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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Preparation for Information and Inspiration

Francesca considers the preparation needed to get the best out of writing events.

PaperworkJuly is fast approaching, a time for me that is busy with writing related trips away. Both the big ones in my writing year happen in July. I wish they were a bit more spread out, but there it is.

The two events – the Romantic Novelists Association weekend conference and the Fishguard (formerly Caerleon) Writers’ Holiday, are quite different, but I prepare for both in order to get the maximum out of them.

Natalie Kleinman, Elaine Everest and Elaine Roberts at the 2014 RNA conference.

Natalie Kleinman, Elaine Everest and Elaine Roberts at the 2014 RNA conference.

The RNA conference, only two weeks away now (where has the year gone?), is very valuable in that it provides industry one-to-ones with publishers, agents and independent editors. When the conference pack hits the mat in May I quickly email over the appointments I’d like before they’re snapped up. But before I do that, I find out which publishers/agents would be best for my book so do a little research. There’s no point in sticking a pin in and hoping I get lucky.

Having sent off the required synopses and first chapters to the organiser to be passed on, I then need to prepare any questions I’d like to ask, or think of answers to questions I might be asked, and write them down. I will not remember them at the best of times, let alone under stress.

Caerleon 2013. Rosemary Goodacre, Angela Johnson, Elaine Everest, Ann West, Natalie Kleinman, Linda Barrett.

Caerleon 2013. Rosemary Goodacre, Angela Johnson, Elaine Everest, Ann West, Natalie Kleinman, Linda Barrett.

The RNA Conference offers many brilliant talks; often there are three going on at the same time. I plough through the programme and subject matter, often looking up the people speaking so that I can pick talks that are going to enhance my writing knowledge.

With the Fishguard Writers’ Holiday it’s a lot simpler, with two courses to pick from around eight (though it’s still hard to choose!). I’m a little more relaxed with the ‘after tea’ sessions and often don’t pick which one to attend until the day. There’s only one evening talk so I don’t have to think about that at all.

But what to pack? On the computer I keep a list of items necessary for these occasions so that every year I don’t have to make them up from scratch again.

Notebooks Caerleon RNANumber one item, of course, is the notebook. Like many writers I know, I do love a beautiful cover. What’s more important is that it’s dedicated to that particular course or conference. Afterwards it gets labelled with the event and year before it’s put on my shelf. I learnt the hard way how difficult it is to find the useful info you learnt or the ideas/inspiration you had when you use the same notebook for lots of different things. Some people I know favour using a laptop or net book, which I guess helps to keep the information organised. However, some events dissuade their use because of the noise of the keys.

Though they’re often provided, I always take several folders to put the handouts in. There’s nothing worse than coming home to a scramble of notes and having to spend ages sorting through them. Paperclips are also useful for the same reason. And I wouldn’t go anywhere without my pencil case: different coloured pens can be very handy when taking notes.

List

Ah yes, there was one more necessity I forgot to mention…

I always take a laptop or net book to Fishguard. Since I’m away the best part of a week, it’s useful for keeping in touch on social media. There’s also time to do writing in the generous lunch and coffee breaks between courses and talks. Last year I was busy finishing off my RNA New Writers’ Scheme entry so it was necessary. I wouldn’t dream of taking my net book to the RNA Conference though – much too hectic!

And I wouldn’t go to either event without my camera. Apart from storing memories, it’s jolly useful for taking photos to fill blog space!

What do you do to prepare for writing events?

@FCapaldiBurgess

See what I’m up to as a ‘reluctant grandmother’ on Nonna Blog

Links

Fishguard Writers’ Holiday (they also do a weekend in February)

Romantic Novelists’ Association conference (non members welcome)

Other writers’ events I’ve heard good things about:

Swanwick Writers’ Summer School

Arvon courses (run year round)

Wish We Were There

It may be winter outside, but Francesca Capaldi Burgess and Elaine Roberts are starting to plan their holidays…

Francesca: Holidays always sound like wonderful opportunities to rest, see new things and have novel experiences. Whereas the last two items might be true, I’ve always found the ‘having a rest’ bit rather a myth. Whether it’s hauling four kids from beaches to activities to meals, or walking childless round a major city, it all takes rather a lot of energy.

The organisation can also be an endurance exercise. Two years ago a large party of our family, fifteen in all, trundled off to Center Parcs for a long weekend. I got the job of working out who had which bedroom in which of the two chalets. More gruellingly, I had to coordinate who was doing what activity and when, before booking it all up. Needless to say the holiday itself, while being fun, was also exhausting.

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Porthgain, on the Pembrokeshire coast

This July I’m heading off, as I have every year since 2008, to the Writers’ Holiday. This is the second year it’s been held in Fishguard. As I’m sure I’ve said before, ‘holiday’ is somewhat of a misnomer. Don’t get me wrong, we have a great time, but boy do we work. 

Fishguard (or Abergwaun to the locals) is on the gorgeous Pembrokeshire coastline. This is going to be jolly handy for me this year as I’m setting my next novel in the area.  Coincidentally, my daughter Carmela has suggested a holiday at nearby St David’s. I don’t mind going again, especially as it gives me a second shot at research. But with the prospect of including all four children, their partners, children, and partners’ children (ie, around a dozen), arranging it could prove to be another interesting logistic exercise. I wonder who will end up puzzle master…

Twitter: @FCapaldiBurgess

Elaine: My year usually starts with feeling there’s nothing to look forward to. To clarify that sweeping statement, my eldest daughter is getting married in October, which is no small occasion, but it’s not a holiday. The many holiday adverts on the television and radio don’t help, or indeed the grey wintery weather.

Since that first week of post-Christmas blues in January, I’ve discovered I’m away from home, either for a long weekend or a week, every month between April and July.

One of my daughters suggested we join her and forty-five of her closest friends for a quiet holiday in imagesPortugal. Much to my surprise, my husband said he quite fancied it and booked it up. Thankfully my daughter is in her thirties and not a teenager. The breaks escalated from there as friends asked us to join them in The Cotswolds for a weekend. relatives in North Wales and Worcester also beckoned. Booking a writing retreat in Whitstable quickly followed this. So you can see I’ve gone from a very strict ‘we can’t afford a holiday because we have a wedding to pay for’ to never being home.

This has crept up on me and now I’m at the other end of the spectrum. I’ve gone from feeling sorry for myself to panicking about how my writing is going to fit in.

Planning is a big part of writing, from character and chapter breakdowns to scheduling a blog post. On that basis, there’s an expectation that planning and scheduling things into my life would be second nature and it is. My biggest problem is that I hate saying no, despite attending an assertive training for women course many years ago. Of course, the alternative is I don’t want to say no, now there’s a thought. It goes without saying that my notepad will travel everywhere with me and, where feasible, so will my laptop.

Of course holidays, along with any other excuse to stop work, are great for people watching and grabbing ideas for future stories.

How about you, what are your plans for 2015?

Twitter: @RobertsElaine11

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Link: Writers’ Holiday, Fishguard

Balancing Time

Elaine Roberts reflects on 2014 to date.

I can’t believe we are in June already, where is the time going? For my sins, I work full time in an office, so that obviously dictates where a large proportion of my time is spent. My three-year-old grandson is also a large part of my life, as indeed is babysitting, so now you should be asking when does she write? I can tell you I’m very lucky that I have a very supportive family, and in particular my husband has taken control of many household chores, to give me time to write. Most of my writing takes place over weekends, so my output is probably not as good as some, but I do try to achieve between five and ten thousand words a week.

In January this year, my target was to submit one short story a month, which I have achieved. For me, the most thrilling news was selling my first short story to Take a Break Fiction Feast, my first British sale. I have sold stories to India, Norway and Ireland but the British market eluded me, until now.I’ve been brave and sent off my first completed novel to a publishing company. I’m realistic enough to know it’s unlikely to sell to the first publishers, I tell myself that only happens in films.

My second novel is nearly completed, my aim is to have it finished and sent to the Romantic Novelists Association (RNA) New Writers Scheme for a critique before the RNA Conference in July, where I’m hoping to book a one to one with a publisher. Like my fellow bloggers, I’m posting one piece a month on our blog and have also made an effort to improve my social media presence. I have been particularly successful on Twitter, with over 24,000 followers.

I’m also attending the Writers Holiday at Fishguard in July; except for me it will be my first time. I’m looking forward to meeting other writers and learning from others’ experience.

The one area I need to improve is networking, face to face. I do find it difficult to approach people I don’t know. Although, when I have been introduced to writers at RNA events, they have ben very encouraging and happy to share their experiences with new writers. The first six months of this year have been successful, I have achieved the goals I set in January. I’m looking forward to the next six months; hopefully it will bring the much sought after book deal. Until that happens, I’ll keep writing, keep learning and keep sending out manuscripts for short stories and novels.

VIV Blog picture Snoopy - the end

It’s been quite a voyage

Natalie Kleinman talks about her journey to publication and her aims for the future.

It’s hard to define a typical week at the moment, not that I think any week is ‘typical’. With the recent e-publication of my first book, Voyage of Desire (Safkhet Publishing), and the circus that went with it, hectic but nice, plus the publication on 17th July of People’s Friend Pocket Novel, Secret Love, (DC Thomson), normal is a forgotten concept. VoD CoverHowever, backtracking to the beginning of the year – nearly six months already! – my aim was to see the launch of the first and the completion of the second. My output of short stories has been reduced but I’m happy to say I have still sold a few this year. Writing short stories has always been a pleasurable chore, if you’ll forgive the oxymoron. It’s a completely different application from novel writing and I am one of those lucky people who can jump to one if the other is holding me up. It happens! My third book, Heaven on Earth is at present a work in progress. While Twitter is not my favourite medium, I spend a considerable amount of time on Facebook – guilty as charged. Aside from being a means of promoting myself and my books I have made many friends, some of whom I’ve had the pleasure of meeting in real life at various events. I am writing this piece before the Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA) Conference weekend early in July but if last year is anything to go by I will renew friendships and make new ones. It’s a great opportunity for networking as well as a huge pleasure. A week later I’ll be off Fishguard for the annual Writers’ Holiday, holiday being a misnomer if ever I heard one. My previous experiences at the Caerleon campus have prompted me to go the extra mile(s) to participate again. My first year there involved a steep learning curve together with the confirmation that writers are a lovely and generous group of people. The curve continues, though less steeply I hope. As well as being a contributor to this blog, I have, since January, co-produced the twice weekly RNA blog in conjunction with Elaine Everest. While the job of sourcing the ‘guests’ and material falls to Elaine, the editing is a shared load and a lovely way of following other writers’ experiences.

I’ve left the worst almost till last. Administration is anathema to me and though common sense tells me it would be easier to do it as I go along I can’t actually bring myself to do so. That said, I am meticulous about keeping spreadsheets of my submissions, my successes and indeed my failures. I have no set plan for dividing my time. I spend most of every day sitting at my laptop but the tasks seem to present themselves in their own order. I’ve had an amazing five months so far this year and I look to the next with the determination to continue to apply myself. You only get out what you put in!

Link to my book: Voyage of Desire