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Thursday, 27 February 2014

Madalyn Morgan Shares her Writing Process

Madalyn Morgan, author of Foxden Acres share her Writing Process with Famous Five Plus

What am I working on?

I’m reading research books for my third novel, China Blue, while writing book and author blurbs for my second novel, Applause, which I plan to publish on March 25.

Mock-up of the book cover, which has gone to Avalon Graphics LLC

Applause is the story of Margaret Dudley.  It is the second in a quartet about the lives of four very different sisters during World War 2.  In the early years of the war, Margaret leaves Leicestershire to live with her husband in London.  She works her way up from usherette to leading lady in a West End show.  Driven by blind ambition Margaret becomes immersed in the heady world of nightclubs, drink, drugs and fascist thugs – all set against a background of the London Blitz.  To achieve her dream, Margot risks losing everything she holds dear.

As an Indie author I have to do my own publicity.  The first thing I do in the morning, after flicking on the kettle, is turn on the laptop.  While it's boiling - the kettle that is, not the laptop, I check my emails.  With my first cup of tea I look through Twitter and while I eat my breakfast, I check Facebook.  The novel I'm promoting is my first, Foxden Acres.  It's about Bess Dudley, the oldest of the Dudley sisters.  Although it takes us to London and Dunkirk, the main story is set on a country estate in Leicestershire with characterful land girls and recuperating servicemen, during the Second World War.

How does my work differ from others in the genre?

That’s a difficult one to answer.  I'm not sure it does differ.  Having said that, my process of creating characters might differ because I was an actress for 35 years.  (I'm still a member of Equity).  I get the same buzz finding the truth in the characters that I write about as I did in the characters I played on the stage or television.  For me the two processes are the same.  My characters have to be real.  I need to know them and find the truth in them; make them believable.  Characters in a play are not born the second the curtain goes up, any more than the characters in book are born on the first line of chapter one.  I write my characters a biography; give them a past and hopes for the future, which may or may not be told, even in back story.  They have had a life right up until the moment they step onto the page.  When the curtain rises, or the book opens, the characters have lived for twenty, thirty, or however many years.  It is never the first minute of their life.
Also about genre: My first four novels are set during and just after the Second World War, so I guess they are Historical, and part of a Family Saga.  Having said that, they are all very different.  Foxden Acres is a about the strength of women and how they cope and move on after loss.  Applause is about ambition and what lengths a woman will go to to achieve it.  China Blue is a real love story set in the worst possible conditions, and Bletchley Secret is about theft and deception – and the past coming back to haunt.  Therefore genre is an odd thing, don't you think?

Why do I write what I do?

They tell you to write about what you know.  So, if I was to tell you that the first novel I plotted and outlined was a contemporary story about an actress of forty-two and an actor of thirty, you might put two and two together and make a racy five.  Forty-Two into Twenty-Eight Won't Go was going to be the book I couldn't publish while my mother was alive.  Reading it today it's more, Jack and Jill than Fifty Shades.
The second book was a biography about my mother.  I was fascinated by how much women had come into their own between and during the wars - and with mum being a young woman in World War II she told me all about her life at that time.  She would talk for hours about her friends, her job degreasing magnetos, and how after a day working in the factory she and her pals would all cycle off - the hems of their dresses pinned to the shoulders of their coats - to a dance in a nearby village.  I sent her biography to a literary agent once who said it was strong and interesting.  However, because my mother was unknown, and so was I, I should turn it into a fiction. 
It was around this time that my mother said she would like to give back a brass aeroplane to the Polish pilot who had made it for her in 1940.  Unfortunately, he had died, but I found his son.  He was delighted to have the Wellington Bomber, a replica of the plane his father flew in the RAF.  It was this, as well as stories she told me about her father being the head groom on a country estate that gave me the idea to write four different stories, about four different sisters.  So, that is why my first four books (two written and two plotted) are set during the Second World War. 

How does my writing process go?

I'm a strong believer in a plot.  I'm not sure how many writers have the plot of the next book wake them up in the night before they've finished writing the last, but it happens to me.  I also name the chapters as I write, and list what’s in them, so I don’t repeat anything.
Usually the ideas knock about in my head for a while.  I'm nearing the end of one project when the next tries to get in.  For instance, I was line-editing Applause last week for twelve hours a day.  Stupid I know.  Sitting for that long is so bad for your legs, and after working that intensely it's impossible to wind down when you get to bed.  However, two nights running I was kept awake by the plot of China Blue, the third book in the saga.  I was so tired the first night it happened that I tried to ignore it.  I tossed and turned and didn't get up. The second night I put my glasses on, took my notebook and pen from the side of my bed, switched on my small torch and stuck it between my teeth.  Can’t be doing with a light on at three o'clock in the morning.  After writing down what was in my head I still couldn’t sleep.  I was too excited.

I plotted Foxden Acres and Applause.  However both changed – took on lives of their own – as their stories developed.  The characters changed too, as their personalities developed, I'd have been disappointed if they hadn't.  So the plot and the characters can change, but not the timeline if a novel is set in a well-documented time in history like the Second World War.  A strong foundation or a hindrance?  However you see it, you have to use it and embrace.  The other three books in my quartet have to be time-lined – and not only with events in the war, but with each of the other books.  Although each book will stand on its own, and can be read in any order, there are times when the sisters are together – especially in the first novel – so I keep a tight day-diary.  One page per event and chapter, times four.  A page for each book, labelled with a different coloured tag.

The Dudley sisters’ day-book

The most important thing I do, after I've written the story and edited the first draft on screen, is print it out and read it aloud.  As I read, I mark what needs to be cut in red, and what needs to be developed in blue.  Then I write, or rewrite, and edit again.  The final edit is a line edit.  Happy with it now?  No.  I print it out again and I read it again.  When I get to the stage where I think it’s ready to publish, I send it to a proof reader to make sure.  I also have it professionally uploaded to Kindle and to a POD publisher.  This time it will be CreateSpace.  Before it goes live, I proofread the Kindle version and then the paperback.  I want my book to be as well written as I can write it, and as well produced as any book on the shelves of WH Smith or Waterstones. 

Foxden Acres on Amazon, Paperback & Kindle:
Madalyn Morgan - Fiction Blog:
Madalyn Morgan - Non-Fiction Blog:

Madalyn Morgan - Website:


  1. Replies
    1. Thank you, Chris. It amazes me that so many of us come from different places to this wonderful career, lifestyle, writing. Like acting, it isn't important where you come from, but how you get there. x

  2. I liked to read about the way you plot, as my characters tend to brush aside all my intentions. Your post has inspired me to gain control, it would make for much less confusion and fewer hours of editing.

    1. You're successful with your novels, but if it might cut down time, so worth a try, Eileen. The bloomin characters take on a life of their own and we have no choice but go with them. The best plots in the world can be scuppered if the characters won't behave. x