You have written many historical and contemporary romantic novels as well as being a prolific journalist and inspiring writing tutor. Could you take us back to the beginning of your career and tell us when your desire to be a novelist began?
Thank you for inviting me to be the first guest author on your blog, Valerie. I’m delighted to be here. Ooh, back to the beginning of my career – that’s a long time ago, almost thirty years. I had two very small children. My husband worked away from home a lot so I wanted to find something to do at home which would earn some money, too.
I decided I would write some short stories for women’s magazines, because that had to be easy, right? No, of course it wasn’t easy. As I soon came to realise, writing any sort of fiction isn’t easy. But, after trying for several months and failing to sell anything, I finally had my first acceptance and this encouraged me to keep going.
Okay, I thought, could I write novel, too? At that time, family sagas were hugely popular so I thought I would try writing one myself. Again, it wasn’t easy, but I was determined to finish my novel and also sell it to a publisher. Rejection after rejection came along, but I carried on sending my novel to agents and publishers because – as many of my friends and family members know – I’m not the sort of person who gives up! Finally an agent took me on and sold my novel A Touch of Earth to Futura.
I think I was determined to become a novelist because although I could see it would be a challenging career it would also be possible – with a bit of luck – to get somewhere.
What originally drew you to writing romance?
I’ve always been fascinated by how human relationships work – what makes us like one person and dislike someone else, what happens when we fall in love and out of love again, how families work and why family relationships break down. So I think I was always going to be a romantic and relationship novelist.
Your latest novel is a romantic comedy. What inspired the change in direction?
My next novel The Wedding Diary is set in the present day and is mostly about people I haven’t written about before, but it also mentions characters and settings from my most recent historical trilogy – The Silver Locket, The Golden Chain and The Penny Bangle.
What key advice/tips would you give aspiring writers?
If you’ve decided you’re going to be a writer, stick at it and believe you have something interesting to say. There will be times when the going gets hard and you’ll need to be able to convince yourself that it’s worth going on.
Make friends with other writers face to face and online, via Twitter, Facebook and their blogs – most writers these days have blogs and will be delighted if you follow them. Think about joining a local or national writing group in which you can meet people who understand the joys and frustrations of being a writer. Then you’ll never feel isolated and alone.
Read other people’s novels because then you will absorb good practice and realise there are many different ways in which you can tell a story.
What’s next for Margaret James?
I would like to write another novel set in the present day. I also have a Victorian murder mystery simmering on my back burner, but there is a lot of research to do for that one and I don’t know if it will ever come to the boil!
Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. I shall look forward to reading The Wedding Diary.