Our Author of Note this month is Maggie Garrett Irwin, an author who lives in the beautiful mountain town of Oakhurst, California. I’m delighted to have her as our guest this month.
Q. Welcome to The Bookshelf, Maggie! I know my readers want to know all about you as a writer, and we’re going to get to that right away. But first, we’d like to know who you are outside your office. Who is Maggie Irwin, the lady next door?
A. I don’t think I am the lady-next-door type. Outside of the office which I have in my home, with a beautiful view outside, I have been married to my Irish husband for nearly 14 years. I am originally from London and he was born near Belfast. We met in Fresno, California. I came to Santa Cruz in 1962 and went from being a London secretary to a California cowgirl. My first husband was a cattle rancher and I have written about my many experiences. I am a Christian and belong to the Anglican church which is in walking distance from my home. I sing in the choir and am also a lay reader. Besides secretarial work, sales and being a cowgal, I have been a caregiver . I love to swim and do water aerobics, walk, play the piano, read and knit. I am presently making writing and marketing my main work.
Q. Your novel, The Journal of Anne Reading, released in ’06. Give us the nutshell version of the book.
A. The correct name is The Journal of Anne Reading (from Florence Nightingale to Dorothea Dix and Beyond). The book tells in diary form the experiences of my great great aunt, first nursing in the Crimea, then traveling by sailing ship to New York, nursing in New York for two years. When the American Civil War breaks out, she nurses for the Union army, first on the hospital ships and then in a hotel turned into a hospital in Alexandria, Virginia. She marries and has to leave nursing. She works as a forewoman in a tobacco factory, making and trimming hats and describes life in New York, Chester, Pennsylvania and Newark, New Jersey and other places during the rest of the war and the years afterwards.
Q. What inspired you to write this book?
A. After my mother died in 1972, I asked my father for the quilt and the handwritten journal that were both made by my great great grandmother about her daughter’s experiences with Florence Nightingale and then onto nursing in the Civil War and beyond. After reading the journal, I was inspired to make several manuscripts, editing as I went. I felt the experiences were so interesting, they should be shared with others.
Q. Anne Reading is your debut novel, I believe. How long did it take you to write it, from first word to putting it in your publisher’s hands?
A. I tried for several years to be published with a traditional publisher. The university presses told me my book was interesting enough to be marketable with general trade publishers. The general trade publishers told me it would appeal to university presses dealing with historical biographies. So it went on. In between, we moved twice. I had other jobs, caregiving, church secretary and Avon sales. Finally I spotted an ad in The Writer magazine from Trafford publishing in Victoria, B.C. Canada for on-demand publishing. I sent for their prospectus in 2005 and published in April 2006. It cost me money but they took care of everything. See next answer.
Q. Your book was printed by an on-demand publisher (subsidy printer). That particular end of publishing has been on the reputational downside for some time. In hindsight, how do you feel about Trafford and their handling of your book? Would you choose the POD route to publication again?
A. I possibly would use the POD route again and Trafford because it is very hard to get published by traditional publishers without having a well known name or being a recognized author already. Trafford provided me with a web site—still going—and the book can be purchased direct from them, or from Amazon.com or through Baker & Taylor , Lightning Source, Inc., a subsidiary of Ingram books. My understanding is that these days, even if you publish through a traditional publisher, you will have to do much of the publicity
Q. What’s next? Can you talk about what you’re working on now?
A. I spend some time getting old articles out and sending them out to magazines. I am working on a novel which starts during World War II in London and will go on to this country and life on a cattle ranch..
Q. What do you enjoy most about writing? Least?
A. Doing research and typing. I dislike being interrupted which happens too frequently.
Q. It’s impossible to interview an author without asking...where do you get your ideas?
A. From life’s experiences.
Q. What books are on your nightstand right now?
A. The Avenue by R.F. Delderfield, Trains & Buttered Toast (selected radio talks) by John Betjeman, How to Pray When You Think You Can’t by Marci Alborghetti, Daily Guideposts - Spirit Lifting Thoughts for Every Day of the Year and Evergreen, A Miscellany of This & That & Things Gone By, Britain’s Little Quarterly
Margaret Garrett Irwin has been writing for about 20 years and has some published articles. She was born in Muswell Hill, London in Sept. 1937. After a lot of moving when war broke out two years later, the family moved to Mill Hill, a green leafy suburb on the outskirts of North West London in 1942 where their home was hit by an incendiary bomb about 18 months later. Margaret lived in England through World War II and the austere years afterwards. She was educated in England and also obtained an Associate of Arts Degree in Fresno, California. Margaret has two diplomas from the Long Ridge Writers Group.
Margaret was a secretary for seven years before moving to California in 1962. She married a cattle rancher and has a son and daughter and one grandson. She divorced in 1983 and worked in a variety of jobs—secretarial, Avon sales, telemarketing, weight loss counselor. Following a serious illness in 1991, she became a caregiver and a water aerobics instructor. She is an avid reader, plays the piano, sings and knits.
In 1994, Margaret married Johnston Irwin, an Irishman from near Belfast. They met in Fresno, CA. They moved to Los Osos for seven years and have now lived in rural Oakhurst on the way to Yosemite, for five years.