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

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

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Midwest of America in the fall - who could fail to be inspired?

Who or what inspires new stories?

Personally, I find many different places, people and objects inspiring. But in the case of my new novel Magic Sometimes Happens the inspiration was definitely a time of year and a place – Minnesota, one of the states in the American Midwest – in the fall.  

I’ve been in Minnesota at that time of year, when the leaves are turning the most amazing shades of gold and crimson, when the sky is a deep, wonderfully rich cerulean and its reflections make the Mississippi River the same astonishing shade of blue, when the chill of the coming winter is already in the early morning mist, but in an as-yet-unthreatening sort of way. Here are some photographs I took on a recent visit. The first is of the Minneapolis skyline looking from Saint Paul (these two conurbations make up the Twin Cites of Minnesota) across the Mississippi River. The second is of the river itself, edged with sumach which - as you can see - is going a gorgeous shade of scarlet. The third is a statue of Hiawatha and his bride Minnehaha which is in Minnehaha Park.  You can't move in the Twin Cities without seeing a Hiawatha something or a Minnehaha something else, all commemorating Longfellow's narrative poem. 

I wanted to take my heroine to the same place at the same time because when the novel opens she is desperately sad and in need of healing.  I thought Minnesota would be just the place where magic might happen for Rosie. 

What’s the novel about?

Here’s the blurb.

London-based PR and promotions consultant Rosie Denham has just spent a year in Paris where she’s tried but failed to fall in love. She’s also made a big mistake and can’t forgive herself.

American IT professor Patrick Riley’s wife has left him for a Mr Wonderful with a cute British accent and a house with a real yard. So Patrick’s not exactly thrilled to meet another Brit who’s visiting Minnesota, even if she’s hot. Pat and Rosie couldn’t be more different. She’s had a privileged English upbringing. He was raised in poverty in Missouri. Pat has two kids, a job that means the world to him and a wife who might decide she wants her husband back. So when Pat and Rosie fall in love, the prospects don’t seem bright for them.

But magic sometimes happens – right?

The cover is the creation of the wonderful Berni Stevens, whose artwork complements my story perfectly because it's about all kinds of journeys.

The Kindle version of Magic Sometimes Happens is available for pre-order now and the print version will be coming along later in the year, ready for Christmas. Click on the cover image to the right of this post to take you to the Amazon page

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Coffee and cookies with Laura E James

Today, I’m delighted to invite Laura E James into my parlour to share coffee and cookies and also to tell us all her secrets. I’m betting there are quite a few…

So, Laura – let’s start with how you came to be a writer of fiction.  What kick-started the process?

Hi Margaret, and thank you for inviting me into your lovely parlour. It’s so peaceful – just the ticking of the clock on the mantelpiece and the occasional snap of a ginger nut.

I am one of those people who has always loved to write. I still have copies of books I wrote in my youth. They include how to care for cats, a novel about a dinoragon, and a hand-drawn comic strip introducing Bionic Baby to the world. I think my desire stems from a pathological need to use stationery. I love all stationery.

On a deeper level, my mum was an avid reader and passed on her love of books to both my brother and me.

If anyone said you write love stories without the fluffy bits, would you be annoyed or flattered? I’ve read several of your short stories and they’re definitely non-fluffy! Does non-fluffy describe your novels, too?

My writer tag is ‘Romance without the soft edges’. I’ve borrowed the line from a friend’s review of ‘Truth or Dare?’. I thought it summed up my style in a succinct and honest way. I write romantic fiction but tackle issues not always associated with the genre. For instance, my second novel, ‘Follow Me, Follow You’, takes a look at child attachment disorder, and book three examines particular problems facing today’s older and younger generations, but in both novels the romance is central. 

The issues cause conflict within the relationships, but are ultimately responsible for bringing the characters together.

I would love one day to become the British equivalent of Jodi Picoult, but with a guaranteed happy ending.

You have quite a few health problems, but you still get your head down and write all those stories.  How do you cope on a daily basis?  Do you have any advice for other writers who are similarly challenged?

For me it’s about pace, energy and pain levels. As a person with rheumatoid arthritis, I have both good and bad days. I take advantage of the good days to sit at my desk and write, and I take advantage of the bad days, when I collapse, albeit very gently, onto the sofa and dream or read. 

Writing, reading and dreaming are excellent forms of distraction, which in turn is a known technique for managing pain. Living vicariously through fictional characters is a great way of spending time. As is staring at pictures of Johnny Depp.

I don’t believe my situation is that different to other writers ‒ we all face challenges and find methods of dealing with them. We adapt to our circumstances.

Let’s talk about your books now. Who or what was the starting point for Truth or Dare?

Ah. Now, this is the part where I tell you about Jodi Picoult, Jill Mansell and my fused wrist. I’m a big fan of both authors. I enjoy the moral conundrums Jodi Picoult poses in her books, and I love the warmth, humour and emotion of Jill’s books. While reading, devouring and loving Jill’s ‘Good At Games’, I discovered her reference to the Romantic Novelists’ Association and the New Writers’ Scheme. Being a right-handed person who believes there’s a novel in everyone, and with my left arm in plaster following a wrist fusion, I was inspired to try my hand at writing ‒ the good hand, not the one in a back-slab cast the weight of a pregnant polar bear, which incidentally really hurts when it lands on your forehead in the middle of the night. Or any time, for that matter.

Fascinated by moral dilemmas, I asked the question, ‘Is it ever acceptable to do the wrong thing for the right reason?’ and that was the seed for ‘Truth or Dare?’.

Did a specific event in your own life or that of a friend or relation inspire Follow Me, Follow you?

Having corresponded with the wonderful writer, Carole Mathews, on social media, I was looking forward to meeting her at the inaugural Festival of Romance in 2011 (now the Festival of Romantic Fiction). Upon seeing her in real life, I stuck out my hand and introduced myself with the words, ‘Hi, I’m Laura James. I promise, I’m not a stalker.’ That evening, as I mulled over and winced a little at my zealous enthusiasm, ‘Follow Me, Follow You’ was born.

I read somewhere that everything which writers of fiction experience ends up in their stories.  I wouldn’t entirely agree with that – there are certain things in my own life I know I shall never write about – but does your own life inspire your work?

There’s a conversation for another day, Margaret …

I’ve discovered I write family relationship stories. I say ‘discovered’ because I didn’t realise this until I was some way through writing my second novel, ‘Follow Me, Follow You’. I like exploring the dynamics within families and it’s possible that comes from my experience of the family set-up. I was very close to my mum and I adored my step-dad. We used to live next door.

In ‘Truth or Dare?’, I gave my heroine, Kate, a job similar to mine at her age. I also gave her my old house in Leighton Buzzard. Using a familiar place allowed me to visualise the rooms and the routes Kate took through the house, thus ensuring good continuity. I had to draw maps for the other properties that appear in the novel.
I now know why I’m not an architect.
My recent years have definitely inspired my work-in-progress, ‘What Doesn’t Kill You’. This will be my most personal book to date, but it is not ‘my’ story. The idea stems from my experience of being my mum’s carer while I had two young children to raise. The book looks at the sandwich generation and the pressures each person faces within that structure. Of course, there are many positives, too.

Choc Lit heroes have to be irresistible. What adds up to an irresistible hero for you?

My heroes must have a gentle nature, care passionately about their beliefs, animals and children, be strong and capable, and possess the ability to see the funny side of life, even in the darkest hour. A hero over 6’ with good arms will always turn my head. Sorry, I meant will always make me turn the page.

Do you ever have such a thing as a typical writing day?

No day in our house is typical. In my imaginary world, I start the day tending to admin, followed with no more than an hour on social media, with the remaining daylight hours centred on writing. In my imaginary world.

Five Quick Questions:

Who or what makes you happiest?
Being with my family, including our pets, and spending time with my friends. Writing, reading, singing and music also feature strongly.
What’s next for you, writing-wise?
I’m writing book 3, ‘What Doesn’t Kill You’, and looking forward to the release of the next Choc Lit anthology.
Do you have any non-writing ambitions?
To watch my children fly.
Where do you want to be five years from now?
On Chesil Beach watching Johnny Depp (because he ages very slowly) playing Chris Frampton, the Genesis-loving, tall, dark and gorgeous Hollywood stunt actor, in the film version of ‘Follow Me, Follow You’. Wouldn’t that be great? Chesil and Johnny on the big screen. *sigh*
When your fairy godmother finally gets round to visiting you in your kitchen, what will you ask her to do for you?
Would it be rude to ask for her to help around the house? If Gajitman’s not here, guests often have to make their own tea. Sometimes cook, too. I have amazing friends.

Laura has a blog at: www.lauraejames.co.uk

Friday, August 1, 2014

One hundred years ago - what has changed?

A century ago this month, one of the most cruel, pointless and destructive conflicts ever known (and it’s had some stiff competition since) broke out in Europe. By now, everyone must be familiar with the stock images of WW1 – of the trenches, the rain, the horse-drawn gun-carriages mired in the mud, the barbed wire, the mutilated and blinded soldiers who fought in those terrible battles.

Did anything good come out of this dreadful time? Yes, I think it did. As I researched my novel The Silver Locket, which begins as Europe prepares to descend into chaos, I discovered this period was when women - rather than men - laid the foundations for the society we have in the UK today. As the conflict dragged on, women ran businesses, managed farms, set up schemes to promote mother-and-child welfare in some of the most deprived parts of the UK, and of course went over to France and Belgium to work as volunteer nurses in the field hospitals there.

Before WW1, the UK was not a democracy - how could it be, when half the adult population had no say in the way the country was governed? It was not a just and equal society - how could it be, when a married woman was more or less her husband's property? The suffragettes had already made the population aware of the massive social injustices perpetrated against women, but the war itself demonstrated that women deserved to play an equal part in running their own country.

Eventually getting the vote was to some extent women's reward for all the effort they had put into winning the war, and quite right, too. But even today - a hundred years later - women don't play an equal part in the fairer, more just society they helped to create. There are still glass ceilings everywhere. Most men - even young, well-educated men who should know better - still seem to believe that a mother's place is in the home and that she should shoulder all or almost all the burdens of childcare and housework. How many married men out there personally ensure they have a clean shirt to wear every day because they've washed and ironed their shirts themselves? Who organises the school run? Who makes sure the family doesn't run out of milk and cornflakes? Who does the gardening, buys the children's shoes, reads the bedtime stories, takes the dog to the vet?

What has changed since the advertisement below was produced, an advertisement which candidly accepts the fact that many women work longer hours than men, and which doesn't appear to wonder if anything might be just a little bit wrong with this situation? Okay, many washing powders have added brightener nowadays, but how many cleaning products are advertised with male consumers in mind?

There has certainly been some forward progress. Hey, ladies - nowadays, we can even go into public houses on our own and men won't (often) spit at us! But some animals are still more equal than others. I'm hoping it won't take another massive cataclysm to change the way society works and to give one half of it automatic parity and equality with the other half once and for all. 

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Happy hopping...

I'm hopping again today, courtesy of lovely Kelly Florentia, a brilliant short story writer and aspiring novelist. Kelly is going to make it with longer fiction, I'm sure of it. You read it here first, remember!

You can find out more about Kelly here: http://www.kellyflorentia.co.uk/

Now I need to answer four questions about my current work status.

1: What am I working on now?

Earlier today, I was finishing off a round of copy-editing for my new novel Magic Sometimes Happens which is due out in November. So this afternoon I'll be sorting out some short stories for a few upcoming anthologies. I've been honoured and privileged to contribute to the recent Sunlounger 2 anthology and have also written a story featuring cupcakes and chocolate for a forthcoming Choc Lit collection, out later this summer. Christmas is looming on the horizon (eek), so next up will be a Christmas story for an ebook collection.

2: How does my work differ from other stuff in its genre?

As is the case with all writers of fiction, I have my own special voice and hopefully everything I write sounds like me. I've sometimes had people who know me well say they can hear me speaking as they read my work, and I like that very much. I write all kinds of short stories - romantic, mysterious, hard-edged, spooky - but I hope my voice comes through in all of them.

3: Why do I write what I write?

I'm a compulsive storyteller who just can't help making things up. I'm most interested in relationships - between friends, between lovers, between parents and children, between enemies.  So these things tend to crop up in all my stories.

4: How does your writing process work?

When it comes to novels, I'm a planner. If I didn't plan, I know I would get confused and lose heart. It's the same with short stories.  I start with a plan - I ask myself what's bothering my characters and then I work out how they might be able to move on. The same basic questions crop up every time - whose story am I telling? What does this person want?  How is he or she going to get it?  Or, sometimes, fail to get it?  But I'm always happy for my characters to surprise me, and they often do!

Now I'm passing the baton to Francine Howarth, a wonderful historical and contemporary novelist who I know will have lots of interesting things to say. http://francinehowarth.blogspot.co.uk/

Monday, June 23, 2014

New novel coming soon - well, soonish...

I'm very happy to announce that my new novel is almost done and dusted (that's publishing-speak for written and edited) and will be published in November 2014.

This novel is a new departure for me because it's written in the first person from the hero's and heroine's points of view, and also it's set partly in the USA, a foreign country where they speak a foreign language. I had to learn the language in order to write the book. I'm sure I'm still nowhere near fluent, but I'm crossing my fingers and hoping my Amglish will pass...

Here's the cover art of Magic Sometimes Happens, which was designed by the hugely talented Berni Stevens. I think it is totally lovely. The skyline at the top is of Minneapolis and - well, I'm sure everyone knows what the skyline of London looks like! 

What's it all about, then?

London-based PR and promotions consultant Rosie Denham has just spent a year in Paris where she's tried but failed to fall in love. She's also made a big mistake and can't forgive herself. 

American IT professor Patrick Riley's wife has left him for a Mr. Wonderful with a cute British accent and a house with a real yard. So Patrick's not exactly thrilled to meet another Brit who's visiting Minnesota, even if she's hot. 

Pat and Rosie couldn't be more different. She's had a privileged English upbringing. He was raised in poverty in Missouri. Pat has two kids, a job that means the world to him and a wife who might decide she wants her husband back. So when Pat and Rosie fall in love, the prospects don't seem bright for them. But magic sometimes happens - right?

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Happy Midsummer's Day!

Happy Midsummer's Day! I hope the sun is shining on you, even if you're in the Southern Hemisphere and actually it's deep, mostly dark winter down there in Tasmania or Patagonia.

If the sun isn't shining on you right now, here's something to cheer you up: the fabulous SUNLOUNGER 2 anthology of short stories set all over the world. This new volume features stories in all genres, from romantic to historical to thrilling to mysterious, all written by professional authors whose mission is to entertain you.

Here are the Amazon links to the Kindle editions of the book: Amazon.co.ukhttp://amzn.to/1sup96I and Amazon.comhttp://amzn.to/1lGLOZR. You can learn more about the authors and their stories here: www.sunloungerstories.com where you can also find me talking about my stories set in lovely Tuscany.

Happy summer reading!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Exeter Novel Prize 2014 is now open for submissions!

If you've always meant to write your first novel one day, or you have been published in the past, don't have a literary agent or a publishing contract now, but would love to be published again, this competition is for you - the Exeter Novel Prize 2014.

The prize is organised by www.creativewritingmatters.co.uk and all the relevant details can be found on the website here: www.creativewritingmatters.co.uk/the-2104-exeter-novel-prize.html.This year, we are offering short reports on entries, too.

London literary agent Broo Doherty will be judging the shortlist and choosing the winner, so get into the shortlist and you'll have a chance to impress a top agent, too. All the shortlisted authors will win cash prizes - there's £500 for the winner and £50 each for every runner-up.

This would look nice on your bookshelf!