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Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Meet Alex Martin

I'm delighted to welcome historical novelist,  Alex Martin, to the blog today. Alex, thank you so much for accepting the invitation. Would you like to start by telling readers a bit about yourself and your family? Where are you from? Do you have a day job or do you write full-time?
 
I live in South Wales, on the Gower peninsula but was born in Greater London, more years ago than I care to remember.  I grew up in Wiltshire and most of my stories to date are set in that rural county. I work from home as an aromatherapist but increasingly my time is now spent writing.

 
Do you have a special place where you like to write?  
Yes, I do! I adore my shed. My husband and I built my den from a kit - unlabelled parts and in howling autumn gales - a few years ago and it made a real difference to my writing output. Within its insulated wooden walls I can delve deep into my subconscious and draw out images and ideas that have been cooking on the back burner. It smells good in there, with the resinous wood, and I can hear the birds tweeting away outside. Through the window the Welsh hills march across the horizon, the shifting clouds creating different moods according to the season. I can pin research papers and documents all over the walls and leave it in a delightful mess of creativity, knowing it will lay there, undisturbed, until I return. I am very fortunate.
 
 Have there been any particularly memorable moments in your writing life?
I often get ideas with a frisson of 'otherness'. For instance the idea for The Rose Trail came a long time ago when I stared through the window of an empty cottage. The place was ancient, with a flagstone floor and huge inglenook fireplace and I could see right across the main room into the walled garden beyond. I had a shiver down my spine as I sensed the people who had lived there hundreds of years ago during the English Civil war, perhaps witnessing some tragedy. The memory returned in full technicolour, years later, and I knew I had to follow its trail.
 
 What parts of the writing process do you enjoy the most and the least?
Good question! I had a major epiphany a few years ago when I realised standing back and writing objectively didn't work; I had to be there, as part of the action and 'live' the story in character. It's a bit like meditation - blissful when you are in it, quite hard to reach.
 
What was the first thing you wrote? Was it any good?
Haha! No! I first started writing when I was about 8 or 9. Stories of schoolgirls in a boarding school, based on some Mallory Towers type book I was reading. I had an old black and gold typewriter - probably from the twenties or earlier, that I treasured and, when I wasn't climbing trees and skinning my knees, plonked away at it with two fingers and fierce concentration.

 
 
You’ve chosen the timeslip form for your latest novel, The Rose Trail. What attracted you to that?
I'm a fan of Barbara Erskine and also loved Thorne Moore's 'A Time for Silence'. The Rose Trail resembles neither author's work but the time slip format was inspired by their work. I'm fascinated by history and wanted to play around with the possibility that time runs in parallel. After my experience with the cottage when I had such a strong sense of the people who had lived there hundreds of years ago, I decided to weave between the present and that turbulent time when families were driven apart by their beliefs. How can any of us know if time is linear or many layered?
 
 Tell us a bit about the story. What conflicts shape it and where did the inspiration for it come from?
The characters of Fay and Persephone came about from a little skit I'd written based on an awkward encounter in my own life. On a day when I was feeling frumpy, I bumped into a glamorous acquaintance who provided a charming, but stark, contrast. From these characters a modern story started to build and I wove it into the spooky memory about that cottage in Wiltshire all those years ago. Sometimes, when I've been giving treatments to clients, I've 'seen' images or received messages which I've relayed to them and they have found them very relevant to their lives, even though they meant nothing to me. Intrigued by these, I wanted to explore other possible realities.
 
How do you do your research?
We used to live near Devizes, where The Rose Trail is set and I'd always been interested in the battle that took place on Roundway Hill, above the town, in the English Civil War. Last January I walked up there again and pictured the battle scenes. I went to the library and the book shop, just as Fay and Persephone do in the story, and researched the civil war on-line. Other books have needed other research trips - Daffodils involved a trip to the Imperial War Museum in London, Speedwell meant visiting Brooklands Racing Circuit and the Motor Museum at Beaulieu. For Peace Lily, I had to pore over maps of Boston in 1919, discovering the molasses disaster along the way from old newspaper cuttings. It's much easier with on-line research these days. In fact, when I first wrote Daffodils, years and years ago, there was little information about WW1 on-line, but with its centenary, attention has focussed on the details of that war. I have revised the whole book a couple of times as a result, as new information came to light.
 
Who would you cast to play your leading characters if your book was to be made into a film?
It would have to be someone gorgeous for Persephone. Perhaps Cameron Diaz might be good, as she manages to portray that delightful ambiguity that perhaps she's not a bimbo. Or Julia Roberts, with her flowing locks. I think Renee Zellweger might be good for Fay, as she's prepared to put on weight for a part!
 
 Have any particular writers influenced your work?
I think everything we read influences our work on some level. My favourite authors include Jane Austen, E.M. Forster, Barbara Erskine, Joanna Trollope, Winston Grahame and loads more. I'm enjoying The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr at the moment.
 
 It’s been said that you can’t teach creative writing, you can only recognise what is good and say ‘keep doing that’. Do you agree?
Not entirely, I think you can learn about good dialogue, how to formulate a plot, how to make characters come alive. I learned a lot from peer reviews on www.youwriteon.co.uk where pieces of writing are anonymously critiqued by other writers. Some of the writing I read there was excellent; some not so good but I learned to recognise what worked and what didn't.

 
 
 Khaled Hosseini says that he feels he is discovering a story rather than creating it. Are you an avid plotter or do you start with a single idea and let the novel develop organically?
I started out writing Daffodils as a journey of discovery but it took a very long time - about ten years - before I could wrestle it into some sort of story. Now I definitely plot a story arc from the original idea before embarking on a first draft. Mind you, sometimes the characters have other ideas and I have to adapt!
 
What will you be working on next?
The fourth and final book in The Katherine Wheel Series is my next project. It concerns the children of the characters in the other three books and takes them all into the global arena of the second World War. It will be called Woodbine and Ivy because everyone smoked Woodbines in WW2 and Cheadle Manor will be covered in ivy, due to Cassandra's inability to maintain its grand facade after the Great Depression. I have the story arc outlined but the writing - and the mountain of research it's going to need - has yet to begin.

 
 
 
Alex, thank you so much for coming, it's been a great pleasure talking to you.
 
The Rose Trail is available on Amazon in Kindle or paperback. Universal link: http://mybook.to/TheRoseTrail.
 

For details of her other books see her Amazon Author page:
 

Alex blogs at http://www.intheplottingshed.com/ (where readers can get a free copy of her short story collection Trio)

Facebook: Alex Martin
Twitter: @Alexxx8586