Welcome, Maggie, and thank you for coming to my author chat. Also, congratulations on the release of your sixth novel, Champagne for Breakfast. With an alluring cover shot of the Noosa River and a catchy title, it’s sure to enjoy great success.
Thanks, Debbie. I’m delighted to be here.
Maggie, what inspires you to write and to keep on writing?
My readers are my inspiration. Good reviews, when someone tells or emails me that they’ve enjoyed my books, love my characters and want more, that my books mean so much to them, give them hope and inspiration. Even when mature women ask me for advice on their love life! All of these motivate me to keep going. It thrills me to have given pleasure to my readers and makes it all worthwhile. One especially pleasing comment I received recently was when a reader told me she was having coffee in one of the cafés I mentioned in my books and she expected the characters to walk in, even though she knew they couldn’t.
When writing a novel, do you plan the story from the start or ‘go with the flow’?
I start with my heroine and a challenging – or pivotal – situation and take it from there. My other characters appear, and the story begins to take shape. I may know how it will end, but not the intervening events. I most definitely ‘go with the flow’ and it sometimes takes me down surprising paths.
How much of yourself is reflected in your characters?
I guess there may be a little of me in all of my heroines, even though most of them is fiction. For example, Anna in Band of Gold is a teacher – I was a teacher. Jenny and Rosa in The Oregon Coast Series and Champagne for Breakfast both work in a Health Service, as I did. Jenny faces a redundancy, as I did. But there the similarity ends. I guess I use my experiences to provide background information and locations I’m familiar with. I lived for many years on Sydney’s North Shore, hence the location for Band of Gold and Broken Threads. My mother-in-law moved to the small town of Florence Oregon in her eighties, many visits there prompting the setting for my Oregon Coast books. I currently live on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, hence the setting for my latest novel, Champagne for Breakfast and the beginning of The Sand Dollar. And Anna in Band of Gold makes a trip to my favourite Peregian Beach too. My heroines are, like me, independent and organised women.
As an Indie author, what do you see as the future of writing and publishing?
I think there is a strong future for writing and publishing. I believe more and more authors will turn to indie publishing and/or become hybrid authors as it becomes more difficult to find acceptance with trad publishers, smaller publishing houses disappear and authors become disillusioned with the trad route.
In your writing career so far, what has been your proudest moment?
I don’t think there is one proudest moment. There was the time I held a copy of my first book, my first review, when someone I’d never met wrote, ‘I read this book recently and LOVED LOVED LOVED it. A mature heroine was what made it so special. Brilliantly written.’ When our local bookshop owner promotes me to other indie authors as someone to emulate, and last Saturday when I sat at a table for my book signing behind my sixbooks and I realised I’d written all of them.
What are you working on right now?
I’m currently editing a book set in Scotland. I’m often asked why I haven’t set a book in Scotland, so when writing Broken Threads, I gave one of the minor characters, Bel, an ageing aunt in Scotland. The Good Sister picks up this story when Bel returns to her native Scotland to visit her terminally ill aunt. It’s a dual narrative which tells Bel’s story while in Scotland plus her aunt’s story going back to 1938. It’s been fun researching Scotland in the war years and remembering my own time growing up there – lots of words and phrases I haven’t heard or used for years kept coming into my head as I was writing this one.
I’m also working on a novella which will be Alex and Jack’s story. Alex is an executive coach who appears briefly in The Sand Dollar and again in Champagne for Breakfastwhere Jack is also introduced.
As you see, I’m continuing my custom of having my readers meet old friends in my books. It’s something I set out to do, as does one of my favourite authors, Marcia Willett. I enjoy reading her books and meeting characters I’m already familiar with.
Thank you, Maggie, for sharing insights into your writing journey and best wishes for your new novel, Champagne for Breakfast.
If you’d like to contact Maggie or buy a book, here’s how.
Her blog, which focuses on interviews of people in the writing and creative space, has the intriguing name ‘Six Peas‘.
In keeping with her play on words, I’ve set her the task of answering five Qs.
Q1: The opening sentence of ‘Distance’ is: One of the saddest things in the world must be to get to the end of your life and wish you’d done things differently. How much of the novel reflects your own experience?
In 2002 I emigrated to Australia from Pembrokeshire, Wales with my husband and three children. We were extremely fortunate in that the whole thing went very smoothly, but by far the hardest thing we did, was leaving family and friends behind, in particular my mum. Understandably, Mum didn’t want us to move twelve thousand miles away and didn’t feel that at her age, it was something she could contemplate herself, but she would never have tried to stop us from realising our dream. She wished us nothing but the absolute best and came to Queensland on holiday, four times. Like us, Mum fell in love with the place to the point where she was even considering moving here for good. However, she became very sick and sadly passed away before we were able to make that happen.
When I started writing ‘Distance’ I thought about the what ifs?
What if Mum had been so distraught at the thought of us emigrating, that I was unable to leave her? What if I didn’t have a fabulous brother and sister-in-law who looked after Mum once we had left and she became ill? What if the guilt of leaving a devastated parent behind consumed me to the point of destroying my marriage?
I have had a tremendous amount of feedback from readers who are able to relate to my protagonist’s dilemma, her feelings of inadequacy, guilt, sorrow and disappointment. It doesn’t have to be a move to the other side of the world; simply moving to another state or town can be incredibly tough on family relationships.
So I would say that while the story does have its feet in truth and most of the locations described in the books are real, I have considered many things that could have gone wrong and given all these challenges to my fictional family.
Q2: How long did it take to write the Distance series and what were your greatest challenges?
Five years ago, we moved from Brisbane to Melbourne for twelve months, with my husband’s job. Our children had grown up and left home so it was just the two of us in our small apartment in the middle of the city. I realised that I now had the time and opportunity to write the book that had been simmering in my mind for some time.
I completed ‘Distance’ over that year, writing chapters out in longhand at a cafe down the road from our apartment each morning and then typing everything up on the computer at home in the afternoons. The following year, when we had moved back to Brisbane, I wrote the sequel ‘Further’ over a number of months and then last year I completed the final book in the series, ‘Surfacing.’
I would say that for me, the greatest challenge of writing a book is the editing! I’m not a fan. I love to write, but editing is something that I know needs to be done, but it’s not something I enjoy.
Q3: What are the most important attributes for being a successful writer?
Oooh, well perhaps the ability to self-motivate and to write every single day. I think it’s vitally important to keep that writing muscle toned, as otherwise it’s easy to get flabby! I consider writing my job (and count my blessings every day that my job is also my passion) and I go to work in my office at home. It’s no good being distracted by things going on in the house. Being your own boss is fantastic, but it might be tempting to leave work early sometimes! I’d never get anything finished if I didn’t put my work head on, so when I sit at my desk to write, I’m not thinking about anything else.
Q4: You are fab at doing your own publicity. What words of advice can you share?
Well first of all – thank you! One of the hardest things for me to overcome has been to get over feeling awkward about promotion. To be honest, it’s not where I feel most comfortable, but I realise that it’s very important to get over that, in order to spread the word about my work. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of social media sites out there so I think it’s probably a good idea to choose just a couple and post to those regularly, rather than spreading oneself too thin by trying to run around all over the internet. Social media can be a real time-thief so my suggestion would be for authors to be quite strict about planning out their publicity as it can sometimes take you away from actually writing!
Some authors much prefer to have a helping hand with publicity, rather than shouldering it all on their own. My daughter Sarah has a business, Big Plans, which offers exactly this kind of help and looks after all my profile pics, book trailers and a lot of my content for social media, though over time I’ve learned to quite enjoy online marketing and regularly post to social media, too. I also take part in book signings, library author panels, interviews and so on – and these are always great fun to do.
Q5: What can you tell me about your current work in progress?
Redhanded is all about drugs, cheating, murder and firemen. And, unlike The Distance Series, has absolutely no connection with my own life! I loved writing Isobel’s story over the series, but decided that it might be fun to really challenge myself and write something that’s about a million miles out of my comfort zone. I’m about halfway through writing the first draft and I have to say – it’s rather liberating and great fun! I’m delving into dark and unfamiliar places (and I sincerely hope nobody checks out my Google search history!) – but I would say that ultimately, Redhanded is a love story. It will be published later this year.
Jackee Ashwin, author of Relinquished, Returned, Rejected, a true story about adoption and stillbirth. Firsthand, Jackee experienced being a young unwed mother in the 1970s. At the end of her pregnancy, she was coerced into relinquishing her newborn for adoption. Few other viable options existed at the time.
On her website, Jackee writes:
In 1974 I relinquished a baby boy as part of the adoption process. I faced the shame and ridicule of society of that era which sadly stayed with me until 2012 when my son found me and I was able to hold my head high and finally shout to the world, yes I am a mother, I have a son.
Jackee’s is the story of thousands of Australians, mothers of another stolen generation that was not defined by race or social status. Banished from their homes, many of the girls went on so-called ‘working holidays’ to hide their condition. For all concerned – biological parents, adoptive parents, and their babies alike – a blanket of silence stifled the release of information about the adoption process.
For the offspring, many remain unaware that they were adopted. Some are still trying to discover the truth of their origin, while others have been reunited with one or both of their original parents.
DEBBIE: Welcome Jackee and thanks for agreeing to this interview. First, can you tell me a bit about yourself and your writing journey?
JACKEE: Thanks Debbie, I am number four in a family of thirteen, a family of nine brothers and 3 other sisters. My family live in Tasmania, which is where I grew up. My husband and I left to seek adventures on the ‘big’ island over ten years ago deciding during that time to move on to a new destination every two years to experience different cities, meet new people and make lots of friends. We have travelled and lived up and down the east coast of Queensland during that time and only returned from Far North Queensland in June 2015. Our travelling days have finished and we find ourselves back in our home in Brisbane and feel very settled here. My writing however started in Cairns, my husband continually urged me to write my story for myself and for those affected by adoption and stillbirth.
DEBBIE: What gives you inspiration?
JACKEE: Inspiration to me is life events, especially those that are to help someone in need or a cause that is being managed to help a particular issue. Writing my book certainly gave me inspiration to ‘warn’ any adoptee or relinquishing parent of the potential pitfalls to be aware of should either party be considering searching for or reuniting with their lost family. I wish I had read my book before meeting my son. My other inspiration is my intended journey to meet the some of the other mothers who have experienced the shattering heartache of delivery a child already with the angels. I have been invited to meet with the CEO of Stillbirth Foundation of Australia in Sydney. I am truly inspired by this organisation and would love to be an ambassador for them.
DEBBIE: How did writing about such difficult times in your life affect you?
JACKEE: I found writing my memoir to be very very cathartic and also the process and journey of writing what was in my heart allowed me to finally open the door on the sadness of losing one son to adoption and my only other son to stillbirth. My emotional roller coaster was at an all-time high during the days and nights I put pen to paper, I had to relive all the emotions that for the last 40 years had been put into a closet in my subconscious mind. Thoughts and heartache of course was always there but by keeping that door closed helped me to keep moving forward.
DEBBIE: How has your book changed you personally and what impact has it had on your readers?
JACKEE: My book has finally allowed me to walk with my head held high and state to all and sundry that I was an unwed mother, that I did adopt out a son albeit not from my choosing and that the shame of that era I now refuse to acknowledge. I face the world as a proud person who has chosen to tell the world her journey. My book has connected (through social media) with many groups who are out there looking for their biological tree, seeking information on their natural mum and their families. Ironically adoptees tend to seek information on the natural mum more so than dad. I have learned that adoptees continue to hurt many years on even into middle age, so many are restless souls tirelessly looking for that cord that connects mother and child for life. I have read so many wonderful stories of reunions, some not so good, and some also where natural parents are too afraid to contact their child and vice-versa for fear of further rejection. A very sad fact.
My readers have sent so many emails and social media posts, each saying they too went through so many emotions whilst reading my story, from tears to laughter, from anguish to admiration. Some have forwarded the link to my book to loved ones they know are looking for their biological tree and hereditary line. Readers have left beautiful testimonies on my webpage also.
DEBBIE: Do you have other books in the pipeline?
JACKEE: I am now giving a lot of thought to helping with stillbirth families, information on how I conquered my darkest days with a view to working with the Stillbirth Foundation of Australia as a guide. Their website states categorically that 6 babies a day are born sleeping and never get to go home with mum and dad. That figure astounds me and that is the area I find I am being drawn to it.
JACKEE: Thanks Debbie for the interview, I have enjoyed being able to answer the questions.