Elizabeth Chats With…Margaret James

[This month’s guest was known to me for some years via her articles in Writing Magazine. When I joined Exeter Writers, I was delighted to find she was  also a member. She is very generous with her critiques and is always happy to offer advice from her long experience of the publishing industry. I am delighted to be chatting with Margaret James.]

Thank you for inviting me to chat to you, Elizabeth. It’s great to be here on your excellent blog!

Let’s start by taking you back to your childhood: what was your favourite subject at school — and which was the lesson you always wanted to avoid? 

I always loved English, which was just as well because when I grew up I found I wanted to become a writer. I was always rubbish at sums. But, once the pressure was off and nobody was shouting at me and telling me I was stupid, I found I could do them after all. I joined the Civil Service, did sums every day for ten years, and nowadays I wouldn’t dream of paying anyone else to do my business accounts.

If you had to escape from a fire, what three things would you take with you? 

My photograph albums, the silver chain my mother gave me on the day I got married, and my iPad Mini.

Where is your favourite place on earth — and why? 

It’s Devon – definitely. It’s so beautiful and so damn British that I feel at home here in a way I could never feel anywhere else.

If you could change one law, what would it be? 

Other nations have arranged for people who wish to die to end their lives with dignity at a time and in a place of their own choosing. Why can’t we? Our current UK legislation on this subject is barbaric. It means most people who wish to end their lives are prevented from doing so easily, cleanly and legally. Many are tormented unnecessarily for months or even years.

If you could change one thing about yourself or your life so far, what would it be? 

I’m very lucky because I like being me. I should be nicer, kinder and more generous, of course…

There is a saying: to make the punishment fit the crime. Which character from fiction would you like to punish — and how? 

I’d like to get Catherine Earnshaw (the heroine of Wuthering Heights) involved in a litter-picking or soup-making community project which would take madam out of herself and stop her being such a drama queen – perhaps.

Watch a film, go to the theatre, read a book or talk to friends — which would you prefer? 

It’s impossible to choose, but books have always been my friends.

Would you describe yourself as left-brain (analytical), right-brain (intuitive) or a mix of both? 

Oh, definitely right brain – I’m a desperately non-analytical person and jumper to conclusions. I do it all the time.

And finally, Margaret, why do you write fiction? 

I can’t help it. I love making up stories. I’ve been a daydreamer as long as I can remember. As a child I had dozens of imaginary friends. When my own children started school, I thought – now is the time. I wrote my first short stories and my first novel when they were at elementary school. Both my children soon got used to being greeted at the school gate by Smiley Mummy who’d had a good day, usually involving having a short story accepted for publication, or by Sad Mummy who’d had a terrible day, usually involving yet another rejection letter. They soon learned that slim white envelopes contained good news and fat brown ones bad news. On Bad News Days they used to draw funny pictures to cheer me up – bless. Nowadays, my children are very supportive of my writing, but there was a time when they were teenagers when they used to hiss: don’t tell our friends you’re a writer!!! You’re well embarrassing!!!

Thank you, Margaret, for taking the time out of promoting your new book to answer my questions. Readers, you can find Margaret online via one of the following links. 

[Source for Wuthering Heights illustration: Lowell 1238.5 (A), Houghton Library, Harvard University]

By Elizabeth Ducie

Elizabeth Ducie was a successful international manufacturing consultant, when she decided to give it all up and start telling lies for a living instead.

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