Alex Martin [alexmartin]
What did you first read? How did you begin to write? Who were the first to read what you wrote?
I read everythiing I could lay my hands on as a child - so romances that my mother had from the library, encyclopedias that my Dad had invested hopefully in, magazines that my sister smuggled in, fire drills on the back of doors, cornflake packets, classics on the shelf that were dusty with lack of use. As a child I adored The Swish of the Curtain by Pamela Brown, The Children of the New Forest, anything with ponies in, The Famous Five stories, Agatha Christie and Georgette Heyer. As an adult my favourite remains the Jane Austen novels, the work of Jane Gardam, and the new author Audrey Shiffennegger (not sure I have that right!) is pretty awesome but really I read pretty widely and it's impossible to list them all.
The compulsion to read lead directly to the same compulsion to write and from the age of 7 I was tapping little stories out on an old black and gold manual typewriter. These were met with less than enthusiasm by my family but now my son, also a writer, reads my work and we edit each others efforts. The race is on to see who gets published first.
What is your favorite genre? Can you provide a link to a site where we can read some of your work or learn something about it?
I like work that explores the human psyche which remains a fascinating mystery. I also like historical novels that help me to understand what it was really like to live in those times. I like work that shows how the human spirit surmounts obstacles.
Currently I'm working on a novel that begins in Edwardian times and ends with the Armistice of the First World War. Through the ups and downs of my characters lives I'm trying to demonstrate the huge amount of social change in Britain that started before the war and was accelerated by it throughout all the social classes. I can be contacted on email@example.com if anyone would like to read any of my work.
I have also written lots of poetry and a novel about a marriage breaking down and involving drug trafficking. My next novel is going to be a romantic comedy set in France and based on my own experiences travelling through France grapepicking in my twenties. It promises to be a lot of fun!
What is your creative process like? What happens before sitting down to write?
Usually I will think of a myriad of things I must do (like this questionnaire!) before I can give myself permission to do what I really want - write. I always struggle to engage but once I do often lose all sense of time and become lost in the story. When I become too tired to do more I feel the most tremendous sense of satisfaction. I am happy when I'm writing and a day when I can't is not a good day. Writing for me is bliss.
What type of reading inspires you to write?
Good writing. Sometimes I read something and I think I (as yet unpublished) could do better than that and am inspired to carry on and try and get my work seen. If they can do it - so can I! Then I read something fantastically well written and am humbled and realise I have a long way to go to reach that standard but that makes me want to write better! And so I keep on going.
What do you think are the basic ingredients of a story?
Good characters can pull anything off. As long as the reader can engage with the people in the story I think they can do anything. A good plot is always helpful of course and I like a book with some tension so you keep turning the pages. I always seem to have an element of that when I write. I suppose we write what we like to read in the end.
What voice do you find most to your liking: first person or third person?
I am quite a shy person so the first person is a bit squirmy for me but I wouldn't rule it out.
What well known writers do you admire most?
JAne Austen is always top of the list because of her accurate and astute reading of human frailty. She would make mincemeat of some of the characters in my life! I love her sardonic humour - it's never laboured and she assumes that the reader will get it without spelling it out. Audrey Shiffennegger (not sure of spelling) is a new author who gripped me with the TIme Travellers Wife - so emotionally gripping. I love Philip Pullman's dreaminess. Sally Vickers is excellent in reading peoples motivations as is Joanna Trollope. And I love Winston Graham's Poldark series for a good ripping yarn. There are so many more I couldn't list them all.
What is required for a character to be believable? How do you create yours?
They must be multi-layered, flawed, full of doubts but with a central quality so that you root for them. Negative characters must be equally complex so that sympathy can be found even for them from the reader. I like both sides of a conflict to be understood and if not empathised with, then sort of forgiven through common humanity.
Are you equally good at telling stories orally?
No I'm utterly crap at it.
Deep down inside, who do you write for?
myself - for pure pleasure and satisfaction. I simply have to do it.
Is writing a form of personal therapy? Are internal conflicts a creative force?
Probably but great fun for all that - who cares ultimately? Internal conflicts are within us all - we may as well put them to good use. And if by resolving them we can pass on hard won experience - then it's all to the good.
Does reader feed-back help you?
I've been much too timid to get any!
Do you participate in competitions? Have you received any awards?
Once and no. But I will again and realise this is a resource I have not tapped nearly enough.
Do you share rough drafts of your writings with someone whose opinion you trust?
Yes my son Tomas. He's a writer too (and an astrophysicist!) and has attended many workshops on writing (which we paid for when he was young!) so I'm benefitting very much from second hand teaching. He's also very good at it and gives constructive criticism that is always extremely valuable. He keeps encouraging me to keep going. It's a mutual thing.
Do you believe you have already found "your voice" or is that something one is always searching for?
I hope I have many voices and will continue to discover them all for as long as I can keep writing.
What discipline do you impose on yourself regarding schedules, goals, etc.?
I often can't sleep so I now have a writing station I can access at night without disturbing anyone and rather than lay there I get up and get going. Life is always busy with a family and a house to run, let alone my private health practice in herbal medicine and aromatherapy so I try and write whenever I can and congratulate myself when I've done so. I am the world's worst procrastinator.
What do you surround yourself with in your work area in order to help your concentrate?
A lit candle is essential for some reason. I like winter dawns best. I need a computer and reference books of course, some flower essence from a good friend, and most of all, peace and quiet. Sometimes I have radio 4 on in the background or classical music but mostly just quiet.
Do you write on a computer? Do you print frequently? Do you correct on paper? What is your process?
Sometimes I start a story by hand in an A4 notebook and jot notes and knotty problems down like that. Mostly I type on the computer and yes I have to see it printed out to correct the draft. It looks nice too - I see the printed page as concrete proof that I've managed to write something and feel v proud of my little self.
What sites do you frequent on-line to share experiences or information?
I use Google a lot for research and that leads to many many tangents esp for the WW1 story. Hours/days/weeks have been spent on research. Sometimes that leads to buying books too. I write a lot of emails and talk to friends about my writing and their feedback keeps me going. Soon I'm attending a Higher Education course on magazine writing.
What has been your experience with publishers?
I've only tried sending out my first novel and have lots of rejection letters to prove it. Some were encouraging but it's a depressing experience. I would love a relationship with a publisher and fantasise about a meeting where they hand me a big fat cheque over a big fat lunch.
What are you working on now?
The novel is called Segue because it's about how modern Britain and the way we lived today was forged in the first twenty years of the 20th century. It's a social history incorporating huge drama through the political changes and the first world war as lived through by my characters. I have personalities in the book from all walks of life. This is deliberate as many class structures were broken down at that time and the role of women changed irreversibly.
What do you recommend I do with all those things I wrote years ago but have never been able to bring myself to show anyone?
As I 've only shown my husband the things I wrote myself - how could I possibly instruct you? I don't know - follow your intuition. Or just be brazen!
What subjects do you teach? What types of students do you have?
Please go to www.serenity-healing.co.uk for the full details about my herbcrafting workshops. I also collaborate with www.internetoutdoors.com who offer many outdoor activities in South Wales. I am very lucky to be able to teach students about plants in the wild on the beautiful Gower peninsular. Basically we study herbs that are considered to be weeds but offer natural medicine in perfect packages. As a fully qualified herbalist I feel fortunate to be able to pass on knowledge gained over many generations to young people and continue to the heritage into the future. So we look at plants like dandelion, nettle, burdock, yarrow and other very common herbs. Students learn to recognise them and harvest them safely without detriment to the plant numbers. Written handouts are given for them to take home along with a herbal tincture made outside during the workshop. We explore the plants using all the senses - smell, taste, sight and see them in their natural habitat. They learn how to use these medicinal plants at home for their own families and written instructions include glossary of terms, recipes, preservation methods and medicinal properties.
I'm also an experienced aromatherapist and lecture at the local university of Swansea to trainee midwives on the use of essential oils and massage during childbirth and pregnancy. I really enjoy working with expectant mothers in this way and feel privileged to pass on this information to other women working in a professional capacity.