Today I have an interview with Maggie James. Thank you so much for joining me today and answering my questions
Maggie James is a British author who lives near Newcastle-upon-Tyne. She writes psychological suspense novels.
Before turning her hand to writing, Maggie worked mainly as an accountant, with a diversion into practising as a nutritional therapist. Diet and health remain high on her list of interests, along with travel. Accountancy does not, but then it never did. The urge to pack a bag and go off travelling is always lurking in the background! When not writing, going to the gym, practising yoga or travelling, Maggie can be found seeking new four-legged friends to pet; animals are a lifelong love!
Follow Maggie James at
https://www.maggiejamesfiction.com and my
Amazon author page is https://author.to/MJF
Which Hero was your favourite to write about?
Good question! I’ll go with Beth Sutton from ‘The Second Captive’. It was a challenge to write about a naïve eighteen-year-old who’s thrown into captivity by a good-looking older man, while also expanding on the fascinating, if disturbing, topic of Stockholm syndrome. Readers tell me they also love the character of Ursula Sutton, Beth’s mother; she’s a strong, feisty woman who never gives up hope of finding her daughter, and who provides unerring support once Beth’s ordeal is over—or is it?
Which Villain was your favourite to write about?
As I explain further on, I loved creating the character of Dominic Purdue in ‘The Second Captive’. Other than that, I’ll go with my villain, a man of many aliases, in ‘Deception Wears Many Faces’, because he was such fun to bring to life! He’s a con artist, all superficial charm hiding the evil underneath, and I loved writing about his machinations. I’d rather not meet him in the flesh, though!
What inspired you to become an author?
My father inspired a passion for reading in me from a very young age, and I suspect my love of fiction kindled a desire to create more of the same. When I was a girl, I couldn’t imagine being anything other than a novelist. I wrote lots of short stories as a child, with one being published in the local newspaper and another winning a prize. As an adult, though, it took decades before I realised my dream.
What is your favourite novel that you have written?
Ooh, that’s a difficult one! I could name several, all for different reasons. My first, ‘His Kidnapper’s Shoes’, will always occupy a special place in my heart because it’s my first-born. I remember well the elation I felt when I typed the last word—I burst into tears with relief because it felt so good.
My last novel, ‘She’ll Never Tell’, is special because it’s freshest in my mind, but also because it took a lot of work to get from my rough first draft to the published manuscript. At one point, I considered ditching the story altogether. The same things happened with ‘Silent Winter’. I’m so glad I persevered, because both have been well-received.
Writing ‘The Second Captive’ was great fun! I loved creating the character of Dominic Purdue, a man irretrievably damaged by his past, but who commits his crimes out of a desire for love and acceptance—who among us can’t relate to the latter?
This is my longest book to date and the first one that I wrote using separate parts and scenes, so I enjoyed the challenge of that.
Finally, I love ‘Deception Wears Many Faces’ because it’s the kind of cat-and-mouse story I enjoy reading. Con men (and women) make great antagonists!
If you could rank your books on what you think people should read first, what would it be?
My novels are all standalones, so people can read them in any order. For someone who wants a taster of my writing, I’d recommend my novella ‘Blackwater Lake’, which examines one man’s determination to uncover his family’s troubled past. As part of my research, I delved into the fascinating yet heart-breaking subject of hoarding disorder. I’m someone who tends towards minimalism, so I found it a compelling topic.
Other than that, I’d recommend reading the blurb for each one and picking whichever story resonates most with you, perhaps one of the novels I mentioned when answering the previous question.
Tell me about your writing process.
My writing process varies with each novel, and is more polished now than when I wrote ‘His Kidnapper’s Shoes’! Back then I hadn’t a clue what I was doing, so I just created a Word document and began to write, helped by an Excel spreadsheet which had a tab for each character and a line for what I wanted to happen in each chapter.
Since then I’ve discovered Scrivener’s excellent writing software, along with help for plotting such as Snowflake Pro, Plottr and Aeon Timeline. I’m pretty geeky about software—I’ll take all the help I can get! I’ve also devoured books on writing craft, and being a prolific reader in my genre helps.
Nowadays my process is as follows. I start with the germ of an idea, something I can encapsulate in one sentence. With the help of the Snowflake plotting method, I expand that premise to three sentences, which equate to the beginning, middle and end of the novel. I then work each of those into a paragraph, and so on, adding in character profiles and subplots until I get to one or more pages that are a synopsis of the story.
The next step is to create a Scrivener document and add in maybe thirty folders, one for each chapter, and assign a writing target to each, say, 2,500—3,000 words. I then take my synopsis and split it over the thirty chapters, so that I have a guideline of what to write for each. If I need more or fewer chapters, that’s easily sorted in Scrivener. For future novels, I’ll also work with Aeon Timeline to ensure my dates and timings are correct, because I often struggle to keep those on track.
The next step is to start writing! My aim is to use dictation in the future as much as I can, because I’m a terrible typist and dictation is so much quicker. It’ll all help speed up producing my first draft!
Once I’ve got the story out of my head, it’s time to start the editing/revision side, which is my favourite part of the process. I print off a paper copy so that I can scribble over it to my heart’s content, noting typos, repeated bits, paragraphs that sag, plot holes, etc. I revise the manuscript until I can’t go any further, then I turn it over to my trusty team of beta readers. They always provide a wealth of useful feedback, and it’s rare that I don’t incorporate their suggestions.
Tell me the best advice you can give to an aspiring author.
Lots to say here! Don’t get discouraged by negative reactions from others when you say you want to write a novel. Many people will tell you that you can’t make a living as a writer, that it’s okay as a hobby, but nothing else, etc. Some of these may also harbour writing ambitions but do nothing about them, hence the negativity. Besides, you might not want publication; many writers prefer to write for themselves or friends and family. Do what you want to do and don’t listen to others—they’re not living your life.
What next? Writing is often referred to as a marathon, not a sprint, and rightly so. You’ll most likely get discouraged halfway through, but keep going. Everything that doesn’t work can be sorted during the editing process, but you can’t fix what doesn’t exist, so stick with it! Ignore your internal editor that shouts that your story is terrible, your writing sucks, etc. Almost everyone produces rough first drafts—I’d never let anyone see mine!
Finally, if you’re aiming for indie publication, be as professional as possible. Invest in a great cover, one that’s appropriate for your genre, as well as an editor and proof-reader.
You have options in publishing going self-published vs standard publishers.
I am sure both have benefits. What did you start with? What do you prefer? I started with indie publishing, having been introduced to the idea by a friend in 2011. To me, and many other authors, being an indie offers many benefits. You’re in complete control of your covers, formatting, prices, etc., and you don’t have to split royalties with an agent and/or publisher. With some traditional publishers offering as ,low as 10% royalties and expecting novelists to do all their own marketing, Amazon’s 70% rates are an attractive proposition. I’d published four novels by the time I was approached by Lake Union, who offered me a two-book contract for ‘His Kidnapper’s Shoes’ and ‘After She’s Gone’. After much thought, I accepted, and have had no regrets. Lake Union is an Amazon imprint, so their authors get much better royalty rates than other publishers. After I signed with Lake Union, four of my other titles got picked up by Bloodhound Books, but all have now been republished under my own imprint, Orelia Publishing.
Overall, I prefer indie publishing, for the reasons I outlined earlier. Many novelists eschew traditional publishing altogether and only publish as indie authors. It’s a matter of choice; I have writer friends who just want to write and are happy to concede control to their publishers. Others, like me, prefer the higher rewards and career control that comes with being an indie. There’s no right or wrong.