Monday 22 July 2013

Guest Post - Douglas McPherson

Today, I'd like to welcome special guest Douglas McPherson who has kindly agreed to answer some questions about his writing life.

I'm sure many of you will know Douglas from his brilliant articles in Writing Forum on a range of topics from writing a serial to how to get a feature published in a magazine. I know I've certainly found them useful and I'm sure there are many other writers out there who have too.

You may also have seen his stories and serials in My Weekly under his pen name Julia Douglas.


Hi Douglas and welcome to my blog. Could you tell my readers a little about how you started out writing fiction?

I've been a freelance journalist for many years and one of the magazines I wrote for was My Weekly. They used to send complimentary copies whenever they published one of my features and I'd always go through and read the stories, not least because I really liked the paintings that illustrated them. I decided to have a go at writing one and I was quite surprised when I got a copy of the guidelines and learned they were looking for crime stories and, at that time, sci-fi. I thought they might not get many sci-fi submissions, so I wrote one with a 1950s small town America setting called Somewhere Out There. That was my first published fiction.


That first sale must have been really exciting. Do you have a favourite place to write? Mine is the kitchen... living room... conservatory... garden... (I am a bit of a nomad).

I have an office in my house and do pretty much all my writing on a laptop at my desk. I don't really write anywhere else - except in my head, of course. Whether I'm in the car or at the supermarket, part of my mind is always turning over a tricky paragraph or thinking up ideas. That's probably why I always forget to buy one of the things I went out for.

Of course a lot of your readers will know you by another name, Julia Douglas. How did this name come about and why did you feel you needed a woman's pen name to write your stories under?

I used Julia Douglas for my first pocket novel, Nashville Cinderella, just as a brand thing, because I think a feminine name looks better on a romance. Also, in a magazine story, if it's a first person story, a reader might see a bloke's name at the top and start reading in the belief that the character is male before they read down a few paragraphs and realise she's a woman. If they see a female author name they're more likely to start reading in a female voice, so I don't have to worry so much about establishing the character's gender in the first paragraph.

That's interesting as I've just sold a first person story and the main character is a man... maybe I should have a pen name for these occasions... Clarke Wendson maybe? You seem to have a finger in a lot of pies... magazine stories, serials, articles and eBooks. Which would you say you enjoy writing the most?

Really, I enjoy all writing equally and I don't think the differences are as great as people sometimes think. The journalism I've always done isn't hard news or about running around chasing scoops, it's always been reviews, interviews and narrative non-fiction and those things use very similar techniques to fiction. It's all about telling a story, being descriptive and trying to entertain people. I also think journalism really helps with fiction, because you're constantly being exposed to new things, new people and the different ways they talk and so on.


Would you say your stories are mostly plot or character led?

The setting usually comes first with me. That's probably the journalist in me. I usually start from the point of view of 'Cor! that's an interesting world - let's write a story that shows people what it's like to work in a fairground or Buckingham palace or whatever.' Characters come next. Plots, and particularly a good ending, are the toughest part for me. It's like figuring out a puzzle, but it's immensely satisfying when you 'crack the case' as it were and it all falls into place. The answer usually comes from thinking about the characters: what would this person really do. So I suppose that's a long-winded way of saying character led!

Ok, I have to ask... you seem to have a thing for the circus - many of your stories and your eBook 'The Showman's Girl' have a circus theme. You even have a blog 'Circus Mania'... so Douglas - what is it with you and circuses?

Like a lot of people, I hadn't been to the circus since I was a kid. I couldn't even remember much about it. But, exactly ten years ago, The Stage asked me to review the 100th anniversary show at the Great Yarmouth Hippodrome, which is Britain's oldest circus building and doesn't seem to have changed much in the past century. It's incredibly atmospheric, but with a really modern show. I was totally blown away by the daredevilry of the performers and decided to interview one of them, Eva Garcia. She told me how she'd just broken up with a man who asked her to choose between him and the circus. She chose the life that had been in her family for generations. Then, a week later, the day after my article came out, she fell and died during her act. The tragedy made me want to find out all about people like Eva and why they take the risks they do and that eventually led to my non-fiction book Circus Mania and its tie-in blog. Years of writing about the circus also led me to write The Showman's Girl, which is fiction, but also another way of taking people into the world of the circus. 

A little bird told me that you - I mean Julia - have been honoured with a very special award... from none other than Princes Stephanie of Monaco. Blimey! How about you tell us a little bit about it - go on I know you're dying to!

Princess Stephanie is a huge circus fan and the patron of World Circus Day, which takes place in April each year. This year the day was celebrated by events in 47 countries from Afghanistan to Vietnam. I was proud to do my bit for the UK and marked the occasion by giving away a free download of The Showman's Girl on iTunes. So it was nice to get a signed certificate from Princess Stephanie for doing my bit to promote circus culture. One of the official aims of World Circus Day, by the way, is to "promote the art of happiness," which I think is a nice aspiration. If you missed the free download, you can still buy it from iTunes for only 49p!

To finish, Douglas, what exciting things do you have in the pipeline for the rest of the year?

I'm very excited about the latest Julia Douglas ebook, Polka Dot Dreams, which will go live any day now. The large print Linford paperback edition is already in libraries if anyone wants to borrow a copy. Polka Dot Dreams is my favourite of  the romances, I've written, not least because it's the first out-and-out comedy. It's set in the vintage clothes and rockabilly scene and is about a girl obsessed with 50s fashions, and her romance with the fabulously handsome but accident-prone owner of a rock'n'roll-themed ice-cream parlour. I had tremendous fun writing the heroine, Natty Smalls, and hope readers get a lift from her zest for life.

Thank you so much for visiting, Douglas. If you want to know more about all things circus, visit Douglas's blog Circus Mania or if you want to delve a little into his alter ego Julia Douglas, you can visit her blog Polka Dot Dreams, where you will find links to her other books.


  1. Thanks for inviting me on your blog. Clarke Wendson sounds like a great pen name, especially if you write a western.

    1. You're welcome, Douglas. Gunslingers at Dawn by Clarke Wendson... hmm, it has a certain ring to it!

  2. Great interview with interesting questions and answers. Love your slots in Writers' Forum, Douglas - thanks for sharing the step by step analysis of some of your stories.

    1. I always turn to Douglas's page in Writers' Forum first, Rosemary.

    2. That's nice to hear, from both of you. Thank you.

  3. Thank you Douglas and Wendy for a great guest blog. I love the articles in Writers' Forum, because they honestly go through the ups and downs and challenges of womag writing!
    And Clarke Wendson could also be one of those moody Scandinavian detectives...there's something to thin about

    1. Thanks, Tracy. Do you think Clarke Wendson could possibly be a moody, Scandinavian detective who just happens to have moved to a ranch in Texas?

  4. That sounds like a whole new genre, Wendy, you could be on to something. Go for it!

  5. Thanks Wendy & Douglas. I'm another fan of Douglas's articles in WF about how he crafts his stories. I wish I could tackle it all so logically!

    1. I think it's an art, Sally - one I haven't yet mastered.