Writing is all Margaret Dickinson has ever wanted to do, and on the release of her 25th novel, she takes a look back at her prolific career.
The Sunday Times best selling author, who lives in Leicestershire, is about to embark on an extensive signing tour to mark the release of The Poppy Girls — and she can’t wait.
“I love getting out and meeting my fans, hearing what they think about the books and asking who their favourite characters are. It’s exhausting, but I really enjoy it,” she said.
Her first book, Pride of the Courtneys, was published in 1968 when she was 25, just over 10 years after she decided that she wanted to be an author.
“I had decided I wanted to be a writer at the age of about 14. I loved stories, English was my favourite subject at school and I suppose it was just in me,” she said, before explaining the feeling of securing her first book deal.
“Everything was done by mail in those days, and when that first letter came through, I can’t describe that feeling. It was just magic.”
She went on to write historical romance, nine books with her first publisher Robert Hale, but it wasn’t until the 1990s that she found the niche she is now famous for.
After taking a break to raise her family, she contacted a few agents and one suggested she work on a regional saga. The idea made sense to Margaret, who lived in Skegness until recently.
“A regional saga needs to be really rooted in a particular place, revolve around a strong female character and have lots of twists. You also need a good, satisfactory ending,” she explained.
“I was about half way there with my historical romances, so I went for it. I wrote Plough the Furrow, the first part of the Fleethaven trilogy, in 18 months and it was published, in paperback, in 1994,” said Margaret.
“I had always wanted to write a paperback, because I wanted to reach a wider audience, so I was really happy about that.”
Her books, which have been published by Pan Macmillan since 1994, have been set in Lincolnshire, Nottingham, Sheffield and Derbyshire.
“They are places I have lived or places that are my neighbours, so I feel I know them,” she said.
This emphasis on authenticity is important to Margaret, who meticulously researches the lifestyles of her fictitious characters.
“I think it would be insulting to people in a particular industry if I didn’t do as much research as possible and got an element of their lifestyle wrong. It’s really important to get these things right,” she added.
The Poppy Girls is the fictional account of Pips Maitland and Alice Dawson, who become ambulance corps nurses in the First World War, experiencing romance among the horrors of the frontline.
But, in true Margaret Dickinson style, it’s given an extra level of credibility by the inclusion Doddington Hall, which acts as the heroine’s home.
“I am really grateful to Doddington Hall for allowing me to set the book there,” said Margaret, adding that the book is the first of a trilogy.
The Poppy Girls is published on February 8. Meet Margaret in person, and get your copy signed, at: W H Smith, Retford, February 13, 2.30pm to 3.30pm; W H Smith, Newark, February 17, 11am to 1pm or WHSmith, Meadowhall, March 3,11am to 3pm.