Is Foxden Acres your first novel and if so, what made you want to write it?
I began writing Foxden Acres after my mother asked me to find the Polish pilot who had made her a Wellington bomber out of brass, during the Second World War. Franek had escaped Poland to fly with the RAF and stayed with my grandparent s while Bitteswell Aerodrome – two miles away – was being made ready to accommodate allied and Commonwealth Air Force personnel. Franek had died, but I found his son and my mother was able to give him the Wellington. Coincidences do happen because, at that time, I was doing a correspondence writing course and the next module was biography. I wrote a biography about my mum, which my tutor liked, but she said that because mum and I were both unknown, I should turn it into a fiction. And I shall one day.
Foxden Acres is my first novel. At least it’s the first that I’ve completed and had published. I’ve plotted several contemporary novels, and half-written one that has the working title, ‘Forty-Two into Twenty-Eight Won’t Go.’ But I need to finish the other books in the Dudley sisters quartet. Foxden Acres is the first of four books about the lives of four very different sisters during the Second World War.
Foxden Acres is about love, strength and crossing the class and gender divide. Bess Dudley, the daughter of a groom and a trainee teacher, is in love with James Hadleigh, the heir to the Foxden Estate. When she’s told that James is engaged to socially acceptable Annabel Hadleigh, Bess accepts a teaching post in London. War breaks out, the children are evacuated, and Bess returns to Foxden to organise a troop of Land Girls. Flying Officer James Foxden falls in love with Bess. But Bess has got to know and respect Annabel. Can she be with James if it means breaking her friend’s heart? Besides, Bess has a shameful secret that she has vowed to keep from James at any cost…
The second book, Applause, is about blind ambition – and is Margot Dudley’s story. Margot marries her childhood sweetheart and leaves Foxden to live with him in London. She is fiercely ambitious and works her way from being an usherette in a West End theatre, to leading lady of the show. However, she soon finds herself caught up in a web of deceit, black-market racketeers, Nazis, drugs and alcohol.
The third book, China Blue, is about love and courage – and is Claire Dudley’s story. While in the WAAF Claire is seconded to the Royal Air Force’s Advanced Air Strike Force. She falls in love with Mitchell ‘Mitch’ McKenzie, an American Airman who is shot down parachuting into France. At the end of the war, working in a liberated POW camp in Hamburg she is told that Mitch is still alive. Do miracles happen?
The fourth book, The Bletchley Secret, is about strength and determination – and is the youngest sister, Ena Dudley’s story. Ena works in a factory building components for machines bound for Bletchley Park during WWII. The Bletchley Secret costs her the love of her life. Some years after the war has ended, Ena, now happily married, is running a hotel with her husband when she encounters someone from her past.
Had you had experience of writing short stories or articles before moving on to the novel? If so, how easy or difficult was it to make the switch?
Writing short stories is the most difficult medium. I respect writers who have mastered the art of short story writing. I find the discipline incredibly difficult. I spent the first couple of years of my writing career juggling acting with writing articles and short stories (as well as trying to write my first novel). Articles I liked because I enjoyed the research and, with practice, I mastered the art of writing them. Novel writing I loved, because I could get lost in another world, but short stories? I couldn’t give them away – and still can’t. It took me a long time, but eventually I got my act together and decided to concentrate on what I enjoyed most. And from then on, I became more successful at novel writing. There are writers who can write novels and short stories equally well. I take off my hat to them.
Is Foxden based on a real place? If so, where is it?
I based the Foxden Estate on the Cromwell Estate where my maternal grandfather (who I sadly never knew because he died before I was born) was Second Horseman to Lord Cromwell - the 5th Baron Cromwell. Last year I went to a charity fund-raiser there and the present owner (whose husband bought the estate in the late 1960s) took me to the stables where my grandfather had been a groom. It was a really weird and wonderful experience. The stables were exactly as I had envisaged. Walking past the main stable block to the foaling stable, I had an excited, yet very warm, feeling. And, although the groom’s quarters had been turned into two apartments, from the outside they looked exactly as I had described them. From what my hostess told me, the interior had been the same as the land girl’s billet - until the conversion. And, if that wasn’t enough to make the hairs on my arms bristle, the music room (which in Foxden Acres is the ballroom) has steps leading down to a lawn, which in turn leads down to the lake. I mentioned to her that in my novel I call the lawn, the peacock lawn, and to my astonishment she told me that they had once kept peacocks and they had been allowed to roam freely on the lawn. I have never seen peacocks on the lawn. I have seen the lake from the public footpath that leads from the church to the village. I was christened in the church (not that I remember) and twelve years later, I was confirmed there.
I based Bess’s father on my late grandfather. He was an amazing horseman who built bridges on horseback during the First Wold War. He accompanied Lord Cromwell to polo matches all over the country – travelling with the horses of course. He rode at the side of Lady Cromwell, who wouldn't hunt without him. King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, The late Queen Mother, often visited the Cromwell Estate. My grandfather accompanied Lord Cromwell and the King, riding behind them with fresh horses. As they passed the cottage, His Royal Highness would acknowledge my grandmother with a nod. My mother told me that she and her siblings often saw the Princesses, Elizabeth and Margaret, looking out of the Hall's nursery window. They would wave to them and the young Princesses would wave back.
Foxden Acres is set in World War 2. Did you have to do a lot of research and where did you start?
I did tons of research, but I loved it. If you set a story in a well-known period in time like The Second World War, you have to know what happened and when. You can’t go shopping to Selfridges if it had been bombed the day before. It’s the same for the sisters. Because there are four stories, I had to be careful about their timelines. When they are together in the first story, they must be in the other stories. Not easy. I have kept a diary for each of them, so time will tell. I’ve been an actress for thirty-odd years and the research needed before you can be a character on stage is similar to what’s needed to write a book. In both professions you need the Five Ws. Who are you, where are you, what are you doing, when and why.
What made you set your novel in a different era as opposed to the present? Were there any particular difficulties you encountered such as capturing the way people spoke at the time?
I have a great deal of respect for the men and women who lived and fought in the Second World War. And, I love the 1930s. I should have been born in the era. Seriously, my mother used to tell me about the work she did, and the friends she had during the war. Although it was a horrific time, people pulled together. I think life was short in those days, and everyone knew it. Young woman said goodbye to their sweethearts not knowing if they would see them again. So they made the best of every day, every hour, every minute. My mum and her friends worked hard, but had a lot of fun too. Every weekend there was a dance somewhere. My mother was good with hair and at lunchtime she would curl, or wave, in her workmate’s hair, ready for the dance that night. After work they would go home and have tea, get washed and changed, and then cycle to the dance wearing scarves round their heads. In the cloakroom mum would brush out their waves and curls before going into the dance hall.
Which of the main characters in Foxden Acres is your favourite? Which qualities do you think would make readers identify with that character.
Bess is my favourite character. Bess is strong and capable, as well as sensitive and caring. She is a decent hard working woman who is not afraid to go for what she wants. She’s bright and ambitious, without being selfish. And she’s loyal. I love Bess’s strength. Most of the women I know are strong. Women are able to put up with a lot. In times of crisis, like a war, it's the women who hold the family together.
I love the gorgeous James of course, but Tom, Bess’s older brother, is my favourite man. Tom always has a twinkle in his eye, and he’s generous to a fault. He’s brave too. Sensitive and very brave.
Did you write a detailed outline for Foxden Acres before you started writing or are you a 'seat of the pants' kind of writer?
I plot everything. The story changes as you’re writing it. That’s where it gets exciting. The characters take on lives of their own, and then – and I’m sure you’ve experienced it, Jo - the writer flies. I believe there has to be a solid foundation to every story. If there isn’t, and you lose your way; have what they call, writer’s block, you don’t have anything to fall back on.
It can be difficult being self-motivated and disciplined enough to finish a first draft of a novel. Did you find this to be the case and did you set yourself a series of targets?
Yes, I made rules, but broke them. The thing is you need to write every day and read every day. Reading good books inspired me to get on and do it. I have deadlines for my articles, and I meet them, but left to my own devices… I’m going to Caerleon this year to do, Advanced Novel Writing with Lesley Horton. Lesley’s course was, Novel writing Moving It On, last year. That’s where I took Applause, my second novel. This year it needs to be finished before July. I’m 50,000 words in, and another 50,000 or thereabouts to go. Lesley Horton is fabulous. Working with her is my incentive to get the first draft of Applause finished.
What made you decide to publish the novel on Kindle first? Do you have an agent?
I've come close to getting an agent three times. The first asked for the rest of the manuscript after reading the first three chapters. However, it was sent back within 36 hours, with leaflet advertising their self-help book on how to present a manuscript – signed, Office Manager. The office manager had clearly not read my letter thanking the agent for asking for the rest of the novel. The second agent was lovely. She said it had taken her a long time to decide not to take me and gave me some very good advice, which I have used – and she was right. She has asked to see, Applause. Whether she remembers me by then we’ll have to see. And the last agent kept me ‘exclusive’ for five months, before telling me to rewrite the first three chapters and submit them again. That was when I decided I had waited long enough. But I didn’t just dash out and self-publish. Debbie Viggiano was my beta reader. And she was brilliant. She made me work harder than anyone has before. Then, before I published, I sent the manuscript to Alison Neale, The Proof Fairy http://www.theprooffairy.com/proofreading-services/ and then to Rebecca Emin http://ramblingsofarustywriter.blogspot.co.uk/p/self-publishing-solutions to upload onto Kindle. I did not want to risk there being any writing, printing, or formatting mistakes.
What advice would you give to would-be novelists starting out?
Join a writing group. Like-minded people are supportive, especially when you are starting out. And, do a college course. I did a correspondence course with The Writers Bureau. Research and find a course that suites you. A correspondence course suited me, because I was working full time to pay the mortgage, as well as doing the odd television job. Above all, read! You learn so much from reading. Read anything and everything that is well written. I don’t believe in the theory that even badly written books can help you. At the beginning of your writing career, it’s too easy to pick up bad habits. There are thousands of well-written books out there. Why would anyone want to read rubbish?
I believe that Foxden Acres is the first in a series of novels based on the Dudley sisters. Was it your intention from the beginning to write a series of books and why?
Yes and no. Originally, it was my intention to write about four sisters based on a family I knew, but that idea went out of the window early on. However, 160,000 words – and growing – meant the first draft of Foxden Acres was longer than Doctor Who’s scarf. So, I went back to the idea of four sisters, and four stories. Each story is linked, but each will stand on its own and can be read in any order. Before I published Foxden Acres I set up a dedicated website. And I’m very active on both blogs.
Foxden Acres website: https://sites.google.com/site/foxdenacresbymadalynmorgan/
My Fiction Blog: http://madalynmorgansfiction.blogspot.co.uk/
My Non-Fiction Blog. http://madalynmorgan.blogspot.co.uk/
My Website: firstname.lastname@example.org
Raiders Broadcast Radio website - www.raidersbroadcast.com
Thank you for doing the interview, Madalyn, and good luck with promoting Foxden Acres.