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!




Back Where We Belong…

Francesca and Elaine are catching up with what’s been going on in the last couple of months.

Elaine: So you first Francesca, what’s your excuse for being absent?

Enjoying the RNA London Chapter Christmas meal in December

Francesca: Well Elaine, I spent the latter part of 2017 editing my historical novel, set in 1915/1916 in South Wales. It has taken me a lot longer than the contemporaries I’ve written, for obvious reasons. The history graduate in me has pushed me to research, re-research, then research a little more. It doesn’t take much to become absorbed by even quite minor subjects and spend longer on it than is necessary.

I’ve found this particularly with the census. I’m fascinated with the minutiae of everyday life as revealed by these documents. It’s all too easy to get carried away, especially when you can sit in the comfort of your own home to study them, rather than in a records office as I did forty years ago, straining my eyes to look at the microfiche.

Okay, Elaine, what’s the excuse for your absence from the blog?

Elaine: Oh you mean apart from spending several weeks in bed with the flu virus that has been going around and obviously excluding Christmas, which is always a hectic time in my house. You know, I can’t believe how long it’s been since we last chatted here. Where have those weeks gone?

Elaine’s New Photo

Gosh, I sound like my mother!

Anyway, my year ended with stunned excitement, if that’s possible. I received an e-mail and phone call from Aria, which is the digital imprint of Head of Zeus Publishers. I have signed a three-book contract with them and, if I’m honest, I still can’t believe it. It all feels very surreal after years of working towards that goal, but watch this space for further news of the cover, title and publishing date. To celebrate, my son took a new photograph of me, so I thought I’d share that with you.

So what’s next Francesca?

Francesca: First of all, congratulations! You deserve the success as I know you’ve worked hard. As for me, I’ve nearly finished editing now and it will then be submission time. With a bit more time back, I’m going to concentrate on other submissions too, particularly the short stories, which have taken a back seat during the current novel. I’m looking forward to writing and submitting some shorter pieces.

And what’s next for you, Elaine?

Elaine: I’m working on book two of my contract, but I don’t want to give too much away at this stage. It was already started, but now I know someone is going to actually read it, I’m revisiting the structure of it. I shall also be working on the edits of book one when they come through.

I have a list of things to do, most of it around social media and promotion, but I also need to start thinking about book three.

It’s scary times ahead.

What have you lot been up to then? We’d love to read your comments.



You can read Francesca’s January Competition Monthly on the RNA Blog here



Fail To Plan, Plan To Fail

Elaine Roberts has been thinking about what people do to motivate themselves and carry on when things get too much. She’s had a lot going on in her personal life so, consequently, has been feeling too tired and demotivated to do anything. 

When my children get those same feelings, I always tell them life is all about small steps, which lead to bigger steps that occur naturally.

NaNoWriMo Logo

I came to the conclusion I should practice what I preach, so to speak. As a writer, NaNoWriMo (National November Writing Month) is a motivation, and the aim is to write fifty thousand words in a month. Straight away, the immediate and automatic reaction was “whoa, I could never do that”. Then I thought, what if I aim for fifty thousand, but not worry if I don’t make it because that way, the daily word count would increase.


That’s fine if you’re a writer, but what if you’re not. Here are some of the things that have worked for me, which I would recommend:

  • Have an overall plan. My plan is to be published, but my dream is to walk into bookshops and supermarkets and see my books on the shelves.
  • Set specific achievable goals that are measureable, with a realistic timescale for you and the life you lead. It doesn’t matter about how small the goal is, because it’s about stacking the building blocks, towards achieving the plan that you have decided upon.
  • Celebrate when you reach those goals, even if it’s only with a cup of tea and a happy dance around the front room.
  • Put yourself out there, wherever out there is for you. It can be intimidating, but there’s nothing like mixing with people who are aiming for similar things. With the Internet and social media, there are forums and groups you can join.
  • Be positive. I always say to my children, if it was easy everyone would be doing it, whatever “it” is. Don’t take on board other people’s negativity; that is their issue, not yours.
  • Give yourself time to serve your apprenticeship. Learn your craft properly. I have several written novels that I thought were great at the time. When the rejections came through, I was crushed, but now my knowledge has increased, I’m quite relieved they didn’t get anywhere.
  • Write a list. We all love a list. You can’t beat ticking things off a list, to make you feel you’ve achieved something.
  • Whatever the plan is, do your research. Look at what others are achieving and how they are doing it. I’ve come to the conclusion there is nothing you can’t find on the Internet.
  • Above all else, don’t give up. Whenever I feel like that, I remind myself how some of the best authors have struggled to be published, and I don’t put myself in the same bracket as them.
  • Remember it’s all about the journey, not forgetting where you started from and what you can do to encourage others to achieve their goals.

Be Positive

Whatever you want to do, go for it. Make time for yourself and your dreams. The harder you work, the luckier you get.

Good luck xx


Wintertime Blues: Seasonally Affected Settings?

Francesca considers her wintertime blues and wonders whether this affects the seasons she sets her stories in.

Winter sunset – pretty but too early in the day (Devon)

As a child I don’t think I paid much heed to the clock change of late October that caused daylight to disappear an hour earlier in the afternoons. To me at that time it meant apple bobbing at school, Guy Fawkes Night and ultimately, Christmas. The Yuletide period didn’t appear in the shops so early back then, certainly not in September, and definitely not August when the seasonal catalogues tend to plop through the letterbox these days.

Even now, the earliest I am willing to entertain Christmas is November. I’ve wondered recently whether I’ve picked this random date because the clocks change around the same time and dark afternoons become a reality. After this event I wait eagerly for the first of the Christmas lights to appear in front gardens and windows, as I drive along the road.

One of the summer settings I’ve used (Littlehampton)

Once the festive season is over and the decorations are packed away, I look each evening for signs of later sunsets. I dread the winter months, not because of the cold weather but because of the short days. Possibly this is the reason that five of the six contemporary novels I’ve written are set largely over spring and summer, as is the serial and many of my short stories. Could this be a manifestation of something I shall call Writer’s SAD?

The novel that does have a large winter element ends in July. Two others that begin in late winter likewise end in the summer. The historical I’m currently working on, set in a Welsh mining village in the Valleys in World War I, starts in a November. There is a real life reason for this, but this will also end in July because I want it to.

Maybe you prefer a winter setting (Amsterdam)

Maybe there is something symbolic about beginning a novel in winter and ending it in the summer, for me at least. They start at a ‘dark’ time, ending with sunshine and ‘light’. I could be reading too much into this and it’s probably simply that I like spring and summer so I contrive, albeit subconsciously, to set most of the action then.

Do any of you have a favoured season in which to set your novels, or is it just me?


The End of an Era: Fishguard/Caerleon Summer Writers’ Holiday

Francesca waves a fond farewell to the summer Writers’ Holiday in Fishguard and takes a trip down memory lane

During my stay at the Writers’ Holiday in Fishguard this July, I was very sad to learn that it would be the last such summer event. I’ve attended the summer Writers’ Holiday every year since 2008, when it was still being held in Caerleon. It switched venues in 2014. Here, in no particular order, (apart from vaguely chronological) are some photo memories, some of the venue, some of the area, some of trips during the ‘holiday’ (we all used to work jolly hard, honestly!). Some people seem to be missing from my photos, and some years I can’t locate at all, for which I apologise.  I’m not putting names to anybody, but if you spot yourself in a photo, or you have your own memories of the Writers’ Holiday, feel free to leave a comment. 

Huge thanks, as always, to Anne and Gerry Hobbs for all the hard work and devotion they put into the event over the thirty plus years – for all the courses, after-teas, talks, trips out, pick-ups, choir evenings and everything else they and their family organised. So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, hwyl fawr. Though of course, it’s not entirely the end…



…No, it’s not the end of Writers’ Holiday altogether, as the February weekend event will still be running. It will now also  feature the wonderful Cwmbach Male Choir, who’ve entertained us all these years at the summer event. More details here.



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!





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!



Back in Time For a Cup of Coffee at The Criterion

Francesca talks about the inspiration behind her 3-part serial, The Criterion, which begins in The People’s Friend this coming week. 

The Criterion in the 1970s, having gone through a name change

I know I’ve mentioned before on this blog how some of my writing has been inspired by my family history. The very first novel I wrote, a Young Adult called Sea Angel, came about because of my own experience working in the family cafe as a teenager. My short story Far From Home,  published in the anthology 7 Food Stories from Rome began as my attempt to imagine what it might be like to move to England from Italy as a young widow with a twelve-year-old son, as my grandmother did. The idea for the historical novel I’m currently working on came from a World War One document I found on detailing the discharge of a Welsh great-grandfather on medical grounds.

The Criterion today, now a hair salon

The first of those is a contemporary, while the latter two both take place in 1915. My serial for The People’s Friend, The Criterion shifts to a different time entirely: 1955. It’s the era of the Ten Pound Poms, and the story begins with my main female character, Gwen Hughes, talking to her disgruntled grandmother about her impending departure to Australia. Renzo Crolla, the male protagonist, owns a cafe in Worthing, The Criterion of the title.

Some of the characters in the serial are based on real people, some are an amalgam, while others are completely fictitious. The story is based only very loosely on that of my family (I might tell you the real story one day). The Criterion in Worthing, however, was a real cafe, owned by my grandmother and father, a kind of character in itself. My grandmother, a war widow, emigrated to England in 1927 with my father. Much of her family were already over here. In 1930 she bought

My mum behind the counter c1958

The Criterion from her brother. I was born in the cafe twenty-eight years later and lived there until I was nearly four-years-old. My father rented the cafe out for a further seven years. Finally he sold it in 1968. It went on being a cafe for a number of years afterwards, known as the Californian, but today it’s a hairdressing salon.

The building itself is Georgian, so what it was originally I have no idea, presumably not a cafe. Perhaps my next project will be to find out something of its history. If I gather enough material I might be able to use it for another story!

Evening trade, c1958


The Criterion, a 3-part serial, starts in The People’s Friend in the issue dated 27th May.

7 Food Stories from Rome is available here.

In the story, Renzo was interned on the Isle of Man during World War 2, as was my father. The piece I wrote for The Guardian about it can be viewed here


Me outside the cafe, 1959, with Worthing promenade in the background

Mum and Dad in 1955