Friday, 17 May 2019

Bestselling mystery author, Faith Martin, talks about astrophysics, Hereward the Wake, and writing success.

Faith, welcome and many thanks for joining me. Your books are enjoyed by legions of murder mystery fans, would you like to tell readers how you became a writer?

Thank you for inviting me, Harriet. I started writing when I became a carer for my parents and needed something to do to tax my mind/creativity.

Hillary Greene and Jenny Starling are both strong women but still sympathetic and engaging. How did you go about creating their characters? Is there anything of yourself in them?

I created Hillary Greene when Morse was dominating Oxford, so I wanted a strong female character who might try to compete! I've lived near the Oxford Canal all my life, so having her live on a narrow boat seemed ideal - and could give my readers a glimpse into a different kind of lifestyle. Jenny Starling is also strong, but much funnier, and she is the 'voice' for my more plot-driven whodunits. Her job is to navigate my readers around the clues and red herrings, interview the suspects and lead them to their own conclusions as to who the killer is, before the big reveal. So, the reader learns less about her private life than about Hillary's, as the police procedurals are more character-driven, whereas the murder mysteries are more about solving the puzzle. But I wanted both women to be strong, independent and a 'character' in their own - very different - right.

I wish there was something of myself in both of them. Alas, I can't cook (unless you count warming up shop-bought chicken Kiev in the oven) so Jenny Starling would be disgusted with me. And I am nowhere near as competent or brave as Hillary! If I was confronted by an armed robber I'd probably just squeak and fall over! So, ditto for Hillary. I think though that both these characters have traits which I'd like to have, and if I live vicariously through them - well, so do my readers, so I'm in good company!

Why do you write the kind of books you do?

I like to write the kind of books I like to read. Don't forget, I was a reader long before I began writing. I loved the Agatha Christie books when I was in my teens, hence I've always wanted to write those kinds of books. And later, when great characters/police procedurals like Rebus and DI Banks came out, I loved those too - hence DI Hillary Greene.

What do you enjoy doing when you’re not writing?

I'm a full-time writer, so I don't have much time - but I have a dog, and like walking him in the countryside. I love wildlife, nature, flora etc, and as you've probably noticed, a lot of that seeps into my novels. 

With dozens of published books to your credit and approaching a million sales for the D I Hillary Greene series alone, you must have a very strong work ethic. How do you keep going?

Yes, the D I Hillary Greene series sold over a million copies worldwide in almost 1 year exactly, and I was absolutely stunned. Never thought or imagined that could happen, and a lot of it is due to Joffe Books and their great promotions. At one point I think she was No 1 in the UK and Australia and also in the USA and Canada top 50 too! I write every day (or in between books, researching and plotting the next one.) I've always loved writing, and I suppose I would feel guilty if I wasn't working. I grew up in a working-class family and I would probably get bored if I was idle! Right now, I have deadlines to meet for Harper Collins HQ's Ryder and Loveday series. The next book is due in October - so I'm not allowed to slack! But creating so many different characters, in so many genres, and set in different times (Ryder and Loveday are set in the 1960s) is always pushing me to come up with something different. I think this helps me stay 'fresh' and so provides my readers with 'fresh' things too. (At least that's what I hope it does!) 

 What’s the most difficult part about writing to you? What do you enjoy the most?

The only difficult thing I find about writing is sometimes getting motivated - I've been writing for 30 years now and have had more than 50 books published. But once I put the computer on and look at a blank page, I can feel my characters clamouring to get out and onto the screen - so away I go. And it is very satisfying writing a funny scene for Jenny (usually with an animal antagonist) or giving Trudy Loveday an emotional moment, or a hard lesson to learn about women's roles back before the 'swinging sixties' really got going. But I think most writers will tell you how hard but also satisfying writing a book can be.

How important is setting in your novels?

I set my novels in the area I've always lived in - and describing the countryside as it is now is very important - because I have an awful feeling that for generations to come, they might only know about it from literature from the past.

Who would you like to sit next to on a long flight? (Up to two people, living or dead.)

I don't fly - so I wouldn't ever find myself sitting next to someone! But on a train - hmmmmm. As for my 'dead' companion, I think I would quite like to see what Hereward the Wake would have to say. He must have been a real character - and lived during a fascinating time in history. As for my live candidate - probably the astrophysicist, Dr Cox. It must be really something to know so much about the universe and how it works - and I could listen to that sort of stuff all day long! (Not necessarily understand it mind!)

What are you most proud of, specifically in relation to your writing – an award, story or plot twist?

The only award I've ever won was when I first began writing as Maxine Barry. These were modern romances, and I won the Scarlet Award. I still have the silver platter on my bookcase. Mind you, I was the ONLY one to win it, since soon after, my publisher at the time joined forces with Constable, and they stopped producing romances and concentrated on crime instead. (You have to laugh at the irony!)

I suppose the only thing you might say I had any right to be proud of (more like surprised really) was to have got published at all. At the time I started writing, there was no self-publishing industry and it took me 5 years to get my first novel published (by Orion). I was beginning to think it wouldn't happen - but I stubbornly never gave up. So my advice to anyone struggling to find writing success is always the same - don't give up!

Faith, many, many thanks for coming. It’s been such a pleasure talking with you. With all your achievements, you remain so modest and funny - a shining example to us all. 

Monday, 13 May 2019

The Monkeys of Saint Hill

Saint Hill Manor in East Sussex in the UK is considered to be one of the finest sandstone buildings in the county, but it’s much better known for its connection with L Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology, who bought the estate from the Maharajah of Jaipur in 1959 and made it his family home for nearly 10 years before returning to America.

The Orangery
Saint Hill Manor

Hubbard was also an explorer, a master mariner, a talented photographer and the author of more than 500 published works of fiction and non-fiction. The Saint Hill library has copies of them all. Hubbard went to great lengths to restore Saint Hill which is still in beautiful condition today. 

A remarkable and unique feature of the house is the Monkey Room.  The murals were commissioned in 1945 by the wife of an American ambassador who wanted a conversation piece to amuse her guests. She certainly got it. Her chosen artist was John Spencer Churchill, nephew of Sir Winston Churchill, who spent months studying the monkeys at London zoo before he picked up his brush. The result is a delightful, mischievous work where, as Churchill said: Much as I tried the help it happening, the monkeys resemble human beings.

The artist's parents, the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough!
The artist's uncle, Sir Winston Churchill.

I leave it up to you to decide whether you believe that was true or whether an impish nature got away with him. The room has had a variety for uses from dining room to cinema room. It’s now the most charming tea room I’ve ever had the pleasure of sipping tea in.
The Tea Room (Many famous people and politicians of the day featured on its walls  as well as the artist's relations.)

L Ron Hubbard's study

Tuesday, 19 March 2019

The most delightful building in London.

Most people who take an interest in history know that King George III was afflicted by a long period of madness that we now understand to have been caused by the disease, porphyria. It's perhaps less well known that he was the first British king to take an interest in science, amassing over his lifetime a very fine collection of scientific instruments and clocks.

In the 1760s, he commissioned the most popular architect of the day, William Chambers, to build him an observatory at Richmond upon Thames, now part of London but at that time, out in the country. Landscaping was provided by Capability Brown.
The building was completed in 1769, in time for the King, the Queen, and two astronomers to observe the Transit of Venus, the passage of Venus across the sun. Occurring only rarely, the transit was thought to provide a method of measuring the distance from the earth to the sun, as well as of determining the size of the universe. Two obelisks were also set up in the park to create a meridian line, and before the Royal Observatory moved to Greenwich in the 19th century, Mean Time was calculated from Richmond.

In the twentieth century, the King's Observatory became the headquarters of the Meteorological Office. It was from there that the weather forecast was taken to decide when to launch the troops into France on D-Day. The two sheds used in forecasting, the only Grade I listed sheds I've ever come across, still stand in the grounds. They were built without nails so that they would be non-magnetic.

A detail from the Chinese wallpaper in the dining room. William Chambers had visited Canton on two occasions, and a lot of the interior decoration reflects his interest in Chinese art.

Parts of the stunning collections of Chinese and Georgian porcelain on show

The building's fortunes declined after the Met Office's departure, but it has now been restored to its former glory by the current leaseholder, a wealthy and philanthropic businessman, who, like Chambers, has a great interest in Chinese art. The freehold remains the property of the Crown.


Monday, 11 March 2019

Adventure on the high seas for Inspector de Silva!

I'm delighted to announce that the latest Inspector de Silva mystery is now available on Amazon in Kindle and paperback. To grab your copy, just click on the image in the side-bar or go to:

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Local Hero

With the imminent launch of the new book in my Inspector de Silva series, which sees de Silva and Jane off to Egypt to visit the Pyramids, in mind, how could I refuse when I had the chance to ride a camel on a recent trip to Lanzarote in the Canary Islands?

My husband and I visited the island hoping for winter sun, but found there was so much more to do there, not only riding camels! A highlight of the trip was discovering the work of their most famous artist, Cesar Manrique (1919 - 1992). I have to admit, we'd not heard of him before. He had an amazing career as an artist, architect, designer, sculptor, and activist. When tourism took off in Lanzarote in the late 1960s, he was the driving force in the campaign to prevent the island being spoiled by insensitive development, with the result that, for the most part, you see  low-rise buildings in the traditional Moorish style, rather than concrete and glass monsters.

One of Manrique's houses is now home to the Cesar Manrique Foundation, a beautiful, airy gallery where some of his work is displayed.

 In the basement, we marvelled at the rooms he designed out of the spaces left by gigantic larva bubbles, the result of Lanzarote's volcanic terrain. The walls are partly plastered and whitewashed and partly left in the original basalt rock, creating a striking contrast.

Another treat was a visit to the house where he spent the last years of his life, before, tragically, he died in a car crash. The old building he restored is delightful: traditional in materials and construction but brought up to date with all mod cons and a gorgeous pool, and surrounded by colourful gardens.

Manrique was interested in the art of painters like Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock and emulated the scale of their paintings using vast canvases that he worked on on the floor of his studio. He also loved to use a variety of materials to build up texture in his paintings, for example sawdust, resin and glue.

The house is on the edge of a small town in the north of the island called Haria. I like to think that Manrique, a ferociously hard worker, occasionally found time to enjoy an espresso and a chat with other locals at the delightful cafĂ© in the shady main street. 

Coming Soon!

Friday, 18 January 2019

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

The dark, winter months are a great time for curling up with a book, and I find that it's also a time when  my thoughts turn to books that I loved when I was a child.

A particular favuorite was C.S. Lewis's The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, the first of The Chronicles of Narnia. C.S.Lewis spent some of his youth in the Surrey Hills area of the UK where I live. He arrived to stay in the house of a private tutor to whom his father sent him to finish his education, up until then, a very unhappy period of his life.


In his autobiography, Surprised by Joy, Lewis describes his time under the tutelage of William T. Kirkpatrick, the retired headmaster of his father's old school, as one of the happiest of his life. The Surrey Hills are a beautiful part of south-east England, still unspoiled in spite of their proximity to London. At the beginning of the twentieth century, they must have been even more idyllic. Lewis went on to spend the majority of the rest of his life at Oxford University, but he retained a fondness for Surrey. It's thought that Kirkpatrick was the model for the professor in The Chronicles of Narnia.

Narnia fans were delighted when, a few years ago, the conservators of Banstead Common, an area not far from the Surrey Hills, decided to commemorate Lewis's famous stories with a sculpture trail created from standing deadwood. It’s something that will, I'm sure, give great pleasure to many future generations of adults and children.

I'd love to hear about your favourite childhood books and any stories associated with them that you'd like to share.

Sunday, 23 December 2018

It's Not Just Reindeer

Just before I head to the shops to buy the carrot for Rudolph, I'd like to share with you some weird and wonderful Christmas traditions that I read about recently.

At Christmas time in Catalonia, families bring home the caga tio, a hollow log decorated with a smiley face. The children of the house care for him and keep him warm with a blanket, feeding him almond sweets and orange peel until Christmas Day. On Christmas morning, they beat him with a stick until he defecates presents!

Germany has a traditional called Schrottwichteln, roughly translated as Scrap Santa. Originally, people would wrap up and give unwanted, funny household items as prettily as possible to amuse the receiver, but now most people buy something cheap and jokey to give.

Maybe some Dump on Trump loo paper?

In the Czech Republic, they like to eat fried carp on Christmas Eve. To make sure it's as fresh as possible, it's often bought several days ahead. If you have no garden pond, the carp lives in the bath until the family is ready to cook him.

In Sweden, it has, apparently, been a popular tradition since the 1950s for families to watch Donald Duck cartoons together on Christmas Eve.

Of course, most families have their own personal traditions. Whatever yours may be, have a wonderful Christmas.