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Saturday, October 27, 2012

Author Interview: Martin Lake

Today I am pleased to present to you all the twenty-sixth in a series of Author Interviews. Recently I sat down with the butterfly flitting Martin Lake and our conversation went something like this:

Paul:  I like to start my interviews by asking if you have any writing rituals?
Martin: I don't have a ritual as such but I always start by reading and editing whatever I wrote the previous day. This allows me to immediately clear up any typos, errors and clunking style. It also acts as a bridge and an impetus to what I am about to write next.

Paul:  What types of books do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors? Why?
Martin: I write primarily historical fiction and I like to alternate between fiction and real history. Fiction wise I tend to focus on historical fiction but not exclusively. One of my favorite authors is JRR Tolkien because of his narrative sweep and power and because he deals with the mythic in an unashamed manner. My other favorite is George MacDonald Fraser. He was so inventive in deciding to write about the most caddish of all villains, Harry Flashman. Flashman is a superb literary creation, slippery as an eel and allowing the author to write with considerable freedom. A bonus is that the books are superbly researched. For me the Flashman novels are the pinnacle of historical writing.

Paul:  If someone had the power to step into your creative mind what would they see?
Martin: What a great question, Paul. I think they'd see a butterfly, manically flitting here there and everywhere, searching out new flowers and new locales. Then, all of a sudden the butterfly would stop on a leaf and not move for ages, pondering and assimilating all that it had found.

Paul:  What is a typical day for you?
Martin: I like to write first thing in the morning but because I now live in France the best and coolest time of the day is not the mornings so I have to take a break and go shopping and do other essentials. Later in the afternoon I get back to my writing. I also use Twitter and other social media several times a day. In the evening I go for a walk by the Mediterranean.

Paul:  Do you have a favorite character in each of your series, aside from the lead? If so, which one and why?
Martin: In The Lost King series it has to be Godwin, by a nose. He is Edgar, the lead's best friend and guard. I have always been fascinated by the concept of the best friend of a protagonist and Godwin is someone who can speak for everyman and keep Edgar's feet on the ground. In Artful it is Viscount Palmerston who is as much a villain as Artful.

Paul:  In all the years you’ve been publishing your work, what is the biggest mistake you made that you could share so others can avoid making it?
Martin: At first I rushed to publish my finished books without thinking about the best title, best cover and how to describe the book. Also when Amazon KDP was uploading my book I pressed the continue button not realizing that I wouldn't get a chance to preview it. I  found that I'd published a book before I'd meant to. I'm learning patience now.

Paul:  How do you find the time to write?
Martin: I've written all my life, often in the early morning before the family was awake. I had a very bad accident four years ago (nothing like a road accident though. I fell off a path two inches high and landed so badly that I shattered my arm.) This meant that I was no longer able to drive or focus on my business. But I could write (using Dragon Dictate until my arm improved sufficiently.) I learnt that it wasn't a question of finding time to write but making it. I write until I begin to run out of steam.

Paul:  What is one thing you hope I do not tell the readers?  Martin: Anything which deludes them.

Paul:  If you are self-published, what led to you going your own way?
Martin: I'd had the usual load of rejections but was getting disenchanted by the fact that agents and publishers sometimes did not bother to reply at all. My confidence was also increasing with feedback from my writing group and from a University creative writing course. In the end I thought, I don't need to prove my worth to publisher's gatekeepers who only look seventeen years of age. The ultimate judge of my writing is the reader so I'll trust to them.

Paul:  Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Martin: A bit of both. I have an original idea and the overall flow of the novel. Then I research the history which gives the skeleton of the book. I next go to work on plotting it more carefully. Having said that I quite often forget or neglect to look at my plot and write as the mood takes me. I'm often taken by surprise by new characters and events.

Paul:  Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Martin: Since becoming an indie writer I edit more than I used to, enjoy it and find my books are much the better for it. My wife also edits my book. She is a superb reader and thought-provoker, although hard as nails on me. Thank goodness. She's giving me a hard time about my book on the Crusades at this very moment.

Paul:  Do you have to do much research for your stories?
Martin: An immense amount. However, I'm fortunate in that I've read so much history that the broad outline of a lot of the past is in my head. Because the events I'm writing about are so distant there are great gaps in our knowledge of what occurred so it gives me the freedom to wander and interpret. I'm not one for loading my books with details of clothing, weapons or food just because I've done the research about it. Research is my concern and I don't want to inflict what I've found out on my readers just for the sake of it.

Paul:  What is your most recent book? Tell us a little about it.
Martin: The most recent book I've published is Artful. As the title suggests the book follows on from the point in Oliver Twist where the Artful Dodger gets caught and sentenced. He is transported to Australia and meets two villains intent on his harm. He returns to England and realizes that the harm they intend is his own death. He has to call on his guile to thwart them. 

Paul:  What inspired you to write this book?
Martin: I had spent years writing The Lost King about the last native king of the English and wanted to try my hand at something more modern. I had always wondered why Dickens abandoned such an astonishing creation as the Artful Dodger and decided to pick up the threads. Artful is a fascinating character and I aim to show how his amoral nature is both a handicap and a boon.  

Paul:  Do you have any pieces of work that will never see the light of day?
Martin: Computers crammed with them.

Paul:  Do you enter competitions? Are there any you could recommend?
Martin: I used to, and won first prize in a competition to write a sequel to The Wind in the Willows. I think that writing for competitions can be a good discipline.

Paul:  How much marketing do you do for your published works or for your ‘brand’?
Martin: Far, far more than I expected. I guess for every four hours writing I spend one hour on marketing.

Paul:  What’s your favorite / least favorite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Martin: My favorite aspect is when I'm able to create a sentence which sings. There's not really been anything negative; I'm just thrilled that I'm able to fulfill my dreams. I've been most surprised, and delighted, when characters evolve before my eyes.

Paul:  What do you do when you’re not writing? Do you have any hobbies or party tricks?
Martin: I love to spend time with my wife and love exploring the town and country which we’ve decided to make our home.

Paul:  Well, thanks Martin. It was a pleasure talking with you.

About Martin Lake: Born in London, brought up in the Midlands, lived in the south-west of England. I went to a Secondary Modern school where I was fortunate to be taught by three gifted English teachers. I studied English and History at the University of East Anglia, missed lots of Malcolm Bradbury's classes but got a lift in his Jag. Worked most of my life in colleges and ran my own training business. After a pretty bad accident I had time to focus on my life-long passion for writing. Ten years ago I met the woman I should have married when we were 18. We now live on the French Riviera.

Martin on Twitter: @martinlake14
Martin on Facebook: Martin Lake
Martin's latest book: Artful (Amazon)

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