Today I’m delighted to welcome Margaret K. Johnson to Me, My Books and I.
I live in the beautiful city of Norwich in Norfolk, UK with my partner, our nine-year-old son and our super bouncy rescue dog, Billy. I started writing after leaving art college with the idea of funding my career as an artist, and was immediately hooked. These days writing is my major passion and my canvasses lie neglected in the studio, although I do still like to dabble in collage from time to time. I’m a great believer in doing thorough research for my books, and have challenged myself to do such things as abseiling, a tree-top assault course and stand-up comedy in aid of authenticity.
Three of my original fiction readers for people learning to speak English have been finalists for Language Learner Literature Awards, and I’m currently waiting to find out if Kilimanjaro will be a winner! I find out in August, and I’m getting excited!
I have an MA in Creative Writing (Script Writing) from the University of East Anglia, and I’m also an experienced adult education tutor. I’ve recently launched WriteUP courses which are fiction writing courses combined with confidence-building activities to make you creatively confident. What with this and two novels – A Nightingale In Winter (Omnific Publishing) and Taming Tom Jones (Crooked Cat Publishing) coming out in the summer, life is very exciting for me at the moment!
To find out more:
Where did the idea for A Nightingale In Winter come from?
I came across a wonderful book by Lynn MacDonald called The Roses of No Man’s Land about volunteer nurses (VADs) in World War 1. It was filled with extracts from the diaries of VADs, doctors and also some journalists, and these extracts really brought the people in the book to life. They also made me want to find out more, and I went to the Imperial War Museum in London to read some of the actual diaries – this was so thrilling. Gradually the idea of a volunteer nurse who had run away to France to escape some trauma of her past began to grow in my mind, as did the idea of a journalist who was thoroughly disenchanted with the need to abide by the strict rules of censorship when reporting from the Front.
Who designed the cover and why did you go for that particular design?
The cover was designed by my publisher, Omnific Publishing, but they negotiated with me. It was very different to the cover I expected the book to have, I must admit, but I love it! The song of a nightingale of the title plays an important part in the growing relationship between my hero, Dirk and my heroine, Eleanor, as do the misty, mysterious woods. It’s almost as if the battle smoke has drifted in, but there’s hope in the glowing light.
Who was your favourite character to write and why?
I loved writing them all, but I did particularly enjoy writing the character of the soldier and artist Leo Cartwright, because he was so ruthless and evil! There are reasons why he’s turned out this way though, and my challenge was to make the reader empathise with these, even if they couldn’t approve of some of the things he did.
What makes A Nightingale In Winter stand out from the crowd?
A Nightingale in Winter is about personal struggles and a need to face up to difficult truths at a time when the world has gone crazy. In a way, the war is an opportunity – especially for Eleanor, my volunteer nurse – to fulfil a potential that would never, otherwise have seen the light of day. The fact that she also has to decide whether she can find the courage to accept love and also to deal with the ruthless Leo deepen her challenges.
Why did you choose to write in your particular genre?
I normally write contemporary women’s fiction, but I’ve always been drawn to the First World War because it is so very moving. When I discovered The Roses of No Man’s Land, I was drawn in even more. Interestingly, A Nightingale in Winter shares the same theme as one of my contemporary novels, The Goddess Workshop – You can’t move forward in life of really fulfil your potential until you have dealt with the issues of your past.
Do you follow a plan when you are writing or do you let the words guide you?
I have to know my characters, the beginning, the ending and a few touch stones along the way. Then, when I’ve written about 20,000 words, I normally brainstorm scenes onto post-it notes and arrange them so that I have a plan for the rest of the book. At this stage too, I think of a sentence to describe the theme – as above. I find this really helps me, as I can hang everything to it.
Do you have any amusing writing stories to share with us?
Not really amusing, just a bit incredible really, and I hope inspiring. I lost confidence with A Nightingale in Winter after I’d finished it and put it up in the attic for sixteen years! It was only the 100th anniversary of the First World War starting that prompted me to get it down again. When I read through it again after all that time, I could see exactly how I needed to change it to make it work, and I was also really encouraged because I liked so much of it a lot. So it just goes to show, it’s never too late – although I don’t recommend waiting for sixteen years to write your second draft!
What are your favourite and least favourite parts of promoting your book?
I hate all the “buy my book” tweets on Twitter, and don’t want to do those at all. I do need to do some publicity for my books on there though, so it’s a question of getting the balance right.
Where is your favourite place to be when you’re writing?
I seem to have developed the habit of doing the majority of my writing in my notebook early in the morning sitting up in bed with a giant cup of coffee. I do have an office though, and if I’m not teaching my creative writing courses, I type up the morning’s work after I get back from the school run and continue with it on my computer.
If you could travel anywhere in the world to do research for a book where would it be?
Australia and New Zealand or anywhere with a rain forest.
Paperback or eBook?
I read both, but paperbacks are better in the bath.
Tea or coffee?
Coffee every time.
Telephone or face to face?
Face-to-face – I like to look people in the eye!
Pen or pencil?
Pen, especially one that flows well. A lovely, brand-new black gel pen. Yum!
Vanilla or chocolate
Any last words for your readers?
I have another – very different – novel coming out in the Autumn (Taming Tom Jones with Crooked Cat Publishing). A Nightingale in Winter and Taming Tom Jones are both romances, but they’re very different books, and perhaps they represent different parts of me. They must do, I suppose, since I wrote them both! I’d be interested to know what your readers think about writers who write in different genres – whether it annoys or confuses them, or if they’re fine with it.
Thank you so much for being here today Margaret, it was a pleasure to have you on my blog. I particularly enjoyed reading about how A Nightingale in Winter had a long wait before being looked at again!
Now check out the book:
“It is 1916, and The Great War is raging throughout Europe. Eleanor Martin is traveling to France to serve as a volunteer nurse. She only wants to bury herself in her work on the Front and forget her traumatic past. But when her ship is torpedoed, Eleanor has to act quickly to save an American journalist’s life. As she cradles Dirk Loreson’s broken body in her arms, speaking to him to keep him conscious, the possibility of a whole different future begins to open up for her.
Leo Cartwright, an ambitious artist, is also en route to the Front. A ruthless man who will stop at nothing to find inspiration for his paintings, Leo’s path is destined to cross with Eleanor’s. As she comes under his spell, will she find the strength to resist his demands? Will she trust her growing love for Dirk?”