Best-selling author Margaret Dickinson is a publishing phenomenon. She’s written over 30 novels and is still going very strong indeed. Her latest novel is WELCOME HOME, which I was thrilled to discover is set in my home town of Grimsby. I was fortunate enough to meet Margaret at a Cleethorpes event recently and she was as delightful as her books. I listened to her brilliant author talk about her many years’ experience in this novel-writing lark and learnt so much about how to engage with an audience, as well as lots of handy tips about writerly business such as historical research and planning.
Today she shares with us some stories from her long career as a novelist, as well as her delight in all things Lincolnshire.
 Many of your novels are set in the
Lincolnshire area or thereabouts. Can you explain what this part of the country
means to you?
I was born in Gainsborough in 1942,
although we actually lived just across the River Trent in Beckingham,
Nottinghamshire, for the first seven years of my life. Gainsborough had been bombed the night before
my birth and the midwife refused to come out to the middle of nowhere where we
lived, so my mother had to go into the maternity home in the town. We then moved to the coast in 1949 where I
have lived ever since.
 Please take us through your routine when you
start a new book. Do you have a special notebook or box file, for example? Once
you start planning, how do you do this? e.g. index cards, post-it notes on the
wall, typed-up notes etc?
Before I write anything the main
character is in my head with possibly one or two more, the setting, the time
and I know the end. I also know roughly
what will happen through the book, but this will develop as I write. Then I write a rough draft straight off,
making character sketches, family trees and a timeline along the way. There may be a little bit of research in the
early stages, but I make notes to myself throughout the script where more
detailed research is required and then it is slotted in later.
 From your talk & the novel’s
Acknowledgements, I understand you use local archives at relevant libraries to
help with your research. What other research techniques do you find helpful?
e.g. visiting locations, reading books written during the period, collecting
images of the settings etc.
Books, I think, are still the main
‘tool’, followed by visits to museums, libraries and archives and, as you say,
the location if this is possible. The
internet is a real source of information, though sometimes needs double
 Welcome Home has a wide range of characters
across two close families and a number of years. How do you keep track of them
all? Do you write character profiles and timelines, keep a file for each one
Yes, as mentioned above, but my
characters become real people – they have to be to appear realistic to the
reader, who must come to care for them enough to want to carry on reading! I don’t forget the main characters, but it is
useful to keep a brief description of everyone in the book so that I don’t have
someone with blue eyes at the beginning and brown eyes at the end!
 Quite a few of your novels deal with war as a
theme. What is the appeal of writing about wartime?
Sagas are all about conflict and where
better to have additional conflict than during a war.
 You’ve written an astonishing 31 novels! Can
you share a couple of your proudest moments from your long career in the
Being number 9 in the Sunday Times paperback fiction chart
with Fairfield Hall in 2014.
Being asked to be the Speaker on
Speech Day at my old school: Skegness Grammar School
 You told such funny stories at your talk
about meeting readers. Can you tell us some of your favourites here?
A lady asked me to dedicate a book to
her husband. As I was writing his name,
she leant towards me and said, ‘He does love your singing.’ The lady standing next to her in the queue
nudged her and whispered, ‘It’s Margaret Dickinson, not Barbara Dickson.’ I am now waiting to hear if Barbara Dickson
ever gets asked when her next book is coming out. Then I’ll know I’ve cracked it!
A lady, who comes to a signing every
year to buy a book, brought her husband with her one year. He was carrying a bunch of yellow roses and
he handed them to me and said, ‘This is a thank you for all the hours of peace
and quiet you have given me when my wife is reading your book!’
It doesn’t get better than that!
 Which writers have influenced you a) when you
were a child and b) as an adult?
As a child, Enid Blyton, Kenneth
Grahame and later Jane Austen and Charles Dickens. A book I read at school aged about 15 was
DARE TO BE FREE by W. B. Thomas, a wartime ‘escape’ story. I have never forgotten that book.
As an adult Jean Plaidy/Victoria Holt,
Mary Stewart and, of course in my genre, the great Catherine Cookson.
By the way, there was a fascinating discussion of Cookson’s books by Dominic Sandbrook in his recent TV programme, discussed here:
and you can find information about Sandbrook’s interesting series here:
Margaret and I at our Cleethorpes Literary Lunch.
You can read about our event here:
A huge thank you to Margaret for sharing her thoughts with us today. You can find Margaret online here: