What would you do if the pension you’d been counting on was suddenly delayed six years?
If you were author Alex Martin, you’d ultimately thank your lucky stars (later) that the government forced you to successfully live out your lifelong dream of becoming a writer.
Martin, then a health therapist, had planned to retire at age sixty. Years before that, though, she’d joined a peer-review website for writers run by the UK Arts Council.
The site ranks submissions based on anonymous reviews, and every single one of Martin’s broke the top ten.
Ever since reading Pride and Prejudice as a child, she had wanted to write; now that she was finally completing some projects and receiving such positive feedback, she started wondering about publishing.
And then came the pension news. So Martin figured that maybe it was time to walk the walk and make writing a career.
It was a smart and lucrative decision. Her first two books — The Twisted Vine, based on her grape-picking experiences, and Daffodils, a historical-fiction novel — brought in more money than her previous job.
Martin is now six self-published books in, still pleased with her results, and was happy to answer a few questions about her journey.
SADYE: Did Pride and Prejudice inspire your writing style?
ALEX: I can’t aspire to the heights of Jane Austen’s wit, neither can I emulate the authenticity of writing in her era, but she certainly got me interested in stories.
I’m sure I’ve absorbed something from every book I’ve read — it’s impossible not to — but I’m glad I came across hers when I was so young.
She was the perfect role model, with good grammar, sparkling dialogue, plot and character.
SADYE: What drew you to set your novels during World War I and World War II?
ALEX: I didn’t set out to write in those eras of conflict. My two kids were born in a tiny village in Wiltshire, and I grew up in that county myself.
It’s rich in history, and I wanted to set a story there. We lived in a row of tiny cottages, Skid Row, I called them.
One of our neighbors, Harry, who only had one leg — the other was wooden, cut off not in a war, but cutting railway embankments with a scythe — was nearly a hundred years old when our son was born.
He took a shine to Tom, who was the first baby to be born in the village for many years.
Harry loved to spin a yarn. He told me about how plumbing arrived in our humble home. First there was the village pump over the road, then they had one at the end of the row of six cottages.
After that two cottages shared an outside tap between them on the communal path at the back. Those taps are still there.
Then, Harry told us with great glee, came the momentous day when each cottage had a tap installed inside! Such amazement to have a sink with a tap! All this was within his own living memory and experience, and I found it fascinating.
I decided to write a story incorporating this domestic anecdote, and so Daffodils was born. I hadn’t reckoned on having to incorporate World War One into the tale, but it proved unavoidable.
Thus I, along with the villagers of that time, was dragged unwillingly into a life-changing worldwide tragedy.
The story grew from there and entailed years of research. It has spawned two sequels to date, Peace Lily and Speedwell.
I became interested in what happened to the children of my characters, and now I’m embroiled in researching the second World War.
It’s complex and sometimes overwhelming. That doesn’t mean it isn’t utterly fascinating.
I suspect it may turn into two books as I’m about 80,000 words in, and I’ve only reached 1941.
SADYE: What do you hope readers take away from your fiction?
ALEX: It sounds pretentious, but I do hope that more than anything people simply enjoy them and manage to escape their problems by delving into the worlds I’ve so enjoyed creating.
For me, books have provided me with that blissful oblivion when I’ve had hard times.
Alongside that I hope that the historical mistakes made by our predecessors can be recognized and never repeated but also how amazing some of them were in being tough enough to survive these huge events.
Community is at the heart of Daffodils. The loving heart of family life beats through it and its sequels. I think that’s important.
SADYE: We love that you have a “plotting shed.” Tell us about it!
ALEX: My husband and I built it in a week during filthy stormy weather one October half term (he was a teacher).
We had to tie it down with guy ropes each night before the roof went on so it didn’t blow away in the howling gales.
It’s fully insulated, and I have lights powered by solar panels. I can see the Welsh hills from the window.
All of this is delightful, but the main reason I adore it is that it’s quiet!
Working from home, I got lots of phone calls and emails when I was running my clinic. I could escape to the shed and concentrate.
I virtually need to be in a padded cell in order to concentrate sometimes – especially at the beginning of a book.
Once I’m on a roll, I don’t notice anything, but to start with, I must have quiet.
Sometimes when I’m in a writing phase, I’ll write in the middle of the night or around dawn, when it’s quiet and the world is hushed.
Those are good times to write, but inevitably exhausting.
SADYE: What has been the most rewarding moment of your writing career so far?
ALEX: Two things spring to mind.
I have had some wonderful, tear-inducing reviews that have touched my heart and possibly made my head swell a little (not for long, most writers have their inner critic whispering away most of the time and mine is never silent for long).
Readers have said I’ve made them laugh and cry and think. It’s the best feeling.
The other is that I’ve met so many other writers whose work I respect and admire.
I meet regularly with two writer friends in Wales, and we go through each other’s work. It is so rewarding and helpful.
In becoming a creative writer, I feel I’ve found my tribe.
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Learn more about Alex Martin on her website, where her books can also be purchased; like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter.
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