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, October 9, 2014

Romantic novelist Isabella Connor chats about all things Irish and about being two people at once

Today, I shall be talking to the novelist Isabella Connor, who is actually two people who have never even met, but who somehow manage to write brilliant novels together.

So, ladies – do you wish to reveal your day-to-day identities, or shall we keep them a secret? I’m sure readers would love to know how you manage to write independently and still deliver a seamless story, so will you share a few secrets with us?  

We can reveal our identities, Margaret, but then we’ll have to kill everyone…

Isabella Connor is the pen name for Val Olteanu, who lives in Vancouver and is a teacher... 

...and Liv Thomas, who is on the south coast of England and works for the NHS.

A lot of people have said our work is seamless – this is probably because we take and write a chapter each (after compiling a structure) but we don’t leave it at that.  We then swap our work so the other can read it and suggest changes if necessary. Because of this, we’ve both grown thick skins when it comes to critique! There are times when we compromise and times when we dig our heels in and insist something stays as it is. It’s not always easy, but more often than not, we’re on the same page when it comes to developing the story.

Your first published novel was Beneath an Irish Sky. Who or what inspired the story? 

It was inspired some years ago, after seeing a TV series called “Sex Chips and Rock and Roll,” which starred Joe McFadden as a feisty young Irishman.  The character of Luke and the general story just presented itself. There was no ‘coming up with a plot’, no sitting at the PC chewing on a pencil.  It literally did just arrive unannounced.  And the characters all came ready-named too!

The follow-up to your first novel is An Irish Promise. Some authors find sequels are very difficult to write. Did you find it hard to continue your own story, or did everything flow and did you not have any problems? 

An Irish Promise is a stand-alone story, not a sequel, although there is one character from Beneath an Irish Sky in it – and probably not one you’d automatically think of.  There are some other similarities between the novels: both are set in villages, and show the effect on a small, tight-knit community when a stranger comes in and turns everything on its head, and both novels also deal with a different type of discrimination. We always know the ending of our novels before we start, so that does make the writing process much easier. There are quite a few plot twists in An Irish Promise – those were probably the most challenging to develop and write.

Do your own lives inspire your work in any way? 

Liv: Maybe not my own life, which would probably be as interesting as making a novel out of the phone book, but I do get ideas from things I read, or from what other people say.
Val: Indirectly, I think. For example, An Irish Promise focuses partly on bullying. I’m a teacher, so this is an issue that unfortunately schools often have to deal with. The incidents in the novel are fictional, but the motivations behind bullying and the effects that bullying can have – on the victim and the instigator - is something that I’ve become aware of through my job.

Your publisher, the award-winning independent Choc Lit, insists romantic heroes need to be irresistible. What combinations of qualities make your own heroes irresistible? 

A hero doesn’t need to be heroic.  The right qualities – such as kindness and a sense of humour - can make any man attractive. In Beneath an Irish Sky, Luke wasn’t a typical hero – slightly built, inexperienced, but very principled and very loyal. Finn in An Irish Promise is more of a conventional hero in the physical sense, but both characters are vulnerable and this is one quality that will probably always be present in our heroes, as we think a certain level of vulnerability in a man is appealing. Our heroes will always have flaws. Otherwise we’d have to change our genre to Fantasy! J In our books we generally have a heroine who is more than capable of looking after herself, not one depending on a man to be strong for her.

You live in different time zones. Do you manage to communicate effectively from day to day?

It’s not always easy, but email and the telephone are very useful. Well that’s an understatement. They’re imperative. We tend to catch up with each other by phone at the weekend, so we can resolve any issues.

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

Liv: I rarely get the time to devote to writing without any interruptions, so maybe that’s typical for me.  I love Saturdays during the football season because my other half is generally out most of the day.
Val: I do try to write regularly – after work and at weekends. That means household chores often take a back seat to writing, and I try to ignore the sinkful of dishes and the piles of laundry as long as I can. 
Liv:  I don’t even notice those....

Five Quick Questions:

How did you feel when you got your first publishing deal?

Liv: Stunned. Ecstatic. Excited. I still am all those things.
Val: Over the moon. I phoned everyone I knew to tell them about it. Then the next day, I splashed out on an original piece of art – a lovely abstract of a garden in the rain. I justified it as one artist paying it forward to another.

What is particularly inspiring and appealing about all things Irish? 

Liv: Where do I start? It’s magical. The country, the people, the history, the charm…and the accent. If I was on a jury and the defendant was Irish, I’d be hard pushed to find him guilty!
Val: The Irish have a great sense of humour. Plus they’re friendly and great communicators. Those ingredients can make for very appealing fictional characters.

What’s next for Isabella Connor?

In the immediate future, working on promoting An Irish Promise, and there is at least one more ‘Irish’ novel in the pipeline.  We’ve had a lot of requests for a sequel to Beneath an Irish Sky, so that’s a possibility. 

When your fairy godmothers finally get round to visiting you, what will you ask them to do for you?

Liv: To have our ‘Irish’ novels turned into six-part TV series. J   
Val: And to be involved in the casting process, especially for our heroes!

What single piece of advice would you offer a novelist working towards commercial publication?

Liv: Write about what you know, and what you would like to read.
Val: If you’re writing romantic fiction, join the RNA New Writers’ Scheme. The critique is invaluable.

Thank you, ladies! 

Some links now:

Isabella Connor has a blog at: www.blog.isabellaconnor.com
Liv’s blog is at: http://livbet.webs.com/

Facebook has an Isabella Connor author page:  https://www.facebook.com/isabella.connor.hartswood.hill?ref=hl

Liv is on Twitter: @Livbet

You can find Isabella Connor’s books on Amazon:

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!