It’s great to have you with us, Maggie James. Can you start by telling us a little about yourself?
I’m a British author who lives in Bristol. I write psychological suspense novels.
I wrote the draft of my first novel, His Kidnapper’s Shoes, whilst travelling in Bolivia. What inspired me? A combination of an impending milestone birthday along with annoyance at having procrastinated for so long in writing a novel. Ever since childhood, my dream has always been to be a novelist but I’ve only achieved it recently. His Kidnapper’s Shoes was published in 2013, followed by my second novel, Sister, Psychopath. My third novel, Guilty Innocence, like my first two, features my home city of Bristol. I’ve recently published my fourth novel, The Second Captive.
Before turning my hand to writing, I worked mainly as an accountant, with a diversion into practicing as a nutritional therapist. Diet and health remain high on my list of interests, along with travel. Accountancy does not, but then it never did. The urge to go off travelling is always lurking in the background! When not writing, going to the gym, practicing yoga or travelling, I can be found seeking new four-legged friends to pet; animals are a lifelong love!
Where does writing fit into your life, and what keeps you motivated/inspired when discouragement sets in?
I’m now a full-time writer, which is wonderful. When I was a child, being a novelist was all I wanted to do as an adult; it never occurred to me that things might not turn out that way. Sure enough, they didn’t. As a young adult, I lacked confidence, telling myself I didn’t possess enough life experience to write a novel. I procrastinated for several decades, until my fiftieth birthday loomed large on the horizon. That was enough to galvanize me into action, and I’ve been writing ever since.
As for discouragement, from what I’ve read online, it sets in occasionally for many authors, myself included. When it does, I remind myself of my overall goal to be a successful full-time novelist. That’s enough to spur me on.
As a reader, what do you think makes a good story? What have you learned to never do in your own writing?
I think good characters are essential. They don’t need to be likable, but they should be interesting and believable. Sometimes I read a book in which the characters resemble cardboard cut-outs, with no individuality, no quirks. For example, middle-aged women dressed in twinsets and pearls, dumpy, and with graying hair. That’s clichéd, as well as boring.
The other essential is a plot arc that flows well. There don’t need to be twists, turns and sensational events in every chapter, but loose ends should be tied up and everything makes sense. The last novel I read contained a scene in which the protagonist held two people hostage but also let them go. Not sequentially, but at the same time; the author must have been deliberating between two outcomes and forgotten to remove one. It made for disjointed reading, that’s for sure!
When it comes to reviews, do you have a thick skin? How do you handle negative feedback?
I suspect the majority of writers have skins as thin as tissue paper when it comes to reviews. I do. A great review has me dancing with delight; a bad one can dampen my whole day. No matter how good the book, it’s inevitable it’ll attract adverse comments; it’s impossible to write a novel that wows all readers. It’s all part of the learning curve for writers. I tend not to read my reviews anymore, and I certainly would never respond to them, whether they’re good or bad. That’s on the basis of advice I’ve been given by more experienced authors, and it makes sense. Reviews are written by readers for other readers, not for the author. A writer’s time is best spent writing.
Reviews aside, I deal with negative feedback every time I send a new novel to my beta readers. That’s fine, and I have no problem with it. I don’t want them to respond with glowing praise – that wouldn’t provide me with the feedback I need to improve the book. Instead, I’m seeking to know what’s wrong, so I can put it right before publication. So long as my beta readers are tactful (and they are), I’m fine with them telling me what doesn’t work with my book.
What draws you to your preferred genre? Why do you think it’s so popular?
I’m fascinated by human behaviour and how the mind works, so it’s natural for me to gravitate to psychological thrillers. I believe we’re much more complex than conventional psychological theories can explain, and our behaviour provides fertile material for novelists like me. The genre is certainly popular, and I suspect that’s because other people are as interested as I am in human quirkiness. Take my last novel, The Second Captive, which deals with the fascinating psychological phenomenon of Stockholm syndrome. It’s hard for many of us to imagine how somebody can become emotionally dependent upon their captor/abuser, but it captured my imagination as soon as the idea came on my radar.
Can you tell us about your books? What other projects are you working on?
So far I’ve published four psychological suspense novels, and four non-fiction books from my time as a nutritional therapist. I don’t plan to publish any more nutrition books, but I’m currently working on another non-fiction offering. So many people have said to me that they’d dearly love to write a novel, but haven’t a clue where to start. I’m hoping my book will plug that gap. Once it’s finished, I’ll write another psychological suspense offering – probably a novella that’ll be free to anybody who’d like to read my work. After that, another novel. For now, I intend to stay with the psychological thriller genre, but further down the line I may diversify. Possible future genres include dystopia and erotica.
What advice would you give to new writers, especially those looking to break into your genre? Advice on marketing and selling?
I’d advise new writers to set up a website, and probably also a blog, before they publish their first book. I wish I’d done that. As it was, I hadn’t a clue what I was doing; my focus was on writing my novel, and I didn’t give any thought to learning about book marketing or creating a website. Oh, the benefit of hindsight!
I’d also say that wannabe novelists should read widely in their chosen genre. What else? Well, I’d advise anyone, if their spelling punctuation and grammar isn’t up to scratch, to brush up their skills or find a good editor. Many otherwise good self-published novels are marred by such issues, and it’s increasingly common to find typos in traditionally published ones.
As for marketing, there are many great books available from Amazon that can give far better advice than I can. Identify your target audience, and then decide how to reach them. Get included in book recommendation emails and become proficient with social media. Learn about SEO and keywords.
Finally, I’d advise new writers to grow a thick skin. The Internet can be a brutal place. There will always be people who delight in flaming you and doing their best to drag you down. Ignore them.
How can readers get into contact with you?
I’m very active on social media, and I’m always happy to gain new followers and friends. I also blog weekly on all topics of interest to fiction readers, including author interviews and book reviews. Why not take a look?
If anyone wants to contact me directly, they can do so via my website. Here are my links:
Why not drop Maggie James a message below or go visit her on her links? I’m sure she’d love to meet you and talk to you about her books. Thanks for reading!