Wednesday 29 January 2020

Author Interview: Maggie James

Today it's my pleasure to welcome author Maggie James to the blog for a chat about her writing and her latest book Silent Winter.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and how your writing journey started?
Ever since I was a child the only thing I ever wanted to do career-wise was become a novelist. I’m not sure where the desire came from, but it burned fiercely in me, perhaps because my father cultivated my love of reading from a young age. I never doubted that I’d achieve my desire, because I yearned so strongly for it – ah, the hubris of youth! Things didn’t turn out that way - at least not at first.

As a young adult I lacked confidence, and although I still wanted to be an author, I had no idea how to start. Instead, I ended up an accountant, a profession I stayed in for nearly thirty years. The urge to write never went away, however. In my forties I wrote several short fanfiction pieces and published them online, to some very positive feedback. 

Around this time I fell out with my employers, and at first went into full-on victim mode – ‘how dare they? I’ve been wronged!’ until one day I had something of an epiphany. Maybe, I reasoned, this could be a blessing in disguise. Hadn’t I always wanted to write? Why not leave my job, go travelling for a year (I’d long suffered from advanced wanderlust) and write a novel while away? It seemed a good plan, especially as a milestone birthday was looming. Unable to bear the thought of turning fifty without having written my longed-for novel, I decided to save as much money as possible and to quit my job the following year.

That’s exactly what happened, and in October 2010 I flew to Thailand on the first leg of my trip, having told no one of my intention to write a novel while travelling. Procrastination still dogged me, however. It wasn't until months later, in a town called Arica in northern Chile, that I had a second epiphany, and determined to buckle down to writing at long last. With that in mind, I resolved to travel to Bolivia and not leave until I had completed the first draft of my book. I already had an idea for the plot, following a conversation with fellow travellers in Vietnam – what would it feel like to discover, as an adult, that you had been kidnapped as a child? After I arrived in Sucre I found a cheap hotel and knuckled down to write. Just under two months later, I completed the first draft of ‘His Kidnappers Shoes’, and promptly burst into tears. It was a very emotional moment for me, the memory of which I’ll always treasure.

If you had to give an elevator pitch for your latest book Silent Winter, what would it be? 
On an icy November night, Drew Blackmore is beaten unconscious, then abducted.  He awakes to find himself in total darkness, naked and chained to the floor.  Fed just enough to keep him alive, Drew is unable to identify his captor, or the reason for his incarceration. As reality fades, hallucinations take over. Can Drew escape his prison before madness claims him?

Meanwhile Drew's wife, Holly, despairing of ever seeing him again, turns to his brother for comfort. As the worst winter in decades sweeps the UK, she learns of Drew's tragic past. Could his disappearance be connected with that of a prostitute years before?

A story of how the mind responds to solitary confinement, ‘Silent Winter’ examines one man's desperate attempt to survive the unthinkable. 

Which comes first for you, characters or the plot? 
Definitely plot. Ideas for my novels can come from anywhere – a television documentary, a casual conversation, something I spot while walking. I love posing the question: what if? What if a woman found out her boyfriend had been convicted of a horrible crime? (‘Guilty Innocence’). Or if someone discovered her sister had fallen prey to a con artist? (‘Deception Wears Many Faces’). Once I have the idea for a story, I create characters to fit that particular plot, and away I go.

What essentials do you need to have close to hand when you are in writing mode? 
Very little, really – I like to work in silence, with a notepad and pen handy, but other than that I don't require any props other than my computer. Oh, and Scrivener - the best novel writing software on the planet, in my opinion. Once I have those basics in place, I'm up and running!

What would you say is the best thing about writing? And on the flip side, what is the hardest?
The best thing? I feel I’m doing what I was put on this earth to do. For me, being a novelist is the greatest job in the world. I find a joy in it that’s only matched by my love of travel. Language fascinates me, and to spend my days crafting words into books that people enjoy reading is a privilege. 

The worst side? The reactions and expectations of other people. Many feel it’s acceptable to ask me about my earnings (I disagree), or to regale me with what they don't like about my books. Would they tell a dinner party host what they disliked about a meal? I doubt it, but somehow the same courtesy isn’t extended to authors. There’s also a lot of pressure to pump out books quickly. As soon as I release one title, people ask me when the next one will be published, as though a novel takes weeks, rather than months, to create. If only!

If you could write in a collaboration with another author, who would you like to write with and why? 
I can't ever see me collaborating with another author – I'm never sure how people manage it. If I had to choose, it would either be Stephen King or Peter James. Both are authors for whom I have immense respect, although if I ever met Stephen King I'd probably be tongue-tied with awe! Might make co-authoring a novel difficult, right?! As for Peter, I’ve met him and he’s a great guy – I’ve no doubt he’d be fantastic fun as a writing buddy, but it’s not going to happen!

What attracted you to writing psychological suspense novels? Have you any plans to write in any other genre in the future? 
I never set out to write in any particular genre. Instead, with ‘His Kidnappers Shoes’, I got the idea for the plot, wrote the book, and then paused to consider its genre. Along with my subsequent novels, I think it fits best in the psychological suspense/domestic noir category, although my publishers label it ‘women’s fiction’. I’ve no plans to write in different genres, although it’s possible I may tackle a dystopian novel in the future, or perhaps fantasy or science fiction.

What novel(s) have you read that you wish you had written?  
Definitely ‘11.22.63’ by Stephen King. It's a rollercoaster of a novel, incredibly well plotted and a fascinating read. As you probably gathered, Stephen’s one of my favourite novelists – I consider him a genius at his craft, and I’m amazed by his prolific output. Does the man ever sleep?!

And finally, what can we expect from you next? 
I'm currently plotting my eighth novel, which is still at a very early stage. For me, planning is the least enjoyable aspect of my job – I’d rather be writing or editing. Having said that, I've found with my previous books that the editing phase has taken far too long because I failed to plot tightly enough. This time around I'm hoping to remedy that – but then I say that with every book! 

Twitter: @mjamesfiction

All book titles in bold are Amazon UK Affiliate links which will earn me a few pence if anyone clicks through and makes a purchase - any money earned will go towards buying books or gifts for giveaways.

1 comment:

  1. Great interview. It's always interesting to read about other authors.