I’m really pleased to welcome Margaret James to my blog today.
I first met Margaret through The London School of Journalism when I was studying on their novel writing course. She was a fantastic tutor and continues to be a great support to this day. An award winning novelist, Margaret is also a journalist, a short story writer and an editor. And along with the equally lovely Cathie Hartigan, co-wrote The Creative Writing Student’s Handbook, which takes students through the entire creative writing process. This was followed by The Short Story Writer’s Workbook, another bestselling guide for writers, both of which I highly recommend.
Anyway, with so much experience I was delighted when Margaret agreed to answer a couple of questions for me. Here’s what she had to say x
Thank you for inviting me to be a guest on your blog! It’s great to be here and to have the opportunity to chat with you.
- Some writers describe themselves as planners, while others plunge right in to the writing. Would you consider yourself a planner or a plunger? Do you work from any kind of a plan?
I’ve almost always been a planner, in literature and in life. I’m happy to start small projects like pieces of flash fiction or everyday cookery without a plan, but for anything more complicated (like a novel or a new garden or a special celebration dinner) I always like to think ahead.
- If you work from a plan, what does that plan look like?
My novel plans take the form of time scales – when things will happen and to whom they’ll happen. I’ll also think about settings and where I want to send my characters. I try to work out how I’ll start their story, what will happen in the middle of the story to derail their lives, and how they will get what they want in the end. I use the highlighter tool a lot!
- If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
A novel is a marathon, not a sprint, so don’t try to rush it, especially if you’re new to it. (But that’s just me, and I know several people who will be starting NaNoWriMo this November, trying to get the first draft of a novel down in just 30 days. I know I couldn’t do it.) Also, listen to your characters and ask them what they want. Only a bad boss never listens to her workforce!
- What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
It depends on the book. I do a lot of research for historical novels and I really enjoy going to museums, places and houses where the things I want to put into my story could have happened. Research tends to be ongoing. I don’t wait until I’ve found out every single thing before I start writing a first draft.
- Out of all your books, what was your hardest scene to write and why?
I don’t know if I’m any good at writing from a man’s point of view so I always start writing those scenes feeling a bit anxious! I found writing the battle scenes in The Silver Locket rather draining and emotionally exhausting. I wanted to respect the memory of the men who fought in that horrible conflict but I also needed to write a novel full of drama and conflict.
- What literary pilgrimages have you gone on? OR Which literary pilgrimage would you like to go on?
I’ve been to worship at the shrine of Saint Jane Austen in Winchester Cathedral several times and I’ve been to some of the houses where she lived. Jane Austen is my all-time literary heroine. I think she must be the most accurate observer of how families work in practice who has ever lived. I feel this is why we still read her work hundreds of years after her death and why she’s universally beloved.
Thanks for being here Margaret. Knowing how busy you are, it was good of you to squeeze me in x
Margaret’s latest novel, Girl in Red Velvet, is the final instalment of her Charton Minster series. Saying that, it works just as well as a standalone read.
And if you want to find out more about Margaret, including all the prizes she runs with the Creative Writing Matters team (I know, does this woman ever stop!) just head over to her website here.