As Time Goes By...

Pics for feature on Bispham author Margaret Thornton, who has just had her 20th novel published.  PIC BY ROB LOCK'18-7-2011
Pics for feature on Bispham author Margaret Thornton, who has just had her 20th novel published. PIC BY ROB LOCK'18-7-2011
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Margaret Thornton has written 20 best selling books in the last 20 years, although she concedes there was a bit of an hiatus with the last.

It was caused by lack of a ribbon.

Not for her hair ... in the style of one of the heroines of one of her favourite authors, Thomas Hardy... but for her venerable word processor.

In an age when most authors have websites, blogs, tweets, electronic interaction online, and e-books available to download, it is refreshing to find Bispham’s best selling author has little truck with technology.

As befits a writer who sets many of her books in a bygone Blackpool, Margaret is a bit of a Luddite at heart.

She was catching up with word processors at about the time the rest of us were getting to grips with computers.

“When I couldn’t get ribbons for my beloved word processor I was devastated – it worked really well but had become obsolete.

“My son got me a computer, although I use it as a word processor rather than go online or use email. I just don’t get on with computers.”

In fact, the laptop she now uses to transfer the chapters she still painstakingly writes, and revises, in long hand, has itself “been around the block a bit”.

“It keeps crashing on me,” Margaret admits, “it’s clearly had some previous life in an internet cafe because it flashes up the message ‘another user waiting to use this machine’!”

She has now been backed into a bit of a corner by her publisher Allison and Busby – insisting that they want her next book “electronically.”

A 21st coming of age for the 21st century so to speak.

Her agent still prefers “proper manuscripts” – far easier to read in bed...

This has thrown Margaret into chaos, confusion and concern, all key elements of her plots but darn irritating in everyday life in Bispham.

There she juggles writing richly evocative yarns of early to mid-20th century life with regular meetings of Bispham Townswomen’s Guild, one of the last local guilds standing, and being a chorister, with the guild, and a new choir called One Accord, based in Cleveleys.

“I love writing and I love researching – which I still do by book rather than internet – but sometimes it’s more trouble than it’s worth ... the choirs are still a real labour of love,” she adds.

Husband John helps out with proof reading too, the couple celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary this year.

She admits: “I fear my next book could be my last. It’s a shame because I like writing about Blackpool. I set my last books, a trilogy, in Scarborough, which I also love, and my husband John is from Yorkshire, but they didn’t really get any publicity which was a shame because I was proud of them. “

The good news is Margaret is doing a local signing session at Waterstone’s, Bank Hey Street, Blackpool, on Saturday, August 6, at 1pm. All her books have gone from hardback to paperback, but some of the earliest, including her first It’s a Lovely Day Tomorrow, have yet to go to reprint.

The prestige publishing house snapped Margaret up, about six books back, after Headline dropped her.

She still gets rave reviews, recent promotions with women’s magazines, including People’s Friend, (for which she used to pen short stories), having widened her appeal.

She is seldom out of circulation on library shelves, rated among a couple of hundred authors who qualify for the “maximum” grade by the Public Lending Library for the last five years, meaning her books have been borrowed 20,000 times.

Most of her money comes not from royalties but PLR, an increasingly endangered source with library closures, and more buying, and reading online or downloading e-books.

“I don’t think it helps when new readers find the older books hard to come by,” adds Margaret. “When I discover a new writer I like I tend to read all their other things. Mine are effectively becoming obsolete too.”

Her own loyal readers have hung on every word for almost two decades, since Margaret started writing when she retired, in her 50s, as a teacher. The computer again showing her the door – “I could see the role it was beginning to play and I didn’t like it,” she admits.

A glance at her own bookshelves reveals she’s far from traditional in her tastes. Hardy’s there along with other classics, but Margaret likes Bill Bryson too, Ruth Rendell, PG James, Erica James, Ngaio Marsh, Susan Hill, Maeve Binchy .. and Jean Plaidy.

“I like contemporary thrillers, as well as family sagas,” she adds.

Margaret’s new book, Times Goes By, described as a “heartwarming tale of love lost and found,” draws on real life, as ever, for inspiration. “At the heart of the story is a shocking story that threatens to blow the family apart,” she explains. It’s set in 1950s Blackpool.

n Time Goes By by Margaret Thornton (Allison and Busby, £19.99) is published today.

jacqui.morley@blackpoolgazette.co.uk