3. You’re a prolific writer, delivering several books each year. I imagine that means you have to be pretty organised and focused. How do you approach your writing and how long do you spend planning before you start?
I’m delighted to have a Q&A with one of my favourite saga writers to share with you today. Maggie Mason’s new book, The Halfpenny Girls, which is the first in a brand new trilogy, is out today. Happy Publication Day, Maggie! I can’t wait to read this book. My thanks to Francesca Banks of Sphere for sending me a copy and for asking me to do the Q&A.
2. The books you write as Maggie Mason are centred around Blackpool. What is it about this particular seaside town that draws you to write about it?
It is 1937 and Alice, Edith and Marg continue to face hardships every day, growing up on one of the poorest streets in Blackpool. Penniless, their friendship has helped them survive this far, but it’ll take more than that to see them through the dark days that lie ahead . . .
Not yet, I still have number three of the trilogy to write so that is my priority – besides the edits to book two, and all the promoting etc. I try to avoid overloading the creative part of my brain. But whatever it is, it will be set in my beloved Blackpool. . . Oh, dear, you’ve set me thinking now . . . what if a young woman falls asleep on the beach and when she wakes, she cannot remember who she is or where she came from . . .
I moved to Blackpool in the eighties following a sister, who had bought a rest home here. I love the town and its people – they can truly be described as the salt of the earth.
Maggie Mason is a pseudonym of author Mary Wood. Mary began her career by self-publishing on kindle where many of her sagas reached number one in genre. She was spotted by Pan Macmillan and to date has written many books for them under her own name, with more to come.
I love writing about friendships among women and knew this was the theme I wanted. And so, I asked myself – what if I had three girls from Blackpool working in our local historical biscuit factory? What if they all lived in the same street and each had family and poverty issues? What if they were the same age, had played together as toddlers, were schooled together and now worked together and what if, they were a support to each other? From this emerged, Alice, Edith, and Marg.
She was educated at St Peter’s RC School in Hinckley and at Hinckley College for Further Education, where she was taught shorthand and typing.
6. How much research do you do for your books and how much of your own background and experiences go into your stories?
1. The Halfpenny Girls marks the start of a brand new trilogy. Where did the idea come from for the stories of Alice, Edith and Marg and what can you tell us about them? I’m sure they will be strong and brave women like your other female characters.
The first in a brand new series from reader favourite Maggie Mason, The Halfpenny Girls is the perfect heart-warming family saga about overcoming hardship and the value of friendship. Perfect for fans of Val Wood, Kitty Neale and Rosie Goodwin.
Down on their luck, all the have left is friendship . . .
Focused, yes – organised, Oh, I wish! So far though, despite everything I have written suggesting I might, I haven’t yet muddled Maggie, Molly and Mary up. They are all essentially, me. One never goes anywhere without the others. If I am at a Maggie event, then Mary and Molly have a part to play – all be it a bit part, they are showcased.
Born the thirteenth child of fifteen children, Mary describes her childhood as poor, but rich in love. 5. You became a published author quite late in life. When you were younger and doing various different jobs did you ever imagine that you would be a writer one day? Was it something you always wanted to do?
Alice is coping with a violent father and the weight of the duty she carries to support her family, Marg is left reeling after a dark secret about her birth comes to light and threatens to destroy the life she knows, and Edith is fighting to protect her alcoholic mother from the shame of their neighbours and keep her brother on the straight and narrow.
My thirty years residency has seen many changes. To quote the famous Charles Dickens – I have seen ‘The best of times and the worst of times.’ And harbour a love of Blackpool, the essence of which I want to capture and immortalise in my novels.
The second, is YES! With a passion that merited a capital letter ‘yes’. Always an avid reader, and scribbler – my teachers used to tell me off for writing too much when set an essay. Then one day my sister-in-law gave me a book by Catherine Cookson – The Dwelling Place. That book inspired the writer in me. The year was 1972 I remember the feeling now as suddenly I wanted to write the stories, not read them. And not just write but write like Catherine – she didn’t just hold my interest and take me to different places but dragged me into the book. For the first time, I was that girl I was reading about. I was struggling to keep my siblings together in a cave-home. I was the one raped and left with a child. I was weeping, praying, feeling, and experiencing the words – I wanted to do that for others, something inside me came alive. My quest had begun. My journey is too long to tell here – but I did it!
Now it is a very cosmopolitan town welcoming all but still the true Blackpudlians are at its heart as those who settle here soon find themselves moulded into the same vein of friendliness and community spirit. For Alice the adversity is coping with a father who, after a brain injury is a changed personality. From the loving father she knew as a child, he now has violent outbursts. Alice is trying to hold the family together and care for her three younger brothers.
Mary retired from working for the National Probation Service in 2009, when she took up full time writing, something she’d always dreamed of doing. She follows in the footsteps of her great-grandmother, Dora Langlois, who was an acclaimed author, playwright and actress in the late nineteenth – early twentieth century.
Thank you so much for hosting me. I have loved answering your questions and I hope your followers enjoy my answers. Much love, Maggie x 4. You write under three different names. Do you ever find yourself getting muddled up between your pseudonyms? Do you have a different mindset for each persona?
I am not known as Daft Mary, for nothing. I can often chase my tail and cause complete chaos and mishaps that have my followers of my FB page falling about with laughter and begging me to write a book of my antics!
For each one I produce a synopsis-type summary for the publishers to approve the idea, and once accepted, a working map of how the story will develop. Nothing detailed, just a page or two of one-line paragraphs of events I imagine happening, though all can go out of the window once the characters come to life as they dictate their own lives to me. But is a good starting point – it informs me that I have enough material to write the book if the characters fail to guide me how their lives went. – sounds bonkers, but I did warn you! The ideas for my novels come from so many different sources – something I read, see, or hear about. Often through my research for another book, and, as this one did, from me using an author’s favourite words ‘What if’.
I have lived through many traumatic personal and worldwide events, and these have touched every human emotion in me, which gives me my knowledge of how it feels to despair, to fear, to have your heart broken, to know joy, and the whole spectrum of what anyone can go through in life, even the threat to my own life and to my way of life. I haven’t been raped, but in my job as a Probation Service Officer, saw the pain of this and held the hands of sobbing women – all of which is a huge pool for me as an author to dip into to bring my stories alive.
These explosive situations are the core of the book. The mix is emotional, volatile and tragic, but the love the girls have for one another, and the laughs they have despite everything bring them through – Marg having a small windfall is a turning point in their lives, but will it be for the better? Thanks so much for such lovely, full answers, Maggie. I’m really looking forward to all of The Halfpenny Girls trilogy and that possible next book sounds brilliant too.
To answer the first part, I held a dream – that dream became a reality through hard work, tears, many disappointments and me thinking it would never happen, but never giving up. Mary continues to be proud to write for Pan Macmillan, but is now equally proud and thrilled to take up a second career with Sphere under the name of Maggie Mason. A Blackpool Lass is her first in a planned series of standalone books and trilogies set in her home town of Blackpool.
Edith is coping with an alcoholic mother and a sick father. Her spiteful teenage brother isn’t making life any easier. He is disgruntled with, and embarrassed by, his mother and has followed the wrong path looking for a way to make money and get away.
Marg’s mother suffers asthma and needs a lot of care. Her adorable gran has dementia and often causes Marg heartache by not recognising her. The light of her life is her sister Jackie. Marg is determined Jackie’s life will be different to her own and to this end funds Jackie to attend extra tuition in the hope that being educated will enable her to reach for higher things. This and paying for Gran and her mother to be looked after while she is at work, leads her to often borrow money from her loan-shark, gangster-type uncle who she hates.
It was her work with the Probation Service that gives Mary’s writing its grittiness, her need to tell it how it is, which takes her readers on an emotional journey to the heart of issues.
My research is on a need-to-know basis. Some authors need to know every bit of information they can about their setting and time period before they put pen to paper, but that’s not me. I love to visit the actual setting if it is possible. I don’t gather a lot of information before writing the book though, as the two things go hand-in-hand – the story begins, I need to know something for a scene, I stop, I research, then armed with what I need I write the scene. Unconventional, but it works for me.
7. Finally, what’s next for Maggie Mason? Do you have a book on the horizon for after the Halfpenny Girls’ trilogy is finished?
A chance encounter at the Blackpool Tower Ballroom promises to set their lives on a new path, one filled with love and safety and hope for a brighter future. Will The Halfpenny Girls, who have never known anything but poverty, finally find happiness? And if they do, will it come at a price?
But at the heart of everything falling down around me, my focus is always on my writing – I have to get up very early to achieve this though, long before the unsuspecting world awakes, and I can disrupt its harmony – that way, I achieve up to 5000 words a day and write four books a year.