I met the lovely, chatty Margaret at an author and blogger meet-up recently in Stoke. She talked to me about her book and I was keen to know a little bit more about it and about what inspires her to write.
Q. Your book, Footsteps in the Past, was published last year. Can you tell us a little bit about it?
A. The book concerns the Pottery Riots of 1842, which developed into the General Strike. This is not a history book, but it is, in my opinion, the immensely gripping history of the time, turned into a novel. Jane finds herself whisked back into 1842, after seeing a ghostly figure running away from the Ash Hall Nursing Home, in Werrington, where she worked.
In 1842, she finds herself working for Job Meigh, the entrepreneur pottery master, who built Ash Hall. He was a violent Victorian, who maimed his wife and possibly killed someone else in his workforce, but was a great philanthropist to the outside world and a magistrate. He, and industrialist pottery and mine owners, had grown rich from the labours of their workers, who were driven to starvation, when their pay was repeatedly cut, especially with the introduction of the Corn Laws, meaning wheat and corn were exported for gain and not enough left to make bread for the people. They were selling anything they had just to feed their families.
The Chartists wanted to get the People’s Charter approved by Parliament to offer the people, among other requests, representation in Parliament and the vote (the only people who had the vote at the time were the few aristocrats and industrialists, who owned property). This People’s Charter was rejected, resulting in the violent pottery riots.
Jane has to discover why she has been sent back into the past – possibly to help Job Meigh’s wife or possibly for involvement with the riots – which will lead her into life-threatening danger. Or was, finding out who the ghostly figure was, her way back to her own time?
Q. Are there any other events/periods from history that you’d like to write about in the future?
A. I have just finished a second book, ‘Footsteps in the Past – the Secret’. This book takes the main characters of ‘Footsteps in the Past’, to 1883 – this time to a coal mining disaster in which Jane and John’s son is involved. The coal mine is Lillydale Collier in Bucknall. While nursing John back to health, after his attempt to rescue their son, Jane reminisces what has happened over the past 41 years. Her stories unravel, while desperately awaiting news if their son is still alive or not.
The stories include the coming of the railway and her work at the hospital, depicting the state of hospitals at the time, and including the appalling workhouse hospital – leading on to their gradual improvement with the introduction of trained nurses. The book also references the introduction of unions, widows’ aid and manufacturing achievements of the Industrial Revolution. The book concentrates on the small area surrounding Werrington, Staffordshire – a microcosm of life at the time – bringing in characters, who actually existed. The historical events are accurate.
Q. What do you most enjoy about writing in the historical genre?
A. I came to live in Werrington three years ago and started investigating the area. I was amazed to find out about the Pottery Riots, which I had known nothing about – it wasn’t taught in history at school. This made me want to investigate more. I found the Pottery Riots and politics of the time really fascinating, and I started wondering if this story could be turned into a book. Finding out, also, that Ash Hall Nursing Home, has a number of ghost stories associated with it, I decided to link the two and ‘Footsteps in the Past’ was the result.
Q. Where do you get your ideas from?
A. Historical dramas, e.g. Jane Eyre. I took the idea of the party from Jane Eyre. Also, I’m a great fan of Poldark, although this is set slightly earlier, but still concerns politics and people starving through lack of food brought about by parliament.
Q. Can you tell us about your journey to publication?
A. It’s almost impossible to get a book published through a publisher, unless you are a well-known author, so I decided to go down the road of self-publishing. I considered using Lulu, as I had used them before, but thought I’d go with Author House, who made loads of promotional promises. I managed to bait down their prices considerably, pleading poverty. However, in hindsight, any promotional leads came from me. I was interviewed by the Sentinel ‘The Way We Were’ team, who gave me a centre page spread. I was also interviewed on Stoke Radio. All last year I was taking the book on the road to various fairs and table-top events and got the book accepted by a couple of book shops, including the Barewall Art Gallery in Burslem and Etruria Museum.
I was recently approached by another American Company wishing to publish the book in America, at a lower price but offering me 50% of sales. They promised possible film or series rights. However, they wanted £1050, even though I’d baited them down from £4,000. I did not go with this.
Q. What are you currently working on?
A. I’ve decided to publish ‘The Secret’ with Lulu. They do not charge anything for publishing – each book is printed individually for each order. They are easy to use. I did try Amazon, who now do self-publishing through KDP, however, their instructions are almost impossible to fathom, especially as this book has a translation of the Potteries dialect at the back and any changes to format, mean that the page links to the translation pages have to be amended. I spent four days trying to alter the book to conform to KDP instructions, then gave up.
Q. What’s the hardest thing you find about being a writer?
A. The writing comes easy, once you’ve got the storyline. My stories seem to develop as I go along – I think of something interesting that can be added, as I’m writing, then research that. I love delving through websites and books to get the information I need. In fact, one of the scenes in ‘The Secret’ came from a dream. I must have got myself so involved with the story that, obviously, I was dreaming of it, and the dream came up with an enhanced scene, which I used.
Obviously, promoting the book is the hardest and contacting people to take it on, although I quite enjoyed the fairs and table-top events. I enjoyed meeting people and telling my story. I’ve also done a presentation at a care home and have been approached by others to do presentations.
Q. Do you get time to read yourself and if you do, what books do you read?
A. Yes, I read at bedtime. I’m currently on the third book of the Clayhanger series by Arnold Bennett. I hadn’t realised this was a series, so had to order the other two from the library. Immediately before that, I read Jane Eyre, then North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell.
Q. When you’re not writing, what do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
A. I’ve been painting, in oils, virtually all my life. I’m currently working on a scene from the Pottery Riots. The scene outside the Big House (the Wedgewood House in Burslem), with the red-coated army confronting the masses coming down Moorland Road. The scene shows Josiah Heapy being shot by the wall of the Big House– the first person shot in the riots. A plaque was erected at the war memorial in Burslem last April, (while I was writing the book) commemorating the riots and his death.
I was influenced by the painting of the riots on display in the Leopard Inn in Burslem. Some of the faces in the crowd are paintings of local people. So, I have done the same and painted local celebrities from Burslem in the crowd. You can view some of my paintings by Googling Artweb/Margaret Moxom. I normally take commissions for a piece, working from photographs.
Q. Finally, what piece of advice can you give to writers who are struggling to get that first book written and published?
A. Self-publish. There are plenty of companies out there. Bear in mind you will have to do the leg-work of promoting the book yourself. Even if you have the money to go to a company, that offers to promote your book, this is a false economy, as you will still have to do the work yourself. There are no get-rich-quick solutions to publishing and you’ll never make money from it unless you’re already a celebrity. The J K Rowlings of this world are one in a million.