Regular readers of this blog will remember a notice late last year about the writing competition for the charity Words for the Wounded. Founder Margaret Graham is a well-known and very successful writer of contemporary fiction and historical sagas, and an excellent tutor of writing also. Margaret talked to allonymbooks author Flora Chase about her ongoing involvement with the charity and the wealth of activities she manages to cram in.
Flora Chase: Margaret, since we first met at a writing workshop almost ten years ago at the Winchester Writers’ Conference, the book world has changed enormously. As a well-established and successful novelist yourself, what changes have particularly stood out to you as significant?
Margaret Graham: The e world! It is so powerful and easy that ‘DIY ebooks’ are riding high. But how to attract readers? Talks for the Women’s Institute or U3A maybe, press releases too? But let’s look at the e world: blogs in particular but it’s the same problem, how to draw people to them? I have started a couple of blogs – one of my own, and one for my charity, Words for the Wounded (W4W), which helps in the rehabilitation of wounded service personnel. A daughter does W4W’s social media for me at the moment and uses facebook, twitter, linkedin to encourage people to find the blog, whilst I mailshot friends. But obviously I need to get a grip and do it all myself. Crikey.
FC: I’m sure many people see the teaching of writing as a one-way dynamic from teacher to student, but as a teacher myself I know that’s not really true. What do you get out of teaching writing, both personally and professionally?
MG: Teaching and mentoring is a joy. It’s a total two way street. Part of my job is to analyse and suggest improvements but this works for me too. My editorial eye is now sharper in relation to my own work. But it’s more than that. I enjoy working with people as they gain enough trust to plumb the depths of their experiences and emotions in order to translate them into something fine. During this process a group alchemy happens, and they discover who they really are, take life by the scruff and we have a total ball.
FC: Although you continued to teach, you took a break from your own writing for a while, but have now returned with a new novel Easterleigh Hall. How did you find sitting down at the desk again after a break?
MG: My bum has grown bigger! When we moved to High Wycombe I wrote Maeve’s Afternoon Delight. Random House had sufficient contemporaries (so I brought it out on ebook!) and instead I am writing a couple of early 20 century novels for them – the 1st due out in October 2014. More, they are reprinting some of the backlist, After the Storm (previously published as Only the Wind is Free) was out on 1 August. Not sure about title changes but fashions alter I suppose. In Somerset I wrote short stuff while launching and running the Yeovil Literary Prize and I’ve kept the same pattern with W4W/novels/teaching and added lots of playtime because I can’t waste London.
FC: You blogged a few months ago for allonymbooks about the terrific Words for the Wounded charity you have set up, and the inaugural writing competition. What sort of response did you have?
MG: Fantastic! We had 425 entries and the standard was astonishing. 400 words maximum is a tricky beast and clearly careful thought took place. We had humour, memoir, poetry, and not one dud amongst them. We raised £1800 and you can read the winning entries on our website. Interestingly I heard from the administrator of the Yeovil Literary Prize, an ex-student of mine, Liz Pike, that their standard had hiked a level too. We don’t know why.
FC: What’s up next for the charity?
MG: Exciting things. We open the 2013 flash fiction/poetry/memoir prize on November 11th (our T shirts bear the legend, ‘Give us a Flash’)and W4W will be raising funds for the creative arts unit at H4H Tedworth House Recovery Centre. My son-in-law and his friend have just done a triathlon to raise funds for the prize money but now I have run out of fit young men (my son did the Lanzarotte Ironman the year before) so a friend and I are doing something next year – perhaps a sky dive. A daughter suggested a sponsored silence instead. As I explained to her, I only deal in possibilities.
In addition it is looking very likely that next year we will have a second writing category, ‘Writing for Children’ in association with a literary agent. So keep an eye on our blog!
Margaret, it’s always a pleasure to take a glimpse into your whirlwind of productivity. Good luck with all your projects!