In the 1990’s I answered an advert in the local paper looking for writers to join a writer’s circle. We met at the local hospital once a fortnight. A topic was set and each we’d each read out what we had written and the others would comment on it. It was by listening to other people’s work, that I learned several things.
• Less is more – you don’t need to write a paragraph when a sentence will do.
• Show don’t tell – don’t say the man walked down the path, show him doing it by his actions and what he saw.
• Every word should earn its place, take out unnecessary words.
By listening to people who don’t quite get it right stops you from making the same mistakes.
As one might expect, there was a mixed bunch of characters at my Writer’s Circle. Sid, whose erotic writing caused a few raised eyebrows; the nursery teacher who told charming tales of Mr and Mrs Mouse and a husband and wife team, she writing poetry, that made us laugh and he told fast moving tales of bank robberies.
Then there was Anita Rowe who only came occasionally to the meeting. She already had a teenage novel printed and brought in a signed copy for my daughter. These days I see her name in writing magazines.
The most interesting character all was called Margaret Holt. I first ran into Margaret back in 1984 having my first child. She was a midwife.
A lot of her stories were based on her knowledge of hospitals and her midwifery, which comes to another writing tip. Write about what you know.
She wanted to write for Mills and Boon and each week she brought the next chapter to read out loud. Mills and Boon had such rigorous guidelines back then and her books were rejected. She wasn’t put off and re-wrote them again and again until she got it right.
“I will do it,” she said, “If it kills me, I’ll do it.” Sometimes she turned up for meetings in a terrible mood and was short with every one, sometimes she was so over the moon it put everyone else in a good mood, too.
“Retiring has given me more time to write,” she told me one day. “That means I can concentrate on getting the formula just right.”
Her hard work eventually paid off and in 1992 A Place of Refuge was published and closely followed by A Midwife’s Choice, A Song for Dr Rose, An Indispensable Woman, Remedy for Pride, Doctor across the Lagoon and Tall D’arc and Tempting.
I used to go to her house to teach her how to use a computer as all her writing was done on an electronic typewriter. She thought it time she joined the computer age. She would also show me illustrations they had sent her for her book covers, of which she had to approve first. It was fascinating to see the illustrations turn into actual books.
In the beginning, it was disconcerting reading her books as each time the heroine spoke I could hear Margaret’s voice. Sometimes I recognised chapters she’d aloud read to us.
Nevertheless, I was pleased to occasionally wander in W. H. Smith and see her books on the shelf.
Throughout this period of writing, Margaret longed to break free of the restraints of Mills and Boon. During trying times, she would turn to her baby – an historical novel about a young girl who grew up in poverty to become a midwife. She would read us bits of it and we all knew it was something special.
In 2002 A Child’s Voice Calling came out under the name of Maggie Bennett. All the pent up restrictions of Mills and Boon were lifted and she wrote bluntly and sometimes explicitly, but always in context.
We, her writer’s group were invited to the book launch which was held at a local hotel. There were speeches as Margaret thanked everybody, including us. We had a lovely meal and the evening finished off with dancing. It was an excellent afternoon and everybody was given their own signed copy.
Soon after she wrote her next book, A Child at the Door and A Carriage for the Midwife came next. These were totally new story with different characters. I didn’t enjoy the first one as much, because I thought it lacked the romance of her other books. Margaret agreed but said it depicted grim times. Again, with her stories, she kept to what she knew.
The Writer’s Circle dissolved in the mid to late 90s and Margaret and I kept in touch. I would sometimes see her cycling through the local town with her shopping in the basket on the front.
One day, through my letter box I another new book arrived and it was signed as usual. It was called A Child of her Time.
It picked up on the characters of the first books and focused on left over women. At the end of the first world war, a generation of men had been lost. It was a riveting read and I couldn’t put it down. It had that element of a great book that keeps you turning the page. It had been such a long while since I had heard her read out loud, the heroine at last took on a life of her own. Margaret seemed genuinely pleased when I told her how much I had enjoyed it.
I continued to see her books , and at the local supermarket as well. She told me she had completed 17 chapters of her new book and another three or four should see it done by the deadline of November. I admired her dedication.
“There was so much to get in,” she said, “Dunkirk, the Battle of Britain, the Blitz, war in Russia, Pearl Harbour, far east, El Alamein, dam busters, the D-Day landings, the doodle-bugs and V2 rockets, the final victory and the discovery of concentration camps, ” she said laughing. “And, add all this to the heroine’s flings with the RAF, Navy and Army, her nursing experience, with burns and plastic surgery and a VD ward in a RAF hospital. It also gives me great opportunity to introduce the new miracle drug, penicillin.”
She was so enthusiastic and totally dedicated to her craft. She lived and breathed her books.
A few years later, she decided to move back to Hampshire to be near her both her daughters and many of her books were set in this area. It think that’s where her heart always was. It was sad to see her go, I had really enjoyed her enthusiasm for her craft and being involved in her world.
That Christmas she sent me a card with her new address and I accidently threw it away before I’d copied it down. So we lost touch.
I was pleased to discover that she is still writing and had book came out in February 2013.
You can see all Maggie’s books – although I notice some of the earlier ones are now out of print.