Welcome!

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 24, 2019

Notes from the Lost - chatting to Cathie Hartigan about her latest novel

It is my great pleasure to welcome fellow novelist Cathie Hartigan as my guest today. 

It's also publication day for her latest novel Notes from the Lost, a wonderful story set in Italy and parts of the UK, especially Exeter and London, two cities she knows very well.


Cathie, please tell us something about how you came to write this book?

Thank you so much, Margaret, for inviting me on to your blog.

A hessian shopping bag would not normally be a source of inspiration for a novel, but the unassuming outside disguised what it contained. I knew it was treasure. I’d had a conversation with a friend about Italy in WW2. He’d mentioned that his father had been a prisoner for a while, but had managed to escape into the mountains by jumping from the train that was taking him to Germany.

I was immediately interested. What happened next? It was winter and he was hardly kitted out for a hike through inhospitable mountains behind enemy lines. What I heard was a moving story of courage and humanity in the face of grave danger. Then he told me his father had written about his experience. There were letters, journals and photographs, and yes, of course I was welcome to have a look. They were in the hessian bag.

I spent a long time reading Captain Wright’s journals. He had the neatest and smallest writing I’ve ever seen, and my magnifying glass was indispensable. Whilst his writing was inspirational, however, I knew that I wasn’t going to write a faithful account of his experience. In Notes from the Lost I don’t attempt to comment on the details of the surrounding battles or the wider war. This is a small scale story in a civilian community. There were many men in Italy during the war, and such was the confusion that many escaped. I was also heavily influenced by the stories of servicemen who had been helped (and still are) by the Blind Veterans UK charity. My sister is a volunteer in the archive department, and I was moved by many of their tales.

A novel, though, is a thing of many parts and I was keen to write a dual narrative story in a similar vein to my previous novel, Secret of the Song. I’ve always liked a bit of a mystery and stories full of secrets, so I decided to give my contemporary heroine a trail to follow. I did this by having her discover various items that lead to the truth about what happened in the past. The first of which is the sheet music copy of an old song. It’s a comic song, the sort popular in the thirties, with a black and white studio portrait of the singer on the front.  I studied music as a student, and it was my profession for many years, so it comes quite naturally to populate my stories with musicians. They’re people first and foremost though, and for my heroine a relationship is definitely on the cards.

I had a wonderful, and at times emotionally challenging, time writing Notes from the Lost, but I hope my appreciation for what happened all those years ago shines through.





 See the photograph of Captain Wright and his notebooks above? As Cathie tells us, what happened to him was the initial inspiration for Alfie's moving and engaging story. 

Here's the opening of the novel.


1 The Italian Apennines, 1943

‘Get your kit, Alfie.’
Frank’s voice hisses in the dark, so close I can feel the heat of his breath on my ear.
Goodbye dreams of singing to my darling Dottie at Covent Garden. While I’ve been having forty winks, he’s done it. Smashed through the bolt with the smuggled pickaxe. I go to stand, but the swaying and juddering of the cattle truck is so violent, we end up half crawling and half thrown towards the open door.
Cold mountain air rips into every corner and down all the crevices between cloth and skin. Marvellous. I want to jump now, but the train’s going too fast. What’s the use of a broken neck? We’re in trees here, but the line of the ridge is visible ahead. I see it for a moment, before clouds smudge the bright moon. The air is fresh, but there’s something else that raises the hairs on my arms.
Out there, the big outdoors, forest, mountain, the inky sky of a million stars, it all means one thing – freedom. At last, at long, long last.
Frank’s on look out. He’s the best of us four here. My school chum, a big man now, surprising seeing as how Dottie’s so slight. Siblings mostly look alike but not those two, although when they’re smiling you can see it. Trustworthy, quiet, Frank has a steady hand and enough grit to deal with mines. The train slows. Yes? If it’s a bend, we’ll go. Frank tenses, and so do I. Is this it? Is it? But instead of jumping he pushes me back.
‘Wait,’ he says. ‘Lights.’
The train slows even more. Yes, lights and a bloomin’ station. Frank’s pulling on the door trying to close it, grunting with the effort.
It’s jammed.
The wagon jolts and we nearly catapult outside there and then. We hang on to each other, then crouch on our knees. There’s something in the door runner. It feels like lumpy sand, breaking into ever-smaller pieces when you get hold of it.
‘Bloody Jerry biscuits!’
Of course, Frank’s right. Before we left Sulmona, a handful had been thrown in. Our rations for the journey to Germany. We scrape at it like madmen.
Behind us, Ted and Stan are quiet, but pushing the door with all their might. It jerks forward a couple of inches, but still won’t close. If it’s seen open, we’re done for.
The end of the platform goes by. Flashes strafe us: light, dark, light, then mercifully darkness again. We lie flat as the train whines to a halt. Over the distant engine rumble, I can hear voices further down the platform. Is this an inspection? A signal stop? This isn’t a passenger train. Nobody boards by choice.
I close my eyes, and should pray but, when an owl hoots high in the trees, all I can think of is that poem we had to learn at school, about stopping at a station in the middle of nowhere and hearing all the birds of England. Dear God, what I’d do to be there.
Heavy boots rattle the planks of the platform. Someone’s coming.
One of the others lying nose down in that stinking space has better luck with the praying. Not two yards away, the footsteps stop, there’s silence and next thing I hear something familiar. By the sounds of the splashing, the railway bank falls steeply away to leafy trees or bushes. He’s humming too, a dance tune, while we lie like corpses. I’d not be him for all the tea in China, but in another time and place that could be me.
There’s a shout from the other end of the platform.
‘Beeile dich!’
‘Ja! Ich komme.’
The guard swears too softly for anyone but us to hear, but he’s done anyway, and sets off back down the platform. None of us move. Even the Germans don’t stop a train just to go for a piss. Another door slides open and then closes smoothly on its runners. Probably more chaps like us have been loaded on. With a juddering clanking jerk, we move forward.
Once the station and village buildings give way to forest, we make ready again. The door has no problem with opening. Relax and roll, I murmur under my breath. Don’t fuck up. Just jump. No problem.
My nerves jangle. Back at the Chieti camp, escape was about tunnelling, where the dark is a solid thing. Here there’s all the space in the whole wide world. Relax and roll. Don’t get hurt.
Frank keeps look out. I catch his expression in the moonlight. Jaw clenched, he’s frowning. There’s a thinning of the trees.
‘Go. Go!’ he barks. And they do. Ted and Stan. One, two – like parachuting from a plane.
Relax and roll, relax and roll.
‘See you soon, Alfie.’ Frank’s hand on my shoulder is reassuring, but I’m the senior officer here.
I nod and give him a gentle push. He disappears into the dark.
Now me.
Relax and roll. Go, go. Now!
You tell yourself these things, but of course what actually happens is in the lap of the gods. It’s not home, or Dottie or grand thoughts of freedom in my mind. Bill Flack is though. I didn’t know him well, but he played the harmonica like a demon. He was shot dead leaping from a truck yesterday. That’s what I’m thinking when I jump.

Get in touch with Cathie:

https://twitter.com/cathiehartigan

https://www.facebook.com/cathie.hartigan

Buy the book:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Notes-Lost-Cathie-Hartigan-ebook/dp/B07Z6H7LLT/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_1?keywords=notes+to+the+lost+cathie+hartigan&qid=1571678710&s=books&sr=1-1-fkmr0





Thursday, September 12, 2019

Meet Chris Penhall and learn all about her Ruby Fiction debut


I was excited to hear about writer Chris Penhall's success as both a debut and prizewinning novelist, and I have been looking forward to chatting ever since I heard that Chris had won a competition sponsored by award-winning independent publisher Choc Lit and Your Cat magazine. 

Chris's prize is publication by Choc Lit's sister imprint, Ruby Fiction.

Let's find out more about Chris.



She's a freelance writer and radio producer for her local BBC Radio station, as well as being an Associate Producer for the Richard and Judy Book Club Podcast. Born in South Wales, she has also lived near London and in Portugal, which is where The House that Alice Built is set. It was whilst living in Cascais near Lisbon that she began to dabble in writing fiction, but it was many years later that she was confident enough to start writing her first novel, and many years after that she finally finished it.  She is now working on her second. A lover of books, music and cats, she is also an enthusiastic salsa dancer, a keen cook and loves to travel. She is never happier than when she is gazing at the sea. Chris has two grown-up daughters and lives in the Essex countryside.

The House that Alice Built is Chris’s first novel. What a gorgeous cover - and look, there's Aphrodite the cat, who partly inspired the story! 



The book is about sensible Alice, who is working hard to pay for the beloved London house she and her ex bought many years previously. She’s throwing all her money and love into that whilst he is off having a mid-life crisis and travelling the world. But when he sends her a postcard telling her he wants to sell the house at the same time as she gets made redundant, she panics.

As far as she’s concerned, he has only paid enough towards it to own the downstairs toilet. But rather than stand up to him, she does something uncharacteristic. She leaves the country. But only goes as far as Portugal where her best friend Kathy is living.

But her ex isn’t going to give up that easily.

Once Alice gets to Portugal, she begins to learn how to let go and find the person she used to be. And of course, there’s a man. There’s also Aphrodite the cat, Elvis the dog, a spot of paddle boarding, and a bit of dancing on top of bars. 

'I wanted to write about escape, learning to let go, and re-inventing yourself,' says Chris.
'But mostly, I wanted my story to be fun, sunny, and uplifting. It’s my love letter to Portugal.'

I'm sure all Chris's readers will agree that The House that Alice Built is a fun, inspiring and engaging read. You can get all the links to buying the e-book or audio by visiting www.chrispenhall.co.uk

Buy the book from Amazon UK: 

Get in touch with Chris:

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Writing and Running with Christine Stovell, Author and Athlete

Today, it's a huge pleasure to chat to the author and athlete Christine Stovell, who is a talented poet, novelist, journalist, sailor and also a dedicated runner. 

Here's Christine in running mode...



...and sailing mode...

...and just-being-Christine mode.

Let's ask her to tell us all about what has been going on in 2019.

'New Year, for me, is always a time for reflection. I began 2019 with a long, hard think about writing. A novel I'd loved writing, Follow a Star, didn’t kick-start my fiction career as much as I'd hoped, nor did the novella Moonbeams in a Jar, which came after Follow a Star. I wasn’t short of ideas; a new Little Spitmarsh novel, a house with secrets novel, even the literary novel I’d started as part of an academic course -  heck, even a novel about a detective with superhuman powers all beckoned. But what was really holding me back was the thought of all the hours of hard work I would have to invest in a novel that would probably be priced at 99p on Amazon Kindle and other ebook platforms, leaving me with very little financial return.

'My husband, Tom, had been urging me for years to "do it myself". So, when my son-in-law Simon bought me an extra birthday present of a short course on self-publishing, I decided my New Year's Resolution for 2019 would be to write and publish a book on the subject of something I’m passionate about; running and its endless capacity to heal. What started as an exercise opened floodgates of emotion as I recounted the painful circumstances in which I started running. Words poured from my fingers as I recalled twenty years of running through bad, sad and truly wonderful times.



'The technical process of uploading my book through Amazon KDP was straightforward and, yes, I was slightly daunted because it was my first time. But, gosh, I was so proud when I received the notification that Running Kind was up and running! An early lesson was realising that it was a false economy not to commission a professional cover. It seems readers of running books like to see a runner on the cover … who knew? So, I got in touch with multi-talented fellow author Rhoda Baxter who designed a smart new cover which readers seem to like, too.

'Writing and self-publishing Running Kind has been an enjoyable and positive experience, and I’ve received some wonderful feedback from readers - runners and non-runners alike. There is one very special woman in my life who never thought she was the running kind but found the confidence to lace up her trainers after reading my book, and has almost completed a Couch to 5k programme. Even if I never sell another book, that one outcome is the greatest reward of all.'

Do give this book a go, readers. I'm not a runner myself, but the wit, humour and honesty of this lovely story engaged me, even though I don't know if I'll ever find the energy to lace up any trainers myself. This is a bit weird because I somehow managed to produce two daughters who both love extreme sports, but that's another story.

Buy Running Kind here:


Get in touch with Christine:

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/chrisstovell/

Monday, September 2, 2019

Linda Mitchelmore takes us to Cove End


Today, it's a great pleasure to welcome bestselling novelist and prolific short story author Linda Mitchelmore as a guest on my blog. Linda has written three novels set in the seaside town of Cove End and says there are more books to come, hurrah!



Please tell us about the third novel in this lovely series, Linda?

'The Little B&B at Cove End was a book that was, perhaps, crying out to be written. I’ve lived in a seaside town all my life, where the houses in some roads are given over totally to B&B signs swinging outside. 

'When I first married I toyed with the idea of moving to a bigger house nearer the sea and running a B&B myself. However, my husband would probably have preferred to gouge his eyes out with bent paperclips than have strangers in the house all summer long. So we stayed put and it was only family and friends, and foreign students, who came to stay.



'Write what you know is advice given to many aspiring authors and, while I never have got around to running my own B&B, I do have experience of making people welcome, and changing beds on a regular basis as one lot of friends leaves and another lot arrives, and of always having breakfast choices available. I am best friends with the vacuum and the duster and the Flash.

'I had a "what if" moment when I found myself with another book to write as part of my contract with HarperCollins. "What if" my heroine – Cara - has no other option but to turn her beloved home into a B&B? I know my own daughter would have hated it if I had been in that position, so I added a very reluctant teenager – Mae -  to the mix. So then I had a mother/daughter tension scenario – something I also know about.

Here's a photograph of Paignton Harbour, the inspiration for Cove End

'I added art to the mix because, while I’m not an artist myself, I know those who are, and I’ve collected original art works in a small way for years. Art, I think, lifts our spirits.

'Readers who know my books will recognise Seth and Emma Jago (from a trilogy I wrote for Choc Lit) in this one. And a character from a previous HarperCollins novel – Janey in Christmas at  Strand House – pops up in The Little B&B at Cove End.

'As I was writing THE END to my manuscript I had another "what if" moment. What if people coming to stay at Cove End have reasons for being there – secrets? Hmm -  watch this space!'

Thank you, Linda - I'm already looking forward to reading Book 4 in the series, so please get writing! 


Link up with Linda:
https://twitter.com/LindaMitchelmor and https://www.facebook.com/linda.mitchelmore

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Discovering Borteen Bay with Morton S Gray

It's always lovely to meet a new novelist whose work I enjoy, so I was delighted when award-winning author Morton S Gray popped over to my blog to tell me about the inspiration for her Borteen Bay series of stories (three to date - more to come, hurrah) all set in the fictional seaside resort of Borteen.



Morton says she has been reading and writing fiction for as long as she can remember, penning her first attempt at a novel aged fourteen, the plot closely resembling the Errol Flynn films she watched with her grandmother every Sunday afternoon. However, she didn’t take her writing seriously until much later in her life.

Her debut novel The Girl on the Beach was published after she won the Choc Lit Publishing Search for a Star competition in 2017. She tells me she is still immensely proud of (and stunned by) the win, which allowed her to achieve a lifetime ambition of holding her own story as a paperback book. 



So - what's the starting point for this first novel?

It follows a woman with a troubled past as she tries to unravel the mystery surrounding her son’s new headteacher, Harry Dixon.

Morton based The Girl on the Beach in a fictional seaside town called Borteen and has to date published two other novels set in the town. If you see her staring into space, she says she is most likely walking around the streets of Borteen in her mind and greeting its inhabitants, all of which feel very real to her. A hand drawn map of Borteen hangs on her study wall and she has a document called The Borteen Bible which details all of the buildings and residents of the town and ensures consistency. 

Although each book is stand-alone, fans of Morton’s Borteen series will get enticing glimpses of the characters they know and love in each of the books.

Her second book The Truth Lies Buried is another romantic suspense novel and tells the story of Jenny Simpson and Carver Rodgers as they uncover secrets from their past. The third in the series, Christmas at Borteen Bay, follows the story of Pippa Freeman, who runs the Rose Court Guesthouse in Borteen with her mother, and of local policeman Ethan Gibson. As Christmas approaches, they unravel a family secret.

What does Morton do in her spare time, that's if she has any?

She tells me she enjoys crafts, history and loves tracing family trees. Inevitably, these hobbies appear in her stories. 

She is also working on several more novels set in Borteen.

You can catch up with Morton on her website and on Facebook and Twitter:

Twitter - @MortonSGray
Facebook - Morton S. Gray Author - https://www.facebook.com/mortonsgray/

Buy her books from a platform of your choice here:





Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Competition time again

The team members at CreativeWritingMatters - Cathie Hartigan, Sophie Duffy and I, pictured below with our Exeter Novel Prize competition judge Broo Doherty - have been busy over the summer setting up new competitions for writers in all kinds of fiction genres.


The Exeter Story Prize, Exeter Flash and Trisha Ashley Award are open for entry now, but are closing shortly, on 31 August. So, if you would like to enter any of these awards, please get writing and submitting soon! http://www.creativewritingmatters.co.uk/2019-exeter-story-prize-and-trisha-ashley-award.html

The Exeter Novel Prize is also open for entries, but you have until 1 January 2020 to submit. There is more information about it on the CreativeWritingMatters website, which is here: http://www.creativewritingmatters.co.uk

The most recent Exeter Novel Prize awards ceremony was attended by the authors in the shortlist, our judge Broo Doherty of http://www.dhhliteraryagency.com/, and also some of the writers who have won or been shortlisted for previous competitions. There's more information here: http://www.creativewritingmatters.co.uk/2018-exeter-novel-prize.html


Finally - yes, we've noticed what you've noticed. There are no men in the line-up. This isn't because we don't want men to enter our competitions, and in fact several men have won the Exeter Story Prize and Trisha Ashley Award, including Simon Kettlewell, Daniel Murphy and Richard Buxton. Please check out our winners pages to see that we're not gender-biased, honestly! http://www.creativewritingmatters.co.uk/our-winners.html

So, any gentlemen reading this, do have a look at our website, especially our winners pages, and believe we want to hear from you too.

Good luck, everyone!

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Catching up with Caroline James

Today, it's my great pleasure to welcome the novelist, creative writing tutor and public speaker Caroline James as my guest on my blog.


Caroline has written many bestselling novels, the latest being The Best Boomerville Hotel, where older people can stay and have a really great time. Quite right too! Why should the young have all the fun? After a long working life, don't older people deserve some rest, relaxation and a few new challenges, too? 

'The Best Boomerville Hotel is a retreat for the more mature guest, who can book a stay and participate in various courses,' Caroline told me. 'These activities range from a conventional art or creative writing class to whacky sessions that include getting stoned with a Shaman or séances with Queenie, the resident clairvoyant.

'When I was compiling the research for the novel, I discovered that in the UK today one in three adults over the age of fifty live on their own. This may be - for example - though choice, death of a partner. or divorce. I talked to countless over-fifties and realised that many of them are lonely and unsure of what to do with the rest of their lives. I wanted to inspire readers with the message that it is alright to get older, to embrace this second bite at life, and to find ways to discover new adventures and friends and actively run down the road to happiness, not to stagger unhappily on a Zimmer frame. Boomerville is a book about the older protagonist having fun, but it covers serious issues too, and it has a surprising ending.

'My readers, both male and female, consistently tell me that they wish that there was a real Boomerville Hotel, for they would make a booking immediately!'



Caroline has owned and run businesses encompassing all aspects of the hospitality industry, a subject that features in her novels. She is based in the UK but has a great fondness for travel and she escapes whenever she can. 

A public speaker, she gives talks and lectures on cruise ships world-wide, and she's also a consultant and food writer. 

She's  a member of the Romantic Novelist’s Association and the Society of Women Writers & Journalists. She writes articles and short stories and she contributes to many publications. She also runs writing workshops.

In her spare time, she can be found trekking up a mountain or relaxing with her head in a book and  her hand in a box of chocolates!


Twitter: @CarolineJames12