Welcome to my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, scriptwriters, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with historical romance and contemporary novelist Madalyn Morgan. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Madalyn. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Madalyn: Three years ago I moved to Lutterworth in Leicestershire. I was born in Lutterworth, but had lived in London for thirty-five years. I moved to South East London when I was offered a place at East15 Drama College. Some years later, after touring and working in Repertory Theatres all over the UK, I found myself out of work. It was then that I made London my base. In the 1970s and 80s most auditions were held in London, so it made sense to live there.
I joke about giving up my acting career for love (and a mortgage), and then love giving me up. However, that is only half the story. In the early 1990s there was less and less work around for forty-something actresses so, as I’d always loved writing and needed something creative to do after playing the part of, Sardine, on the Northern Line twice daily, I began a writing course with, The Writers Bureau. And thank God I did. When I was unhappy, I would go to my study, shut the door on the sad old, bad old, world, and immerse myself in my writing.
Morgen: It is very therapeutic. What genre do you generally write?
Madalyn: Foxden Acres, my first novel, is a wartime romance. It started life as a story about a strong woman in the land army. Believe it or not, I had the first draft of Foxden Acres down before Angela Huth published, Land Girls. So I put it in the drawer for several years. It’s now a story about unrequited love that’s eventually realised. My protagonist crosses both gender and class divides. She finds love, and when that love is taken from her, has the strength to move on. Foxden Acres is the first of four books about four very different sisters during the Second World War. I have two contemporary novels plotted, which I shall write when I’ve finished the last of the Dudley sister’s quartet.
Morgen: It’s a shame you put your novel away because of something similar (there are only supposed to be seven plots) but then you’ve had more experience in that time so have perhaps a stronger book because of it. What have you had published to-date? Do you write under a pseudonym?
Madalyn: Foxden Acres is my first novel. I’ve written newspaper and magazine articles. I enjoy turning events into articles. After a week on the Writers Holiday, Caerleon, I wrote about King Arthur. And I was brought up in Lutterworth, where John Wycliffe contributed to the translation of the bible from Latin to English, so I wrote an article about the life of Wycliffe. I like researching historical figures and events. I’ve written about Joan of Arc, The Titanic and The King James Bible. And, as I live near Leicester, I’ve been asked to write article about King Richard III and finding his remains, which I’m researching now. I’m also a radio presenter and radio journalist – and love writing about rock bands.
Madalyn Morgan, my author name is also my stage name. I was born Madalyn Smith, but there was already an actress in the union with the name, so Equity telephoned and asked me to choose another name. I was in the bar of my parent’s pub, so I looked along the spirit optics and, because I had been asked several time if I was the actress, Hannah Gordon, I decided against Gordon (Gin). Bell’s whiskey was next in line, but Madeleine Bell the American soul singer was in England singing with Dusty Spingfield, and I didn’t think Smirnoff (Vodka) had the right ring to it. Then I spotted Captain Morgan’s Rum. I told Equity (in 1976) that my name was Madalyn Morgan – and that’s who I have been ever since.
Morgen: You’ve self-published – what lead to you going your own way?
Madalyn: I have recently self-published my first novel, Foxden Acres. I’ve come close to being represented by three literary agents. The first agent said if I thought the rest of Foxden Acres was as good as the first three chapters, I should send it to her. I did, and the manuscript was returned to me with leaflet advertising their self-help book on how to present a manuscript – signed, Office Manager. It’s a good book, and the one I always used before sending off my MS. The office manager obviously hadn’t read my letter thanking the agent for requesting the rest of the novel. The second agent was lovely. She said it had taken her a long time to decide not to take me and gave me some great advice, and asking to see Applause when I’d written it. The last agent kept me dangling ‘exclusively’ for five months, and then told me to rewrite the first three chapters and submit them again. That was when I decided I’d waited long enough. However, I didn’t just dash out and self-publish. I first sent the manuscript to Alison Neale, The Proof Fairy http://www.theprooffairy.com/proofreading-services/ and then to Rebecca Emin http://ramblingsofarustywriter.blogspot.co.uk/p/self-publishing-solutions.html to
upload onto Kindle. I didn’t want to risk there being any writing, printing, or formatting mistakes.
Morgen: It’s a very good idea. I set up five online writing groups and a feedback page for authors who don’t have that support, and I do freelance editing and longer-piece critique work. 🙂 So your book available as an eBook – how involved were you in that process? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Madalyn: Foxden Acres is available as an eBook. It’s also in paperback and hardback, through lulu.com – print on demand – until Amazon link it to their site. Although I have more bookcases and books than I have furniture, a Kindle is convenient to travel. I love the feel and look of books. There’s nothing like a bookcase full of wonderful stories and characters.
Morgen: And an eReader full of the same. Do you have a favourite of your stories or characters? If any of your books were made into films, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
Madalyn: I see Foxden Acres as a film. And when I plotted the other four books in the series I couldn’t help but see them as films too. I think it’s because my working background is in theatre and television.
If I was casting Foxden Acres, I would cast Anna Maxwell Martin in the lead role of Bess Dudley, Gemma Arterton as the socially acceptable Annabel Hadleigh. James Foxden would be played by Callum Blue, Bess’s brother Tom by (a darker haired) Bradley James, because they both have a cheeky boyish charm. And Dame Maggie Smith would be perfect as James’s mother, Lady Foxden.
Morgen: She makes a great ‘Lady’ (I love her in Downton Abbey). What are you working on at the moment / next?
Madalyn: I’m working on the second book in the Dudley Sisters Quartet, Applause, which I’m sure would make a great film. It’s Margot Dudley’s story and it’s set in the theatre world of the West End of London during WWII. This is exciting. I would cast Carey Mulligan as Margot and Ben Barnes as her husband. Anna Friel as Margot’s mentor, Nancy. Emily Blunt as Russian dancer, Katarina Kaplinski, Jack Davenport as the theatre owner, Anton Goldman, and Rachel Weisz as his wife, Natalie. I’d cast Julie Walters as the front of house manageress and Babs Windsor as the wardrobe mistress. Rupert Friend would make a great Nazi, Stephen Fry a perfect artistic director and the lovely Peter Postlethwait, the stage doorman. Have I gone over the top?
Morgen: Not at all, it’s great you’ve thought about it so thoroughly. Some authors (myself included with some of my flash fiction) don’t even know what our characters look like! Which authors did you read when you were younger and did they shape you as a writer?
Madalyn: I grew up reading my mum’s books: Little Women and Jo’s Boys. I did the lead in the school every year and loved Shakespeare, Ibsen and Chekov, as well as the modern playwrights. As a professional actress I read whatever was in fashion; whatever was going to be on in the West End in the coming season – basically it was whatever the theatre directors were auditioning for. You have to know a play to learn an audition piece, which is why I read so many. Before I was a writer, I read to learn. Now I read for enjoyment. Having said that, I only read good, well-written books.
Morgen: You do get more satisfaction from a well-written book, which is why we need those second / third / fourth opinions. Did you choose the titles / covers of your books?
Madalyn: Yes. I was persuaded to change the title of Foxden Acres to, ‘Letting Go’ but I soon changed it back. And I love the book cover. I found the Wellington bomber, the tractor, cloudy sky and wonderful landscape on Google’s free photographs. I tried to put them together myself, but I don’t have the software, so I paid a graphic artist to do it. And he did an excellent job.
Morgen: It’s a great cover. PaintShop Pro (which I think is free?) will do it. I’ve done all my covers and have used a mixture of that, Preview (which comes with a Mac) and Google’s Picasa (that’s the fun part!). Do you manage to write every day, or ever suffer from writer’s block?
Madalyn: I try to write every day, but I have quite a few commitments, so sometimes it’s only for an hour or two. For years when I lived in London I could only write in the evenings, after dinner. Now my day-job is writing, it’s a joy.
Morgen: Mine too, isn’t it great. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Madalyn: I always plot a book. But I expect the story to change and the characters to grow, and when that happens I run with it. It’s important when a novel is set in a well-documented time in history, like the Second World War, that there’s a strong foundation. And of course, the other three books in the quartet have to be time-lined too – and not only with events in the war, but with each of the other books. Although each book will stand on its own, and can be read in any order, there are times when the sisters are together. Especially in the first novel, so, I keep a tight diary for each sister.
Morgen: Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Madalyn: I see them. I don’t know how to answer that question without seeming a little off-the-wall. It might have something to do with me having been a method actress, the type of actress who believes she is the character she’s playing. As a writer belief in your characters is paramount. It may sound silly but I am, can be, all my characters. Sounds ridiculous, but I can enjoy their happiness and feel their pain. It’s hard to explain. I’m not the only writer who works this way, I’m just the only one who can’t explain it succinctly.
Morgen: Not silly at all. The characters should be ‘human’ to us so they’ll then be so to the readers. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Madalyn: I do hours of editing. Sometimes I have to write a note to myself that says: Write don’t Edit! But as time goes on my writing does become more fully-formed. My writing improves with every article, novel, chapter even. I’m a long way from being able to write without editing as I go along.
Morgen: It depends on what works for you. I tend not to edit as I go along because I want to get the story down. Then I leave it for a while and find it easier to edit later because I’m less detached to it. You mentioned researching earlier, do you have to do much?
Madalyn: I have had to do a lot of research about the Second World War. It’s important to get things right. I love researching for a book as much as I love rehearsing for a play. It’s part and parcel. It’s during the research period that you lean about the era and get to know the characters. I apply the same five ‘W’s’ to writing as I do to finding my character as an actress: Who am I, What am I, Where am I, When and Why. Except in writing it’s not you always you, it can be your protagonist.
Morgen: What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Madalyn: Fiction so far has been in the third person. I write a lot of articles, and they are sometimes in first person. But I have never written in second person. I think second person is much more dramatic. And when I begin on the contemporary novels I might use second person.
Morgen: A few authors do (Jane Rusbridge in her ‘Devil’s Music’ to name one). I’m a big fan of second person but only use it in small chunks. It does get wearing. Do you write any poetry, non-fiction or short stories?
Madalyn: I like poetry and wrote lots at Drama College, but they weren’t good. I’ve written articles for the Church Review, local magazines and newspapers. I’m a radio journalist and presenter – and enjoy every minute of it. But I cannot get the hang of writing short stories.
Morgen: What a shame. It’s my favourite format but I love novels too as I can get more in-depth. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Madalyn: I don’t think any of my short stories will ever see the light of day. One, not so short story that I tried to revive recently is about a little boy and an old lady. It’s called, Miss Bannister. I loved her when I wrote her, and I adored the little boy, but for the life of me I no longer get it! The technique that is so important to short story writing is in the drawer, where Miss Bannister should be.
Morgen: Maybe they just need another plot? Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Madalyn: I call envelopes that have come back within 48 hours (with pristine chapters and a faded undated photocopied A4 sheet of paper with, Dear Author scribbled somewhere in the top half and signed Ms Squiggle) “returns”. It’s obvious the work hasn’t been read, not even by Ms Squiggle. Rejections are when your three chapters come back after a respectable time and you can tell they’ve been read. The brown circle made by the coffee mug is always a giveaway. Only joking. Foxden Acres was returned five times, rejected six times and considered three times.
Morgen: Considered is good. Do you enter competitions?
Madalyn: No. I’ve only ever heard of short story competitions. I need to learn the craft of short story writing before I submitted a story to a competition.
Morgen: Maybe you’d consider http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/competitions-calendar/nlg-flash-fiction-competition 🙂 You’ve had near misses with agents. Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Madalyn: In July of 2012 , after reading the first three chapters of Foxden Acres, an agent telephoned and said she loved it. She said words like, ‘Fast-track’ and ‘Exclusive’ which she kept me for five months. When I eventually plucked up the courage to telephone her, I’m not sure she remembered me. I could see five months turning into five years, so I self-published. I do not think an agent is integral to a writer’s success, but without one you have to do an awful lot of promotional work. If we were honest, I think most writers would like to have an agent. I wanted an agent to prove my writing was good enough. I was insecure, I guess.
Morgen: Things certainly have changed over the past few years… months, even. We’re going alone and being noticed that way. Do you do much marketing?
Madalyn: I have done tons of networking and marketing in the last six months – without an agent it’s necessary. I have bought paperbacks and downloaded onto Kindle. I’ve read and I’ve left reviews where possible I have supported my fellow writers in any way I can, because I know how difficult the job of writing is. I have two blogs – one fiction and one non-fiction – and I also follow some very good blogs. I have two websites – one site is mostly my acting work and one is dedicated to Foxden Acres. I joined LinkedIn some years ago and I have Facebook and Twitter Accounts. You have to do the social networking thing if you want people to know your work.
Morgen: You do, indeed but then you get to ‘meet’ your potential readers, which is great. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Madalyn: My favourite aspect of writing is when a great idea pops into my head. Or when suddenly it’s clear where the character, or the story is going. But the very best aspect about writing is when you hold the book you’ve spent the last however many years writing, in your hand. As for being surprised. I am constantly surprised that I can write.
Morgen: For me, there’s nothing like it. From June to October 2012 I wrote a short story a day for http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/5pm-fiction then stopped for NaNoWriMo with the intention of starting again in January but it’s back 1st March. 🙂 What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Madalyn: My advice to aspiring writers is, read. Read well-written books. There are so many good books out there you don’t need to read rubbish. And if it has been a while since you left school, or college, do a decent writing course. Everyone can write, but not everyone can write well enough for other people to want to read. And keep at it! Ten years ago, I met a little boy on a train. He drew me a picture of a house, similar to the one I live in now, and he wrote on the top, Do not give up, Jacky Willks aged 7. It’s framed and hangs on my study wall.
Morgen: I love that. If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
Madalyn: What fun… I’d like to invite, John Lennon, William Shakespeare and Maggie Smith to dinner. What a fab, theatrical and witty time we would have. The food would have to be a combination of dishes. For John Lennon, a soft boiled egg, followed by finely sliced sautéed vegetables on a bed of rice. With a splif for afters. For Shakespeare, I serve up trout, followed by roasted wild boar and root vegetables with a robust red wine, followed by dates and quinces in pastry, or strong cheese and a pot of ale. Last, but by no means least, Maggie Smith. For this famous Dame I would cook more delicate, simple fare. Small melon balls with Cointreau poured over them to start, followed by lemon sole on pureed potatoes, with fine green beans – and for a sweet, fresh strawberries, with a mellow fifteen year old, Grand Cru Chablis.
Morgen: What a great group. And John could play the piano. Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful?
Madalyn: I follow several blogs that are very useful. Your own in invaluable to a witer. http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/ Vikki Thompson’s too, (www.the-view-outside.com) I follow Jane Wenham-Jones blog and the weekly digest. http://janewenhamjones.wordpress.com
womagwriter’s blog http://womagwriter.blogspot.co.uk/
and Elizabeth Ducie’s blog, http://elizabethducie.blogspot.co.uk/
and Words with Jam blog http://quinnpublications.blogspot.co.uk/
I follow others too. They’re linked to my blogs.
Morgen: :*) Thank you very much. Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Madalyn: I’ve been on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/madalyn.morgan1 and LinkedIn http://www.linkedin.com/profile/edit?trk=tab_prony for many years. Twitter http://twitter.com/ActScribblerDJ and Google Circles for one year. I met people at Swanwick Writers’ Summer School. https://www.facebook.com/groups/170718598398/?fref=tson
And on The Writer’s Holiday, Caerleon http://www.writersholiday.net/caerleon.htm
Morgen: Ah yes, where Jane Wenham-Jones was teaching you. What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Madalyn: More and more writers will be self-publishing. Writing and publishing electronically and POD, printing books on demand. But, we writers mustn’t think that because we’re not with professional agents and publishers we shouldn’t produce professional work. We must! Self-published books must be every bit as good as the books we see on the shelves of Waterstones and WH Smith. We must write to a high standard. The highest we possibly can.
Morgen: Absolutely. Where can we find out about you and your writing?
Madalyn: Before I published Foxden Acres I set up a dedicated website. And I’m very active on both blogs.
- Foxden Acres website: https://sites.google.com/site/foxdenacresbymadalynmorgan/home
- My Fiction Blog: http://madalynmorgansfiction.blogspot.co.uk/
- My Non-Fiction Blog: http://madalynmorgan.blogspot.co.uk/
- My Website: www.madalynmorgan.com
- Raiders Broadcast Radio website: www.raidersbroadcast.com
Morgen: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Madalyn: I’d like to thank you for interviewing me. I’ve read many excellent interviews on your blog. I just hope mine is worthy to sit among them. You have a great blog. And the work you do on it for your fellow writers is terrific.
Morgen: :*) Thank you very much. I’m thrilled to chat with you properly (usually it’s a brief natter on Facebook) and of course you are very worthy.
I then invited Madalyn to include synopsis of Foxden Acres…
On the eve of 1939 twenty-year-old Bess Dudley, trainee teacher and daughter of a groom, bumps into James, heir to the Foxden Estate.
Bess and James played together as equals when they were children, but now James is engaged to the more socially acceptable Annabel Hadleigh.
Bess takes up a teaching post in London but when war breaks out and London schoolchildren are evacuated she returns to Foxden to organise a troop of Land Girls.
Traditional barriers come crashing down when Flying Officer James Foxden falls in love with Bess. But by this time Bess has come to know and respect Annabel. Can she be with James if it means breaking her best friend’s heart?
And besides, Bess has a shameful secret that she has vowed to keep from James at any cost…
and here are the outlines of the other Books in the Dudley Sisters Saga…
The second book, working title, Applause, is Margot Dudley’s story. At the beginning of World War II, Margot marries her childhood sweetheart and leaves rural Leicestershire to live with him in London. Fiercely ambitious Margot works her way from being an usherette in a West End theatre, to leading lady of the show. However, she soon finds herself caught up in a web of deceit, black-market racketeers, Nazis, drugs and alcohol.
The third book, China Blue, is about love and courage – and is Claire Dudley’s story. While in the WAAF Claire is seconded to the Royal Air Force’s Advanced Air Strike Force. She falls in love with Mitchell ‘Mitch’ McKenzie, an American Airman who is shot down while parachuting into France. At the end of the war, while working in a liberated POW camp in Hamburg she is told that Mitch is still alive. Do miracles happen?
The fourth book, working title, The Bletchley Secret, is about strength and determination – and is the story of Ena, the youngest of the Dudley sisters. Ena works in a local factory. She is one of several young women who build components for machines bound for Bletchley Park during World War II. The Bletchley Secret costs her the love of her life. Some years after the war has ended, Ena, now happily married, is running a hotel with her husband when she encounters someone from her past.
Madalyn Morgan lives in Rural Leicestershire. After thirty-six years, she has swapped window boxes in South London for a garden in the market town of Lutterworth. She has been an actress for over thirty years, performing on television, in Repertory Theatre and the West End. She is a radio presenter and journalist, who has written articles for newspapers and magazines. Her first novel had recently been published, and she is currently writing her second novel, Applause, the second of four books about the lives of four very different sisters during the Second World War.
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