Janice Rosser editor of OAPschat interviews Margaret James and Cathie Hartigan, both best selling authors and teachers. Welcome Margaret and Cathie.
Why did you decide to write The Creative Writing Student’s Hand Book and The Short Story Writer’s Work Book?
Margaret: We’re both teachers of creative writing who between us have been working with students for more than thirty years. We know that the students (and other aspiring writers) who are most likely to succeed are those who are good learners. So, rather than just telling people what to do, our writing guides are designed to show them how to learn to write novels and short stories. We know this approach works because many of our students have gone on to become very successful.
Cathie: We also wanted to provide a resource for all the writers who live along way from a class or group. Margaret and I are both competition judges and it saddens us when we see obvious talent going to waste because the necessary craft skills are lacking.
You are both authors in your own right. Do you work well as a team and is it a different approach to writing individually?
Margaret: We have the same approach to teaching creative writing and find we agree with each other on almost everything. If we don’t agree, we discuss and eventually we reach a compromise. Our writing styles are very similar, to the extent that when a book is finished we sometimes find we can’t actually remember who wrote what.
Our working method as a team is for one of us to write a section for the other to edit. When we were writing The Creative Writing Student’s Handbook, we wrote alternate chapters and edited each other’s work. When we were writing The Short Story Writer’s Workbook, Cathie wrote the first rough draft and I did a heavy edit, adding to and enlarging on what she had written, which resulted in the second draft being twice as long as the first. This is what we expected to happen.
Cathie: When writing a full length textbook or a novel, I think it’s important to have a clear sense of structure. There’s always some drafting to be done but a lot of time can be wasted if you spend it wondering which of the half dozens ideas you have suddenly had, will work well for the next page. There’s no knowing when a brilliant idea might strike though, which is why having a notebook always to hand is a good idea. It’s fatal to think you’ll remember. Ideas are as slippery as dreams.
Who or what inspires you both?
Margaret: We’re both passionate teachers who believe that almost everyone has stories inside them, all waiting to be told. But we also know that telling these stories effectively is a skill . Our intention is to help students to learn this skill and become happy, confident storytellers.
Cathie: It’s a great feeling when a students gets in touch to tell you of their success.
If you could each have a dinner guest, who would it be and why?
Margaret: What a difficult question! I think my guest would be Charles Dickens, my own favourite storyteller. He’d need to be in a good mood, so it would when he was young, happily married, witty, charming and full of enthusiasm for life.
Cathie: Gosh, I’d like a dinner party – as long as someone else is cooking. If I could have one guest for a working lunch I think I’d like the illustrator Quentin Blake. I was recently very moved by an exhibition of his drawings entitled Characters in Search of a Story. I’d like to talk to him about the individuals and you never know, perhaps I could provide each those lost souls with a story of their own.
You both live near the seaside, so perhaps don’t feel the need to go on holiday to a coastal resort, so where is your favourite city to visit?
Cathie: Continuing on my art theme, I think it would have to be Florence. Via Paris!
Margaret: I’m a bit of an archaeology geek, so Rome is always appealing to me.
You are a music teacher, Cathie. Do you write with music on in the background?
If I’m writing about music, then no, unless I’m listening for something specifically to do with the scene I’m writing.
I know you are a Queen fan Margaret, can you write with Freddie singing in the background?
I don’t have music on while I’m working because it’s too distracting. I start listening to the music rather than concentrating on what I am writing. I’m one of those people who gets annoyed with singers who mutter and mumble and slur their words because I always want to hear the words.
Is there a third book being planned?
Margaret: Yes, we’re working on a guide for novelists now. This time, I’m writing the rough first draft and Cathie will do the heavy editing.
Cathie: I’m flexing my editing muscles already!
Thank you so much both of you. I’m sure members will be sharpening their pencils and ordering one or both of your books!
Both are available to buy on Amazon by clicking on the links below.