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

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Setting Out on a Journey

Francesca takes a journey around the settings she’s used so far

At the moment I’m working on a number of projects, and it got me thinking about the different settings I’m using. On the whole I’ve used known settings in my short stories, novels and novellas, though I’m likely to rename them and take liberties. Some of the locations are from my childhood, like Littlehampton, Worthing and Brighton (renamed Costerham, Ording and Telmstone respectively).

Brighton, taken from the Wheel.

Brighton, taken from the Wheel.

Worthing Pier.

Worthing Pier. Something I’m working on currently is set in Worthing, as Worthing, and I hope to have news of that soon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then there are the settings I’ve discovered through family research like the former mining town of Abertysswg (where my mother was born) and Castle Pill, near Milford Haven, where one of my great-great grandfathers was born. These settings gave me the idea for three short stories, one about someone researching her family (like me!) and two historicals set in 1908 and 1915.

IMG_4492

Some of my ancestors lived in Castle Pill, somewhere around this field, as far as I can tell.

Abertysswg, all evidence of the coal mines invisible these days. My mother was born in a house in the middle terrace on the hill.

Abertysswg, all evidence of the coal mines invisible these days. My mother was born in a house in the middle terrace on the hill.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A novella set in ‘Telmstone’ also has a section set in Rome. I’ve visited there three times and had longed to use it in my writing. And what could be a more passionate setting for a romance?

Newcastle: two of my characters stood on Gateshead Millennium Bridge.

Newcastle: two of my characters stood on Gateshead Millennium Bridge.

IMG

Piazza della Rotunda in Rome, with the Pantheon in the background. A bustling setting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My stories have taken me on excursions to many other places, including Skye, Margate, Brixham, Newcastle and the coast of Ceridigion. Of all the settings I’ve used, the only one I haven’t known or visited, as far as I’m aware, is Brisbane, where I relied on Google and Google Earth for information. Having had a good look at it, I’d love to visit there some time in the future.

Brixham Miracles 2008

Brixham: my daughter and brother-in-law are on the dinghy. This inspired two stories

While I’m writing stories in different locations, I often feel I’m actually there. It’s a great way of visiting anywhere you like as you sit at your desk. Or is that just me?

Happy travels.

Do you use settings you’ve visited, or do you write outside of your experience?

@FCapaldiBurgess

 

Six Things You Didn’t Know About Us

Elaine and Francesca reveal six snippets each about themselves you may not know.

Elaine:

1: I wrote my first novel when I was in my mid-twenties, I’m not going to tell you how long ago that was, but it’s suffice to say I’m now a grandmother. I sent it off to Mills and Boon, as they were known then, and received a lovely rejection. However, it was at this point that life got in the way and the decision was made to bury my dream, because things like that don’t happen to people like me. Joining The Write Place and The Romantic Novelists Association (RNA) has taught me to follow my dreams, because every author I have met has been like every other person you meet.

Alas CD's and not vinyls.

Alas CD’s and not vinyls.

2: I grew up listening to various types of music, my mum was a Rat Pack fan and my father was a massive Beatles fan and both play a huge part in my music collection. However, what was a shock to me, and consequently I am sure no-one else could possibly know, is that my favourite decade for music is the sixties. The only exception is the Glam Rock years, ahh my teenage years.

3: Before the writing took hold, my creativity was in the form of needlework and crocheting. I found it relaxing, with some wonderful finished items. It was always a favourite hobby of mine and as a young mum, I saved money by making my own clothes and my children’s. I also did alterations and made outfits for other people.

IMG_01434: For as long as I can remember I have been a home girl. There is nothing I like better then being curled up in a chair with a good book. As a child, my mother worried I wasn’t getting enough fresh air, and in her mind I should have been out playing, having fun; what she didn’t understand was that I was having fun in my imaginary world. Unfortunately, the more I write, the less I read and that is something I do miss.

5: My father was a military man and when I was just over fourteen, we moved to Germany. I had to wait several months for a school place and consequently found a job working for the Navy, Army, Air Force Institute (NAAFI) and I stayed working there for nearly three years.

Elaine at the RNA Awards evening.

Me at the RNA Awards evening.

6: I am going to end on something that might astound some people. I am a very shy person. It takes a lot for me to walk into a room of strangers and I will very rarely speak to someone I don’t know. I always assume nobody will remember me. It probably comes across as standoffish and that is hopefully not what I am. If you see me at an event at any time, please come and say hello because I will definitely be too shy to come over to you. I am more secure in my imaginary world.

Francesca:

1: Anita Roddick of Body Shop fame was my second cousin. Both her father and step father were first cousins of my dad, and of each other. Her parents’ love story, both complicated and fascinating, is detailed in Anita’s biography. It would make a great premise for a novel. FB & EJ

2: Several years ago I met actor Elijah Wood and had this photograph taken with him. I was at a London Comic Con with fellow Lord of the Rings fans. Elijah was utterly charming.

3: I’ve spoken often of being half Italian and half Welsh, but in fact I am one sixteenth Devonshire on my mum’s side. Many people in the late 19th/early 20th century, farm labourers and tin miners for instance, moved from the West Country to South Wales to work in the coal mines. Most of the rest of my Welsh family came from farming in West Wales and the slate mines in North Wales. I’ve written two stories based on them so far and I’m sure there are many more stories to be told.

Lorenzo Capaldi, c1908. He won a medal for his work during the 1908 earthquake.

Lorenzo Capaldi, c19o8

4: One of my middle names is a boy’s name. Andrea (pronounced ‘Andraya’) means ‘Andrew’ in Italian and is never used for girls.  My mother wanted it as my first name but my father wouldn’t hear of it. My other middle name is Giuliana.

Islwyn Morgan, late 1930s.

Islwyn Morgan, late 1930s.

5: Both my grandfathers died long before I was born. My maternal grandfather, Islwyn Morgan, died of cancer at the age of 30 during World War II. My paternal grandfather, Lorenzo Capaldi, was killed in World War I in his early thirties. His widow and son (ie, my grandmother and father) featured in an imagined short story I wrote that you can read in the anthology 7 Food Stories from Rome.

6: I was a millionairess for ten years… That is to say, I was a lire millionairess! After my aunty Carmela died she left my father several million Italian lire. It took ten years for Italy to release the money, by which time my father had died and I became the ‘heiress’. The resultant money was worth around £2,500.

Have you any little nuggets to share?

 

The Way We Were

Devil's Bridge 2

Devil’s Bridge

Francesca and Elaine think back to cherished childhood memories.

Francesca: Some of my most enduring memories as a child are from my three holidays in Wales, staying with cousins Doris and Gwilym in Merthyr Tydfil. They loved nothing more than taking us around the countryside in their car, picnic chairs and basket at the ready if they fancied a roadside stop.

Cardiff Castle

Cardiff Castle

In the days before seatbelts, I would sit up the front between them on the bench seat. Despite suffering from travel sickness, I loved those magical trips out, over mountains, into valleys, mini waterfalls dribbling down the hillsides. The fact my parents didn’t have a car made it all the more thrilling. 

Mumbles Lighthouse

Mumbles Lighthouse

From the mellow golden light of an October afternoon at Mumbles and Bracelet Bay, to the resplendent Victorian arcades in Cardiff, I loved it all. The aroma of Welsh cakes cooking still reminds me of Cardiff market, where my mum bought a griddle. My cousins had a predilection for ‘reservoys’ as Doris called them (reservoirs), and we visited at least three! Devil’s Bridge, recently featured on Welsh crime series Hinterland, was another favourite, with its sheer drops and dramatic waterfalls.

Gwilym, me and Doris

Gwilym, me and Doris

As a fifteen-year-old I visited St Fagans museum and was fascinated by the reconstructions of old Welsh houses. I went again a couple of years back, forty years on from my original visit, which was kind of strange. It’s a wonderful place for social research.

I decided recently to set my next novel in Wales. The holidays there were the only ones I had until my late teens, apart from school trips. Despite visiting other places in the world since, these simple holidays will always hold a special place in my heart. 

Links:          @FCapaldiBurgess        St Fagans National History Museum

Elaine: When Francesca and I talked about our happiest childhood memories it was difficult to decide where to begin.

I was a very shy child but I have some lovely family memories, particularly with my Nan on my SANYO DIGITAL CAMERAfather’s side. As a child my mother’s side of the family were lovely, but a little scarier, because I was so shy and they were a very large family. Often it is only when you look back at things that you realise how cherished those memories are. I unexpectedly lost my father eighteen years ago so I now feel that every moment is to be cherished.

CNV00017_2My father was a military man, so a large chunk of my childhood was spent living in Cyprus and you can probably guess, spending time on the beaches. As a child, the best thing of all was only having to go to school until lunch time and then we were meant to have a siesta, which we did sometimes, but often we got to go swimming in the lovely clear blue sea. The touch of the warm sand in between my toes, sometimes too hot toCNV00013_2 walk on in bare feet. I remember sitting on my father’s back as he swam, riding on him like you would a horse at a rodeo. The screams SANYO DIGITAL CAMERAof laughter, as he splashed about and pretended to go underwater, it felt like we were swimming like fishes, but of course we weren’t. Some of the best childhood memories I have of my father involve living in Cyprus.

One day I will share some very precious adult memories of him, but not today.

Links: @RobertsElaine11