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Today we’re traveling to Beckenham in south east London to chat with Linda MacDonald. She will share with us how alter egos, Dead Poets’ Society, nuisance phone calls, a broken wrist, and perseverance play roles in her life.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’ve always been quirky on the surface, but my feet are firmly rooted. I’ve two alter egos that have played important roles in my life.
Firstly, my fictional twin sister, Lily May, married to a vet in Cumbria whom she used to get fed up with from time to time. On such occasions she would ‘come to stay’ and swap places with me in my science teaching role at a secondary school in Croydon. Lily would begin by telling the class that Miss MacDonald wouldn’t be in today. I never tired of seeing them suddenly jump to attention, aware that something different was about to happen.
I assured them that I, Lily, was also a trained teacher and we would carry on with the syllabus as normal. I used co-ordinates instead of names so I could ask them questions and reprimand if necessary – (this was in the days when the classes sat in rows). There were only certain groups one could do this with as they had to realise it was a game and play along. The younger children loved it. Lily was a bit crazy, often teaching from on top of a desk in the style of Mr. Keating in Dead Poets’ Society.
One Parents’ Evening, I thought I was in trouble. The mother sat down and said, ‘Danielle told me not to mention Lily …’. I panicked inside and said, ‘You must think I’m absolutely mad.’ She said, ‘I think it’s wonderful, you sound just like me!’ Phew!
My other alter ego is Victoria Falls, poet and gossip columnist, who pinned frivolous poems on the Psychology Departmental notice board at Goldsmiths’ where I was studying for my degree, and wrote satirical pieces about the staff in my first place of work.
I’m proud to be a Cumbrian from Cockermouth, on the edge of the Lake District, but I have lived for the past 34 years in leafy Beckenham in south east London. I’m a woman of a certain age, a Libran, a retired teacher of psychology and science and am very concerned for the future of the planet.
In which genre do you write?
Women’s Fiction with more than a smattering of issues related to relationship psychology.
How many published books do you have?
Four stand alone novels which also form a series.
What is an interesting writing quirk you have, that we wouldn’t know by reading your biography?
I usually begin writing scenes with conversations that I hear in my head. I then work the narrative around them.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve experienced to help create a scene or plot?
After my dad died, I received a series of nuisance phone calls, often waking me up in the middle of the night. They began with silence on the end of the line but quickly developed into threats and abuse. It was a woman and she would say things like, ‘Why were you ringing his phone at 11.40 at night?’ She clearly believed I was having an affair with her partner.
Once I realised it was a case of mistaken identity, I tried to tell her, but she wouldn’t listen and the abuse and threats became worse. I blocked the number but she used another phone. One night, when she woke me after midnight, I tried again to reason with her and after swearing at me, she hung up. I dialed 1471 and this time she’d forgotten to withhold the number. I called back and was diverted to answerphone.
The message was the voice of a man – a supermarket delivery driver. Then the penny dropped. After my dad’s death, and to coincide with my return home, I had placed an order for a late night delivery which had become stuck in the warehouse and the driver had called me to say it was going to be delivered even later. When it hadn’t arrived by 11.40 p.m., I tried to call back, but there was no answer and I hung up. Needless to say, this time I left a stern message.
There were no more calls. I try to use bad personal experiences in my novels and this one provided the inspiration for the stalking theme in The Alone Alternative. Truth is often stranger than fiction.
At this stage in your life, what advice would your young self give to your more mature self?
‘Remember you always wanted to change people’s lives with your writing? Don’t give up trying to spread the word about your books.’
Do you believe things happen for a reason? Do you have an example from your own life to share why you believe this?
In 2009, I broke my wrist badly (tripping over a classroom chair) and required an operation to fit a metal plate. This happened on the eve of London’s icy spell, and my operation was delayed for a week by the urgent need to treat people with injuries from falls and RTAs that threatened life or limb. It reminded me of the fragility of our existence, the shortage of time (I was by this time 53) and decided to publish independently my novel Meeting Lydia which I had been writing since 2001.
The wrist break and subsequent stress, followed the next year by the death of my father and yet more illness and stress, led to my having a breakdown in 2011. I was then compelled to take early retirement in 2012, even though I had originally planned to teach at least until I was 58. But for these unwelcome life events I wouldn’t now have 4 books published.
Which of your personality traits has been most useful and why?
Discipline and perseverance. When I commit to a task and create my own deadlines, I am very good at sticking to my schedule. This is very beneficial to a writer.
What are you currently working on?
I’m currently working on both books 5 and 6, two new standalones which also carry on the lives of some of the characters in my previous books. Book 6 was originally book 5, but has since moved up a slot as I have an idea for a novella that has persisted in telling me it wants to come next. It’s early days, but is beginning to take shape.
Tell us about your most recent book and where we can find it.
The Man in the Needlecord Jacket is about the depth of pain and damage that an emotional betrayal causes and the grey area of psychological abuse. It is written in the first person from the perspectives of two women in the life of an artist called Coll who is a womaniser and something of a narcissist. The reader knows exactly what’s going on but both women are kept in the dark until the dramatic dénouement. It’s the fourth standalone novel in a series.
It was incredibly interesting learning more about you, your background, and your writing life. Thank you, Linda for being a part of MTA! – Camilla
The Man in the Needlecord Jacket – Blurb
Felicity is struggling to detach from her failed marriage. When she meets Coll, a charismatic artist, she has high hopes of being distracted. What she doesn’t know is that he has a partner, Sarah.
Sarah is deeply in love with Coll, but his controlling behaviour and associations with other women have always made her life difficult. When Coll becomes obsessed with Felicity, Sarah’s world collapses and a series of events is set in motion that will challenge the integrity of all the characters involved.
The Man in the Needlecord Jacket is a story of emotional betrayal and mental abuse – never clear-cut and always destructive.
Where to find the book:
It can be found widely online as an eBook and also in paperback.