In The Plotting Shed

In The Plotting Shed
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Sunday, 23 September 2018

The Narberth Book Fair






Wonderful day at the #NarberthBookFair yesterday. Great to reconnect with other authors to share creative ideas and enthusiasm for the writing bug. Kudos to #JudithBarrow and #ThorneMoore for their superb achievement in hosting the successful event. A delight to share a panel with #HilarySheperd and #BrianJohn on the thorny question of writing from the perspective of the opposite gender. I think we all agreed that character is everything and the male/female issue is just one part of the composite whole. It was great to meet #AnneWilliams, book reviewer extraordinaire and to share a table with the lovely #CherylBeer. I feel re-energised by everyone's shared passion for creative writing and the afterglow will warm me up on lonely afternoons wracking my brains at www.intheplottingshed.com

Friday, 14 September 2018

Friday, 7 September 2018

Up close and personal

I'm aware that most of the people who read this little blog enjoy my stories, and for that I thank you. I'm also aware that I haven't delivered any for quite a while, despite my pledges to do so. I thought I'd share why.
In the last two years, I've undergone quite a few major changes in my personal life. My Dad died and I nursed him through it at my sister's house. Then both I and my husband had health scares that involved invasive, though minor, procedures. Then we moved to France and our beloved and beautiful daughter got married in our garden there.  This is us on The Big Day, leaving off our dusty shorts and gardening gloves and getting scrubbed up for the occasion.


All our hard work was worth it when we saw the tenderness and sincerity of the bride and groom.



We love the lifestyle, the climate, our new friends, and the stunning landscape of this corner of Aquitaine and hope to spend more rather than less time here in the future. Our good fortune is now forcing us to rethink how we balance our new way of life and more decisions lie ahead. Most of all we feel tremendously lucky to have this chance after our long careers in health and education.
Meanwhile, I just had a Bookbub advert and Daffodils reached #3 in both the US and UK charts amongst the millions of free books on Amazon. Heartened and encouraged by these results and the generous reviews it generated, I'm excited about writing again. Exhausted but excited!
Here's one review that really warmed my heart:

"I have always been drawn to historical fiction. Biography and history....for years my number one read! Yet, fiction written enveloped within the true past can be as real as the writer who researches past times and events. From page one...this book captured me. After a few chapters, I forced myself to only read a couple chapters a day. For I wanted to stretch out the enjoyment of its story and...for once..to have several days to embrace the emotions that a great author can evoke! Thank you, Alex Martin. Have downloaded the sequel. Looking forward to its pages that enables me to escape my elderly days!"

This review touched me particularly because books have provided me with a refuge through my toughest times, and there have been a few, and one of my biggest motivations to write is to provide an escape to other readers. And who doesn't love being called 'great'! Not sure I can live up to that but it's very nice to hear, all the same.

I'm 80,000 words into Woodbine and Ivy, the fourth book in the Katherine Wheel series but it's turning out to be a mammoth project. It may even become books four AND five.
The story involves the points of view of three of the children in Kate and Cassandra's families. These young people are all very different from each other but their lives have always intertwined. The pressures brought by the Second World War both divide and unite them.
This is an era that has always fascinated me, perhaps because growing up near London I saw so many bomb craters amongst the houses and the war remained vivid in the living memory of my many aunts. There are many experts on this time in our collective history and I'm therefore being very careful with research, which is necessarily extensive, as the story is set not only in England but also my beloved France. The politics of French resistance boggle the mind with their complexities before, through and after the war.
One very enjoyable part of the research, which I thoroughly recommend, has been watching "A French Village"" - an enormous box set - 6 sets of 6 discs. (The DVDs are in French with English subtitles. It's a dedicated watch as some of the scenes are graphic and brutal.)
It is set near Besancon on the France/Swiss border during the French occupation. The characterisation and plot are superb and have set my bar very high for Woodbine and Ivy.
The book(s) will also attempt to cover the destinies of Cheadle Manor itself as well as the RAF, Land Girls and the role of the Katherine Wheel garage/factory during the long conflict. It is the most challenging project I've ever tackled and pretty daunting. The story has long been outlined so I know where it's going. The thrilling part of writing is not knowing quite how the characters are going to get to their pre-destinations.
So, dear readers, please be patient with me, unless you've already given up and gone elsewhere, as I labour away at the computer in between my exciting personal adventures.
I appreciate every single one of you and am very grateful for every review you so generously write. Keep them coming and I promise to deliver the next instalment as soon as I can!



Thursday, 16 August 2018

https://www.thefussylibrarian.com interviewed me today!

This well respected booklovers website interviewed me today.

Honoured to share it here: by Sadye Scott-Haincheck
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.
* * *
Learn more about Alex Martin on her website, where her books can also be purchased; like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter.
Know an author you'd like to see featured? Email us with a recommendation!
Categories: Author Interview





Sunday, 15 July 2018

Don't blow your nose in it!

Don't blow your nose in it! (Click here to see the article)

Handkerchief maps were used by Allied forces in World War II (Credit: Credit: Georgina Kenyon)

This is a very interesting post from the BBC about silk handkerchiefs used by pilots in World War Two. I jump on anything to do with this conflict when I read it, as I am deeply engrossed in Woodbine and Ivy, which is set in that time. These squares of silk had 3 different maps of Europe printed on them and formed part of an escape kit. In the article, journalist Georgina Kenyon describes how important these maps were psychologically to those who carried them, along with more predictable things like spare socks and penknives. She quotes her 94 year old father-in-law, himself a Australian pilot who saw service in Europe. "Keep your sense of humour and your escape kit with you at all times."
Ms Kenyon also draws out deeper truths in this fascinating article, ones that really resonated with me as I too study this dreadful time. She concludes by reflecting on how temporary the stupidity of war can seem and yet how permanent are the scars it leaves behind.
Let us hope that we never, ever experience anything like it again. Human nature is flawed, and I'm discovering how dark some of the aspects of our nature can be in desperate circumstances but also how inspiring are those who are able to rise above it to become genuine heroes.

Image result for yin and yang images free

As I delve deeper and deeper into my story, I keep reflecting on the Chinese symbol of yin and yang. It is a circle with opposite tadpole shapes spooning against each other, one white, one black. Inside each is the seed of the opposing colour. I perceive this in over-simplistic terms as the seed of evil contained deep within the larger good and the seed of good contained within evil. Rather biblical terms! I guess what each of us has to to is keep a healthy balance between them, both as individuals and as communities and ultimately as a planet.
After all, there is no Planet B.

Thursday, 10 May 2018

another review for #Daffodils

Daffodils
I know I keep banging on about reviews but, due to changes that Amazon have made, they are becoming rare beasties. This one perfectly captures everything I was trying to achieve when I wrote Daffodils.

"5.0 out of 5 stars The breadth and depth of the "war to end all wars"

ByMeiguion May 3, 2018
Format: Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase



The scope and depth of this book is enthralling, as it envelopes the reader in three different aspects of "the war to end all wars". Beginning with a blunt view of class arrogance, it moves on to the general home front as war creeps into all of England--a viewpoint rarely considered in war stories. Next we are confronted with the ugliness of the war from a soldier's perspective. But the surprising aspect is a view of women's roles in the same theater. There are, of course, books which have covered these areas individually, but to read of all three intertwined provides a perspective on the impact on individuals unique to this genre. And the reading is much more enjoyable and satisfying than reading a lot of academic histories on the topics! I highly recommend it."

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

300th review of Daffodils in US 100th on #Goodreads

Review number 300 for Daffodils in the States. 
Bit of a watershed moment. It reads:
5.0 out of 5 stars
"Wonderful book of an era I have not delved into before!!
Highly recommend this book and anxious to begin the sequel!! History told in a very captivating and descriptive form in this novel!!!"
Happy with that.
Then the next day came the 100th review on Goodreads:

"5***** A romance with extras - I really enjoy reading a good romance, a story set in the war years and how people managed during this dreadful time. Daffodils has everything telling of a young couple getting married, having a child and struggling through their tragic loss. The stresses faced by family members 'doing their bit' comes across in the writing of this exceptional book. I read of love, unwanted attentions, terrible conditions of war and the bravery of young men and women fighting towards peace. I've read the book twice and loved every chapter."

I was particularly pleased the reviewer read the book twice. No writer could ask for more than that.

Daffodils (The Katherine Wheel Book 1) by Alex Martin
RELINKS.ME

Thursday, 1 March 2018

#FREE for St Davids Day! DAFFODILS



Happy St David's Day! Wales is a bit frozen but the daffodils are in bud, just waiting to burst forth when the weather relents. 
To celebrate the occasion Daffodils, the first book in the Katherine Wheel series is #FREE today! Averaging a review score of 4.5*s after over 400 reviews worldwide it is a heart-wrenching tale of true love persisting through tragedy, loss, the demands of World War One and the social chan
g
es that global conflict imposed.
 http://rxe.me/BPUQAY4 Daffodils

Image result for pictures of daffodils

Sunday, 25 February 2018

Woodbine and Ivy Research - The Battle of Britain


Woodbine and Ivy is turning into an epic story! Not only have the characters hoiked me off to Paris and Normandy, thus involving the French Resistance  (and therefore the background politics of a very complicated time) but one of them witnesses a key battle in the heroic fight between German and British airforces. It's thrilling stuff but much of the research is equally grim. This war was indeed our darkest hour, not just for us, but for the whole world. Let's hope history never repeats itself. 
Image result for pictures of the battle of britain
However, the way people responded to the threat of Nazism can often be uplifting. 
Take this anecdote: (courtesy of http://www.battleofbritain1940.net/0026.html)

"Another story is that a young pilot from North Weald, his Hurricane badly shot up, trailing smoke and with his controls damaged was fighting to keep altitude, yet all the way in, he was singing 'Maisey don'ts and daisy don'ts a little lambsey divey' only to interrupt his singing with a message to base that they should keep the kettle boiling as he was getting close."




Image result for pictures of the battle of britain

Another quote from the same amazingly detailed site (took me days to find it!):
"Many Station Commanders put 'red tape' and 'going by the book' to one side to welcome back their pilots, others got caught up in the excitement and themselves in their own way became part of the Battle of Britain. One pilot said "...that it was always good to know that after exhausting combat, it was good to know that you would be welcomed home by your commander, most commanders were not bad, they showed their admiration for their pilots in so many ways."  Group Captain Richard Grice at Biggin Hill airfield threw all books out of the window and ordered crates of beer for all pilots returning after combat, at Hornchurch Wing Commander Cecil Bouchier often gave a running commentary over the station loudspeaker system from the Ops Room so that all members of the ground crew and administrative staff would know what was going on. He would yell out in excitement like a commentator at a football match that 'Blue Leader has got a Dornier' or "Blue One has a 109 on his tail, he's diving....yes he's left...  now right....a Spit....yes a Spit has got the 109...yes Blue One has gone back into action" and a loud cheer would go up as all the listeners joined in the excitement.


Truly, I'm learning that it might have been the darkest hour in the history of humankind but it was, to quote Churchill this time, also 'our finest.'


Wednesday, 31 January 2018

I have a confession to make...

It's been a traumatic time.
Driven by a desire to bring all my books up to the writing standard I hope I have now acquired through diligent application, hard work and the help of many others, cleverer and more skilled than me, I have re-edited all the books in The Katherine Wheel Series. 
Of course, it was partly procrastination. With all the joyous busyness of last Christmas, when both our kids came home and we got together after a bit of a bruising year, the current work in production (WIP) got left behind.
Instead of cracking on with it, I came up with this brainwave of tidying up the ones that preceded it.  For those writers among you reading this, you will understand the many and varied ways most writers will employ to put off the moment of returning to the very hard work of a first draft.
Woodbine and Ivy is a challenging project, because of the research about the second World War involved but also because it has to pull all the threads left hanging in the last book, Speedwell, together into a magnificent (we are talking aspirations here) emotionally satisfying ending.
It took the best part of 2 weeks, some days working 12 hours a day, to get those edits accomplished and I was horrified at some of my punctuation and lack of speech tags! I have learned a lot in these last five years since I published The Twisted Vine, my debut book. But, the task was hugely satisfying and I felt vindicated when Daffodils rose significantly in the charts, and is still doing so, ever since.
Phew - so - nothing else for it but to return to the first draft of the complex story that will be Woodbine and Ivy. Then my computer started playing up. Wouldn't switch on enthusiastically, would sometimes accept the internet, sometimes not, graphics played up - all very scary. I decided I had to buy a new one soon.
In uploading the paperback of Speedwell onto its publishing forum, I needed to get my dear husband to do some tricky formatting that I could not make this temperamental computer accept. He has a gift for technology that I sadly lack.


We'd just had a lovely romantic candlelit meal. He is left handed and pushed the computer to a different angle. I went away and left him to it. When  I came back, the candle flame had burnt a hole through the back of the screen.
Although it was ten o'clock at night, I had to walk up the garden for some deep breathing.
I decided I had to buy a new computer the next day.
Transferring files, bookmarks and all the familiar sites and comfort zones, let alone remembering all the passwords, was a nightmare. I now have three cloud spaces and one external hard drive with all my stuff on it. I never want to repeat the trauma!
And do you know what? Somehow,
through all of this panic and mayhem, I have managed to squeeze out 5000 new words into that first draft of Woodbine and Ivy. The scenes I have written are full of tension and stress  - maybe that computer disaster will bear fruit after all!

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Research adventures

Research trips make great excuses to travel. Winter can be a dreary time, though it's often a productive one for a writer. This week research took me to London.
Canary Wharf couldn't be more different than the Gower peninsula. All those lights for a start!

I went to the Science Museum as well. It's going to be really useful to have been so close to a WW2 spitfire and 1930's flatbed lorry:

All in all, a great way to cheery up these short January days.