An Interview with Maggie Cobbett

I am thrilled to welcome author and fellow Swanwicker, Maggie Cobbett who hales from the North of England. Thank you for coming to talk to me today, Maggie.

I was born and raised in Leeds but I ventured across the Pennines to study at the University of Manchester and spent the next few decades teaching modern languages in the UK and abroad. Back in Yorkshire for the foreseeable future, I live on the edge of the Dales with family and cat.

I’ve always felt the need to put my thoughts down on paper and was an avid letter writer in pre-email days. Pen friends came and went, but I still correspond with an American lady who first got in touch when we were both twelve years old. Almost from the time I first learned to write, I kept a diary and I still do. It’s an invaluable source of inspiration.

Writing is such a portable occupation. I can write just about anywhere, with one of my favourite places being a bench by the Moon Pond on the Fountains Abbey/Studley Royal estate.

I wish I could say that I had a regular writing routine. The truth, though, is that I can work for long hours at a stretch or do nothing for several days. Unless I have a deadline to spur me on, I can procrastinate for England.

Much of my writing has an historical background and I spend hundreds of hours on that, which is why my longest novel to date took me twelve years to write. ‘Shadows of the Past’ with its semi-autobiographical core involved spending a lot of time in France, revisiting the places that inspired it, conducting interviews and researching in local museums.

In the case of ‘Wheels on Fire’, I had the whole story in my head before I began to set it down. The same was true of ‘Workhouse Orphan’, whose main character was sent on a quest to reunite his family. ‘Shadows of the Past’, however, was only originally intended to be a memoir of a strange summer in the 1960s and, like Topsy, it ‘just growed’. The result was 130+ words set over three distinct time periods. The section dealing with WW2 and the German occupation of France took by far the longest to research and became something of an obsession.

For me, the relative importance of characters, plot and setting fluctuates between stories. My WIP is a short story set in a bowling alley and I’m currently focussing on the background and atmosphere. Characters and plot will follow.

I’m attempting to put together all my recollections of working as a television/film extra.

Moving from classroom to studio was quite a leap, but I’ve never regretted it. As well as giving me far more time to write, sharing experiences with the many people I’ve met over the last few years has provided more ideas than I could ever exploit.

I’ve never been able to settle down to one genre and often wish that I could. My books are all completely different and I also write short stories, articles, reviews, ‘fillers’ and even the odd poem.

Many of my short stories and articles have been commercially published, but I decided to go down the self- publishing route for my books. For the latter I must give credit to my son Richard, a computer whizz who does all the ‘techie stuff’ for me.

After the success of ‘Bill’s Last Night’, a short drama produced at Swanwick’s ‘Page to Stage’ event last year, I’m hoping to turn it into a radio play. Also ticking away at the back of my mind is a sequel to ‘Workhouse Orphan’, which concluded when the main character was still in his early teens.

Joanne Harris is a favourite author of mine, probably because we share a love of France and all things French. I’m also a huge fan of Diana Gabaldon’s ‘Outlander’ series, which I’ve been rereading during lock down. One guilty pleasure is Jilly Cooper’s set of ‘bonkbusters’ set in the fictional county of Rutshire.  As you can tell, I’m not very high brow these days, having spent years studying and teaching literary fiction in several languages.

Carry on writing for as long as you enjoy it. There is no age limit for creativity.

The above, really, and to mix with other writers as much as you can. Join one or more writers’ groups and go to gatherings like the Writers’ Summer School (Swanwick). If money is tight, look into the grants available and/or enter competitions for a free place. (As well as winning my way to Swanwick on two occasions, I once scored a weekend pass to the Harrogate Crime Writers’ Festival.)  

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My website is www.maggiecobbett.co.uk and I can also be found on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Everything is under my own name, as I’ve yet to feel the need for pseudonyms.

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