Today on Behind the Pen I am pleased to welcome Maggie Christensen, here to talk about her latest release, The Good Sister, as well as letting us in on a few of her writing habits.
When did you start writing and what was the catalyst?
I started writing when I was close to retirement. I was working as Manager in an Education Unit in a Health Service and with a state-wide restructure in the offing, I decided to write the fiction I’d always wanted to write. I began to write The Sand Dollar in which my heroine, Jenny, is facing a redundancy and, on the strength of finding a sand dollar, takes a trip to Oregon – where my mother-in-law lived – to visit her godmother. That actually became my second book.
How many novels have you written and published?
I’ve written seven novels, all published – the last one, The Good Sister was released in November. I write books which celebrate women who have learned to live and love in later life and the heroes worthy of them – heart-warming stories of second chances. Although my books can be read as standalone, I like to include characters from previous books so that readers will meet old friends.
What inspired your most recent novel?
When I was growing up in Scotland, I had an aunt who loved to recount the sad story of her life. It was interesting and stuck with me. When I began writing I knew I had to write her story in some form, but couldn’t decide how to do it. Readers also asked me why I hadn’t set a story in my native Scotland.
So, when I wrote Broken Threads which is set in Sydney, I found myself introducing a minor character, Bel, who owned a boutique and had an aging aunt in Scotland. Now, two years later I’ve written The Good Sister in which Bel returns to her native Scotland to visit her terminally ill aunt.
Set over two time periods, this has enabled me to fictionalise my aunt’s story while following Bel’s journey while in Scotland.
What did you do when you finished this novel?
As I wrote The End, I realised that this novel needed a sequel, so I started to write it.
How much planning do you do? Do you plan/plot the entire story from beginning to end, or let it evolve naturally as the writing progresses? In terms of characters, are they already a firm picture in your mind before you start writing or do they develop a personality of their own as the story progresses?
I start writing with my heroine and a situation, then the other characters emerge and the story begins to take shape. I write organically. The story takes shape as I go, and the characters develop that way too. In The Good Sister, I knew what old Isobel’s story would be, but Bel’s story surprised me. As I write the characters become real to me and I immerse myself in their world.
Have you ever had to deal with a situation where someone feels they recognise traits of themselves in one of your characters?
No, though many people have told me that they knew someone who had a similar experience to Anna in Band of Gold, whose husband puts his wedding ring on the kitchen table on Christmas morning and tells her he doesn’t want to be married anymore. It seems to help them relate to my characters.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
When I’m not writing I spend a lot of time reading. I also love walking on the beach with my husband, or having coffee with him and with other friends. I also volunteer with Friends of Noosaville Library where I select and deliver books to the housebound.
What authors and types of books do you love the most?
I love both women’s fiction and crime. Some of my favourite authors are Liz Byrski, Marcia Willett, Elizabeth Buchan, Joanna Trollope, Caro Frazer, Rachel Amphlett, Sue Grafton, Michael Connelly, Ian Rankin, and Susan Hill (her Simon Serailler series) to name but a few.
What is your favourite childhood book? Did reading as a child have any bearing on your decision to become a writer?
I read voraciously as a child – still do! I’m sure my reading fuelled my desire to write. Growing up in Scotland, I read the usual Famous Five books by Enid Blyton, The Chalet School books by Elinor Brent-Dyer, The Abbey Girls series by Elsie J Oxenham, but the two books I remember most clearly are Brown Mouse and Brown and White by Frank Jennings. They are now sadly out of print and have become collectors’ items.
What book is currently on your bedside table?
Having just read and loved Elizabeth Buchan’s most recent book The New Mrs Clifton, I have rescued six of her books from my bookshelves and they are waiting to be re-read. They are soon to be joined by Y is for Yesterday, Sue Grafton’s latest.
The Good Sister – released 23rd November 2017
Available for purchase now
Two Isobels. A lifetime of regret. A love that spans the years.
In 1938, as the world hurtled towards war, twenty-year-old Isobel MacDonald fell madly in love. But fate and her own actions conspired to deny her the happiness she yearned for. Many years later, plagued with regrets and with a shrill voice from the past ringing in her ears, she documents the events that shaped her life.
In 2015, sixty-five-year-old Bel Davison returns from Australia to her native Scotland to visit her terminally ill aunt. Reading Isobel’s memoir, she is beset with memories of her own childhood and overcome with guilt. When she meets her aunt’s solicitor, events seem to spiral out of control and, almost against her will, she finds herself drawn to this enigmatic Scotsman.
What is it that links these two women across the generations? Can the past influence the future?