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.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Catching up with the novelist Valerie Holmes

It was a great pleasure to catch up with Valerie again and to hear about her latest work.

But first, a bit of background! Valerie’s first breakthrough into print came when she won Writing Magazine’s Annual Ghost Story Competition back in 2002. Over forty novellas later, she is currently writing The Yorkshire Saga Series for Sapere Books and is about to celebrate the publication of the fourth in the series, which is In Sickness and In Health and comes out on 13th April.

The series of stand-alone, fast-paced adventures is set in the early nineteenth century: a time of dramatic social change at home as the wars dragged on in France. With story-lines including smuggling, espionage and press-gangs, the result is books packed with the mounting dramas facing each hero and heroine.

Research, explains Valerie, is the key to writing convincing historical fiction. From the ancient trods that cross the moors to the history of the various halls and abbeys that dot the region, North Yorkshire makes for an atmospheric and beautiful setting. 
She loves the challenge of creating strong characters and a sense of place whilst working within the limitations of the characters' understanding of life within that era, and keeping things accessible to a modern reader: superstition, religion, tradition, travel and folklore were important, and people's  roles/places in society were so much more limited than they are today.
Moving forward, Valerie has embraced the digital world as her North Riding novellas are now available as eBooks. Although she would hate to see traditionally-published books replaced completely, eBooks are convenient, hygienic and space efficient, although the feel of a good book can never be replaced.
Breaking away from the romance of the past, the suspenseful psychological thriller Roses are Dead is also now available as an eBook and attracting 5* reader reviews.

Valerie is an experienced creative writing tutor, loving the challenge of supporting and encouraging as-yet-unpublished writers to move toward attaining their writing goals, as well as developing the skills of more established writers. 
You can contact Valerie through her website ValerieHolmesAuthor.com for further details of the services she offers guaranteeing constructive, helpful, professional feedback.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Short Stories Big Prizes

One of the UK's longest-established writing groups, Exeter Writers, runs an annual short story competition for which the first prize is £700 - quite a gratifying return on 3,000 words.

We also offer second and third prizes, and a special cash prize for an author who lives in Devon.

The closing date is 28 February 2020.

Check out our website for details of how to enter - and good luck!


Friday, January 3, 2020

Exeter Novel Prize

It's that time of year again! All the hundreds of entries have been safely received, and also lots of requests for reports on these submissions.

This means the CreativeWritingMatters team of Sophie Duffy, Cathie Hartigan and myself will be reading day and night in order to find those sparkling literary diamonds we know will be there!

This year, we've received entries from everywhere in the world - from countries large and small, countries where the official language is English and countries where it's not, but where it is clearly well taught in schools and universities.

Who will be our winner this year? We don't know yet!

Who has won in the past? Last year, our winner was Rebecca Kelly.

Twitter @holymoly1000

You can check out our website to learn more about our previous winners:  www.creativewritingmatters.co.uk.

Good luck to all the entrants this time! We're looking forward to finding out what you have sent us for our reading pleasure.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Merry Christmas and...

Hello, all my friends and relations who read this blog - thank you for checking in now and again. It's always lovely to hear from you!

I hope everyone I know in real life, and also virtually on Facebook and Twitter, had a calm and peaceful Christmas Day and will enjoy the rest of the holidays. I spent yesterday with my extended family and had a great time. Oh look, that big box of chocolates is nearly empty. How did that happen?

I'm guessing we're set for a scary ride as we head into 2020. So hold on tight, look after those dear to you, and let's hope we all manage come through, reaching those promised Sunlit Uplands well before the year is out.

Let's also remember that Christmas celebrates the birth of a refugee Jewish baby to a young Palestinian mother who had to make the dangerous journey into Egypt in order to keep him safe from Herod's anger, and let's try to follow this baby's teachings as we go on with our own daily lives.

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:



Buy the book:


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/