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.

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.

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!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

My writing process...

...yes, there is one!

Thank you to lovely Hannah Emery for nominating me to take part in the fabulous online Writing Process Blog Tour in which writers of all kinds discuss – you guessed it – the writing process.

You can find Hannah’s own blog here: http://hannahcemery.wordpress.com/

Before you arrived, Hannah and I had a good natter over coffee and chocolate cupcakes.  So now we’ll get down to business and I’ll try to answer her questions.

What am I working on?

I’m researching and making notes for a new novel about a woman who marries the wrong man. But the right man is a commitment-phobe who has lots of unresolved emotional issues, travels the world trying to get himself killed on various dangerous assignments, and he’s also the best friend of the heroine’s husband. So...

How does my work differ from others in its genre?

I write romantic fiction and am always very much aware that my readers are going to demand emotional satisfaction from my stories.  I’m allowed to put my heroes and heroines through the mill, but they always need to emerge from their ordeals better and wiser people who are at last ready to make each other happy. As for how my work differs from other stories in its genre – all writers speak with their own individual voices, and when we are dreaming up stories we all bring our own loves, hates, obsessions, prejudices, hopes and fears to the desk.  So I suppose my work differs from that of other writers because I’m not them, I’m me.

Why do I write what I do?

I’m endlessly fascinated by the different kinds of emotional relationships which exist between husbands and wives, parents and children, friends and friends.  When we meet a married couple for the first time, for example, we sometimes think: how can she live with him? Or: how can he bear to be with that woman?  Or, on a more positive note: they seem so happy.  What is the secret of this relationship’s success?  I love to speculate and accompany my invented characters on their emotional journeys.

How does my writing process work?

I’m a planner who spends a lot of time researching and making notes.  My first drafts tend to be very short because all I’m doing at this early stage is getting the story down.  What comes first?  I suppose it’s the concept – I decide what I’m writing about: revenge, forgiveness, regeneration, hope, loss, loyalty, betrayal, any or all of these.  Once I have a theme or concept in mind, the story always seems to flow.  But if I didn’t know what I was writing about, I know I’d get stuck.

Now I have talked about my writing process, I nominate Cathie Hartigan to do the same. Check out Cathie’s blog via www.creativewritingmatters.co.uk for writing news, competitions, help with your own creative writing and lots more! Also, you might be interested in a how-to book Cathie and I wrote together, The Creative Writing Student's Handbook - http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00JS5LQ4M.

Christine Stovell follows a star...

The guest on my blog today is contemporary novelist Christine Stovell.

Christine lives in rural West Wales and leads an interesting life, combining home-making, family, writing novels and poetry and short stories and running with – ease? Let’s find out!

Thank you for popping round, Christine. I’ll just put the kettle on and fetch the biscuits.

Ah, lovely - essential nutrients!  Thank you so much, Margaret, for inviting me to your blog and making me so welcome.

Then we can get down to business.


Your latest novel is called Follow a Star, and I wondered if this might be a good description of your own life? Do you personally follow a very special star?

I would steer a little wooden boat across deep seas by starlight for my husband, Tom, and my two daughters… oh, wait a minute, I have!  Seriously, they are my guiding stars who mean everything to me.

You write novels, poetry and short fiction. Do you have a favourite kind of writing? How do you respond to the challenges of each writing style?

My work, in whatever form, is simply my attempt to make sense of the world. The challenge is to set those thoughts and feelings down in words that will chime with readers. My novels always begin with a strong image in my mind’s eye, like a ‘still’ from a film. With Turning the Tide it was seeing Harry, a troubled young woman, sitting alone by the side of creek. Move Over Darling, started with the heroine Coralie looking out of her workshop at the snow and Follow A Star began with May, her rucksack slung over her shoulder, hoofing it down a lonely road.

What made you decide to return to Little Spitmarsh, the setting of Turning the Tide, to write Follow a Star

I love faded seaside towns anyway, but Little Spitmarsh and its inhabitants are very real to me. I miss the place and the people when I leave it behind and can see myself returning for a third visit.

What about the running – does that help you with your writing, or is running an escape from writing? 

They complement each other, but what I’ve learned from both is that half-marathons and novels are just a series of small steps.

What's your favourite part of the novel-writing process - planning, writing the first draft, editing?

I’ve learned that there’s always a point when I become very frustrated that the words I’ve written don’t match the ‘perfect’ vision in my head, so the trick is to press on through that difficult first draft. By then, I’m so deep in the world of the novel that it isn’t always easy to look at it objectively - which is when I’m grateful to my editor and the chance to make it the book it should be. I suppose the bit I like best is having written – the satisfaction of completing a long piece of work!

What are you writing now?

Enough to keep me busy for a very long time! I’m writing my fourth romantic novel,  I’m working (very slowly) on building a poetry collection, I’ve got the opening chapters of a much darker novel about friendship and betrayal, and I’d also like to complete a non-fiction project I’ve started.

When anyone new to writing fiction asks you for advice, what do you say? 

Write only if you’re completely and utterly in love with what you’re doing - that way you’ll stick with it.  Besides, if you don’t love your work, why should the reader?

How do you manage to juggle all the things you do – any tips?

As above really; if you love what you do, you’ll find time for it … which is why my garden currently resembles a small jungle!

Five quick questions:

Favourite time of day?

Whenever I catch sight of the sea beyond my window.

Most precious possession?

My health.

Biggest regret?

I wish I’d taken my writing seriously sooner and that I’d started running earlier as both have brought me so much satisfaction and joy, but, hey, maybe everything happened at the right time for me.

Future writing ambitions?

To see one of my novels adapted for film or TV … ohpleaseohplease!

Happiest moment?

Still to come, I hope! You get one chance, one life. Yesterday's gone, forget about it. You have this precious new day, so live it.