Today I’m speaking with Margaret Southall. Can you tell us what made you decide to become a writer, Margaret?
Mmmm. That’s not an easy one to answer. Having lots of books, newspapers and magazines available in my home when I was a kid must have helped. But I don’t recall making any conscious decision to become a writer. I just started telling and writing stories at a very young age. First, I made up stories to tell my sister when we were quite young. We had this long-running serial – I told her a different episode each night when we had gone to bed – about a colony of rabbits (Think Watership Down meets Coronation Street). When I was seven, I wrote and illustrated my version of Snow White on paper sheets folded to form a book.
I wrote a play about Robin Hood on a writing pad. Unfortunately, the pad ran out before I finished this gem.
I bet that was a good one.
Aged 10, I wrote a story for the annual of the final class of my elementary school, a book written, illustrated and hand bound by the students. And when, in my early teens, I looked through the windows of the local paper’s printing plant and saw its press putting words on paper, I was hooked on the notion of seeing my words on a printed page.
I know that feeling. How long did it take to get published the first time and how did it happen?
As I said, my first publishing venture was when I was ten. Then I had to wait until I went into journalism (it seemed the most natural thing in the world for someone who wanted to be a writer) to be published on a regular basis as a reporter. For most of my working life, I worked on newspapers both large and small, and other media outlets, on both sides of the Atlantic as a reporter, news editor and editor. But, as they say, ‘life happens while you’re making plans,’ so it wasn’t until the second part of my life that I started doing something I had always wanted to do: write fiction.
And both are so different in format and scale.
I entered the Toronto Star annual short story contest and came in fifth out of 3,000 entries, winning both a prize and publication of my story.
So I knew I could write fiction. In addition to my book, “A Jacketing Concern,” I also have a children’s story with a Canadian setting, and a TV animation script, the latter the product of a scriptwriting course, both of which I will be ‘putting out there,’ hoping someone will show an interest in either one or both of them.
I wish you luck with that. Would you do anything differently the next time?
I would have started writing fiction a lot earlier. I would have taken more time than I did in finding a publisher for my current book. I did try for quite a while to get an agent, but was unsuccessful. Perhaps I didn’t try hard enough.
I heard from other published authors that it was harder to get an agent than to find a publisher, so you did the right thing. What advice would you give an aspiring author?
‘Hang in there, and don’t give up.’ Start off in a small way, perhaps try entering a short story contest or creative fiction contest. Join a writer’s organization, attend conferences, and Network, Network, Network.
I agree with you there.
You learn so much from other writers, particularly about the business aspects of writing.
Yes, you do.
And read, read, read. It’s amazing how much you absorb about good writing without realizing it. By all means, learn from the works of other writers, but don’t try to emulate their style. Don’t be afraid to be yourself and develop your own voice.
Developing your own voice takes time.
I admit there were times when I was sorely tempted to throw in the towel several times, but I didn’t because I knew writing was something I could do, something I had to do. I had honed my journalistic writing as a reporter, but writing fiction is not the same thing and I feared I wouldn’t be able to make the change.
What or who inspires or influences your writing?
I am not consciously aware of any one individual inspiring me, but a lot of my ideas are derived from just what I see happening around me. As a reporter, I was always being told by editors, ‘What’s the story here?’ Or ‘Is there a story here?’ I think that I now do unconsciously — and it helps a great deal. Writing is a solitary activity, but you need to stay plugged in to life. That’s where the stimulation and the ideas come from.
So, what are your latest releases and where can we find them?
My upcoming debut novel, “A Jacketing Concern,” should be out fairly soon. It’s set in England in 1811. The story begins with a climbing boy – a seven year-old sweep’s apprentice – accidentally falling down a chimney and interrupting a sexual encounter between a bored aristocrat and a courtesan. To save the courtesan’s reputation, the aristocrat takes the boy home, an act that leads to lots of trouble.
Were you traditionally published or self-published and how did that go?
I am being published in the traditional way. It has not been going as well as I had hoped because there have been several hold-ups in the publication date. The publishers are a relatively new company based in the U.S. and U.K., so my book will have international exposure. However, I am largely responsible for its promotion. Hopefully, “A Jacketing Concern” should be in the bookshops this year. Please keep an eye out for it.
Sure. How long have you been writing professionally, Margaret?
I guess, since I have written gazillions of words as a reporter, I started writing in my late teens, so I’ve been at it, on and off for over 40 years. I consider myself a full-time writer. However, now that I have a book due for publication, I find a lot of that time is taken up with the business side of writing and promotion.
I know what you mean. And you still have to write in between all that. So, what do you do for fun when you aren’t writing?
I love to travel when I have the chance. I draw and paint and have even done a little sculpting. I love live theatre and, surprisingly, in my middle years have become a bit of a fitness buff. And of course, I have been an avid bookworm since I learned to read.
That sounds interesting. So where do you live?
Although I was born in the U.K., I have lived in Canada since 1967. I now live in Ottawa, Canada’s capital.
Thank you so much Margaret. I enjoyed our little talk. I wish you luck with your new book, “A Jacketing Concern.” You can find Margaret on Facebook.com and on Goodreads. She has excerpts from her book on her website at: www.margaretsouthall.com, as well as on Goodreads and the Historical Novels Excerpt site on Facebook. You can email Margaret at firstname.lastname@example.org.