Social networking technology has made it much less isolating to be a writer. I met Margaret through an online critique group and I immediately recognized a kindred spirit of sorts. When she explained she was self-publishing a book that was originally traditionally published, I was intrigued. I knew right then I wanted to do an interview.
I read your bio and was interested to see you went to Art College and painted before you started writing. Can you compare what these two forms of artistic expression mean to you?
I don’t paint nowadays, as I haven’t time to do everything at the moment. (I also teach creative writing, and I’m writing a new novel). When I do get the chance to do something artistic, I usually make collages these days. I’ve always loved cutting up pieces of paper, even as a small child! A few years ago, I made a collage called Urban Jungle, and went out in Norwich, my home city, taking photographs – of bins, graffiti, traffic, ambulances, play parks etc, etc, specifically to cut up. I get completely involved when I’m making a piece, but it’s different to writing. Writing takes over my life – mostly in a good way. I can hear my characters speaking inside my head, often when I’m doing something else. Painting or making collages absorbs me at the time, but doesn’t dominate my life. I suppose this makes it more relaxing than writing, but writing is my passion. I do want to make time for painting and collage in the future though.
When did you start calling yourself a writer and when did you decide you wanted to be published? How did you find a publisher for your first book?
I started writing after I left Art College many years ago with the misguided plan of writing a best-selling novel for Mills and Boon to support my art career. I quickly got hooked though, and even though I wasn’t published by Mills and Boon, I discovered I loved writing. My first book was published by Women’s Weekly. My brother’s girlfriend at the time shared a flat with an editor at Women’s Weekly, and she agreed to read my manuscript and liked it. It was such a thrill to see it in my local newsagents!
You have several other books traditionally published. Can you explain how you got the rights back for this title? Is this your first time self-publishing? How has it been different from your previous books?
I have had a lot of books published the traditional way – original fiction readers for people learning to speak English mostly, and a historical romance – A Nightingale in Winter – published by Omnific Publishing. I have also self-published two women’s fiction books – The Goddess Workshop and The Dare Club. I enjoy the freedom of self-publishing – you can make any changes you want, and you can add details of your other books, or special offers if you want to. You can do what publicity you want to, the way you want to as well. I got the rights back to this book (which was formerly called Taming Tom Jones) when my publisher relocated abroad. We were issued with new contracts to reflect this change, but – mainly because I wanted to change the title of the book to For Hannah, With Love – I decided not to sign the new contract. I didn’t feel the original title reflected either the story or the message of the book. However, I have nobody but myself to blame for that, since I chose it!
Find out more about this author on her website or follow her on twitter @margaretkaj. Here’s and excerpt from the opening of For Hannah, With Love:
I’m in the ladies toilets at my local superstore. Inside the one functioning cubicle, sitting fully clothed on the toilet seat, surrounded by overflowing carrier bags, a peed-on plastic tester stick clenched in my hand. Waiting for my fate to unfold.
Two minutes. The time it takes for Michael to go to sleep after we’ve made love if I don’t do anything to stop him. The pee on the plastic stick is asking a question, and the chemicals inside it are working out their answer. And in two minutes I’ll know whether their answer agrees with my instinct.
“I’m crazy about you, Jen,” Michael said three months after we first got together. “I want us to be together. But I’ve got to be totally honest with you, if you want kids, you’d better find someone else, because I’ve already done all that. Don’t get me wrong, I love being a father to Kyle, but it’s enough for me.”
Michael. We met at a fancy dress party nearly four years ago – my mate Rick’s thirtieth birthday party. The theme was Pop Icons of the Twentieth Century, and the room was stuffed full of Elton Johns, Donny Osmonds and Mick Jaggers. I was Madonna, complete with pointy bra, and Marcia, my best mate, was Diana Ross.
“You look fantastic with all that long hair,” I told her as we propped up the bar, preening ourselves and pointing out funny sights to each other.
“Thanks. I could get used to this glamour.” She ran a hand over the sea-green sparkles of her dress. Perhaps we should start a band.”
“Yeah, right.” I hadn’t forgotten our last spectacularly bad attempt at karaoke on holiday in Spain, even if she had.
Marcia never has liked to be reminded of her failings, even at school. “Your bazoomers aren’t level,” she told me stonily, jabbing an accusing finger in the direction of my breasts. “You need to go up a bit on the right.”
I yanked dutifully at my right cone, wondering if Madonna had experienced the same trouble.
“Anyway,” Marcia said, “who are you going to get off with tonight?”
“I’m not going to get off with anybody. It’s only been three months since I split up with Luke.”
“That’s what I’m saying,” she said. “Three months of freedom and so far you’ve done zilch to celebrate.”
“I don’t feel like celebrating.” I was hurt by now, but Marcia never has been a girl to let my hurt feelings stand in her way when she’s telling me something for my own good.
“Well, you should. Luke was a prize tosser. You are far, far better off without him, Jen.”
“I loved him.”
“You thought you loved him. That’s about as different as Ibiza and the Isle of Man.”
Marcia stood on diamanté sandal tip-toes, peering into the crowd, the dark river of fake hair flowing all the way down her bare back. “Him,” she said, pointing. “That’s who you’ll get off with if you get off with anybody.”
Marcia pointed again. “Him,” she said. “Tom Jones.”
“Mummy, I need to do a poo-poo!” In the supermarket toilets, a child’s urgent voice interrupts my reminiscences.
“Excuse me, will you be long?” her mother asks.
There are two blues lines showing in the clear plastic window of the tester stick.
“Only the other cubicle’s out of order, and I think this is an emergency,” the mother continues.
“Sorry. I…I’ll be right out.” I get up in a daze, flush the toilet, and begin to fumble with carrier bags, testing stick and door.
I’m pregnant. Pregnant.
“Too late, Mummy. Too late…”
One of the carrier bag handles snaps, and as I scrabble for control, a box of tea bags and the testing stick skitter onto the floor.
“Mummy, I pooed my pants.”
The woman with the small child looks first at the stick, and then at me. “Good luck!” she says as her child begins to cry.
“Thank you.” I pick up the stick, and make my way from the toilets and out to my car. Load the bags into the boot of my car. Unlock the driver’s door. Get in. Just as if it’s any ordinary day.
But then I just sit there, gripping the wheel, staring straight ahead at nothing. My mouth’s numb and I’ve got pins and needles starting in my fingers. I want to cry because I’ve never felt so afraid and alone. And I want to laugh because I’ve never felt so excited and happy. It isn’t possible to feel all of those things at once, and yet I do.
I love these interviews. I’ve not read any of Johnson’s work, but I am interested. thanks.
Thanks for the opportunity to appear on your blog, Katie! 🙂
Wonderful interview, and I’m intrigued by the way Ms. Johnson reclaimed her publishing rights.