Swanwick 2015: Elizabeth Chats With…

Humour, as always, plays a big part in the week. In our 4-part course on Novel Writing, Simon Hall keeps us laughing and groaning with his (hopefully deliberately) terrible jokes and puns. But the prize for the day’s worst joke  (and it’s only 10:45!) has to go to Rita who, in the middle of a workshop on character, described our villian, the owner of a fireworks factory, thus: he wasn’t just any guy, he was Mr Fawkes!

Daily Interview

It’s Monday, the second week of the month – and time for one of my full-length interviews. But it’s also part way through Swanwick and its associated daily blog. So today, I’m going to combine the two by chatting with a Swanwick buddy of mine.

Madalyn Morgan has been an actress for over thirty years, performing on television and film, Repertory Theatre and in the West End. She is also a radio presenter and journalist, writing articles for newspapers and magazines. She has just finished, China Blue, the third of four books about the lives of four very different sisters during the Second World War.  

Hello Maddie, great to see you again. Let’s start with an old favourite: what was your favourite subject at school — and which was the lesson you always wanted to avoid?

My favourite subject at school was art. The subject I wanted to avoid, and was able to for one term a year, was needlework. From the age of eleven I was given the lead role in the school play and, apart from maths, English, and science, I was allowed to opt out of two non-academic classes each week of the autumn term to rehearse. I chose needlework because apart from being rubbish at sewing, which I am still, the elderly teacher who used to fall asleep in class did not like me. 

During a lesson in the spring term, one of my classmates deliberately dropped a tin of scissors behind her when she nodded off. The tin landed on the wooden floor with a terrible clatter and the poor woman almost jumped out of her skin. She opened her eyes, looked up, and who was standing next to her? Yes, me. Without asking who had dropped the scissors, she pointed at me and barked, “You girl! Headmistress’s office, now!” I didn’t tell on my classmate, or on the teacher for being asleep, and was given detention. The play was a success I got out of needlework, and when my class’s work was displayed on parent’s night, there was a nice skirt with my name on it. However, on my school report the needlework teacher gave me a ‘D’ and wrote, “Madalyn’s work is poor. If she paid attention in class she would do better.” Not only had I not been in her class that term, but she had made my skirt. 

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

I would take my BillyBag wallet. I keep important information in it, including debit card, driving license, Society of Authors and Equity cards. I would take my USB memory stick, which has my novels, addresses and telephone numbers, photographs of friends and family, including photographs of my lovely mum and dad when they were young and in love, as well as photographs of the many plays I have been in. And, I would take my jewellery box. From 2004 to 2009, I had to sell lots of my jewellery to survive until I sold my flat in London. What I have left reminds me of people, places, and times in my life that are important to me.  

Where is your favourite place on earth — and why?

My favourite place is where I am now. I have travelled as far as America in one direction, Russia the other, and visited many countries in between. I lived in London for thirty-eight years, selling up and moving back to the market town where I was born in 2010. Leaving London was quite a culture shock. However, swapping window boxes and a mortgage for a garden and the freedom to write was the best thing I ever did.    

How do you relax?

I don’t. Well, not very often. I rarely sit still, but if I need to think, or have a problem to solve, I work on the garden. I get completely absorbed weeding, digging, pruning, planting. I love having my hands in the earth, or twiddling a stick to get the algae out of my pond. The pond filter is a pain to clean, but it has to be done to keep my lovely fish healthy. I also feed a variety of birds every day. I love watching the birds, especially in late spring when the chicks are old enough to visit. With a big garden, there is little time to sit and relax. Having said that, at the end of a busy day I like to sit under the overhanging roof of my kitchen in the evening sun with a glass of chilled wine, a chunk of cheese and a dish of olives. Then I relax, with the secateurs nearby of course.   

If you knew you only had 24 hours left, how would you spend them?

I would bath; wash my hair, put on my make-up and dress in my favourite clothes. I would go to my church and ask Charlie my Vicar to give me communion and hear my confession. I would put fresh flowers on my mum and dad’s grave, and then I would go home, feed the birds and fish, and sit by the pond with a glass of wine. In the evening, I would telephone all the people I love and tell them so.  

What would be in your ‘Room 101’?  

Overseas Call Centres. There are many more important things, but today it is call centres. I have just been passed from pillar to post, repeating the same thing to an army of young people at Talk Talk Mobile who repeated (obviously from a Q and A sheet) the same thing over and over. In short, I cancelled my contract and paid the fee, but the young man I spoke to didn’t put my details down correctly, so it didn’t go through for several days – and they wanted me to pay for all sorts of things. My word against his. I ended up in tears. I threatened to take my landline telephone and Internet back to BT, expose them in a newspaper article, on my blog, Twitter and Facebook. 

The following day I received a call from the manager of the call centre apologising and saying they would not be pursuing the late, or DD, payments, as it was not my fault that my contract hadn’t been cancelled. She then asked me to answer a questionnaire saying how she had performed in resolving my complaint. I did, making it clear that my answers referred only to the manager. 

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

Adolf Hitler. I would give him a heart and conscience transplant. Then I would make him watch footage of the holocaust, and all the other crimes he ordered to be carried out, for eternity.  

If you could take part in one television programme, which one would it be?

As a professional actress and fully paid up member of the actors union, Equity, I hate reality programmes. So, as I was brought up in a big working class pub in the Midlands, it would have to be the Landlady of the Rovers Return, Coronation Street. What fun that would be.

Upload a picture or a photo that best represents you, and tell us why .

This represents an important and wonderful time in my life. In the wheelchair is my adoptive, Native American Grandma, Elsie Cavender. Behind her is her daughter, Lorraine Cavender, who saved my life when I almost drowned in the Yellow Medicine River. In the summer of 1961, aged eleven, my parents sent me to visit my aunt who married a Native American and had moved to the US to live. I spent six weeks on the reservation in Granite Falls, Minnesota, with my uncle’s parents who I called grandma and grandpa. Grandma, a direct descendant of five Great Sioux Chiefs and the Elder of the community, threw a summer Pow-wow for me and adopted me into the Dakota Sioux tribe. The photograph was taken in February 1992. Grandma gave me my Dakota Sioux name during a small family dinner. It is, Wacantkiya Win, the charitable girl.

What have you written and what are you writing now? 

I am writing a saga about the different lives of the Dudley sisters during World War II. They are all introduced in, Bess Dudley’s story, Foxden Acres, which begins on New Year’s Eve 1938. 

Applausethe second book, is set in a theatre in London’s West End, where ambitious Margot works her way from an usherette to the leading lady of the theatre, during the Blitz. In book three, China BlueClaire who excels in languages, is recruited by the Special Operations Executive to work in Occupied France. 

I am currently writing the fourth book, The 9:45 To Bletchley, in which secrets and lies, blackmail and spies, are detected and exposed by Ena, youngest of the Dudley sisters. There will also be a fifth book called, The Foxden Hotel, which will begin on New Year’s Eve, but ten years later in 1948. Amid the New Year celebrations, someone gets his just deserts in grizzly circumstances.

Read more about Madalyn Morgan’s novels, articles, and other writing in her Blogs, here and hereHer acting career is on her main website.  

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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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