Sunday, 12 September 2010

Madeleine McDonald: from non-fiction to fiction

Journalism is about presenting information in a readable way. Equally important is cutting the piece down to meet the editor’s required word count. When I tried my hand at fiction, I had to learn a different craft. The first short stories I wrote were just that: short. They rarely exceeded 1,200 words.

So how did I come to write a 45,000 word novella? In slow stages. ENCHANTMENT IN MOROCCO began as a 7,000 word long short story for a competition, the longest piece I had ever written. I didn’t win, but received such an encouraging rejection email from the organisers that I expanded the story to 17,000. Not finding a suitable market, I put it aside for a couple of years, then had another go. At 33,000 my slim tale was accepted by Red Rose Publishing.

I floated on air until the publisher’s content editor brought me down to earth. She dismissed the travelogue parts of my manuscript as irrelevant and suggested ways to highlight the romance. Little by little, I clothed the skeleton of my tale in mood, detail and texture.

Today’s newspaper is tomorrow’s fast food wrapper. Fiction involves the reader, and it’s a lot more fun to write.


Where Africa meets Europe, two very different people must find the way to each other’s heart.

Emily Ryan is maxed-out on her credit cards and jobless in Morocco. Rafi Hassan expects others to obey him without question. When he throws her a financial lifeline, she wishes that he would offer her more.

On top of the inconvenient emotions unleashed by Rafi’s compelling green eyes, Emily soon clashes with his unyielding patriarchal attitudes and acceptance of the centuries-old traditions that dictate life in the sleepy village of Taghar. Will she succeed in persuading her intransigent employer to allow his teenage daughter Nour more freedom? As the seasons turn and the olives ripen, Emily dares to dream of winning his heart—until danger threatens from an unexpected quarter.


Think positive, she told herself. One reason she had been given the job in the first place was that she spoke only English. She took another cautious sip of the tiny glass of mint tea that the waiter had placed in front of her. Cold by now and far too strong for her taste, but she did not even know how to ask the waiter for something else.

My first taste of Africa, she reflected. I have to expect things to be different.

“You have to put sugar in it.” The comment came from a stranger who sat down at her table uninvited. “Europeans always make that mistake.” Emily frowned at him. She was not worried about fending off advances from strange men, but the long wait had unsettled her. Where was Madame Cherif?
At the same time she could not help noticing the powerful lines of his frame and the fluid ease of his movements. Although he was formally dressed in a linen suit, the image of a pirate commanding the quarterdeck of the ship he had just taken rose unbidden to Emily’s mind. It was the single gold earring, she decided.

“I’m waiting for someone.”

“That’s right, me,” he replied. He spoke English, fluently it seemed.
She looked down at her glass, using the moment to bring her errant thoughts under control, and then focused again on her uninvited companion. But the buccaneer image etched on her mind refused to vanish. Instead she became even more conscious of the intense green eyes in his dark face and of the single earring below wiry hair. She returned his direct gaze and, as if in response, he leaned slightly toward her, hands clasped loosely on the briefcase in front of him.

In other circumstances she would have been tempted to make his acquaintance. To spend an agreeable half hour keeping him at a safe distance while listening to whatever he chose to say in that silky, alluring accent. Not here, not now, Emily decided. Not when her new employer might walk in at any minute.

“I am waiting for Madame Cherif.” Annoyance that she had been unable to subdue an instinctive response to his presence made her tone glacial.
“Sofia is my cousin. She asked me to meet you, Miss Ryan.”
Emily felt foolish, which fanned her anger. What right did this man have to barge in without introducing himself properly? What right did he have to distract her from her concerns with that roguish edge of seduction in his silky voice?

“Where is Madame Cherif?” At least he could tell her what was happening.
He laughed. “At this moment, my dear cousin is running around like, how do you say, a legless chicken.”

“Headless chicken.” The words slipped out, automatically, and the man laughed again, with a rueful shake of his head.

“Headless chicken, I will remember. Now, would you like another glass of tea, and I will show you how it should be drunk.” He signaled to the waiter.

Emily was tempted. The relief of knowing she was in the right place weakened her resolve. Right place—right person—and he just happened to be gorgeous. It seemed a long time since a personable man had crossed her path. It would be pleasant after the long journey to take time to relax with someone who seemed totally at ease with himself and his surroundings. Nor need she feel guilty about taking time out. Without prying, it would give her an opportunity to find out more about her new employer’s household.

The man moved his slim leather briefcase to one side and she caught a glimpse of the wedding ring on his left hand. Story of my life, she thought. All the attractive men I meet are married. Admittedly, this one’s manner seemed forceful rather than flirtatious, but one never knew. In a strange country it was best to be prudent.

“No thank you.” She softened her refusal with a smile. “I’d rather go and get settled in.”

“That, I am afraid, will not be possible.” The shock of his words did not sink in and, seeing her bewilderment, he shrugged.

A sweet romance from


Lindsay Townsend said...

Super excerpt, Madeline! Love the colour and the way they meet. Can't wait to read more!

Thanks for sharing how you write non-fiction and fiction.

Do you do both now?

For myself I write mainly fiction with odd bits on blogs into non fiction. How about you?

Savanna Kougar said...

Hi, Madeline, fascinating, your process to becoming a fiction author. Thanks for sharing and congrats on your release!

Anonymous said...

I still write both fiction and non-fiction, but have to work on them on different days because I have to be in a totally different frame of mind when I sit down to write.


Madeleine McDonald said...

Oops, I'm new to blogging and clicked on the wrong button. Obviously I'm me, not anonymous. Madeleine