Lizzie Borden Comes to Swanwick – Maggie Cobbett shares her fancy dress story from the 2017 school

Another stories from a fellow Swanwick alumnus. This week, it’s Maggie Cobbett’s turn, sharing with us her fantastic fancy dress outfit!

Shopping for fancy dress often turns up the unexpected. This year’s Wild Wild West theme seemed to call for Calamity Jane, Belle Starr or Minnehaha, but I fell in love straightaway with the axe murderess outfit based on the story of Lizzie Borden. (Yes, I know that she lived in Massachusetts. Surely some poetic licence is allowed at Swanwick discos?) The sleek black dress had long puffed sleeves and a high collar featuring a cameo brooch. It came with a voluminous net underskirt, lace-up waistcoat and mini hat with a half veil. The axe was an optional extra.

It wasn’t long after my arrival at The Hayes that certain drawbacks became apparent. The first of these was that I’d offered to co-host the Prose Open Mic, which was due to begin immediately after that evening’s speaker and would certainly overlap with the disco. With no time to change in between, I had to choose. The Lizzie Borden outfit won, of course, although I did get some odd looks in the Main Conference Hall during Cathy Cassidy’s talk on writing for children. Before that, though, there was the difficulty of actually getting into the dress with no one to help me. My room at the top end of Lakeside seemed curiously isolated. Having been told on several occasions that The Hayes was fully booked, I must have had neighbours, but I never saw or heard them. To add to the difficulty, the hearty nature of Swanwick food had started to have an effect on my already far from sylph-like figure. It took a series of painful contortions to squeeze myself into the dress and do up the long zip at the back. Fixated on the possibility of a ‘wardrobe malfunction’, I hardly dared to breathe out all evening.  The hat was a worry too. Held on with a wing, a prayer and a handful of hair grips, it obliged me to walk around like a Victorian schoolgirl in a deportment class. Did I mention that I was also wearing a pair of tight high heeled boots?

I hope that the writers who took part in the Prose Open Mic were not intimidated by the sight of me officiating with an axe in my hand as well as a borrowed egg timer and bell. Jennifer Wilson and I ran a tight ship and, by keeping to five minute slots, were just able to fit everyone in. The closest I got to the disco afterwards was the bar. I wouldn’t have dared to dance anyway, of course, but there was plenty of fun to be had admiring other people’s imaginative costumes and posing for photos

It’s just as well that I saved my energy for struggling out of the dress later on. Maybe I should have sought a volunteer to come to my room and unzip me but then again maybe not. We can’t all be as lucky as Poldark’s Demelza!

You can find Maggie at her online home here. She is also on Facebook.

Interview with Elizabeth Ducie, on the release of her novel “Counterfeit!”

I first met Elizabeth at the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School in August 2013. After chatting with her on several occasions, I was struck by her story and her methodical, business-led approach to writing.

I am thrilled that she has agreed to be interviewed for my blog, and I wish her all the best for her new novel, Counterfeit!

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1. Hi Elizabeth, can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I am a late starter in terms of writing fiction. I spent more than thirty years as a scientist in an industrial setting; and although I wrote many thousands (possible millions) of words during that time, they all had to be factual. Then, one day I woke up and thought “I want to do something different; something creative”. So I started writing short stories and at the same time, began mapping out ideas for Gorgito’s Ice Rink. I am a Brummie who moved to London, then Kent, but now resides very happily in a semi-rural setting in Devon.

 

2. I love your blog. Did you set it all up yourself? If so, what tool do you recommend for other aspiring bloggers?

I have set up a number of different blogs and websites over the years. I set originally set Elizabeth Ducie up myself using the free platform Blogger. I also had a separate website which I wrote using SiteBuilder. These days, I tend to use WordPress, which can be used both for dynamic blogs and static pages. If it’s a fairly simple application, I use the free version, wordpress.org, although it’s always worth spending a small amount on a proper domain name, which is more professional-looking.

Recently I decided it was time for a complete upgrade of my online presence, and engaged Natalie Harris of Mebmelon to run the project to integrate my blog and my website. We used the paid-for software, wordpress.com, which has more functionality; I am delighted with the results and now that it’s up and running, I’m back to managing it myself.

 

3. Can you describe a typical day for you?

I’m very much of a lark, rather than an owl, so I am usually up before 6am. I’ve been working hard on my fitness levels over the past year, so on weekdays, I will head either for the swimming pool or the gym for an exercise class. Then after breakfast and a catch-up with my husband, Michael, I fire up the laptop. I try to concentrate on my writing during the morning, and if I can get a solid 4 hours in, then I judge it as a successful session. Then I do all the administration and marketing in the afternoon. We live in a small town, where there’s always something going on, so I’m often out in the evenings, but if not, I chat to Michael while he cooks supper. We tend to read and listen to music rather than watching television, but will usually end the evening with one or two episodes from our latest Box Set.

 

4. How much of yourself have you included in your stories?

Well, they do say you should writer about what you know. My novels are set in the pharmaceutical industry; both they and some of my stories are set in locations in which I’ve worked; and many of the minor incidents I describe come from real life. However, I try hard NOT to write too much of myself into my characters, because if I do, it inhibits what I can let them do. When I first wrote Gorgito’s Ice Rink, I wouldn’t let Emma have a boyfriend, or any fun, because I was scared people would think it was autobiographical. In the end, it was Michael who said: “for goodness sake, it’s called fiction for a reason!” But when I write my character studies, I make a point of giving them characteristics that make them different from me.

 

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5. What gave you the idea to write Counterfeit?

I worked in Southern Africa in the early 2000s, on a project for the Commonwealth Secretariat, although we were trying to regularise pharmaceutical manufacturing regulations across the region, rather than concentrating specifically on counterfeits. I saw many shocking things while I was there, but came to realise that a straight-forward Western European right and wrong was not always correct or practical. I developed the theme initially as a 6K words story but quickly realised there was much more to it than that.

 

6. Do you keep a journal? What kind of things do you write in it?

I don’t keep a daily journal usually. However, when I am away from home, I often do a hand-written account of my travels and things that go wrong, or amuse me. Then when I’m back home, I convert these into a series of daily blog posts.

 

7. Could you tell us your favourite book that you have read recently?

I’m glad you specified ‘recently’. I find this such a difficult question to answer when it refers to everything I’ve ever read. I’ve just returned from a working holiday to Portugal and took the opportunity to catch up on my reading, which has sadly suffered in recent months while I’ve been concentrating on Counterfeit! I can’t pick out one single book, but Alison Morton’s Roma Nova series of historical novels was brilliant; and Annie Murray’s Meet Me Under The Clock introduced me to my home city but in an era before I was born. However, my absolute favourite at the moment is the Dark Tower books by Stephen King, especially book 7, which brought everything to a close. I am so in awe of that man and his writing.

 

8. Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

The industry is evolving at such a speed; the opportunities for writers have never been as wide as they are now. There is the traditional route, with agent and publisher; there is the completely independent route where you do everything yourself. And there are many options in between. Consider all of them and decide which is right for you. Do NOT see self-publishing merely as a fall-back position if you can’t get an agent. I made a positive choice to go independent, due to issues of control and speed of publication, and have never regretted it. But, whichever route you take, make sure the final product is as good as it can be. You owe that to your readers and to your writing.

 

9. What can we expect from you in the future?

I will be writing book 2, Deception!, and book 3, Corruption!, in the Suzanne Jones series and hope to launch them in 2017 and 2018. I will also be re-launching all my other books on a wider distribution platform.

 

10. How can we get hold of you online?

My website is: www.elizabethducie.co.uk;
I am on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube;
I am always happy to chat to readers and can be reached at elizabeth@elizabethducie.co.uk;
Details of Counterfeit! and all my other books can be found here.

Thank you so much Elizabeth!

Interview with Peter Jones, on the release of his novel: The Truth About This Charming Man

29103615Author Peter Jones has been a significant part of my writing journey. He was the guy I went to for help with formatting and uploading my very first offerings to the global phenomenon known as Amazon, which I did under my pseudonym.

Therefore, I am truly delighted that he has agreed to be interviewed for this blog and to talk about his new book The Truth about this Charming Man.

The novel charts the antics of one William Lewis, an aspiring actor, who has dreamed of treading the boards for about as long as he can remember. He has yet to be involved with the theatre, but he still manages to get to do something of what he loves by pretending to be people that he’s not in the real world.

It’s hilarious, well-written and kept me hooked until the very last page. A very solid 10/10 from me. Here’s what Peter had to say:

 

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Where do I begin?!

I started professional life as a particularly rubbish graphic designer, and followed that with a stint as a mediocre petrol pump attendant. After that I got embroiled in the murky world of credit card banking as a ‘fix-it’ man. Fun times.

For the past 6 years I’ve been a full time author, with three and a half self-help books under my belt (if you’re unhappy, lonely or overweight I might just be your guy), and more recently two hilarious rom-com novels.

I don’t own a large departmental store and I’m not a dragon of any description.

 

Can you describe a typical day for you?

Most days I’m writing. I like to be at my desk, working, by 7am. By midday I’m usually beat (creatively speaking). Afternoons are reserved for post, admin, social media, that kinda thing.

Once or twice a week I’m out giving a talk at a WI, or a U3A, or a writing group somewhere – entertaining people with tales of this writing life.

 

You wrote a few non-fiction self-help books before your move into the fiction market? What made you change? Was it a difficult transition?

It’s ironic. I never wanted to write self-help. That kind of happened by accident.

I was in the middle of writing my first novel (in the evenings, after work) when I lost my wife. As you can imagine that event turned my world upside down. Made me question what I wanted in life. Made me question everything.

I decided to take those fix-it man skills and apply them to my own life – to build the happier future that I so wished I’d given my wife. When some of the changes I came up with started to make an obvious difference to my demeanour a colleague suggested I ought to write those ideas down. Six months later I’d accidentally written How To Do Everything And be Happy. I self-published it (because I couldn’t be bothered with the effort of sending it to agents and publishers), and it did well. Really well. Really, really well. So much so that Audible and Harper Collins came knocking, as did an agent.

However, after three and a half non-fiction books I was keen to get back to the still unfinished novel. Naively I thought my non-fiction readers would pick up my novel out of curiosity, but I soon realised I was effectively starting again from scratch. My then agent was only interested in my non-fiction, as were HC and audible. It took me a while to find a new agent, and land a new book deal.

 

In your latest novel The Truth About This Charming Man Will comes across as a sound character with a good dollop of common sense, despite his unluckiness in love. How much is he like you? 

I like Will a lot, and yes, I suppose we do have a lot in common, although I don’t really see him as ‘unlucky in love’. He’s quite upfront about the fact that theatre is his first love – and I totally get that. If you told me I could be happily married to Kylie Minogue for the rest of my life, OR have a 50/50 chance of three book deal with penguin… I’d take the latter every time. Is that mad? I think it might be.

 

Will plays a number of different ‘parts’ in the book, to great comedic effect at times. To what extent do you think this mirrors the parts we all play in our own lives? (i.e. husband/wife, child/parent, boss/employee)

Blimey. That’s a deep question. Let me side step it.

Initially, The Truth About This Charming Man was never intended to be a novel. It was a five part short-story about an actor, who acts in the ‘real world’ (rather than ‘on stage’), and what happens when he’s asked to play two characters at the same meeting. But the more I wrote, the more intrigued I became by the duality of the other characters, and how – as you say – people often play different roles in their own lives. Roles that might, sometimes, require a little bending of the truth.

When my (new) agent suggested I turn the short story into a novel, I looked to that duality for my inspiration. The book then wrote itself.

 

Could you tell us your favorite book from 2015?

I read a lot of non-fiction in 2015. My favourite was Excuse Me Your Life Is Waiting by Lynn Grabhorn.

 

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Stop aspiring and get writing.

 

What can we expect from you in the future?

I’m juggling a couple of projects at the moment. There’s some exciting talk about a Truth About This Charming Man film or TV series (can’t say more than that at this stage), but regardless of whether that happens or not, a third novel should be out in the not too distant future.

 

Where can we find you?

http://facebook.com/peterjonesauthor

http://twitter.com/peterjonesauth

http://peterjonesauthor.com