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.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Party time!

It's November and that means just one thing (okay, one thing of many, let's keep it real) to members of the RNA - it's party time.

The RNA is famous for its parties and this year's was a great one. These parties share some elements of a traditional school reunion - we catch up with people we might not have seen for years, we share successes, we commiserate with those who haven't had such a great year, we chatter and gossip and network, and we generally have a good time. I always come away from an RNA party feeling energised and optimistic.

As a member of the successful Devon-based team CreativeWritingMatters there was a lot of networking to do. CreativeWritingMatters currently runs competitions for both novelists and writers of short stories, we organise workshops and we write books. Yes, following the success of The Creative Writing Student's Handbook, we're branching out into publishing and have more titles in the pipeline. So check out our website from time to time and see what is new?

We're delighted and honoured to have the bestselling novelist Trisha Ashley involved in our short story competition  - The Exeter Story Prize - next year. All the details of the competition are on our website at www.creativewritingmatters.co.uk and we can promise the inaugural awards ceremony in October 2015 will be quite a party, with plenty of events to interest writers in all genres.

But long before October we'll be hosting an event during which the second Exeter Novel Prize will be awarded. This will be in the spring and will also be a party. We hope writers from Devon and beyond will join us and enjoy the day. Last year's event was a big success so we're determined to repeat it!

Here's a photograph taken by Liz Harris of the CreativeWritingMatters team with the literary agent Broo Doherty, who will be judging the Exeter Novel Prize. Left to right, Margaret, Broo, Sophie and Cathie. We'll look forward to meeting you in Devon in the spring!

But in the meantime - happy reading and writing!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Today, it's from Russia and the West Country with love...

My special guest on this sunny autumn afternoon is Elizabeth Ducie, whose first novel Gorgito’s Ice Rink was published in October 2014.

Welcome, Elizabeth – sit down and have a coffee and a ginger biscuit!

The first thing I noticed about Gorgito’s Ice Rink was its lovely cover. I know you had some input there, so could you tell me how you came up with the concept for the cover? What does it say about the book?

Yes, it is beautiful, isn’t it? In many ways, I see Gorgito as Russia’s answer to Zorba the Greek and the original concept was to have a sketch of the man himself, with the skater and the buildings in the background. Unfortunately, while the artist captured the character well, it looked more like a children’s book than an adult’s novel. So I turned to Berni Stevens for help. I searched her website for examples of a suitable style and came up with the silhouette format. We started out with Gorgito on there as well, but decided having him in the title was sufficient and ended up with the final version, with which I am delighted.

When you started writing Gorgito’s Ice Rink, did you have a master plan or did you start the story and see where it would take you?

Gosh, it’s seven years since I started, so it’s hard to remember. I certainly didn’t have a master plan right from the beginning. I think I wrote it in three main chunks and then integrated them. By 2010, I had the first five chapters written and knew what the end would be. So I had A and Z, but no real idea of how I would get from one to the other. At Exeter University (where I studied for an MA in Creative Writing), I learned to write film treatments (a scene by scene outline) and this helped me map out the main storyline. However, I came up with Gorgito’s back story quite late in the day; and the third strand, Emma’s story, right at the end.

You’ve travelled and worked all around the world. I can tell from reading your book that you have a special affection for Russia and its people. What is so compelling about Russia and the Russians?

I worked in Russia from 1993 onwards, so just after the fall of the Soviet Union. So I had the privilege of watching that huge, fascinating country move from one major political and economic system to a different one. It was interesting to watch changes occur, not at the macro, but at the micro level; changes in facilities in hotels, levels of service in shops and so on. The Russian public face is quite a stern one; someone once told me you didn’t smile in public as you never knew who you were standing next to. However the private face is friendly, generous and fun-loving. I’ve had some wonderful times and made some great friends in the past 20 years.

You’re involved in organising an annual literary festival in your home county of Devon. Please could you tell us something about it?

In 2011, Chudleigh Writers’ Circle ran the first Chudleigh Literary Festival. It was just one day, with writers’ workshops in the morning, guest speakers, including the wonderful Ann Widdecombe, and an open mic session in the afternoon. In 2014, our fourth annual festival encompassed a one-day workshop for history writing; a day of general workshops for writers; a ‘meet the authors’ supper; a choir performing Charles Causley’s poems; guest speaker Tony Hawkes; a day of poetry workshops for the children in the Primary School; and an associated poetry competition. We are nowhere near as big as Dartington or Budleigh Salterton - and I don’t think we would want to be, as our focus remains a festival for Chudleigh, rather than a festival in Chudleigh - but we’re still growing and have some exciting plans for 2015.

How do you organise a typical writing day? Or isn’t there such a thing for you?

I try to write every day, although it doesn’t always work out that way - and I write nothing at all in July and December. I am very much a lark, rather than an owl, so if I’ve got anything I must finish, I will attack that first. I generally write in the mornings and leave the afternoons for marketing and non-writerly activities. I’ve also started writing more by hand, when I’m away from home - and find that sometimes flows better than words on the screen. I am lucky enough to have an office across the garden which has been converted for me to write in - but I’m just as likely to be found writing at the dining table, especially if it’s raining.

What are you writing now?

I’m using November and NaNoWriMo to write the first draft of my second novel. I’ve learned a lot in the past seven years and I hope that this one will be out by this time next year, rather than in 2021. This one’s also based on my travels and centres on counterfeit drugs in Africa.

How would you like your fiction-writing career to develop?

I hope to publish a growing portfolio of works, both novels and collections of short stories. But my first writing experience was in non-fiction and I expect that to continue in parallel, especially my books of business skills for writers.

Five quick questions:

  1. The best evening – in or out? 
            Definitely in, but surrounded by friends, all eating drinking, laughing and chatting together. (Mind you, if it’s at a friend’s house, so we don’t have to  wash-up afterwards, that’s even better. Not sure if that qualifies as in or out).

  1. Favourite non-writing activity or hobby? 
            Apart from the aforesaid evenings with friends, I love discovering new restaurants. Michael and I rarely take overseas holidays these days (we did too  much travelling on business over the years and anyway, when you are doing a  job you love in a part of the world you love, what is there to go on holiday  from?) but we enjoy searching out fine dining establishments and treating ourselves to the odd overnight stay. When we were in Kent, and just a short distance from London, we were spoiled for choice, but now we’ve moved to the south west, we are gradually eating our way around the country house hotels of the region.
  1. Most precious possession? 
            I want to say my husband, Michael, but he might object to being classed as a possession. So I think it would have to be my data stick which contains all my writing and travels everywhere with me.

  1. Most evocative piece of music? 
            Can I be greedy and have two please? Firstly Meditation from Thais by Massenet; I saw this performed by two beautiful dancers in the theatre in  Chelyabinsk years ago and have never forgotten the sight. And secondly Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, which I’ve seen performed many times in UK,  but most memorably in St Petersburg at 2pm in the afternoon, during their City Day celebrations, with red white and blue fireworks against a deep blue sky in brilliant sunshine.

  1. So, if you ruled the world, you would – what? 
            My youngest sister frequently says “When I’m Emperor of the World I will...”    and always ends the sentence with an eminently sensible solution to one of today’s problems. So I would hand over Executive Power to her and go back to writing. (But I would suggest that she made voting in elections compulsory.  Women fought so hard to get the vote, we shouldn’t waste it. And I would ban party politics, so everyone in public office had to go with the the wishes of  their constituents, rather than the views of the whips.) 

Thank you, Elizabeth, it’s been great to talk to you!

Elizabeth is on Facebook and Twitter –

You can buy Elizabeth’s novel here –



Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Spookery and mystery and romantic suspense from Kirsty Ferry

Today, my special guest is Kirsty Ferry, whose intriguingly-titled novel Some Veil Did Fall is published this autumn by award-winning independent Choc Lit.

Welcome, Kirsty – come in, sit down and have a coffee and a cupcake? I bought chocolate, strawberry and vanilla today. Yes, like the ice cream and just as delicious.
Well thank you. Yes. I’ll have a chocolate one please. Oh, and a strawberry one. And go on, a vanilla one as well. It would be rude not to when you’ve gone to so much trouble, Margaret.

Your novel looks delicious, too – such a gorgeous shade of pink! Did you have any input when it came to designing the cover? What does it tell us about the novel?
I had no input at all – but I trust Berni Stevens implicitly. She does the majority of covers for Choc Lit and she’s also done two for my self-published ventures. It was a case of, go on, there’s the story, make it fabulous. And she has. The idea is that, because this is part one of a series, if I’m lucky enough to have the others accepted, the colours will be just as vibrant on those -  only we will have say a green one and then a blue one. I think it tells the reader that we’ve got a bright, shiny romantic story with a historical side to it.

We’ve never met face to face, so will you share a little background stuff with me? Do you come from a family of writers or are you the family maverick? When did you first decide you wanted to write fiction, and what drew you to romantic fiction in particular?
I am the family maverick. My family love to read but I’m the only one who writes. I’ve loved writing since I was a child but once my son was born in 2001 I had a break of several years. I took an Open University course when he was about six or seven which kick-started me into it again and I had soon placed most of the stories I’d written for the course into magazines and suchlike, then had a competition win which boosted my confidence no end. Some Veil Did Fall is actually an expansion of a short story I wrote for the course. I did 1,500 words about a girl who visits a stately home, seems to recognise the place somehow and eventually sees a portrait that looks like herself. I never tried to place that one anywhere as I knew I wanted to expand it, because the character had more to say to me. I’ve done non-fiction articles as well, but I love fiction as I feel you are truly creating something and can have your characters say and do stuff you’d never be brave enough to do in real life! Romantic fiction just “happened” with Veil. I’d never written a romance (well, apart from one disastrous thing that I hated) and much preferred ghost stories, paranormals and timeslips. Then I suddenly realised I could add some romance into the story. It just rounded the book off very nicely and gave it that extra element.

Some Veil Did Fall is the first novel in the Rossetti series of romantic mysteries. Please could you tell us a little about this first volume and give us a few hints about how you intend to develop the series? What can we expect in Volume 2?
Some Veil Did Fall is based on the premise of reincarnation and soulmates, which is in turn the concept of Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s poem Sudden Light, the poem from which I filched the title of the book. The more I researched Rossetti and indeed the Pre Raphaelites, the more I developed an interest in them and I could see how I could do a linked series of books based on Rossetti poems. Becky and Jon weren’t content with the one book – they wanted to be in the next one too. And Lissy, Jon’s sister, shouted the loudest. So in book two, which is entitled The Other Ophelia, we have a new couple, Cori and Simon, who are introduced through Lissy’s volunteer work at the Tate Gallery and a mystery surrounding the famous Millais/Lizzie Siddal picture of Ophelia, a Victorian diary and a crazed nineteenth-century laudanum addict by the name of Daisy. That book is set three years after Veil, and then the third book, Sea Spell, is set yet another three years into the future. Sea Spell is based on the Rossetti poem of the same name and involves Lissy, her gorgeous Italian ex-boyfriend and a ruined house by the coast which harbours another secret – this time with reference to the Pre Raphaelite photographer, Julia Margaret Cameron. So we have poetry, paintings and photographs in the series. The characters are still shouting a little bit, and I have to say a couple of them have popped up unintentionally in my current work in progress – which was meant to be a stand alone!

Becky and Jonathon are the hero and heroine of Some Veil Did Fall. How did they develop as characters – did they appear in your mind as if by magic and say write about us? Or are they based on people you know in real life? Or…
They are completely fictional. Becky Version 1 was there first, as she appeared in the original short story, and then one day, Becky Version 2 was walking along the street and boom: there was Jon, carrying his cup of coffee and not paying very much attention to his surroundings. They developed as I wrote. Any writer will tell you that once they start keeping you awake at night you’re doing something right – and those two definitely did that to me. I had to have a notebook by the bed which was filled with nocturnal scribbling about the next step in the plot or the next twist to come. But they still kept at it after the book was done – which is why they became linked in the series.

Planner, vague outliner or planning phobic – when it comes to working out the storyline in a novel, who are you? I’m a planner, but I know some novelists refuse to plan!
I wing it. Totally and utterly. I have an idea of the start and an inkling of the ending, but it’s anybody’s guess what happens in the middle, and I do find that it’s quite an adventure. I love getting that lightbulb moment when you go ‘aha!’ and find yourself with a nifty twist you hadn’t even considered. I’d probably be more productive if I planned, but it’s not in my nature!

When you get that movie deal, who will play Becky and Jonathon?
Ohhhhh! Tough one. Alexandra Daddario who played Annabeth Chase in the Percy Jackson movies is a possibility for Becky and for Jon, perhaps Jamie Dornan. He’s got the right look, but after Fifty Shades he might find my book a bit tame!

Five quick questions:

  1. What your best time of day for writing?
If I’m in on my own, it’s after lunch until tea time, interspersed with lots of coffee trips to the kitchen and back. If the family is around, it’s bedtime. Not a chance otherwise!

  1. Who are your favourite romantic hero and heroine?
You see, I love Heathcliff and Cathy, but when you get down to it, despite the passion, Wuthering Heights was never actually a romance! But they had that spark and I’m still going to choose them, just to be rebellious.

  1. If you could interview any real historical figure, who would it be and why?
Emily Bronte. I would want to see what her inspiration was for Wuthering Heights and how she would feel if she knew that people still thought her book incredible after all these years. It’s actually a really complex book so I would like to discuss how she managed to pull that off when she led such an apparently sheltered life!

  1. Do you have any special non-writing ambitions?
Not really. I’ve just completed an Honours Degree in Literature and achieved a First, so that was a big ambition, but I think I just want my family and friends happy and healthy to be honest.

  1. Do you believe in ghosts?
Oh yes. My books are full of them and I love anything to do with them. I think I even had one in my last house, and my cousin definitely has one in hers!

Thank you, Kirsty it’s been great to talk to you!

And to you. Thank you for having me. Are you eating that last cupcake? Because I’ll take it off your hands if you want...

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!

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.