Catching up with Margaret James!

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Welcome back, Margaret! I was amazed when I realised that you were my first guest in 2013!

I was amazed, too! My goodness, doesn’t time fly? Perhaps this is because writing a novel is such a long process and sometimes another year goes by without us really noticing? It’s very good to be back. I see that since we were last in contact you’ve had several of your books published by Endeavour Press.  Many congratulations!

Thank you! I love the cover of your new novel ‘Girl in Red Velvet’, which is book 6 in the Charton Minster Series. What inspired you to create this series?

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The inspiration for the Charton Minster stories was driving past a country house in Dorset at least a decade ago. I wondered who lived there and later that evening my imagination started to run riot, conjuring up a whole family and their descendents. The first novel in the series is The Silver Locket, which is Rose Courtenay’s story. The subsequent five novels are about Rose’s children and grandchildren and even her great grandchildren.

Who is the ‘Girl’ in Red Velvet?

The girl in Girl in Red Velvet is Rose Courtenay’s granddaughter Lily Denham, who goes to university in the 1960s and meets two men who become her friends, the three of them have some great fun together, but then Lily finds she is falling in love with both of them. She makes a choice which looks as if it will turn out to be a very bad choice indeed. Or will it? What do all three of these people want and how will they get it? I hope I’ve given them plenty of challenges but that I’ve also given all their stories satisfying endings.

Do you remember the 60s with fondness?

I do because I was young and at university myself and having a lovely time living away from home. It’s quite difficult for younger people alive today to realise what a huge place the world was then. I went from living in a small rural community where I never met anyone who wasn’t British and white to living in a big city where I met and made friends with people from all over the world.

What is next for Creative Writing Matters?

We’re expanding our range of writing-related services all the time. We run two major international competitions (The Exeter Novel Prize and the Exeter Story Prize which incorporates the Trisha Ashley Award for a humorous story) and we offer mentoring and various shorter courses and smaller competitions, too. We’ve found that offering feedback on competition entries has proved very popular so next year we will be doing more in that respect by offering feedback on some of our short story competitions as well as on entries for the Exeter Novel Prize.

What is next for Margaret?

It’s reading the entries for this year’s Exeter Story Prize, which closed on 30 April. We’re constantly astonished and impressed by the range and quality of entries, so although this is a pleasurable task it’s always quite demanding, too.

I wish you every success with all your amazing ventures. Reader’s can follow Margaret on: Facebook Twitter    or you can visit  Margaret’s blog

An Interview with Ben Adams

I am delighted to have author Ben Adams as my guest this month. Ben’s critically acclaimed novels Six Months to Get a Life and Six Lies chart two men’s journeys as they strive to make sense of their respective midlife crises.
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Welcome, Ben,

Please share with us how and when you discovered the joy of writing fiction!

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t enjoy making up a story. My dad is blind. Instead of reading books to me, he used to captivate me at bedtime, making up stories that would transfix me and keep me awake for hours. I caught the bug and used to invent equally inventive stories involving the most hideous of monsters. As I got older, my fiction expanded to include ingenious excuses for not having done my homework. Roald Dahl expanded my imagination still further as did Douglas Adams and Sue Townsend. But ultimately, I blame my dad.

When and how did you make the break from unpublished to published author?

I always wanted to write a novel. In my 20s I dabbled with crime fiction but too many hours spent staring at blank pages and a lack of life experiences meant that I couldn’t make my stories sing.

In my 30s I mostly wrote boring work-related web content and the occasional acerbic complaint letter to the authorities or to the dog over the road – it defecated on my drive.

And then my 40s came along. Sometimes it takes a life event to set you off on the right track. Six Months to Get a Life, my first novel, was ultimately triggered by my own family upheaval. It’s a story about a man overcoming a divorce and doing his best to build a new life for himself and his children. Having been through the pain myself, I felt able to give my characters some real depth. It was the first time I had felt truly able to write something believable, something memorable.

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And luckily, I found a publisher who believed in the characters as much as I did.

How would you describe Graham Hope, your protagonist in Six Months to Get a Life?

Graham, like a lot of the characters I invent, is a fairly unremarkable fellow. At heart he is a good guy but like most people going through a divorce, he can occasionally be a bit maudlin. And even bitter. He’s someone who generally knows what the right thing to do is, even if he doesn’t always do it. He’s concerned about his relationship with his children. He’s also concerned about his relationships with women. Or rather his lack of relationships with women.

It isn’t easy to take a difficult subject and inject humour and hope into the story successfully. How did you balance the harsh realities of life against the sense of renewal and wit?

The simple truth is that no one would have enjoyed Six Months to Get a Life if Graham hadn’t been able to laugh at himself. If a story about coping with divorce, learning to live separately from your children or arguing over maintenance payments didn’t contain a few comedic release points, the reader would more than likely be contemplating suicide by the end of chapter 3.

The same goes for my second novel, Six Lies. Dave Fazackerley, the protagonist in Six Lies, discovers after she has died that his mother wasn’t his mother after all. And to make matters worse, he was already reeling from his wife’s decision to run off with a librarian. About the only thing Dave actually managed to cling on to was his sense of humour…

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Writing a novel is a major achievement for anyone, but how hard have you found getting to grips with marketing and using social media to build up your author platform – or are you a natural?

I am probably your typical author. Inventing stories is my passion. I love talking to people about mine and their stories too. But trying to understand the difference between a Facebook page and a Facebook profile, uploading content to a website, getting my head around boring twitter protocols and ridiculous book marketing websites is, quite frankly, the bane of my life.

I do understand the need to establish a good author platform though. Twitter indirectly led to me being invited on to the BBC Breakfast sofa. It also led to you and I connecting. These days, few authors will be successful without a bit of investment in their author platform.

What tips would you give to anyone, of any age, who is determined to become a published writer?

Firstly, you need to write exceptionally well. The best way to do that is to write, write and write some more. The more you write, the better you will become. Oh, and read a lot too. Learn from writers within your chosen genre, but don’t copy them.

Secondly, you need to build your emotional resilience. Believe in your own talent. Don’t let a little self-doubt put you off. Imagine if JK Rowling had thought, ‘Oh, this is crap,’ when she was giving Harry his lightening bolt scar and gone off and got a proper job.

Thirdly, see the previous question and take a deep breath…

What is next for Ben?

I have written my third novel in draft form. Provisionally entitled ‘Trouble in the Staffroom’, it is a school-based drama-come-romp. I am really proud of the draft as it currently stands and am loving the feedback I am receiving from beta readers. Hopefully, Trouble in the Staffroom will be published in September to coincide with the start of a new school year.

I am really enjoying reading Six Months to Get a Life and wish you every continued success.

@benadamsauthor

Ben Adams on Facebook

Ben’s Website

Death Came to Chatsworth

SAM_0573One of my highlights of 2013 was calling in at Chatsworth House. I had been to a very interesting and fun gathering of romance writers at the RNA conference in a heat wave at Sheffield University.  Although Chatsworth was open they were still filming scenes for the Christmas adaptation of Death Comes to Pemberley. This I found fascinating to watch and admired the patience of actors and technicians as they reset and acted each take needed, especially in costume in the unusual heat. The amount of attention to detail for each take was admirable especially as much of it is edited for the final version.

Chatsworth House is a magnificent place with a fascinating history of political cunning, fortunes won and lost and a family who strive to keep the place in all its former glory through the Chatsworth House Trust.

PD James sequel to Pride and Prejudice was a very bold and skilful adaptation of one of the most popular classic romances still appreciated today, by using her vast experience as a crime writer to change it into a darker mystery. Elizabeth and Darcy’s matured love is challenged as their connection to Wickham threatens their good name and fortune.

As a member of both the CWA and the RNA I loved this bold move as love and hate fuel both genres.

The year finished with a chance to watch and enjoy the finished televised drama.

Val