Maggie James is a British author who lives in the north east of England. She writes psychological suspense novels and excels at delving into the dark nature and psychological traits of her characters.
When you started writing, what (if any) mistakes did you make that might have hindered your writing career?
Ah, hindsight, such a useful skill! I made lots of mistakes, mainly because I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. I had the bare bones of the plot of ‘His Kidnapper’s Shoes, so I opened up a Word document and started writing. I soon learned that approach didn’t work – I’m naturally a planner, so the writing got easier once I’d made a few notes about what I wanted to happen in each chapter, prepared some character outlines, etc. I still ended up with a massive 142,000-word manuscript that needed extensive pruning, though. I wish I’d been better prepared by first reading about the craft of writing, researching publishing options, building my author platform, etc. It all worked out fine in the end, though!
Do you believe in writer’s block and if so, what do you do about it?
I don’t believe in writer’s block, no. I’ve already mentioned that I’m a planner; I believe planning overcomes writer’s block. Since writing ‘His Kidnapper’s Shoes’, my approach has changed a lot – I now map out each novel in advance, and I’ll continue to refine my planning process in the future. Having said that, I get days when my creative juices don’t flow well and I struggle with the writing. When that happens, I either take time off or switch to a different part of the book.
As a writer, you are a member of a few Facebook groups, including your own (Maggie’s Book Ambassadors). How useful are these kinds of groups to an author?
I find them very useful, as well as being great fun. I enjoy social media, and in particular Facebook. Interacting in the various book groups helps me connect with other authors, who are usually very supportive. And, of course, it’s great to meet readers online and find out what they like when it comes to books.
Have you taken any courses to help with the creative process, or the many technical aspects of being an indie author?
I haven’t taken any courses. They’re often video-based, and I don’t learn well that way – I much prefer to absorb information via books. I’ve definitely bought and read lots about the craft of writing! As for the technical aspect, I’m geeky about that sort of thing – I run my website myself, do my own formatting for my novels, etc. I don’t design my book covers, though – that requires skills way beyond what I possess!
Do real people ever appear in your plots – either as themselves or as a means of creating a character?
Yes, they do. The main character in ‘After She’s Gone’ is named after a dear friend, as is one of the characters in ‘Deception Wears Many Faces’. My next two books will also feature the names of people I know. I don’t use my friends’ personalities, just the names. People seem to like seeing their monikers in novels, and it’s fun for me too! I don’t think I’d ever put anything other than the name in my plots, though. That well-worn joke about not annoying a novelist or else they’ll kill you off in a book is amusing, but in reality that’s passive-aggressive behaviour.
Have your life experiences (such as your previous work as an accountant) ever helped you write realistic scenes?
I’ve found a fertile imagination my main resource for writing realistic scenes. I’m very lucky in that none of the dreadful events I put in my books – murder, abduction, assault – have ever happened to me (phew!) Situations such as that of Beth Sutton’s incarceration in ‘The Second Captive’ came straight from my brain. I do my best to get inside my characters’ heads and imagine how they must be feeling, etc.
That said, my books are all based in Bristol, the city where I lived for decades, so the descriptions of Bristol are based on my personal experience. My financial background hasn’t helped with the writing of my novels, but has proved invaluable in other ways. Many of my writer friends loathe dealing with H M Revenue and Customs or preparing a balance sheet, but I’m fine with all that after twenty-eight years as an accountant.
In terms of your development as an author, do you view each new book as a step forward?
Yes, definitely. I often set myself a challenge with new novels to help develop my skills. For example, I’d read that it’s hard to write a novel in the present tense, but I couldn’t see why that might be. So I wrote ‘Guilty Innocence’ in the present tense, and found I really enjoyed doing so. It adds urgency and tension to the narrative, in my opinion. With ‘the Second Captive’ I experimented with writing in scenes as opposed to whole chapters, and discovered I liked that too. It’s all a huge learning curve, and I love every minute!
Do you have many unpublished novels/stories?
No, I don’t, and I foresee that continuing to be the case. My only unpublished novel is the one I’m currently editing. I have plenty of unexplored plot ideas, most of which will never amount to anything, though.
How many hours a day do you write, and do you stick to a set schedule?
I work normal office hours, Monday to Friday, with mornings devoted to the writing process. That encompasses other elements besides writing, of course – at present I’m editing my seventh novel, so I’m currently chopping out words rather than writing new ones! My afternoons are spent on the business side of things: marketing, blogging, accounts, etc. I do work on the weekends sometimes, usually if I’m immersed in writing or editing.
If you were to genre-hop, which genres would you most like to try writing?
For years I thought I’d write erotica, but when I started writing I no longer wanted to write sexy stuff. Not sure why, but the urge had deserted me! I’ve no intention of genre-hopping at present, and certain types of fiction would be a no-no. For example, I can’t see myself penning historical fiction, even though I’m happy to read it. Police procedurals or fantasy novels are a possibility, but for now I’ll stick with psychological thrillers.
What is the best investment you ever made in your writing?
Until I signed my publishing contract with Lake Union, I’d edited my own books due to the high cost of using a developmental editor. Working with the one Lake Union provided proved a very positive experience; I learned so much in the process. As a result, I asked her to edit my non-LU titles. Finding a great editor to partner me has proved highly beneficial, and worth every penny.
Enid Blyton used to write 10,000 words per day. Do you think this sort of word-count is a useful target for writers?
Ten thousand words a day? I’m not sure that’s even possible – was Enid superhuman, perhaps?! Even using dictation software, I’d find it hard to come anywhere near that figure. I’m a terrible typist, which is a source of great irritation to me, and I’m happy if I manage anything over two thousand words a day. That may change in future, as I’m thinking of giving dictation software a go, and if so I’ll aim for five thousand words a day. Word-count targets do motivate me, although they won’t have that effect on every writer. I love seeing my daily totals pile up!
How much of yourself do you put into your books?
Absolutely nothing – perish the thought! Some people disbelieve me on that score, but it’s the truth. I’m a very private person and there’s no way I’ll put anything personal in a novel. I’m aware many novelists use their fiction as a catharsis for their issues, but the thought horrifies me.
What is your current goal as an author?
The last twelve months have been quite unsettled – I’ve been engaged in the process of selling my flat in Bristol and buying a house in the north-east for most of that time, and before that I was travelling abroad for ten months. My writing schedule has definitely suffered from the instability. As a result, my immediate goal is to consolidate my author career – I have some exciting stuff planned, including releasing my seventh novel, but my main aim is to establish a home base from which to operate. I also intend to get very much more pro-active with my marketing.