Maggie Alderson was born in London and now lives in Hastings Old Town with her husband and her six year old daughter. She has edited four magazines including British ELLE and ES, where she was awarded Editor of the Year and then acting editor for Cleo and Mode in Sydney. As well as working on magazines, she has also worked on numerous newspapers. Her column “Style Notes” has ran in “Good Weekend” magazine for twelve years and has been collected into three books. She has written five novels and co-edited three books of short stories for the charity War Child. Maggie has just announced the release of her first children’s book called “Evangeline – The Wish Keeper’s Helper” which is currently only on release in Australia.
- To the readers of the blog, that may not be familiar with you or your writing, can tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into writing
I’ve wanted to be a novelist since I was 6 years old and realised that books had jokes stored in them which you could always go back and find when you needed them.
For twenty years I was distracted by journalism, which I also love. I have worked on nine magazines (editing 4 of them) and two newspapers, and contributed to more than I can remember, in many countries. My first book was a collection of my “Style Notes” columns which appeared in “Good Weekend” magazine for twelve years.
I had started my first novel around the time the “Style Notes” column was taking off, and several publishers saw something in what I was writing there that indicated I might be able to write fiction. So I was very fortunate that I had that show case for my work to spring from.
- What was the first story you ever wrote and what was it about?
I can remember an old reel-to-reel tape recording my dad made of me reading out a story I’d made up about a cherry pie when I was about 5. I couldn’t understand why the grown ups were so excited about it. I thought it was embarrassing. I also remember having a story in my junior school magazine about getting accidentally locked in Harrods over night and eating hand-made chocolates for dinner and taking one of the lion cubs from the pet department to guard me in bed. I would still like that to happen, although they don’t have the lions any more.
- With the introduction of iBooks and ebooks, how do you feel about the current state of the publishing industry. Do you feel is it an exciting time for authors?
It’s like the Chinese curse – ‘may you live in interesting times’. I think the book will survive alongside eBooks etc, but authors are getting squeezed from all sides.
Discounting is almost more of an issue for authors – and second hand copies of current titles being available on demand online. I think it will all even out, but the road is a bit rocky at the moment for publishers and authors. But I do heartily subscribe to the philosophy ‘it’s not a problem it’s an opportunity…’
- As well as being an bestselling author, you are also a bit of a style guru with your recent book “Style Notes” What would be your favourite trend of the season and why?
I’ve just bought a lovely full-length casual dress. It’s in leopard print and I’m mad about it. Makes me feel very Talitha Getty. Except shorter.
- What authors do you admire?
Living or dead? So so many of both. For sheer virtuosity Peter Carey. “True History of the Kelly Gang” is one of the best books I’ve ever read. I have had a pathetic crush for years on Martin Amis. I love all his flaws.
The woman writer I’m most obsessed with at the moment is Elizabeth Taylor – not to be confused with the actress – who died in the late 1979s. She is so under appreciated. She wrote twelve novels and so far I’ve read five. I’m eeking them out. Every one a small jewel, like a carving on a grain of rice. Of living women I am a massive fan of Lily Brett. Her books confront such a massive subject – being the child of Holocaust survivors – yet they make me cry with laughter. She’s amazingly talented.
- If you were ever stranded on a desert island, which three books would you bring with you to pass the time?
Are you trying to kill me? I probably would take the “Complete Works of William Shakespeare”, as it’s the only situation I might actually read it. I have tried and failed miserably. Not being pretentious, but I would love a nice long stretch of time to read “War and Peace” again. And the third would be one of the Elizabeth Taylor’s I haven’t read yet.
- Did you read any writer guidebooks during your career? Are there any that you would recommend?
These books are very very important to me and I constantly refer back to them.
“On Writing”, by Stephen King – this book has changed my life and the way I work. I now use his 2000 words a day method. I do more if I feel like it, but I’m allowed to leave my desk when 2000 is done and that has made me a much happier person than forcing myself to sit alone in a room for eight hours a day, as I was.
“Dear Writer”, by Carmel Bird – really good all rounder, pointing out the things you need to think about, written very amusingly.
“The Art of Fiction”, by David Lodge – proper academic analysis, of key elements of style, made very readable.
“The Writer’s Life”, by Annie Dillard – wonderfully poetic and personal, but like a touchstone for me. I always seem to open it a madly appropriate passage.
- What area do you suggest a budding writer should concentrate on to further their abilities?
Reading actively. Re-read the books you love, which give you the feelings you want your reader to have. But don’t just immerse yourself in the story, analyse what the author is doing to make you feel that way.
- I always thought the opening line to “The Lovely Bones” was quite memorable, are there opening lines to books that stuck out to you?
“I Capture the Castle”, by Dodie Smith: ‘I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.’ How could you not read on after that?
- When sitting down to write, what is the one item you need beside you?
A large mug of tea. Strong, milk, no sugar.
- What do you think has been the best adaptation from book to film and why?
I want to say “Out of Africa” because the film makes me swoon, but I haven’t actually read the book, so that’s cheating. I think all the “Harry Potter” ones. I found the books a bit blah, but I love all the films. My favourite is the 4th – “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”. So many wonderful scenes in it . I love it when the two other wizarding schools arrive at Hogwarts, the wonderfully glamorous French girls with butterflies and sighs and the sexy stomping Bulgarians. And then, of course, it has a young Robert Pattinson in it… What’s not to love? Oh! “Twilight”! The first film is amazing… I could go on.
- And finally Maggie, do you have any new projects or releases on the horizon which you would like to share with the readers of the blog?
I’m working on my seventh novel at the moment. It’s at quite an early stage of gestation. I have my characters, I have my settings and I have the themes I want to explore. I have several very hot men ha ha ha. It’s fully started, I’m on Chapter 14, but still a long way to go. The boat has left the harbour – land is no longer in sight – but I have no idea where it is going, or how it will get there…