Monday, 16 May 2011

Interview with Margaret James

Margaret James wrote short stories and serials for UK women’s magazines before becoming the published author of fourteen novels. She writes the Fiction Focus column for Writing Magazine as well as some of the author profiles.


Margaret's books
The Silver Locket
The Golden Chain
Elegy for a Queen

Margaret has very kindly donated a signed copy of her latest novel, The Golden Chain. To be in with a chance of getting your hands on it simply leave a comment here telling us what your favourite romantic novel is. The winner will be chosen next weekend (21/22 May).

Tell us about your proudest writing achievement.
I think that has to be when I got my first publishing contract for a novel called A Touch of Earth and my mother said I was a clever girl. She’s partial and prejudiced, of course, but it was lovely to see Mum beaming all over her face and looking so proud of me – bless.

What are your writing strengths and weaknesses?
Maybe we should ask other people about that! But I think plotting is probably my greatest strength – I love plotting and constructing elaborate stories – while a tendency to race along at breakneck speed is my greatest weakness. I have to remind myself to slow down now and again, and to let my characters get their breath back.

Do you have a writing routine or any odd writing quirks?
I try to stick to a routine, but magazine deadlines have a habit of creeping up on me. Where did April go this year, did anybody notice it? I also teach creative writing, and my students quite rightly expect a fast turnaround with their assignments. So I tend to look at what needs to be done from day to day, and plan my routine around it.

I don’t have any lucky charms or any writing superstitions. I don’t need special paper and I’m not still using my original lucky typewriter, but –

Is there a special place you like to write?
– I do have a lovely old desk which I’ve had for thirty-five years, and at which I’ve done almost all my writing, so I’m very attached to it.

How important is it to you to plot your novels?
It’s very important. If I haven’t worked out a plot for a novel, I know I’ll find it very difficult to write it. Sometimes, a character will wander into my mind and say, write about me. So I’ll start, but I’ll realise I’ll need to have a story outline worked out soon. I change my mind, of course, and sometimes my characters end up in places I didn’t originally intend them to be. But I need a road map of some sort before I set out on almost any fictional journey.

What made you choose to write in the romance genre?
I’m endlessly fascinated by what attracts people to each other, why they fall in love, why they fall out of love, what makes them cruel to each other (as the songs say, you always hurt the one you love, and too much love will kill you, just the same as none at all), and what makes them kind.

What do you think makes an ideal romantic hero?
Well, there are lots of things he shouldn’t be, such as mean-spirited, spiteful, greedy, conceited or selfish. In most romantic fiction, the hero is handsome, or attractive in some easily recognisable way. If he’s not classically gorgeous, he’ll need to have charm and/or be clever and entertaining. In fact, whatever he looks like, he’ll need charm.

What qualities do you think writers should have?
Optimism and determination – if you’re a glass half empty person, you shouldn’t be a writer, or you shouldn’t aspire to be a published writer, anyway. The road to publication is strewn with thorns, and even when you’re published the Bad Review Fairy is always hovering around, hoping to give you a bad time!

What advice would you give to an aspiring novelist?
A writer needs friends who are writers themselves and who know what it’s like to be in this frustrating, aggravating but sometimes wonderful profession, because nobody else quite understands.

What advice would you give to an aspiring novelist?
Become an accountant, or a dentist, or a banker, instead! But, if you insist on becoming a novelist, try to have other things in your life, hobbies and interests which have nothing to do with writing (even though you’ll probably end up writing about them anyway), and don’t compare yourself with other writers, because you’re you, you have your own unique voice, and that’s very important.

What are you working on at the moment?
I’ve spent the past twelve months doing in-depth rewrites of two novels which originally appeared in hardback but which were much revised for paperback publication – The Silver Locket and The Golden Chain. I’m waiting for some editorial notes on the third volume in this trilogy, which is going to need some major restructuring for paperback publication, and in the meantime I’m plotting a romantic mystery. I always have several novels in development, and I like working this way, but it wouldn’t be right for everyone.

So other writers are more successful – so what? Good for them, but in the meantime look at what you’ve achieved, not at what you haven’t achieved.

Thank you for inviting me to be a guest on your blog, Maureen. I’ve enjoyed talking to you, and your questions made me think, which is never a bad thing!

Margaret James was talking to Maureen Vincent-Northam, co-author of The Writer's ABC Checklist


joanne fox said...

Oops - wrote a comment then think I lost it!

Thanks for such an interesting interview. Margaret's articles in WM have been a huge help to me over the years. I often tear them out to keep if I am throwing the rest of the magazine away.

For my romantic fave I'd have to pick Gone With The Wind. It's a bit of a doorstep, but it keeps me hooked the whole way through.

DW96 said...

Not up for the giveaway, Mo, Margaret, because I don't read romantic novels (the wife's idea of our finances are romantic enough.)

Just wanted to say, brilliant interview and some solid advice for wannabes like me.

suzy doodling said...

Great interview Maureeen, lots of good information here. Love the bit about the bad review fairy hovering. David's comment above made me laugh as well. My fave romantic novel is by Norah Roberts, and is called Dancing on the air. It's a set of three, following on are earth and fire. Touch of witchcraft woven in, lots of romance, and good characters and lots going on. A book I need to read again, thanks for the reminder.

Bob Scotney said...

My favourite is the only one of her books Daphne du Maurier acknowledged as a 'romance' - Frenchman's Creek. Why? because I know the area of Cornwall where it is set and I have had a meal and drunk in The Ship at Fowey, a pub that is mentioned in the book.

aw said...

A great interview, Maureen, and interesting to see she likes to keep more than one project on the go at a time. Helps avoid writer's block and keep you motivated I imagine but would need to have very different plot lines not to become entangled!

I've always enjoyed Georgette Heyer's historical romances but nothing really tops Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice for humour and social comment.

thewhitespike said...

Enjoyed the interview Maureen. Margaret seems like a disciplined and gifted writer. I'm like David, don't really read much romantic fiction. Well hear goes. The Thorn Birds. Don't know if you have heard of it. Its Australian I think, read it years ago, was not bad.

Deb Rickard said...

Thank you both for such an interesting interview. I'm ashamed to say I haven't yet read any of Margaret's novels yet - but that's about to change.
Too right about writers needing 'optimism and determination'and LOL at the advice to try something else!
As regards my favourite romance, I'd have to say 'Rebecca'. Not straight romance, I know but I love the layers in it.