It is my very great pleasure to host a guest post from author and actress Elaine Spires
Elaine Spires is a novelist, playwright and actress. Extensive travelling and a background in education and tourism perfected Elaine’s keen eye for the quirky characteristics of people, captivating the humorous observations she now affectionately shares with the readers of her novels. Elaine spends her time between her homes in Essex and Five Islands, Antigua (W.I.).
Here Elaine tells us about ‘Writing About What You Know’
I know that there are authors who write about things they have no experience of and I praise them and salute their talent. Included in these, of course, are sci-fi, fantasy and horror writers and there have been some outstandingly successful ones, such as J K Rowling, J R R Tolkein, H G Wells. Is using initials only a prerequisite to writing in this genre?
I, however, have always found it much easier to write about what I know. (Cop out! I hear you shout?) And my background is Travel and Tourism. For twelve years I was a tour manager for a singles’ holiday operator. I accompanied groups of singles holidaymakers to worldwide tourism destinations. The smallest group I ever took was five plus myself to Luxor. They were five of the nicest people you could have ever wished to meet and we have a really super time. The biggest group was forty-five to Icmeler, Turkey and that was far too many. Four days in and I still wasn’t sure if I’d seen everyone or knew who everyone was. Strangely enough, though, this trip was remarkably problem-free. The group fell into about five smaller groups – this tends to happen in most groups whatever their size – although one night we did all go into Marmaris en masse to Bar Street and that was a hoot!
As you can, perhaps, imagine, being a tour manager was fertile ground for book ideas and so after writing my first book, What’s Eating Me, I decided to write a trilogy about singles’ holidays and produced Singles’ Holiday, set in Antigua. This was followed by Singles and Spice, which takes place in India’s Golden Triangle, Delhi, Jaipur and Agra and then Single All The Way, which unfolds in the snowy English countryside at Christmas.
All of the characters are fictitious as are the hotels and resorts in all three books, but the places the groups visit really exist. So, in Singles’ Holiday, for example, the Mango Tree Resort doesn’t exist, but Hemingway’s Bar in St John’s does, so does Jolly Harbour and Shirley Heights. And the same happens throughout the other two. Sweet Lady, which tells the story of artist Eleanor West and her daughter Victoria who spend a winter in Antigua, follows the same pattern; real places but fictitious characters. Holiday Reads and Holiday Reads 2 are short story collections set in places that I visited while I was working in tourism.
To me it makes sense to write about what I know. Nothing annoys me more when I’m reading a book than when the writer has been sloppy, not done their research and there are glaring mistakes. This tends not to happen if you’re comfortable and familiar with the setting and details. I am a huge fan of Kathy Reichs, who was a forensic anthropologist and I just love the real touches in her books. The same happens with John Grisham and the law.
I’ve recently read a book that took all my strength to finish, simply because of the mistakes in it. If writers are going to put in odd words of a foreign language they should always get a native or fluent speaker of that language to check what they are writing. That way you avoid making your reader laugh for all the wrong reasons. And in all the years I’ve travelled and lived abroad I have never come across ONE foreigner who uttered the phrase ‘It is, how you say?’ People just don’t speak like that! Another mistake that gets me screaming is when a foreign character is speaking English and knows words such as sanctimonious or infrequent or distraction (I’ve just chosen three words at random here) but then needs to ask ‘It is, how you say? Difícil, no?’ I’m sorry, but to me, that is ludicrous.
By writing about what you know you keep it real. That isn’t to say you can’t do your research and write a book on something you knew nothing about, but if you do that, make sure your research is thorough and at least get someone from that industry/sport/country/community/business/world to read it through and give it the all-clear. That way you don’t leave yourself open to criticism from people like me!
You can find out more about Elaine here:
Eileen Holloway is an obese mother of two, whose husband went out to see a man about a car one night and never came back, struggling to keep all the plates spinning. But Eileen becomes a celebrity the day her mother puts her forward for Barbara’s Beautiful Bodies, a reality TV show which follows the journey of the seriously overweight as they are put on a rigid diet and exercise routine to change their lives for better and for ever. ‘What’s Eating Me’ looks at what happens to her once her journey to reach her target weight is over.
The story with a couple of huge twists, where nothing is as it seems! East London artist Eleanor West is holidaying in Antigua with her daughter Victoria before her latest summer exhibition. When beach-bum Tyrone walks into their lives, nothing will ever be the same again.
The Singles’ Trilogy
Antigua, the Caribbean at its most luscious; cloudless, cobalt skies, silver sand, turquoise sea, and a group of total strangers, with just one thing in common: they’re single. Some have come just to have a good holiday; some for something more. Some will become lifelong friends; others just won’t get on. But it is, perhaps, their tour manager Eve who has the biggest shocks of all as she takes care of her group through sunny days, boozy, balmy nights and a tropical storm as we get to know each group member, while they, in turn, get to know each other.
‘Singles and Spice’
A singles’ holiday to India’s Golden Triangle – Taj Mahal, the pink city of Jaipur, tiger-spotting in Ranthambore, the noisy, crowded streets of Delhi – all go to make up a trip that is hot, humid and spicy. Eve Mitchell, Travel Together’s tour manager extraordinaire has a couple of familiar faces in her little group of travellers and others that she hasn’t met before; sexy man-eating pensioners, a compulsive over-eater, a constant whiner and a man with a personal problem. And there’s a big surprise awaiting someone -and Eve! – one morning at dawn. By the end of the tour, which sees our group travelling by plane, coach, rickshaw, train and elephant, she will know rather more about some of their innermost secrets than she’d like.
‘Single All The Way’
Travel Together Tour Manager Eve Mitchell is planning a quiet Christmas at home to rest and relax before an extra-special New Year. But she soon, very unexpectedly, finds herself in the depths of the Essex countryside looking after a singles’ group which contains some old, familiar faces and some pleasant – and not so pleasant – new ones. With its country walks, quizzes, disco and black-tie ball, the Christmas and Twixmas Break passes quickly, but just as they think it’s all over the plot takes a twist and we learn some dark secrets…
Short Story Collections
Short stories for your sun-lounger – or wherever! Seven women, each with a different holiday problem. Meet, Olivia, who wishes she wasn’t on a tennis holiday; Estelle, alone on a cruise; Fiona who’s flying too close for comfort; Shelley, who shouldn’t have got involved with a foreigner; Alison who finds our her husband’s off on a cruise – but not with her!; Eloise who’s having a rotten time in Ibiza and Karla who’s desperate for her family holiday in Corfu to go well…
‘Holiday Reads 2’
More quirky short-stories with a holiday theme for reading on the plane, on the beach or by the pool, your back garden on a sunny afternoon or curled up on the sofa if it’s raining.
‘The Christmas Queen’ – in which we meet up with Eileen Holloway again. Her whole life through, Christmas for Eileen has always started with loads of work and preparation and ended in bitter disappointment, and involved huge amounts of energy and emotion along the way. But this year, although she knows it will be emotional, she’s determined things will be very different. This year she’s going to be a Christmas Queen…
‘Weak At The Knees’ – Estelle is out and about making her Valentine’s Day deliveries. What she discovers as she presents four very different women with an armful of flowers is a real eye-opener …
COMING SOON – THE BANJO – A trilogy set in Dagenham from 1950s – present day.