I had the good fortune recently of connecting with Maggie James, British psychological suspense novelist who has written Sister Psychopath, Guilty Innocence and His Kidnapper’s Shoes. Maggie was kind enough to agree to an interview, and I think psychological suspense/thriller fans—and anyone who enjoys a good read!—will find it interesting. Enjoy the interview, and check Maggie out at her terrific website.
*One of the first things that caught my eye on your terrific website was the backstory regarding your motivations for your first novel, His Kidnapper’s Shoes. You mention that part of what drove you was annoyance at having procrastinated so long before finally writing your novel. I can relate to that, I think—tell us how long you’d had the book idea, why it took so long, and what was the key to finally getting it done?
I didn’t have the idea for His Kidnapper’s Shoes for long before writing the book – only a month or two. The urge to write, however, has always been with me. Since childhood, I’ve always wanted to be a novelist. Nothing else, just that. As a young adult, though, I lacked confidence, as well as self-discipline. I’ve had to learn both of those traits the hard way. In my twenties, I’d tell myself that unless I received the Nobel Prize for Literature I’d be a failure as a novelist. Once I moved past such a ridiculous notion, things got easier. I was still working full-time, though, and finding it hard to grab any time to write. I penned some short stories, which were well received online, but it wasn’t until I gave up working to go travelling that everything came together for me.
*Speaking of that novel, which has received very good reviews, tell us where you came up with the unique plotline?
The idea came to me when I was chatting to some fellow travellers in Vietnam. We were talking about child abductions and how, sadly, they often have a tragic end. One of the group pointed out that sometimes children are stolen by childless couples, or by women suffering mental illness. That got me thinking – how would it feel to discover as an adult that you’d been kidnapped as a child? I’m all about exploring strong emotions in my novels, and making such a discovery would undoubtedly trigger an intense reaction. Hence the character of Daniel Bateman. Oddly enough, when I was writing the book, a case surfaced in America in which a woman found out she’d been kidnapped as a baby. Like Daniel, she never bonded with the woman who brought her up as her own child. It does happen, unfortunately.
*Like many great writers your novels, to date, center around a certain locale--in your case, your home city of Bristol. Tell us why that is, and what opportunities and challenges that has conferred upon you?
The novels I’ve written so far could be set anywhere – the location isn’t as important to me as the characters and plotline. It made sense to choose Bristol, a city I know well, so I could concentrate on the other aspects of my writing. It may turn out to be a bonus – many writers, like Anita Shreve, become known for basing their novels in one area, thereby grounding the reader more firmly in a sense of location. This will change, though. Although I’m still writing my fourth novel, I’m already looking ahead and I’ll base number six to some degree in Asia.
As for challenges, there haven’t really been any, not so far as setting my novels in Bristol is concerned.
*Your other novels—Guilty Innocence and Sister Psychopath—mine some of the same dark, shadow territory that is clearly your literary comfort zone. What attracted you to this genre and why do you think you possess such a penchant for it?
Hmm, good question! It’s in total contrast to my non-writing life in many ways, and I suspect the answer lies therein. In real life, I foster homeless cats, believe in good manners and do lots of yoga. Unlike any of my characters! I believe many people harbour a dark side, though. I suspect lots of us are drawn to the grittier side of life – hence the popularity of horror novels and films. We like to examine the unthinkable, but from a safe vantage point. I enjoy reading psychological thrillers myself, so it makes sense to choose that genre in which to write. A perfect counterpoint to cats and yoga!
*You’re running a contest wherein readers can win a chance to become a character in your next book. Tell how that will work exactly, why you’re doing that, and what the response has been?
It’ll be for my fifth novel, which I’ll write towards the end of the summer. Anyone interested can enter on my website by signing up for my newsletter and answering three simple questions about themselves. I’m doing it in order to grow my newsletter list; I wanted to offer as an incentive something more unusual than a chapter from one of my novels or a short story.
The response has been interesting – I’m attracting some fairly extrovert entrants, and most of them prefer to be cast as a baddie rather than one of the good guys. Another example of people unleashing their inner dark sides! I’ll probably continue doing it for subsequent novels – it’s a fun way to interact with my readers.
*Your website is pretty thorough, but tell us most immediately what readers should be on the lookout next from Maggie James?
Novel number four, which I’m currently working on, examines the fascinating psychological phenomenon of Stockholm syndrome, in which victims become emotionally attached to their abusers. Novel number five, other than featuring the reader who wins my competition, is an unknown for me! I have several possible topics lined up, however. Novel number six will, as I’ve mentioned, move location to Asia and I have a vague idea as to its subject matter.
I am also considering branching into other genres. Dystopia lends itself well to the dark themes I enjoy, so that’s a possibility. I’ve also written non-fiction titles, and I may do more, perhaps on the topics of travel or writing.
*What is one thing people may think about you that may actually be misinformed, and one thing most readers may NOT know about you, that you’re willing to share?
People have told me that they intend to find out more about me by reading my novels. They won’t. I am a very private person in many ways and I keep my views, my values and myself very much out of my writing. I know many novelists do pour themselves into their books, but I’m not one of them. As for something my readers may not know about me? I’m surprised myself by this one. As a former atheist, who then moved towards agnosticism, I now find myself embracing a more spiritual approach to life. Whether I’ll reflect that in my books remains to be seen, but I doubt it, given my answer to the previous question.
*What’s your best advice for aspiring scribes, whether like you they may have procrastinated a bit long, are just starting out, or are somewhere in between on their journey?
I’ll answer this for those who intend to self-publish, as I have no experience of the traditional route. I’d say the main thing is to be as professional as possible. Make sure every typo, punctuation and grammatical error is removed from your writing. Don’t fool yourself that your talent is so great it overrides the need for correct English. Invest in quality covers for your books; unless you have the requisite skills, don’t design a cover yourself using Photoshop. Read voraciously; there is no finer way, in my opinion, to learn the craft of writing. Lastly, believe in yourself. The road to writing success isn’t easy and unless you’re committed to the process, you’ll struggle.