When should you trust your heart?
It’s 1942 when Cassie Taylor reluctantly leaves Birmingham to become a land girl on a farm in Dorset. There she meets Robert and Stephen Denham, twins recovering from injuries sustained at Dunkirk. Cassie is instantly drawn to Stephen, but is wary of the more complex Robert – who doesn’t seem to like Cassie one little bit.
At first, Robert wants to sack the inexperienced city girl. But Cassie soon learns, and Robert comes to admire her courage, finding himself deeply attracted to Cassie. Just as their romance blossoms, he’s called back into active service. Anxious to have adventures herself, Cassie joins the ATS. In Egypt, she meets up with Robert, and they become engaged.
However, war separates them again as Robert is sent to Italy and Cassie back to the UK. Robert is reported missing, presumed dead. Stephen wants to take Robert’s place in Cassie’s heart. But will Cassie stay true to the memory of her first love, and will Robert come home again?
I was very excited to be asked by ChocLit to take part in The Penny Bangle Interviews, where over the course of three separate days, Margaret’s hero and heroine, Robert and Cassie, along with herself are to be interviewed. You can read Robert’s interview over here and Cassie’s, here. I am very honored to have the lovely Margaret with me on The Romaniacs blog today for her interview. She will be over on the ChocLit Author Blog on Monday 7th May – Publication Day!
1/ The Penny Bangle is a reworking of a previous novel. How did it feel rewriting it? Was it a complete rewrite or just a tweak?
It was a complete rewrite, taking into account the comments from the panel of readers who assess all the novels which are submitted to Choc Lit. The story is basically the same – it’s about a working class girl from a big city who is sent to work on a farm during WW2 and at first finds it very difficult to fit in – but there are 20,000 more words in this version, and lots of new scenes which hopefully make the story more rounded and interesting.
2/ Did you feel that Robert was more of a complete character now that his voice is heard with his own POV?
I enjoyed writing more of the story from Robert’s point of view because it gave me a chance to get to know him better and to empathise with him. When I wrote the original version of novel I saw him mainly from Cassie’s point of view, and he’s now more sympathetic. He’s still aggressive and confident, and he’s still determined to be in charge, but he reveals the softer, more vulnerable side of his character, too.
3/ The Penny Bangle is the last in the trilogy, following The Silver Locket and The Golden Chain. What are you working on next?
I’ve started a new family saga, this time set in Devon. It’s about a girl from South Wales who has to leave Cardiff because her father has upset a local villain there. Angharad (Annie) Cooper and her little family learn to adapt to Devon ways, but the bad guys are determined to catch up with them.
Daniel, the already damaged hero, isn’t best pleased to have this new complication – a destitute Welsh family – in his difficult life. There’s the little matter of Annie’s Welsh boyfriend having his own reasons to track down Annie and her family, too.
4/ Did you know from the offset that there would always be three separate, but still interlinked, stories to tell?
I wrote The Silver Locket, which was originally called The Morning Promise, as a stand-alone novel, but I also seeded it with future conflicts, such as the paternity of the child Daisy and the repercussions of Rose’s marriage to Alex.
5/ Some people who write trilogies and series, say that the later books came to them first. Were your books written in the order they were released; The Silver Locket, The Golden Chain and then The Penny Bangle?
They were written in chronological order. I didn’t know what would happen in the next book until I had finished the one I was working on at the time. I knew I wanted Rose to get her house back – she loses both her home and her inheritance in The Silver Locket – but until I was half way through The Penny Bangle I didn’t know how this would happen.
6/ What research went into writing these books? Do you enjoy the researching stages of writing?
I love research and I tend to do far more than is strictly necessary. Google is totally addictive, as are the many non-fiction accounts of real people’s lives which I can’t resist buying. My mother is my principal source of what happened to ordinary people during WW2. Mum is very happy to tell me what went on away from the heroics and aggression of the actual battle situations. Mum is the same age as Cassie, the heroine of The Penny Bangle, and Cassie does some (although by no means all) of the things my own mother did.
7/ Do you have a writing routine or do you just write when the inspiration hits? Are there specific things you do to keep the creative side flowing?
If I waited for inspiration to strike, I’d probably wait forever! I find writing a first draft of anything very hard work, and there are plenty of times when I sit there glued to my office chair, determined not to leave my desk until I have at least 500 good words written that day, even if I know I’ll have to delete most of them the next day.
If things are getting sticky at any point, I sometimes race ahead of myself and plan a scene I’ve been looking forward to writing. Or I go out for a walk and tell myself I can’t go home until I’ve sorted out a specific plot point. Or I ring up a friend who is also a writer and I have a therapeutic grumble. I have two or three very good writing friends who are always available for mutual moaning! Or I write something else entirely – a magazine article, an author profile or a short story. Or I catch up with my accounts, which is so boring I am soon climbing the walls, and am dying to get back to my novel.
8/ A number of students that you have tutored have gone on to become published novelists – you must be very proud. What is the best thing about being a tutor?
It’s definitely seeing students who are bright and committed and have wonderful imaginations learning the technical stuff, and then applying what they’ve learned inventively and appropriately.
It’s all very well to go with the flow and to write from the heart, which of course all writers should. If we don’t write from the heart, we might as well not bother to write at all. But, if a writer doesn’t learn the technical stuff, and doesn’t know how to put a story together, he or she will end up with a pile of bricks, not a house.
9/ Writing, reading, tutoring, teaching, judging…you do so many different things. Do you have a favourite?
When it’s going well, I love writing fiction. But I’m also glad I have other writing-related things in my life, because everything I do seems to feed into everything else. My students make me think about my own writing. My magazine work gives me the chance to talk to dozens of other writers who are happy to share hints and tips with my readers – and with me!
A few days ago, I was talking to a student who is writing about a totally off-the-wall character, a romantic hero who really isn’t right for her supposedly romantic novel. In fact, I doubt if even his own mother could love him! She sent me an email saying she was completely stuck, and what could I suggest? She said she didn’t want to write about a stereotypical hero, so her hero was not going to be tall and dark and handsome and clever and brave. She was going to make him short and bald and physically challenged, he was not going to be particularly smart, he was going to have human faults and frailties, and nothing I could say would change her mind.
So I had to think hard about that one, and eventually I realised that working with stereotypes can actually be useful. They’re a starting point. You take your stereotype, and then you work on him so that he develops some idiosyncrasies of his own. So then, you reader is beguiled and delighted by a new hero, but this reader also recognises him because he does and is what a romantic (or whatever) hero should do and be.
10/ Who is your ideal hero?
Let’s think about heroic qualities first. My ideal hero has to be clever (not necessarily in an academic sense), courageous (there are many kinds of courage) and physically attractive (even if it’s not in a conventional way. Okay, he is getting old, his face has been bashed around a bit, and his clothes look as if they came out of a skip. But, if he has charm and he can make the heroine love him, I’ll love him, too).
My current ideal hero is Will Traynor in Jojo Moyes’s bestselling Me Before You. Will’s certainly not a stereotypical hero. He’s quadriplegic, for a start, and he’s very bitter and angry about the cards he’s been dealt by fate. While I was reading the early chapters of this novel, I could feel his aggression literally burning off the page. But Will is also clever, funny, kind, generous, thoughtful, imaginative, hilariously sarcastic, good-looking (okay, I’m shallow) and – above all – incredibly brave. He’ll stay with me for a long time because he changed my life. I finished reading the book more than a month ago, but I still dream about him (and the equally charismatic heroine of this novel, Louisa Clark) almost every night. I don’t want to let them go.
The Penny Bangle is the last book in the trilogy. Click on the books below to purchase The Silver Locket and The Golden Chain and to pre-order The Penny Bangle.
Those lovely people over at ChocLit are giving away a large Victorian chocolate penny coin for one lucky winner. All you have to do is simply comment on this interview. All those who comment will be automatically entered into the hat (very technical) to be in with a chance to win that chocolate penny. Did I mention it was large? And chocolate? And all you have to do is comment?
Well, what are you waiting for? 🙂
9 thoughts on “The Penny Bangle Interviews – Lucie interviews Margaret”
Being one of your former students, I appreciate everything you taught me about the technical side of writing, Margaret. And although I’m still a newby to the publishing world, I like to think I’m building houses as a result, not simply piles of bricks!
Lovely interview from a lovely author, who writes lovely books x
I agree, Suzie. I, too, am a former student of Margaret’s and she was a fantastic mentor.
Who knows, maybe someday we’ll have a whole street!
Thanks for stopping by
The Penny Bangle sounds like a great story. One of my mother’s cousins was a Land Girl in North Wales and met her husband there.
What you said about stereotypes is interesting as I do just what you said – I start with a kind of stereotype, but by the time I’ve wrtten the first draft (or even part way through) I find he’s developed his own individual personality and characteristics.
Great interview, I really enjoyed reading it.
How lovely for you to have some history linked with the story, I’m sure you will enjoy reading it even more so now. I agree about the characters, too. It’s fine to start out with a stereotype, so long as they are made unique by the end.
Glad you enjoyed the interview and thanks for stopping by.
Fabulous interview, thank you so much Lucie and Margaret. I loved hearing how you approached writing your trilogy–one book at a time but with a sort of grand plan in the background (at least that’s what I understood). Really great insights, especially regarding the need for the ‘tech’ stuff and the skill and craft of writing. Nice to meet you, Margaret!
Thanks for popping in, Nicky, glad you enjoyed the interview.
I agree, Margaret gives great advice and insight to the ‘technical’ side of writing alongside the actual storytelling. Her knowledge shines through in her writing, I think.
I’ve chatted and lunched with Margaret, she is a really lovely person. It was so nice to read this interview and understand her train of thoughts while she is writing, also to know the whole story about the trilogy, plus, i feel I now know what makes her ‘tick’! A great interview, and I look forward very much to reading ‘The Penny Bangle’.
Many thanks Lucie & Margaret
Thank you for stopping by and commenting. I’m really pleased that you enjoyed the interview and I am sure you will love The Penny Bangle.
I really enjoyed reading this interview, thank you Lucie. I’m a huge Margaret James fan and loved finding out more about her writing routine. In particular, I found the ‘hero’ question intriguing and definitely food for thought. Can’t wait to read her new novel.