitney is utterly gorgeous. And in a village as small as this one, Holly can only avoid Adam for so long!

@RobertsElaine11

@FCapaldiBurgess

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’

 

…And Things That Go Bump in the Night

Francesca and Elaine talk about their take on Hallowe’en!

Francesca: From ghoulies and ghosties, And long-leggedy beasties, And things that go bump in the night, Good Lord, deliver us!

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Apple Bobbing

Who remembers that poem/prayer from long ago? As a child we’d recite it every Hallowe’en. At my infants school we did apple bobbing in the hall. Apart from this, we barely marked the occasion at all.

halloween-c1990

Reluctantly celebrating Hallowe’en. Yes, the cat is me!

How different it is nowadays. I can’t believe the amount of ‘stuff’ there is to buy for Hallowe’en. ‘Stuff’ is my polite word for ‘tut’ (as in ‘rubbish’). It’s an odd kind of tradition to encourage children to honour, a bit of a throwback and an amalgam of several festivals from different traditions. I did mostly avoid it when my own brood were young – even at the risk of being called a spoilsport. The one time it was celebrated in my house was down to my mother-in-law, who decided to buy some ‘tut’, I mean Hallowe’eeny bits, for the kids.

aunty-maureen-scary-cropped

Mum didn’t just make up good ghost stories, she loved ghostly practical jokes too!

Having said all that, the occasion is rather a gift for writers. My mother was particularly adroit at telling her own made up ghost stories, although to be honest, they frightened the life out of me – which is maybe why I avoided Hallowe’en with my own children.

I’ve written only a few ghost stories in my time but I do enjoy tapping into the darker side of fiction now and again. You really can go anywhere with it, from a benign presence in a house to a full-on terror fest. Of course you don’t need to wait until Hallowe’en to write one but those nights rapidly drawing in certainly create a better atmosphere for them than the long summer days.

@FCapaldiBurgess

 

Pumpkins carved by my family

Pumpkins carved by my family

Elaine: It’s that time of year again when old people are afraid to open their front doors and children and adults dress up as all things evil. I have never celebrated Hallowe’en and my children weren’t encouraged to either. I was more of a Guy Fawkes child, although you no longer see any homemade guys outside shops. There is something about Hallowe’en that does scare me a little, which is probably why I have only written one short story about this time of year. However, I do know from family and friends that I am in the minority.

I have watched enough films and programmes where this time of year has been part of it. You may have guessed I don’t watch scary films either, but I always thought the house decorations and the people dressing up was just part of the film. However, on my trip to Boston I discovered that is not so.

Faneuil Market Place, Boston, New England

Faneuil Market Place, Boston, New England

Early one morning, my husband and I visited Faneuil Hall Market Place, in Boston, New England, which is a beautiful market with historical buildings around it. On our way we passed dogs wearing red capes and horns and other such costumes, which made us smile, as they were being lead by their owners in similar outfits. I didn’t really think anything of it; I truly thought these people were a little eccentric, mainly because they were dressed similarly to their dogs. That was until we stopped to eat in the food court, where everyone shared long, wooden tables. My face must have looked a picture as we sat with an elderly witch, with all the accessories and her face painted, as well as a skeleton, a red horned and tailed devil, and a werewolf. I looked around to discover we were very underdressed and probably the only people in the market, at that time, not in fancy dress. There was a party atmosphere with everyone laughing, joking and admiring each other’s costumes.

If, before travelling to America, I had given it more thought I would have realised that the Salem Witch Trials had taken place just over the water.

@RobertsElaine11

Link: The History of Hallowe’en

Don’t They Know It Isn’t Christmas?

As the summer holidays end, Francesca and Elaine wonder whether it’s too soon to get ready for Christmas, particularly as a writer. And how do we get inspired by snow in the middle of a heatwave?

Fabulous Entrance To A Department Store In Berlin

Fabulous entrance to a department store in Berlin

Elaine: In the middle of August I went shopping for birthday cards and you can imagine my dismay at finding several shelves already filled with Christmas cards, but what is worse than that is that I was actually tempted to buy some, but deciding it was all a bit crackers, excuse the pun, I didn’t. Since then, I have seen adverts for Christmas items in sales; although they are probably old stock, it does beg the question how early should the commercialism of Christmas start and does it get earlier each year, or is it just me getting older?

Francesca: Ugh, don’t get me started! If Christmas didn’t appear in the shops before December 1st, I’d be quite happy. I was talking to a fellow writer, Ann,  about it this evening, and she suggested after Bonfire Night was okay, which I guess is reasonable. And there are certain things that need to be considered ahead of time.

London Chapter Christmas Lunch Gifts

RNA London Chapter Christmas lunch gifts

Elaine: A cook will plan ahead to make the cakes and puddings along with pickling onions. A writer also needs to have one eye on the calendar so he/she can plan accordingly. If you are a writer of short stories, then now is the time to be considering sending them off to be included in December editions of magazines. If you write novels, and they are going into paperback, then you are too late for this year.

Francesca: Of course some magazines will already have their stock of Christmas stories ready; the time for submitting seems to get earlier each year. I think the latest I’ve sent in a Christmas story is November, after a call out. It’s worth checking with the magazine. But as you say Elaine, it’s definitely too late for a Christmas novel this year. How on earth does one go about setting a story during winter celebrations when it’s still summer, especially in the middle of a heatwave? 

Elaine: To get into the mood for writing a Christmas story, you can obviously draw on memories, or watching films can inspire you. A few of my favourites are It’s A Wonderful Life, Love Actually and Miracle On 34th Street, all feel good films that spread the love. Music is also a good way of setting the mood. Playing Christmas carols or the usual pop songs that get wheeled out every year definitely gives the feel good factor.

Children and Christmas: always a winning combination

Children and Christmas: always a winning combination

Francesca: Miracle on 34th Street is a favourite of mine too (the original version, with Natalie Wood), but I also love The Muppet Christmas Carol.  Despite that, watching either during the summer is something I would personally find quite annoying. Ditto Christmas songs. Christmas photos might be a good place to start, especially if you have boxes / files full as I do. I have been known to decorate the dining room with lights and table decorations to evoke the mood in August, before sitting at the table to write. Yes, you heard it here first – I am quite mad!

Apparently Selfridges opened their Christmas shop on August 1st this year. Now that is barmy. But if you’re desperate for inspiration it would be a great venue to hang out in and jot down some ideas. There’s also a place called the Icebar in London’s Heddon Street, which I visited a few years ago. Fascinating. Cold. Perhaps inspiring. Difficult to write anything down though when you’re having to wear a thick coat and gloves!

Elaine: Of course, you could just use this year’s celebration to write and get a novel published in time for next year.

Family photos, a good source of inspiration - especially with interesting characters!

Family photos, a good source of inspiration – what are this lot up to?

Francesca: Indeed. Ultimately, the best time to write Christmas fiction, whether a novel, a short story or a serial, is at Christmas. Obvious really. One year I managed to write three Christmas stories during December and it was so much easier than doing it in July. It’s a matter of getting organised. It also helps to put a note somewhere to remind yourself to send them off when the time’s right, as it’s very easy to forget about them.

Tell us, how do you get inspired to write seasonal stories at the wrong time of year?

 

 

 

 

Who’d Live in a House Like This?

Francesca looks at finding the right home for a story’s characters. And she has good news!

All novels, short stories and serials need settings. All characters need somewhere to live (unless they’re vagrants – but I guess even they’d need a place to shelter).

The houses in my stories have a number of origins. The cafe in my first novel was based on my dad’s, that in the fourth novel on one in Whitstable. The main house in my second novel was based very loosely on my own (though so much neater and tidier!). The abode in my third novel was completely out of my head, yet I can picture it as if I’ve lived there. Houses in my current novel are based on those that exist in the village I’ve based my setting on, if you see what I mean! Though I’ve had to make up the interiors.

Some of you might know a computer game called The Sims, where you build homes and people, then control their destinies. I’ve used this program more than once just to build my characters’ houses, to see what they look like.

What does one need to consider when creating a house? How many rooms / bedrooms are needed for a start. Is it a small or large house? Are the characters crowded in or rattling around? What’s their financial status, and does it match or mismatch the house? Is the house in the right period for the story? It would be bad form to have a Georgian family in a Victorian house (unless it’s some kind of time slip), or to give a Tudor house sash windows. The publisher, Countryside Books, has a number of guides on houses from different eras, as well as other period knowledge, which can be very useful for this kind of research.

So, who’d live in a house like this? Do any of them conjure up a character or characters. What’s their story?

Whitstable

Llangrannog

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Llangrannog Tori

Tintagel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tenby

Newcastle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amsterdam

Ightham playground

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Newcastle 2

Hastings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapel House Pembrokeshire

Wendy House

 

 

 

 

 

 

Scotney

Middle Coombe Farm Devon

 

 

 

 

 

 

South Downs

Arundel Castle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Any idea what or where any of these buildings are?

Lastly, my good news. First of all, having been a runner up in the People’s Friend serial competition last year, I’m now completing the serial for them. No news yet of when it’ll be published, but I’ll post about it when I know. Secondly, I was longlisted in the Frome short story competition. Lastly, I’ve been shortlisted in the Wells Festival of Literature competition for a children’s story, with my second Young Adult novel, How to Handle Plan B. I won’t know the result of that until mid October.

Happy house hunting!

Links: Countryside Books