What did you do in the Great War, Mummy?

Margaret James looks at the heroism of the women of WWI

This year marks the outbreak of one of the most horrible conflicts in human history, and – as we all know – there are plenty of other contenders for this ignominious accolade.

But most wars aren’t only about men defending the homeland and/or killing or injuring just about everyone who counts as the enemy within shooting, bombing or mutilating reach. They’re also about human heroism on a massive scale, and World War One motivated many people to find courage deep inside themselves which might otherwise have stayed locked away all their lives.

Edith Cavell, a heroine of the conflict who will hopefully feature on British currency one day soon, helped people who found themselves on both sides of the conflict and finally paid the ultimate price for her heroism. ‘I realise that patriotism is not enough,’ she said, as she faced execution by a German firing squad. ‘I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone’.

E Cavell Cropped

Memorial to Edith Cavell outside St Martin’s Place, London


Memorial outside Norwich Cathedral











While the men fought and suffered appalling hardships on the fields of battle, women fought and suffered too, often in a wide variety of ways. When the men went off to fight, the women left behind stayed at home to run estates, farms, households, businesses and to raise families in hardship and poverty while their husbands were away. It’s hard for us in 2014 to realise just how powerless women were a mere hundred years ago – they had no parliamentary or other judicial vote, no real authority in the world of work, no autonomy within the home. The advice to ask your father was no joke back then because, without Dad’s permission, wives and children could not usually make even the most trivial of life decisions.

During the Great War, women worked in almost all the professions previously barred to them. They trained to be police officers. They laboured in dangerous places like munitions factories and mines. They worked as nurses and in a wide variety of support roles such as ambulance drivers on the front lines, often being critically or even fatally injured themselves. One lady I interviewed while I was researching my novel The Silver Locket which is set during World War One told me about her mother who worked as a rat-catcher on a farm in Yorkshire – the man who had originally been attracted to this desirable career option having joined up – and, while she enjoyed being out in the fresh air, she hated wearing a tie. Only men wore ties…

Did taking on men’s roles during this conflict help to advance the cause of female emancipation when the fighting finally ended? Well, women eventually got the vote. But, after the hostilities had ground to an exhausted halt, most of them were sent away from the factories, farms and workplaces back to the home, where most men felt they still belonged. They had demonstrated one incontrovertible truth, however – when a society is in crisis, women can contribute in positive ways just as effectively as men. The women of 1914 – 1918 laid the foundations of the women’s liberation movement which would really get into its stride fifty years later. There is still much to be done, but we women of 2014 are so lucky and we owe so much to our sisters from a hundred years ago.

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If life is cheap, how much is love worth? 

It’s 1914 and young Rose Courtenay has a decision to make. Please her wealthy parents by marrying the man of their choice – or play her part in the war effort?

The chance to escape proves irresistible and Rose becomes a nurse. Working in France, she meets Lieutenant Alex Denham, a dark figure from her past. He’s the last man in the world she’d get involved with – especially now he’s married.

But in wartime nothing is as it seems. Alex’s marriage is a sham and Rose is the only woman he’s ever wanted. As he recovers from his wounds, he sets out to win her trust. His gift of a silver locket is a far cry from the luxuries she’s left behind.

What value will she put on his love?

Juliet Archer’s Body Parts

Like mothers with their babies, authors are prone to parade their book covers in the shameless pursuit of praise and adulation. And I’m afraid that I’m no exception.

But, unlike babies, book covers result from a meeting of minds, usually ones with a good understanding of the more commercial aspects of publishing. It seems to be a real bonus if the author actually likes what her ‘baby’ looks like. I’m very fortunate, because I ADORE MY NEW COVER!

9781906931209I loved the first one, too, for The Importance of Being Emma. The legs summed up my heroine perfectly – elegant and sexy, with a hint of mischief. They were also the first thing that the hero noticed when he met her in the opening chapter.

In fact, I’d had so many compliments about this cover that I was a bit disappointed when Choc Lit decided on a change of body parts for my second novel.

So, no legs for Persuade Me.

But what would my publisher come up with? I had visions of a headless torso, which seems to be a growing trend for Regency romance. However, I’m writing modern stories – not a heaving bosom in sight. And this heroine, Anna Elliot, is a lot different from Emma Woodhouse – more restrained and romantic, longing for another life. Would there be a demure pair of folded hands, perhaps, or bare feet caressing the sand?

Finally, I heard from Choc Lit. ‘We think it should be a girl’s head, in soft focus,’ they said.

OK. I’d seen Margaret James’s covers for The Silver Locket and The Golden Chain, of course – gorgeous, and very evocative of their period. But would they work for a 21st-century heroine, even if she does prefer her men to stay between the covers of 19th-century Russian novels?

Then Choc Lit sent me this …

Persuade Me - Cover

 … and I thought, ‘Wow! It captures Anna’s fragile beauty, hints at her gentle nature – and shows off the neck that Rick Wentworth once found so irresistible.’

What more can I say? Except that, like any proud mother, I want a shower of compliments for my ‘baby’!

Margaret James on how to teach quantum physics to your mum…

I married a physicist, so I suppose it was only natural (or was it?) that my children should both become scientists.

Anyway – my new year’s resolution (I know, like promises and pie crusts they’re made to be broken) is to educate myself about things which are currently a mystery to me, and to get me started Senior Daughter has bought me Chad Orzel’s bestseller, How To Teach Quantum Physics To Your Dog.
The theory is, if a dog can understand quantum physics, so can I.

We’ll see!

In the meantime, I’ll carry on writing romantic fiction, and wondering if my grandchildren will inherit any of my novel-writing DNA?

Margaret James gets out more…

November has been an exciting month for me, with the publication of The Silver Locket and plenty of publicity opportunities.

I did newspaper interviews, was on local radio, and had a book signing in Exeter Waterstones which went really well, perhaps because it was a sunny Saturday afternoon and people were happy to buy two other paperbacks and get mine free in the three for two promotion.

The lovely cover also helped. The silver foiling and image of the heroine make it look like the perfect present, and people were buying the book as a Christmas gift.

A couple of days ago, I did a library event in Exeter with two of my other writing friends, promoting my own book and the RNA’s Golden Anniversary anthology, Loves Me, Loves Me Not. Waterstones came along and sold books.

Thank you for the photograph, Linda Mitchelmore!

Radio was a bit scary. Whenever I do radio I always dread having a coughing fit or getting hiccups, but on BBC Radio Solent I was fine – hence the big grin!006

Margaret James on Wounded Heroes

Why do we ladies love a wounded hero? I’ve just been re-reading Kate Atkinson’s brilliant Case Histories, which is the first in the Jackson Brodie series, and I’ve fallen in love with Jackson all over again. I’m not sure if this is because he is such a great bloke or because he keeps getting thumped, beaten up, given the third degree by his various women or what. But I’d love to take him home and kiss him better.

rochester Then there’s poor old Mr Rochester, who only wanted to make Jane Eyre happy, but who ended up burned, maimed and blinded. Charlotte, what exactly was going on in your mind when you did all that to him?

The poor old Phantom of the Opera, too – he doesn’t get the girl, and when I saw the movie version there was a collective sigh of regret as he let Christine go with whatsisface – the boring one who needed a haircut, can’t remember his name. gerard-in-phantom-gerard-butler-2090887-343-5001I readily accept that the collective sighing might have had something to do with the fact that the Phantom was played by Gerard Butler.

I’m writing about a wounded hero myself right now – my goodness, this man is in such pain, and he has so many issues! The world has treated him very badly, and he’s desperately in need of healing. So I am feeling very protective of him. He’s certainly bringing out my caring, nurturing side, and – perhaps because he’s too thin, too withdrawn and too good-looking – he’s doing my heroine’s blood pressure no favours at all.

I’m wondering now – do wounded heroes bring out the best in female readers? Or is there something more sinister and controlling going on?

Who will make Jackson Brodie happy? Let’s wait and see, and in the meantime I’ll carry on hyperventilating…

Margaret James – a gorgeous bunch of Roses!

roses-004-31No, not the chocolate kind (although they’re pretty delicious – I have always loved the dark orange creams), nor the flowers (although I have a garden full of them, Jacques Cartier and Margaret Merrill being my all time favourites). Today, I’m celebrating the arrival of my author copies of The Silver Locket, and admiring the beautiful cover which features my heroine, Rose.

By some amazing fluke of serendipity, those clever people at Choc Lit chanced upon the perfect image of Rose, and when I saw the photograph I recognised my heroine straight away. There could be nothing and no one else on that cover, which is just perfection. The silver swirly bits pick up on the title, and the sepia background is exactly right for the time when the novel is set – during the First World War, which disrupted and changed the lives of millions all over the globe, forcing some of them (including Rose) to make some very difficult choices.

The book is published on 1 November, and I can’t wait to see it in the shops!

Margaret James on the loneliness of the long distance novelist

I’m a regular contributor to the UK’s Writing Magazine and get lots of reader feedback about other people’s writing lives. Readers who aren’t yet pubished often say how lonely they feel, sitting there hour after hour by themselves, writing novels about people who don’t exist. It’s worse if they don’t have any sympathetic writing friends.

But there’s no need to feel lonely and friendless. If you can find a local writers’ group, ask if you can go along to a meeting, and see what you think of the people there. You might feel shy about walking into a room full of strangers, but be brave and give it a go. If you can’t find a local group, or you don’t think your local group is going to be right for you, maybe start one of your own? A notice in a newsagent’s window or in your local paper is almost certain to get a response. You don’t need to invite people into your own home. You could suggest a meeting in a pub or a cafe, at least for the first time.

You’re reading this blog, so why don’t you start one, too? It’s really easy, honestly! If you’re not technically minded, and I’m not, there’s plenty of help and guidance out there for when you get stuck, as I often do.

All the Choc Lit authors have websites and blogs, we’re all on Facebook and Twitter, and we email each other via our newsgroup. If you want to be our Facebook friend or follow us on Twitter, we’d be delighted to hear from you. See the sidebar featuring all our names on the left of this blog page, click on our contact details, and don’t be lonely any more.

Margaret James on the New Writers’ Scheme

It’s the beginning of September, so that means the Romantic Novelists’ Association has all the submissions for this year’s New Writers’ Scheme safely gathered in.  As a former organiser and current reader for the Scheme, I can recommend it to anyone who wants  to become a published romantic novelist.

So, how does the scheme work?  Well, first of all you have to become a member of the RNA – go to www.rna-uk.org to find out how, and be ready to join  in early January 2011, because places on the scheme are limited and are taken up very quickly.

Then, write your romantic novel and get it to the organiser by the end of August 2011. You’ll need to have a love story at the heart of your book, so don’t send the RNA a novel in which the big question is who killed the banker or who stole the painting. Your own big question needs to be who falls in love and/or ends up with whom.

What will you get for your membership fee? A report on your novel from a published writer of your kind of romantic fiction, opportunities to meet published and yet-to-be-published novelists, positive encouragement, practical help, good advice, chances to network, and insights into the mysterious world of publishing.

It might take you a while to make it into print, but the RNA will help and support you all the  way. As a member of the NWS, you’ll be welcome at the RNA’s fabulous awards lunches and parties, too!

Margaret James – The Silver Locket

So exciting – the cover of The Silver Locket has been finalised, and it’s absolutely gorgeous. The heroine looks exactly as I’d imagined Rose Courtenay to be.  She’s even wearing a silver locket round her neck, so that’s perfect.

The locket is a gift from the hero Alex Denham, who is as irresistible as the best dark chocolate – very intense, but with a delicious, perfect sweetness.

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Margaret James loves Freddie Mercury – it’s official!

The soundtrack to my life (okay, not all my life, but since they first started doing their stuff and turned me into a somewhat elderly but unwavering fan) is Queen – absolutely no doubt about it, I adore this band and I have been in love with Freddie for as long as I can remember. I can’t actually write to the sound of Queen’s triple CD of their greatest hits, but I am inspired, moved and uplifted by everything they’ve ever done.  Barcelona – brilliant, makes me shiver in a good way every time.  Bohemian Rhapsody –  best pop song ever written, no question. We Are The Champions – okay, sometimes life chews you up and spits you out, but if you have faith you can still win through. Too Much Love Will Kill You – oh, Freddie, how dare anyone hurt you in this way? I could go on – and on – and on! Wherever you are now, Freddie, I hope you’re well and happy, because you have made me happy over and over again.

Oh, and I quite like Wolfgang Amadeus (whom Roger McGough keeps telling me wasn’t really called Wolfgang Amadeus, but does it matter) too!

I think Wolfgang and Freddie would have got on.