Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Author Interview: Margaret James

Hi Margaret, thank you so much for agreeing to an interview, I am pleased to welcome you to my blog.

Thank you, Daniel – it’s great to be here!

So tell me a little bit about yourself, where are you from and what do you write?

I was born in Hereford, a small cathedral city in the English Midlands where there wasn’t a lot (and still isn’t a lot) for teenagers to do. As soon as I could escape, I did. I went to London University where I took a degree in English, did a lot of reading and set myself up for what was to become my career as a novelist, journalist and teacher of creative writing.

When I left university, I didn’t know if I would be able to earn a living as a writer. So I went into the civil service and stayed there for ten years. I got married, had children, and finally started writing seriously when I was in my middle thirties.

Where do you find your inspiration?

It’s everywhere – in overheard conversations, on hoardings, in magazines, in casual remarks made by friends. But writers of fiction don’t usually take real life and drop it straight into their stories. We refine, we twist, we re-imagine. We say: yes, but what if it hadn’t been quite like that? What if this or that had happened, instead? My novel The Wedding Diary was inspired by a workshop at my local writers’ group, and the question was: suppose you won a dream wedding? Well, that’s perfectly possible, even if the odds are stacked against you! But what if you didn’t have anyone to marry?

As a Creative Writing teacher, what do you think are the most important lessons a writer should learn?

I tell my students to write the kinds of books they want to write rather than force themselves to write crime, romance or whatever if they’re not really interested in crime or romance, but hope to make some money. Readers are good at catching insincere writers out! All students need to be good learners and to realise learning is a two-way process between teacher and student, featuring plenty of give and take. This is a big topic, so I’m now going to direct you to The Creative Writing Student’s Handbook by my fellow creative writing teacher Cathie Hartigan and me. You can read the first chapter free of charge on Amazon. 

What can you tell me about your typical writing day and what your process is?

I’m a night owl rather than a lark, so my average working day (or productive day, at least) is between about eleven in the morning and midnight. Yes, these are long hours, but I’m allowed breaks! I can go out and meet friends, do some shopping, gardening, social networking – it’s not all hard labour at the typeface.

Can you tell me about your journey to publication? How did that all happen?

My journey started a long time ago and everything is different now. What happened to me makes it sound so easy. I wrote a novel, sent it round agents, the first fifty all turned me down, but the fifty-first took me on and sold my first novel as the opening story in a historical trilogy to what is now Sphere.

At that time, Sphere was called Futura and was part of the Robert Maxwell group of companies. When those companies went into liquidation overnight, my troubles as a novelist began, but I was also motivated to start teaching and writing for magazines: so silver linings and so on!

What do your family and loved ones think of your success?

They’re very pleased for me. My sister is my biggest, most loyal fan and my late mother was very proud of me. On the day I got my first publishing contract, my husband brought home champagne and even my infant school age daughters had a sip or several. I am lucky to have such a great family.

So what’s next for Margaret James?

I need to finish a new novel and get it off to my publisher, Choc Lit.

The Fun Stuff:

What is your favourite TV show right now?

Anything with Lucy Worsley in it.

Who is your ultimate celebrity crush?

Ooh, difficult – but I’d quite like to meet Sean Bean, who is a perfect Sharpe in the television series.

Who are your favourite authors?

You can’t ask that – there are dozens, if not hundreds, and I’d hate to leave anyone out.

Which book from another author do you wish you had written?

I think Wuthering Heights is an amazing achievement and I’m astonished that a girl in her twenties could have understood human motivation so well. There’s everything in that story – drama, destructive emotion, redemption, even humour.

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions Margaret. You are a star.

So are you – thank you so much for talking to me!

About The Author

Margaret James was born in Hereford, a beautiful cathedral city in the English Midlands. She started writing fiction when her children were very small, and her first novel A Touch of Earth was published in 1988.

Since then, she has expanded her range of writing-related activities to take in journalism, short story writing, teaching creative writing and editing other people's books.

She was delighted when her novel Elegy for a Queen was featured in the UK's Woman and Home magazine in a selection of the five best time slip novels. The fact that Margaret's own favourite time slip novel The House on the Strand was also featured put a big grin on her face!

Since becoming a novelist, Margaret has realised that having a name like Margaret James leads to lots of confusion, and in her next life she intends to have a name that she shares with absolutely nobody else.

When she's not writing, Margaret loves walking, reading anything and everything, gossiping, gardening and eating chocolate. She quite often manages to eat chocolate and write at the same time, which occasionally makes for a somewhat sticky keyboard, but also makes for happy writing.

Just for the record - this Margaret James wrote: A Touch of Earth, Fortune's Favourite Child, The Treasures of Existence, The Snake Stone, A Green Bay Tree, The Ash Grove, A Special Inheritance, The Final Reckoning, Hallowed Ground, The Morning Promise, The Long Way Home, The Penny Bangle, Elegy for a Queen, The Silver Locket, The Golden Chain, The Wedding Diary, and she contributed to the anthology Loves Me, Loves Me Not. Margaret's latest novel is Magic Sometimes Happens. The Silver Locket, The Golden Chain and The Penny Bangle are available as a Kindle download entitled The Charton Minster Trilogy.

She was thrilled when The Silver Locket won a prestigious Cataromance Single Titles Award in 2010, and when the cover of The Golden Chain was chosen to feature on the design of a KLM airliner in 2011.The Wedding Diary was shortlisted for the Romantic Novelists' Association's RoNA award for romantic comedy 2014.

Margaret and Cathie Hartigan are co-authors of The Creative Writing Student's Handbook, which takes students through the entire creative writing process. The Short Story Writer's Workbook is the second of their bestselling guides for writers and is published in ebook and paperback.

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