I was lucky enough to win a copy of The Rose Trail by Alex Martin recently and so I decided to ask Alex if she would mind being interviewed for Linda’s Book Bag. Luckily she agreed. The Rose Trail was published on 11th December 2016 and is available for purchase in e-book and paperback here.
The Rose Trail
Is it chance that brings Fay and Persephone together?
Or is it the restless and malevolent spirit who stalks them both?
Once rivals, they must now unite if they are to survive the mysterious trail of roses they are forced to follow into a dangerous, war torn past.
The Rose Trail is a timeslip novel set in both the present day and during the English Civil War. The complex story weaves through both eras with a supernatural thread.
An Interview with Alex Martin
Hi Alex. Thank you so much for agreeing to answer some questions on my blog about your writing and your latest book, The Rose Trail.
Thank you very much for inviting me, Linda.
Firstly, please could you tell me a little about yourself?
I live in south Wales but grew up in Wiltshire, where many of my stories are set. I worked as a secretary in my youth but didn’t find it that fulfilling. I always had a yen to write but some health issues took me down the path of complementary medicine and I still run a private practice, although only part time now, from my home. I had always wanted to write, ever since I learned to read and discovered the joy of being lost in a story. When it became obvious the Government would postpone my State Pension age to 66, I decided I had better get serious about writing. In a way, I’m glad that happened, as I probably would never have got up the courage to publish otherwise. Necessity is the mother of invention. Now I’ve published 5 novels and have reached the modest financial target I set myself all those years ago. It is very satisfying but more importantly, I love doing it and have many more fictional ideas I can’t wait to realise.
When did you first realise you were going to be a writer?
Do you know, I think it was when I was a child? I can’t ever remember a time when I didn’t feel that writing was my ultimate destiny. Now, I wish I’d had the discipline to write seriously much, much earlier, but hindsight is ever a marvellous thing.
You say you came late to publishing if not to writing. How has this impacted on your experience as an author?
Good question. I think it makes me more driven, knowing how much time I’ve wasted.
You write historical fiction. What draws you to that rather than a more contemporary setting?
I think the past can teach us so much. There are patterns in collective human behaviour that we can recognise and learn from. Hopefully we can select the positive and chuck out the negatives. Certainly in researching WW1 I was shocked, saddened and surprised at the ingenuity and courage of that generation. I find it fascinating to research how everyday living was managed in different time periods. What people wore, ate, how they lived and what they believed in. I think studying history helps us understand the path we all travelled to arrive at today’s world.
Many of your titles have reference to plants. Is this to do with writing in a garden shed?
Haha! Well spotted. No, it’s not because of The Plotting Shed but to do with my previous career as a herbalist and aromatherapist. I simply love plants and they are part of who I am.
If you hadn’t become an author, what would you have done instead as a creative outlet?
My previous career had its creative side – building a website, writing handouts about foods/health issues and plants. I also took people on herbal walks and talked about plants, taught them which plants to pick and what they could make from them and also did soap-making and bath-bomb workshops. Plus I do love to cook. I almost opened a restaurant years ago with a previous husband but ended up leaving him instead! But that’s another story – maybe it’ll turn into one anyway!
How do you go about researching detail and ensuring your books are realistic?
It’s much easier these days with the internet. When I researched Daffodils, there was very little on the web about WW1 but since the centenary there’s loads, so I’ve revised the book a couple of times as I’ve learned more. I also have shelves of books on the subject. I enjoy research trips too. Great excuse for an escapade. For instance, I went to both Beaulieu Motor Museum and Brooklands Racing Museum for Speedwell. The latter now stock the paperback in their shop, which is gratifying. The picture on the cover is a real shot of a race held there in the 1920’s when the book is set.
Which aspects of your writing do you find easiest and most difficult?
The easiest bit is getting the ideas. They often appear in a dream with utter clarity and I scribble them down the minute I wake and the story builds from there. Then I do an outline of the story arc. The hardest bit is avoiding the soggy middle and keeping it alive and tight all the way through, despite what life might be throwing at you at the time.
What are your writing routines and where do you do most of your writing?
No routines but rather I have phases. Sometimes I love to get up in the early dawn, or even before it is light, and write in that special quiet time before the day begins. Other times, when I’m on a roll and the story has me in its grip, I’ll write for 18 hours a day. I love those days; although it is exhausting, it’s also thrilling. I write in my Plotting Shed. It was built by my husband and I from a kit (unlabelled and in howling gales) for the purpose. It sits at the end of my long, thin cottage garden and I can see the sun and shadows playing across the Welsh hills from the window in front of my desk. It’s good to have a distant perspective when you need to dream and think.
The Rose Trail has a supernatural thread which seems a departure from your other fiction. Was this a conscious decision or did your writing evolve naturally to include this element?
Such excellent questions! I would say it was a natural evolution. I decided to do straightforward historical fiction as I thought it would be a safe bet to start me off but I love the thin, almost transparent veil that I believe exists between time zones. This awareness came about through healing work and I want to weave it into my writing more.
I think there’s a feeling of opulence in the cover of The Rose Trail. How did that image come about and what were you hoping to convey (without spoiling the plot please!)?
Oh good! As The Rose Trail is so different from my other books, I wanted the cover to be equally distinct. It’s a darker tale (although you can’t really get much darker than WW1) so I wanted the cover to be black. The artist, Jane Dixon-Smith, worked her usual magic from my disparate ideas. The pomander is central to the plot, and ideally should have been older by a few hundred years but I couldn’t get a picture of one without copyright issues. The roses too figure largely throughout the story as the ghostly master of ceremonies bears that name.
(Readers can see more about Jane Dixon-Smith’s design work here.)
If you could choose to be a character from The Rose Trail, who would you be and why?
Fay Armstrong is loosely based on me but only in part. She can do mathematics.
If The Rose Trail became a film, who would you like to play Fay and Persephone and why would you choose them?
I wish! Hmm, that’s a hard one. Persephone would have to be someone utterly gorgeous and glamorous, say Cameron Diaz, with that slight ambiguity to leave people guessing if she really is a bimbo. Fay is more difficult but I think Renee Zellweger, seeing as she’s happy to put weight on for a part, might carry it off. She’d have to have a crap hair-do as well, of course, which might be a bridge(t) too far?
When you’re not writing, what do you like to read?
Usually research books these days! But I love reading all sorts of books. I enjoyed The Light Between Oceans recently and am currently reading All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 2015.
Do you have other interests that give you ideas for writing?
Everything gives me ideas for writing! It could be some natural inspiration on a walk, an overheard conversation, a knotty problem from my own life, something I’ve read or watched. The hard thing is converting these into print!
If you had 15 words to persuade a reader that The Rose Trail should be their next read, what would you say?
“Fay slips unwillingly between now and a war torn past, lured on by a restless and malevolent ghost.”
I know readers signing up to your newsletter here will receive three free short stories in Trio. How far do these stories reflect the style of your novels?
These short stories are quite different. Two are contemporary and bittersweet. All are exposures of different frailties in people.
Thank you so much Alex for your time in answering my questions and in providing such interesting answers.
Linda, it’s been a real pleasure. Thank you so much for inviting me on to your blog.
About Alex Martin
Alex Martin can mostly be found, scribbling or tapping away in her garden shed, indulging her passion for writing, as the wind and rain lash at her little refuge. Her debut book, The Twisted Vine is based on her own grapepicking adventures in the 1980’s in France when she, like Roxanne Rudge, was running away from life.
The Katherine Wheel Series, Daffodils, Peace Lily, and Speedwell cover the time between WW1 and the roaring twenties. Alex is currently working on the fourth and final book, Woodbine and Ivy, set in the second World War.
Her latest novel, The Rose Trail, is set between the English Civil War and the present day and was inspired by a real battle that took place in Devizes, where Alex used to live. It is a ghost story woven with a supernatural thread.
All of Alex’s lovely books are available here.