I’m absolutely thrilled today to be in the company of one of my favourite authors, Margaret James: you might remember how much I loved her last book, The Wedding Diary (that’s a link to my review). Margaret’s books are published by one of my favourites, Choc Lit, and I’ve just thoroughly enjoyed the latest book in the Charton Minster series, Magic Sometimes Happens. It was published in paperback on 6 November, and is also available for Kindle. Those lovely people at Choc Lit are also offering a copy in either format to a UK reader of my blog, and there are more details below, along with my review.
Margaret, it’s so lovely to have you here – welcome to Being Anne…
Hello, Anne! Thank you for inviting me to chat with you. I’m delighted to be here. As you see, I’ve brought cupcakes, so we won’t get hungry as we talk!
Ooh, you can come again! Margaret, I’m so ashamed – I still haven’t read the first three books in the Charton Minster series. But as you can see, it hasn’t spoiled by enjoyment one jot. Would you like to tell my readers some more about the Denham family?
Please don’t be ashamed! I have about two hundred novels on my Kindle, and probably as many on my bookshelves, all as yet unread. I just can’t resist buying books and I do intend to read them all one day.
The Charton Minster series of novels began back in 1914 with Rose Courtenay, who became Rose Denham when she married the lovely but troubled Alex. Rose was the only child of a country landowner in Dorset. She was hugely rich and privileged but she hated her stifling and stifled existence. So when the First World War came along, she did what so many young women did – she seized the chance to escape. Rose became a VAD and worked in France, where fell in love with Alex Denham, a neighbour’s adopted son who was already married – oops.
Divorce was almost impossible in those days, but Alex and Rose eventually married and had two children. They became the heroes of the third story in the series. What about the second book? Well, that’s about Daisy, Rose’s and Alex’s adopted daughter, whose natural father was Alex’s worst enemy…
The Minnesota setting is a refreshing change from the more usual New York connection. Why Minnesota?
My daughter lives in Minnesota and I have to tell you it’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. When I last visited it was fall. The whole place was gold and red and yellow with autumn leaves. The sky was a gloriously vivid blue and the many lakes in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul reflected that astonishing sky. There are some fantastic modern buildings in Minneapolis and some very grand Victorian mansions in Saint Paul. I spent the whole time staring in wonder at everything!
It was wonderful to see Fanny again from The Wedding Diary. Are the links between your novels important to you?
I don’t like saying goodbye to characters in novels. After all, I’ve usually lived with these people for a year or more, and it seems so sad and also so ungrateful to dump them after they have given me so much companionship and pleasure. When I read other people’s novels I often wonder what happened next to the characters in them.
I’m an unashamed fan of Choc Lit… I’ve yet to read a book they’ve published that I haven’t enjoyed. What does your relationship with them mean to you?
Choc Lit is the most brilliant, supportive and energetic publisher I could ever want – and I’ve had quite a few! It’s been amazing to be part of the Choc Lit story. My first Charton Minster book The Silver Locket was the seventh novel to be published by Choc Lit back in 2010, and when I first saw the cover for it I actually cried, I was so happy. Gorgeous covers, lots of promotion, editors who are a pleasure to work with – what more could a novelist want?
It’s one of my few claims to fame that you’ve been a follower of my blog from the early days – thank you! Tell me your thoughts about an author’s relationship with the blogging community.
You’re welcome! I think it’s important for novelists to connect with their readers and blogging allows them to do this, as do social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. I love hearing from readers and it’s great to meet them online or even face to face, which happens more and more frequently nowadays.
Tell me more about The Creative Writing Student’s Handbook, and why you and Cathie produced it. I’ve read a few chapters, and love your approach, but after a lot of soul searching have decided I’m content to comment on other people’s work…
Cathie Hartigan and I are both teachers of creative writing with at least thirty years of teaching experience between us. As you know, I’m a novelist, while Cathie is a widely-published, prize-winning writer of short stories.
We accept that a teacher can bring out only what is already there in a student. So, as teachers, we do our best to find what is there and then to encourage the student to make the best possible use of his or her talents. We feel that a lot of the how-to books out there are somewhat prescriptive and that they tend to address readers from on high, so we decided to write one which we hoped would be accessible and friendly.
We know that in order to succeed at anything people need to learn how to learn, and that’s what TheCreative Writing Student’s Handbook seeks to do – to show students how to be good learners. We’re happy to report that the book is a bestseller in several categories and that our students continue to do well, get published in various formats and win competitions all the time.
Being an early retiree, I’m also aware of your relationship with oapschat. I think it’s a fantastic site – would you like to give them a plug?
My sister Janice Rosser was the primary carer for our severely disabled mother until Mum died earlier this year. About a year ago Jan realised there were hardly any forums for the over-fifties online. So she set up Oapschat, which is an interactive site for the over-fifties and their friends and relations. She’s made a brilliant job of it and now has thousands of regular followers and other people checking in now and again. This year, she was delighted to be included in the Independent on Sunday’s Happy (and non-rich) List which celebrates people who give something back to their communities. I’m very proud of Jan and all she does for disadvantaged people everywhere.
If you’re following my blog, I’m sure you must be a reader too. What have you read recently that you’d recommend?
I’ve just finished Harlan Coben’s The Woods, a crime and mystery thriller full of brilliant twists and turns and which freaked me out, but in a good way. I recently enjoyed and also sobbed over Christina Baker Kline’s very moving Orphan Train, which is coincidentally set partly in Minnesota, but I didn’t know that until I started reading and my own novel had already been printed. Orphan Train is a story about the unwanted European immigrant children who were shipped out to the Midwest of the USA to take their chances in the wilderness with families who might take them in and love them or who might work them to death. I’ve just re-read David Lodge’s Nice Work, a hilarious academic comedy which came out years ago but hasn’t dated at all.
And how about all-time favourite reads – maybe three? I’m willing to bet we have many in common…
So many books, so little time! I know I shouldn’t keep revisiting my favourites when there are so many new books to read, but I do have three permanent keepers which are the ancient Penguin editions I’ve had from my college days: Great Expectations, Pride and Prejudiceand Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love. They’re all going in my coffin!
Margaret, it’s been so lovely to meet you… now, while I tell everyone more about Magic Sometimes Happens, let’s set about those cupcakes!
London-based PR and promotions consultant Rosie Denham has just spent a year in Paris where she’s tried but failed to fall in love. She’s also made a big mistake and can’t forgive herself.
American IT professor Patrick Riley’s wife has left him for a Mr Wonderful with a cute British accent and a house with a real yard. So Patrick’s not exactly thrilled to meet another Brit who’s visiting Minnesota, even if she’s hot.
Pat and Rosie couldn’t be more different. She’s had a privileged English upbringing. He was raised in poverty in Missouri. Pat has two kids, a job that means the world to him and a wife who might decide she wants her husband back.
So when Pat and Rosie fall in love, the prospects don’t seem bright for them. But magic sometimes happens – right?
(Magic Sometimes Happens is book 5 in the Charton Minster Series – The Silver Locket, The Golden Chain, The Penny Bangle and The Wedding Diary).
Just like The Wedding Diary before it, I found this book an absolute joy to read. There are so many twists, turns and misunderstandings through the lovely story of the ill-matched Rosie and Pat, but the whole book leaves you with an immense smile on your face, feel-good reading at its very best. Margaret James is an accomplished story teller, and the whole book flows beautifully and effortlessly as you laugh, cry and hope that things turn out well for characters you grow to love. She’s so good at drawing the subsidiary characters too – Pat’s wife Lexie is thoroughly awful, little Polly a perfectly drawn child, Rosie’s friend Tess and her unsuitable American husband a wonderful source for much of the book’s humour. The dialogue sparkles – the parry and thrust of Pat and Rosie’s early exchanges is quite wonderful. And the Minnesota setting is beautifully described – another destination for my bucket list, particularly in the fall. I’d thoroughly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys their romance well-written, engaging, entertaining and with a perfect balance of sadness and joy. And, in case you think you need to have read Margaret’s other four books first, you really don’t need to – but then again, why not?
Choc Lit have offered me a copy of Magic Sometimes Happens in either paperback or Kindle format to give away to one lucky UK reader. The winner was drawn last night, and it’s Essex Reader (Karen). More giveaways to follow soon!
Margaret has told us how much she enjoys hearing from her readers – she can be found on both Facebook and Twitter.