I've set up this blog so that all my friends, relations and colleagues in the world of writing can keep up to speed with what I'm doing - from now on, I'll never have to say sorry for not keeping in touch.

Or anyway, that's the plan.

So do please link up with me on Facebook and Twitter - https://www.facebook.com/margaret.james.5268 and https://twitter.com/majanovelist.

I hope everyone who reads my posts will find something of interest in them - news from the publishing world, competition guides, author gossip, and updates on my own career.

So please keep reading!

You can find my novels as digital downloads on Apple iTunes, Kobo, Kindle and Nook, and most are available as print paperbacks, too.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Creative Writing Student's Handbook

It's been a long consultation process, but today Cathie Hartigan and I are very happy to present our new baby to the world - The Creative Writing Student's Handbook.

As teachers of creative writing with more than thirty years' worth of experience between us, we have long felt it was time to produce a practical, experience-based handbook for our students.  We talked to lots of our students about what they want from a creative writing handbook - and also about what they don't want!

Creative writing students want help, advice, practical exercises, industry insights, encouragement and - most of all -  to believe they can make their creative writing dream come true.

Creative writing students don't want condescension, masses of arcane critical theory, rules, regulations, and - most of all - they don't want to come away with the impression that creative writing is just for people who have university degrees, are celebrities or are rich enough to buy their own publishing companies.

All creative people are special and, as teachers, we want to celebrate this.

We hope everyone who reads our handbook will enjoy it. We'll welcome feedback and we intend to update the handbook from time to time, taking account of this feedback.

You can contact us through Facebook, Twitter and through www.creativewritingmatters.co.uk.

Click on the cover to the right of this post to take you to the UK's Amazon website or use the links to the Kindle version of the book here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Creative-Writing-Students-Handbook-ebook/dp/B00JS5LQ4M/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1398001183&sr=1-1&keywords=creative+writing+student%27s+handbook and http://www.amazon.com/The-Creative-Writing-Students-Handbook-ebook/dp/B00JS5LQ4M/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1398003549&sr=8-1&keywords=margaret+james+the+creative+writing+students+handbook

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Exeter Novel Prize - the big day!

If you've read the post below this one (and if you haven't, now's your chance) you'll know that today the literary West Country was well and truly put on the map with the presentation of the very first Exeter Novel Prize. 

The ceremony in the historic St Stephen's Church in central Exeter was very well attended by writers, readers and their families and friends.  Our guests of honour were our local MP, the Right Hon Ben Bradshaw, and the London literary agent Broo Doherty who judged the shortlist and presented the prizes. Here are Ben, Broo and the six shortlisted authors. You can click on the photographs below to enlarge them.

Tension mounted as Broo read out her appraisals of each shortlisted novel and finally - FINALLY - announced the winner. Since we on the CreativeWritingMatters team were as much in the dark as everyone else, we were bating our breath along with the whole room. Now I'm going to make you bate yours while I show you some photographs of what was a wonderful afternoon.

Ben Bradshaw must be one of the most popular MPs in the country and this afternoon we all understood why.  Friendly, interested in what the Exeter Novel Prize is all about and totally charming, we were delighted he could come.  Here he is with the CreativeWritingMatters team of (left to right) Margaret, Cathie and Sophie.

When it was time to begin the serious stuff, we asked the six shortlisted authors (details in the post below this one) to come forward. They looked somewhat apprehensive. Who would win the gorgeous crystal trophy and the cheque for £500, kindly sponsored by Exeter Writers?

Then Broo read her comments and it became clear she was hugely impressed by the standard of the entries. The authors are all very accomplished writers, said Broo and, since they are among the final six in a total entry of more than 250, they could all consider themselves winners.

But there could be only one overall winner - and  we are delighted to reveal that the winner of the very first Exeter Novel Prize is Su Bristow, for her novel Sealskin. Here is Su looking shocked but also (we hope) as thrilled and as excited as us.

Many congratulations, Su - may this success mark the beginning of a wonderful career as a published novelist for you!

This afternoon, Exeter Writers also launched its third anthology featuring the work of members and the past winners of our annual short story competition.  Expertly put together, typeset and produced by Exeter Writers members Julie Collings and Ruth Cohen, we are delighted to show you the result.

Our guests today all seemed to have a good time.  The CreativeWritingMatters team is already looking forward to welcoming everyone to the next Exeter Novel Prize awards ceremony in 2015!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Presentation of the first Exeter Novel Prize - the excitement mounts!

On Saturday, the winner of the first Exeter Novel Prize will be announced at an awards ceremony in St Stephen's Church in Exeter. Cathie Hartigan, Sophie Duffy and I, who make up the CreativeWritingMatters team and who inaugurated the prize, are very excited.

A few months ago, the longlist was sent to the literary agent Broo Doherty.  Broo chose a shortlist and she will be announcing the winner on Saturday afternoon.  We three in the CWM team each have a favourite or two, but Broo isn't telling anyone anything until the day. So we're as much in the dark as everyone else.

The shortlist is as follows:

67 Ways to Kill Your Sister - Sonya Weiss
A Puff of Madness - Heather Reed

Brighton Revels - Anne Summerfield
Sealskin - Su Bristow

The Bean Farm - Joan Brennan
Timed Out - Barbara Hudson

The winner will receive £500 (this first prize is kindly sponsored for Exeter Writers) and a trophy. Also, every runner-up will  receive £50.

Exeter Writers will also be launching their new anthology and copies will be on display.

We hope to welcome lots of Devonians as well as people coming from all over the country to this special day.

Saturday 22 March, 2 pm, St Stephen's Church, Exeter - we hope to see you there!

What happens next?

The 2014 competition opens in May. So, if you're a novelist, are yet-to-be-published or are at present unagented and uncontracted, do please take a look at our website at www.creativewritingmatters.co.uk.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Juliet Greenwood's personal secretary chooses the winner of We That Are Left

Thank you to everyone who posted a comment about Juliet Greenwood's new novel on my blog.

As you can see, Juliet's personal secretary Phoebe was involved in the final decision. This is how she set about making her choice:

Hmmm - all those comments look good to me, says Phoebe:

But there can be only one winner:

Juliet says:

I loved all the comments on the blog. Thank you to everyone. I found it really hard to make a decision, so in the end I asked Phoebe to make the final choice. Here she is, the author’s secretary, taking her job very seriously. And the winner is – Rosemary Anne Smith!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Tales from the Outback - Choc Lit's Janet Gover talks about her new novel, Flight to Coorah Creek

It's the beginning of March and this means the print version of Janet Gover's fabulous new novel Flight to Coorah Creek is about to be published any day now!

I'm really looking forward to getting my print copy, even though I already have the ebook. There's nothing quite like the lovely touchability of a gorgeously produced book, and of course Choc Lit is famous for its beautiful editions.

Janet agreed to come and talk to me about Flight to Coorah Creek.  

So make yourself comfortable on my fat, squashy sofa, Janet, have a choc chip cookie and a latte, and let's get down to business.  Ooh, is that a book for me?  Thank you!

Who or what inspired you to write Flight to Coorah Creek?

I grew up in a tiny bush town in Australia. At the time, I thought it was lonely and remote and boring (especially as a teenager). But since then I have seen a lot of the world, and I now realise that my childhood was a unique experience. And quite special. These small towns are amazing communities and they have as much of a story as the people in them. In creating Coorah Creek (which exists only in my head and a map pinned to my office door) I am trying to share the experience of small town Australia.
The idea to have my characters work on an air ambulance arose from my own experience. I fell ill while in a very remote location – and the Royal Flying Doctor Service (which is very real) was called in to medi-vac me to hospital. In some ways, this book is my way of saying thank you to those fabulous people. 

What is this novel about?

It’s a book about overcoming the past. About guilt and redemption.
The story centres on Jess Pearson – a pilot who was arrested after drugs were planted on her plane. She was innocent, but still felt guilty over the young lives destroyed by the drugs she unwittingly flew into the country. She runs as far away as she can go – and takes a job flying an outback air ambulance in Coorah Creek. Where she meets Adam Gilmore – a doctor who is hiding his own secret past…
Don’t you just love a dark and damaged hero? Strong and silent and compelling… I do and Adam is all those things…
There are also little sub-plots about the town itself and the people in the town, who I hope will become the readers’ friends.

How did you organise your research?

My first job was to build the town. It had to be realistic. To have a reason to exist, and feel right.  I found a place in the outback where there was water, added a mine and started drawing roads.  I looked at Google Maps a lot to design my town layout.
I have done many trips in small aircraft – but I’m not a pilot.  I had to find a helpful one to tell me how to fly (or maybe not fly…  ) a plane. He was terrific and any technical mistakes regarding the plane are my fault entirely.
A doctor friend helped me with the medical bits.
As for the dynamics of the town itself – most of that didn’t need any research  - I lived it.

Who is your favourite character in the story?

I should say Adam Gilmore, the hero. I hope my readers will feel drawn to him – I certainly was.
But – if I am going to be totally honest, my favourite character is Sister Luke – and elderly Catholic nun who is a dreadful matchmaker, a bit of a busybody and the kindest soul in the world. She brings a touch of humour into Adam’s life.

What does a typical writer's day hold for you?

When I have a ‘writing day’ – I am at my desk in my office by 9 am. I then spend most of the morning faffing about on the internet, checking my books’ rankings on Amazon (I have GOT to stop doing that)  - which usually leads to buying a book or two.
At lunchtime, I walk to the supermarket – I buy my meat and fruit and veg  fresh every day – the walk clears my head and helps me focus. By the time I get back I am ready to stop fooling around and actually start writing.
I have also been known, when close to the end of a book, to get up early on the weekends when my husband is still in bed and write a quick 700 words before he wakes up.

What are you writing now?

I’m working on the next book in the Coorah Creek series. And I am totally in love with the hero. You’ll meet him briefly in Flight to Coorah Creek. His name is Dan Mitchell and he’s the park ranger at the Tyangi National Park.
He’s a former army sniper who saw service in Iraq.  Like many military men, he’s had trouble fitting back into society after his discharge. Enter Rachel Quinn – a former model and now a wildlife photographer with her own ghosts.
The two of them must work together to save horses running wild in the park – and, in saving the horses, they may just save themselves too.
It’s almost finished. Usually when I have almost finished a book, I go through a crisis of confidence and think it’s total rubbish …. But this time… I think maybe this book is not too bad J

Five Quick Questions

Favourite contemporary novelists?

In romance – Nora Roberts, Robyn Carr and Jodi Thomas (all Americans).
In fantasy – Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman and George R R Martin.

Favourite part of the world?

Everywhere!  Seriously – the more I travel the more I understand that every part of the world has its own special beauty. But if I had to choose – favourite place is the central Australian desert – which is harsh and beautiful, particularly in the early morning or late evening.  And my favourite city is London – which never ceases to impress me.

Favourite way to relax?

I love old movies and knitting – so I am at my most relaxed curled  up with the cat, watching Humphrey Bogart or Audrey Hepburn, and knitting some really nice colourful or textured wool. It’s best if the knitting pattern is fairly straightforward – so I don’t have to think about the stitches.

Favourite day out?

My husband and I are both history buffs – we are never happier than when we are scrambling around some ruined castle or Neolithic site. If it’s raining – a museum comes a close second. 

Favourite tip for would-be novelists?

Gosh – I have learned so much about writing over the past few years – it’s hard to pick one thing…
If I had to – I think it would be this. Writing and reading are two sides of the same coin. If you don’t love reading, you won’t love writing. Read books you love – and then try to write the sort of book you would love to read.

Thank you so much for chatting to me, Janet. I've never been to Australia and now I'd love to go there!  Maybe one day!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Historical novelist Juliet Greenwood talks about life, love and loss

I'm delighted to welcome the novelist Juliet Greenwood to my blog this morning. Juliet's new novel We That Are Left is published today and I was very happy to be able to chat to Juliet about her writing life.

Who or what inspired you to write We That Are Left?

I’ve been fascinated by the First World War since studying the war poets like Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon. But I knew that I wanted to write about the experience of women and the civilians, who are so often forgotten. I was lucky to stumble across a wonderful book, http://www.amazon.co.uk/Elsie-Mairi-Go-War-Extraordinary/dp/1848091354 - Elsie and Mairi go to War by Dr Diane Atkinson, which tells the true story of two friends who set off to help the men on the front line. They were amazing women, and from their story I also learnt about the many women who set up field hospitals, drove ambulances and braved horrific conditions and danger to help both the soldiers and the civilians caught up in the fighting.

My other inspiration was my mother, who as a teenager was in France when WW2 broke out and had to make a terrifying journey home on her own. I’ve never forgotten her stories of what she saw on that train journey as war erupted around her, including being hunted by a submarine as the boat crossed the Chanel. I’ve got family in France, so this really brought home the sense of civilians caught up in the middle of a war, and what it is like to experience an invasion, something we haven’t experienced in Britain for centuries.

What is this novel about?

We That Are Left is the story of Elin, young woman leading a conventional, comfortable life on the family estate in Cornwall in 1914. There are shadows in Elin’s life, but she pushes them to one side until war breaks out and her life changes forever. With her husband at the front, Elin has to take charge, finding hidden depths in herself and gaining new skills and confidence. She works growing much needed food and developing her mother’s recipes, and when a friend is in danger, she braves the horrors of occupied France in a desperate attempt to rescue her, racing through enemy lines in a battered ambulance. When the war is over, Elin is expected to return to being a dutiful wife, but with all that she has been through she finds this impossible, and so her own personal battles for freedom have only just begun …

How did you organise your research?

The locations were the most straightforward. Because I’ve family in France, I’ve visited the war graves and the trenches several times. I’ve lived in London, and Anglesey is just across the water from me. 

What was more difficult was finding out details of women’s experience in the war, as it has been less studied than the actual fighting. I found some great books and first hand experiences. One of the best things I did is a subscription to the British Library’s collection of online newspapers of the time. They have proved invaluable, not only in getting a sense of early 20th Century life an attitudes, but also some of the recipes that Elin uses in the book. As shortages began to bite, there were plenty of recipes and advice on meals without meat (unthinkable for even modestly well-off families before the war) and how to make the most of what was available. There are also traditional Welsh recipes that Elin uses, that she has inherited from her mother, so I had great fun trying them all out!

Who is your favourite character in the story?

I think it has to be Elin’s friend Lady Margaret, known as ‘Mouse’, who is headstrong and reckless and gets herself into all kinds of trouble, but beneath all the bravado has a heart of gold. She can be exasperating at times, but is determined not to be constrained by being a woman. She flies an aeroplane and teaches Elin to drive, but it’s when she takes herself off to the front line to help soldiers and civilians that she really finds a sense of purpose, despite the dangers. 

What did researching the period teach you?

One of the big surprises was just how much women did in WW1. I knew that they took over much of the work at home, but I hadn’t realised how much they also did on the front line, including picking up bodies in No Man’s Land and driving ambulances. This was when women were considered too fragile to work or even study, and who were there simply to support their husbands – with marriage being their only respectable option in life. It also taught me how much we owe to these women, as they were also the women who after the war forged careers and created the freedoms and opportunities we have today.

The other thing that surprised me was just how much WW1 echoed the experienced of WW2. Although there was not rationing until the end of WW1, there were shortages and people had to find different ways of living. There were air raids, too, with first Zeppelins and then early aeroplanes making their way across the Chanel. It was clear that lessons had been learnt, so that things like rationing were put in place right at the start of WW2.

What does a typical writer's day hold for you?

I have a part time day job, so those days I tend to do research and social networking as I need a clear mind to really get going on my writing. On my writing days, I get up early and take my dog for a walk. This is my thinking time, when I’m working out my mind the day’s work, or sorting out a particularly knotty problem.

Thank you for chatting to me, Juliet.  Congratulations on the publication of this lovely new novel! 

If you would like to win a copy of We That Are Left, please leave a comment on this blog post.  

Juliet will choose a winner and I will ask the winner to contact me in March 2014.


‘Eden’s Garden’: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Edens-Garden-Juliet-Greenwood/dp/1906784353

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The RoNA shortlists 2014

The RoNAs are the UK equivalent of the Oscars for romantic novelists.  So I am absolutely delighted to have my novel The Wedding Diary on the list of nominations for this year's prizes. It's great to be in the company of so many authors whose work I know and love.

I am hugely indebted to my wonderful publisher Choc Lit for taking a chance on this novel written by an author who has no track record as a writer of romantic comedy.  Thank you, Choc Lit, you're the best publisher any author could wish to find!

Many congratulations to everyone on the shortlists and looking forward to the awards event, when the prima ballerina Darcey Bussell will be presenting the prizes.  I shall be in the same room as my perfect heroine and so, whatever happens on the night, I know I shall have a fabulous time!

Here are the shortlists in full:

Contemporary Romantic Novel
Helen Chandler, Two for Joy, Hodder & Stoughton
Susan Elliot Wright, The Things We Never Said, Simon & Schuster
Veronica Henry, A Night On The Orient Express, Orion
Lisa J Hobman, Bridge Over The Atlantic, 5 Prince Publishing
Lisa Jewell, Before I Met You, Arrow
Pippa Wright, The Foster Husband, Pan
Epic Romantic Novel
Jessica Blair, The Road Beneath Me, Piatkus
Mary Fitzgerald, The Love Of A Lifetime, Arrow
Emma Fraser, When Dawn Breaks, Sphere
Kate Lord Brown, The Perfume Garden, Atlantic (Corvus)
Jennifer McVeigh, The Fever Tree, Penguin
Lucinda Riley, The Midnight Rose, Pan
Historical Romantic Novel
Charlotte Betts, The Painter's Apprentice, Piatkus
Christina Courtenay, The Gilded Fan, Choc Lit
Liz Harris, A Bargain Struck, Choc Lit
Joanna Hickson, The Agincourt Bride, Harper Collins
Carol McGrath, The Handfasted Wife, Accent Press
Annie Murray, The Women Of Lilac Street, Pan
Romantic Comedy Novel
Jenny Colgan, Christmas At The Cupcake CafĂ©, Little, Brown
Jenny Colgan, The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris, Little, Brown
Margaret James, The Wedding Diary, Choc Lit
Milly Johnson, It's Raining Men, Simon and Schuster
Ali McNamara, Step Back In Time, Little, Brown
Fiona Walker, The Summer Wedding, Sphere
Young Adult Romantic Novel
Liz Bankes, Irresistible, Piccadilly Press
Christina Courtney, New England Rocks, Choc Lit
Alex Gutteridge, Last Chance Angel, Templar Publishing.
Imogen Howson, Linked, Quercus
Marie-Louise Jenson, Smuggler's Kiss, Oxford University Press
Beth Reekles, The Kissing Booth, Corgi
RoNA Rose Award
Louise Allen, Forbidden Jewel of India, Harlequin Mills & Boon
Caroline Anderson, Snowed in with the Billionaire, Harlequin Mills & Boon
Liz Fielding, Anything But Vanilla, Harlequin Mills & Boon
Joanna Fulford, His Lady of Castlemora, Harlequin Mills & Boon
Kate Hardy, Bound by a Baby, Harlequin Mills & Boon
Kate Hardy, Her Real Family Christmas, Harlequin Mills & Boon