SPS-354: Researching Facts for Historical Fiction – with Madeline Martin
Madeline Martin has been writing various forms of historical fiction for years. Her breakout success, The Last Bookshop in London, reached the USA Today best-seller list and stayed there for five weeks. Madeline talks to James about the different kinds of historical books she writes, why research is so important, and what’s next for this prolific author.
- Using a lay-off as an opportunity to write more
- How the historical period is a character of its own in historical fiction
- On historical research and the time that takes away from writing
- Choosing historically accurate images for covers
- Why some time periods are easier to write about than others
- Growing up in Germany and being affected by the aftermath of WWII
- Whether a trad deal was worth it for a best-selling book
Resources mentioned in this episode:
PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page
SPS LIVE 2023: Early bird tickets available now.
LAUNCHPAD: SPF 101 has been renamed and spruced up. Learn more for when the doors open Nov 9.
MERCH: Check out our new 2022 hoodies and t-shirts in the SPF Store.
SPS-354: Researching Facts for Historical Fiction - with Madeline Martin
Voiceover: On this edition of the Self-Publishing Show...
Madelaine Martin: I am so fascinated by the Black Death and the Bubonic Plague. So, I actually did write a romance that started with the Bubonic Plague.
James Blatch: Wow.
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James Blatch: It is a tumultuous Friday. Not Friday, it's Thursday. It's not really Friday. I was lying. It's Thursday, but a tumultuous day here in the UK. We're going to park that because who knows. A day is a long time in politics where we are. Everything might have changed by next week, so we can't even talk about that. What we can talk about though, is that we have a couple of exciting things to announce.
First of all, a reminder that tickets for the Self-Publishing Show Live, this podcast, but live with fellow authors filling a wonderful space in London South Bank, the artistic home we have here in London, in the UK. Tickets are on sale now. If you want to join us for two days in June in 2023 and you need to go to SelfPublishingFormula.com/SPSlive for your early bird offer. You can get around 20% off the ticket prices and they will go up in the new year, if there's any left by then.
Looking forward to people joining us in June next year. We are very busy in the background organising that conference. It takes a long time to organise a conference like that. I should say it's Friday, so we're releasing a blog today, and the blog is on decision-making for authors. Wow. Should have decision-making for politicians. We should do that blog. Decision-making for authors. I don't know what that's about, but I'm going to read it, as I always do, the excellent blogs.
And, Mark, we should mention that we have a new course, as you say, Self-Publishing Launchpad. God, I've got to get used to saying that. We've been calling it Self-Publishing 101. It is the 101 course. We've been through, revising it, adding some bits to it, and repackaging it. It's a more full course. Everyone who's on 101 will get Launchpad, but it's going to be called Launchpad and it is going to be open for enrollment the very, very first SPF Launchpad will be open for enrollment on November the 9th.
Mark Dawson: The 9th of November.
James Blatch: Yeah, 9th of November. So, if you go to SelfPublishingFormula.com/Launchpad, first of all, you'll be able to join the wait list for it, but as long as you're on my list, you'll be alerted to when that opens, and your chance to enrol in that. And this is the foundation course. We'll talk about it in more detail in the future, but the foundation course to get you set up to be successful as an author. And it's one that's launched many authors in the past, hence the word launchpad.
Right, Mark, we have an interview today about historical fiction. You've written a bit of historical fiction. I write historical fiction, and Madelaine Martin has had a huge breakout hit with The Last Bookshop in London in the last 12 months, but before then, she was writing regular historical romance, I think Regency period. So, she was a brilliant person to talk to.
We bumped into each other in Florida for the NINC Conference, and I knew that I wanted to get into the weeds with her about writing historical fiction. But, of course, as all these interviews, there's something in it, whatever genre you're writing in, not least hearing about the success and the journey that Madelaine Martin has had. So, let's hear from Madelaine, then Mark and I will be back for a chat.
Madelaine Martin, welcome to the Self-Publishing Show. Lovely to speak to you again, because a couple of weeks ago, was it a couple of weeks? It doesn't seem that long ago, we were in the same room.
Madelaine Martin: Yeah, I know. We were at NINC. It's so great to see you again too, James.
James Blatch: It was so lovely in NINC. I got chased out by a storm, but you live there.
How far away from the hurricane were you?
Madelaine Martin: We're not too bad. We're on the East Coast, so we were on the opposite coast, but we actually got more weather when it was hitting the West Coast than we did when it was coming more toward the East Coast.
James Blatch: Yeah, those early bands.
Madelaine Martin: It's because the bands.
James Blatch: Yeah, the bands.
Madelaine Martin: Oh, yeah.
James Blatch: I learned all about the bands. Yeah, we got heavily rained on for a bit.
Madelaine Martin: I bet you never thought you'd know so much about hurricanes as you do now.
James Blatch: I know. I'll tell you my takeaway from it all is that the hurricanes, obviously, they're big storms. They're like 500 miles across, but actually, the destructive zone is quite small.
Madelaine Martin: Yes.
James Blatch: It's the bit in the middle, and if you are 20 miles away, actually, it makes quite a big difference.
Madelaine Martin: Oh, absolutely. Yeah, and it's interesting because the eye, once it hits the eye, totally calm, and then it's crazy again.
James Blatch: Weird. Yeah.
Madelaine Martin: It's just so crazy.
James Blatch: Anyway, we've just been talking about Florida life, and you told me you've got two gators in your garden, which is frankly terrifying, but anyway, okay. Well, let's park on that for the moment. It was a lovely conference and we could talk about it for a long time, but let's talk about you, and let's talk about historical fiction because I'm excited to talk about this subject.
Madelaine Martin: Oh, yeah.
James Blatch: Madelaine, tell us where you got going writing.
Madelaine Martin: Well, I've always written. My mom sent me these boxes that she'd been moving around the world forever, and when I started going through them, I found all these little chapters that I had written when I was a little girl. Apparently, at one point, I even had a hardcover book that I made the hard cover for, and I illustrated it myself when I was in fifth grade. So, I've always had stories in my head.
I think with a lot of us authors, we have, and after I went on maternity leave with my daughter, I read Outlander and I loved it so much. I loved the history of it. I loved the big, brawny Highlander and the feisty Sassenach, and I thought, oh, it would be so great to really just write a book. So, that's when I really got started with it.
James Blatch: So many American-written books are about the English versus the Scottish. It's amazing. There's a bit of that here. Okay, so that started you off.
I think you had one big breakout hit quite early on, didn't you?
Madelaine Martin: Not early on, actually.
James Blatch: No.
Madelaine Martin: I think it was my 34th book.
James Blatch: You are so prolific, I've forgotten about that. So, your 34th book.
Madelaine Martin: Oh, thank you.
James Blatch: How many years on was that?
Madelaine Martin: So, that was actually last year that book came out, and, yes, that was The Last Bookshop in London, and that one was actually historical fiction, and that one actually hit number eight on The New York Times bestseller list.
James Blatch: Wow. Congratulations.
Madelaine Martin: Yeah, thank you.
James Blatch: That's so exciting for you.
Now, before The Last Bookshop in London, what was your career looking like? You were successful. You were earning a living from it.
Madelaine Martin: Yes. I was writing six to eight historical romances a year. I did a mediaeval and Regency and some that were also set in the 1700s or 1800s, I can't remember now off the top of my head. That's what happens when you do write so many of them.
James Blatch: Yeah. You're like a time traveller.
Madelaine Martin: Yeah, really, and I love the research aspect of it so much. I know that you can relate to that, and I think that's why I was history jumping so much. Like, oh, let me do mediaeval. Okay, I've done a bunch of mediaeval. I want to learn something new. Oh, let me do Regency. And so, that's kind of how I was going through with that.
But I was working a day job, actually. I was a business analyst, so my running joke was that I was a full-time mom, full-time writer, and full-time business analyst because that's kind of how it felt. I was sleeping four hours a night, but, actually, my career was doing pretty well because I was releasing a book every other month with self-publishing.
And then, I got laid off, actually, right before the pandemic, which was pretty brutal. The writing was on the wall. Everybody was being laid off. I was thinking it might happen. So, my husband and I were talking about it, and I said, "My books are doing pretty well. I want to write a historical fiction, but it's going to take a lot more time. So, if I do get laid off, I think I'm just going to write full time," and he was like, "Do it." So, I got laid off, and after writing for over a decade, I thought, oh, I finally get to be home by myself and I can just write. And then, a couple weeks later, the pandemic happened and everybody was home forever.
James Blatch: Yes. Yeah.
Madelaine Martin: I got robbed.
James Blatch: It's so good to have a supportive other half, though.
Madelaine Martin: 100%.
James Blatch: Very important. I mean, he could easily have said, "Well, Walmart has jobs."
Madelaine Martin: Right.
James Blatch: Rather than stay at home and write. And now, I think that's the lovely thing, when your partner knows this is something that means a lot to you, or clearly, if you've been making books as a little girl, here you are decades later, not too many decades later, few decades later.
Madelaine Martin: Yeah, no. Not to me.
James Blatch: That's one of the great things about the indie landscape we live in now, this opportunity for us both to become writers, is incredible.
Madelaine Martin: Oh, 100%. Absolutely. Yes. I've had times in my life where I've had somebody who wasn't very supportive. And so, having my husband's support now, because we really met after I was already writing, it really is so absolutely incredible. It's something that I never take for granted.
James Blatch: Yeah. Okay. So, let's talk about historical. You said one of the great things about it is you write, essentially, romances, but because you jump around in historical periods, it does feel like a whole different genre, I guess.
Madelaine Martin: Absolutely. Yeah. And then, especially with writing historical fiction, that also is.
James Blatch: So let's divide that up. So, historical romance and historical fiction.
Madelaine Martin: Correct.
James Blatch: So, in a historical fiction, I mean, because I'm a thriller writer, so I always think page-turning, something's going to happen.
What is the trope that you would describe in your historical fiction?
Madelaine Martin: I think one of the big things of historical fiction is really thinking about the time period almost as its own character, because it does take such a forefront step in the book, whereas with historical romance and with historical thrillers, I feel like it's more of a backdrop. It's still, of course, the details are very important, but you're not going to be taking a stop and detailing out exactly what happened in that time period and why it's important, more than just moving on into letting it kind of fall back in the background.
James Blatch: That's a good description.
Which period did you write romance and which period did you write fiction in?
Madelaine Martin: So, my romance was mediaeval and the 1700s and Regency era, and my historical fiction is World War II.
James Blatch: Oh, yes, of course, and that's The Last Bookshop in London?
Madelaine Martin: Correct. Yes.
James Blatch: Yes. Okay. We'll talk about that in a moment, but let's talk about the historical romance, then, first. One interesting thing I think about is I was chatting to our mutual friend, I think, Cecilia Mecca.
Madelaine Martin: Yes. Cecilia's fabulous.
James Blatch: Or Bella Michaels, as she wrote her contemporary romance, but Cecilia, and she was laughing about the fact that she writes Scottish, mediaeval romance. But in actual fact, this was a pretty horrible era to live in.
Madelaine Martin: Oh, yeah.
James Blatch: People didn't wash very well. The hygiene wasn't, the disease was prevalent. Nobody looked great by the time they got to the age of 30.
Madelaine Martin: It's fiction, it's fiction.
James Blatch: But it's fiction, and that's not going to be on the front cover, and that actually extends, I think, even further with things like the Regency period. We've had a few of these adaptations going around the globe, where there is not just a sanitised version of what life was like, but a slightly, I'm going to use the word and I don't mean it disparaging at all, but a slightly cheesy version of that era, to allow it to fit into what we want it to be, which is romance.
Madelaine Martin: We like to think of the term as romantic rather than cheesy.
James Blatch: Romance. So, that's basically what I'm getting to, and I guess that's what you do here?
Or how much do you think, well, no, I'm going to be more slavishly devoted to the realities of the era, or are you delivering a romance book?
Madelaine Martin: So, when it comes to romance, you definitely do take more of a sanitised version of history, and in certain instances, I think, as far as that goes, people probably had horrible breath, for one.
James Blatch: Yes.
Madelaine Martin: But we have them wake up and kiss, and really they would have no nose hair left.
James Blatch: And not passing out. Yeah.
Madelaine Martin: Yeah, exactly. I read this really great, I'm trying to think of the name of it now, it's basically this whole introduction to if you lived in a mediaeval town, and it was such an incredible book, but the guy that was talking about it basically said that most of the peasants, I think, by the age of 30, would have either a limp or an arm that didn't really function fully because of all of the injuries that they sustained at the difficulties of their jobs, and, of course, we have these grey foxes going on.
We have these people, we have these grey foxes going on. Everybody's pretty healthy. Everybody has great smiles. Nobody has excessive hair or bad breath or anything like that. But you do still have a lot of the realities that come into play and you have the atrocities that are committed during that time period. You have a lot of the political intrigue. You have a lot of the feudalism that's going on in that society. So you do still have some aspects of it.
I actually, and Cecilia was actually laughing at me, when we were at NINC we were chatting about this, but I love, this sounds so weird, I am so fascinated by the Black Death and the Bubonic Plague. And so I actually did write a romance that started with the Bubonic Plague.
James Blatch: Wow, that's a challenge.
Madelaine Martin: I was like, "Man, I really want to write this plague book." And so the heroine is a witch and everything and she's being tried as a witch because of the bubonic plague going on and everything. It was a book for me.
James Blatch: Yeah, sounds great. Well I think it is a fascinating period and whenever I sit on the Piccadilly line, which is one of our tube trains, our subway trains in London, I read this once, I've never forgotten it. Between two of the stations, actually just south of Kings Cross, the train goes on a fairly violent sort of you just move around and you see which everyone ignores. But what they're actually doing is going around a plague pit, which when they were digging it, they realised was there.
And even though it was centuries old, it was this mush of potentially still the bacteria, well it was a virus, I can't remember. So yeah, so it is a living, breathing thing in London and occasionally they do come across these plague pits. They did it recently actually, with the cross rail link in London. That was a bit of a news story, but yes.
Madelaine Martin: Wow, that's so fascinating.
James Blatch: It is fascinating and I think people are gripped by it, but I don't think that's a bad backdrop for a romance novel actually. There was Love In The Time of Cholera, there was a famous book as well, which I haven't read, so I don't really know whether it was a romance or just fiction. But anyway. Okay, so you've got your Bridgeton esque look and feel to the regency in that case, or the mediaeval period to allow you to not be distracted by the things we would just find unpalatable and unpleasant today.
But otherwise, how much research goes into your books? I'm going to separate out the World War II one.
Madelaine Martin: Right, right, yeah. So really before I would start writing in a new time period with romance, I would do about a year's worth of research on it just to get a foundational understanding of that time period, what the language was used, the economic and political situation, how they dressed, how they acted, like things like that. And then once I have the foundational, then the individual book research isn't as intense because really you just might say, "Oh okay, well this is during this time with King James, for example," with what specifically was going on in King James' court that could possibly impact this particular character in this particular situation.
James Blatch: This is James the first, obviously, I guess.
Madelaine Martin: Yes, yes.
James Blatch: Sixth of Scotland, first of England. I'm James, I have a regular name. And a year, that surprised me. A year's worth of research.
What form did that take? Was this just reading, sitting on the internet, or did you go to classes or something or?
Madelaine Martin: A lot of it is getting nonfiction books and reading a lot of nonfiction books. But especially nowadays, there's so many different mediums that you really can glean information. So a lot of it is History Channel, YouTube channel, where people go to these sites and they get to explore it and you can watch it from their perspective. It is also taking classes. There are all sorts of wonderful online workshops that really delve into Celtic history and the Mediaeval Times and Regency era. So a lot of it comes to that.
And also just even reading books in that time period by authors who you know who do their research. So it's almost like you get this almost immersive experience that your brain is just like you're hearing the music, you're eating the food, you're reading the books, you're reading the nonfiction, and you're just immersing yourself completely in this experience and really getting your head in that world.
James Blatch: Did you find it hard to market? I'm never really sure how big the historical romance market is. I know Cecilia works very hard at it, but she has actually started with contemporary romance as well because I think she feels that might be an easier, bigger audience.
Did you find that as well that it's quite hard to find your audience?
Madelaine Martin: Well I don't have the contemporary to compare it to, but I will definitely say it is a little bit difficult to find ways to market it. Even just to get ad copy to just make ads, there's really not a lot of historical images out there that are readily available that not everybody else is using because there really is just such a limited stock. And because so many historical romance authors are so very prolific, everybody's just devouring all of those pictures that are out there. I don't know that I'm ever going to get to the point where I can justify paying $5,000 to have an ad that nobody else can have just because I want that picture. You know what I mean? I think that makes it a little bit difficult.
James Blatch: Are you going to get together and hire some men in kilts at some point?
Madelaine Martin: We wouldn't be opposed to it. And then in fact, we would actually take volunteers.
James Blatch: Yes, but you've got to remember to take some pictures for your books as well.
Madelaine Martin: Oh definitely, absolutely.
James Blatch: Spend the afternoon larking with them. So I can see that is an issue. In my world even, in 1960s military, it's very difficult. In fact, in the end, I dressed up, I bought the stuff off eBay and I dressed up to get... We had to do it to get a figure on the front wearing the right uniform.
Madelaine Martin: I think that's awesome. And what a story.
James Blatch: What a story. Yeah, so that was my first cover actually. I have replaced it subsequently, but that's me standing in the background walking away from the camera.
Madelaine Martin: I didn't realise that. That's awesome.
James Blatch: Yeah, and the difficulty is, and you'll have the same thing, is that historical readers are usually knowledgeable and they will notice something that's out of period. And it was my father who looked at the standard stock image we had of a 1960s pilot. My dad said straight away, "That's a World War II May West he's wearing." And so yeah, we had to do that. And it turned out the government in the UK have all the pictures and they won't release them for commercial use. So that's really difficult. So yeah, I have the same issue.
I can see in romance where it's a particular type of image that you want that you're going to see those repeated around the place. That extends to covers as well?
Madelaine Martin: It can extend. Usually, so it's really interesting with indie covers these, the people who do covers are amazing because they can take somebody's body, the position of their body, they can swap out their head, which I think... It reminds me of I had a friend when I was a kid who used to do that with her Barbies, she would have the really tall one and she'd take her head off and put a brunette's head on instead because she wanted her to wear that outfit, whatever. So it's like you swap out their heads, they can completely design a new dress, which is, again, going back to playing dress up with the characters, put a whole new background.
So you could potentially have somebody who's lounging on a chaise or something along those lines. And she could be so many different people because you can also add a man who is crawling toward her and hey, you could swap his head out too, give him a different shirt. It is amazing. I'm a stick figure kind of drawer. So for me, artists, I am horrible at that kind of thing. It blows my mind the amount of creativity and beautiful images that cover designers are able to come up with.
James Blatch: So basically they can repurpose the same image multiple times and no one would notice, certainly at a casual glance would notice.
Madelaine Martin: Correct, exactly.
James Blatch: So you've got your three historical romance series and where were you with them and you left each period behind when you finished it? Or are you going to add to those series?
Madelaine Martin: All of my series are done right now with the exception of a regency series that I started recently called Wedding a Wallflower. It's a Wedding a Wallflower series.
James Blatch: Sounds good. And that's what you're writing at the moment is it?
Madelaine Martin: Actually, I'm writing a World War II historical fiction at the moment.
James Blatch: Okay, so let's move on to World War II. So this is quite different for you. First of all, it's not romance. And second of all, World War II for me, I write 20th century historical romance. I don't write historical romance, 20th century historical thriller. But it seems to me quite fundamentally different from mediaeval and earlier periods.
Madelaine Martin: Oh absolutely.
James Blatch: And that's a big jump because it's much more relatable to the way that we live and breathe today.
Madelaine Martin: Right, it's really interesting, even just with doing my research and realising a lot of the modern things that we have today that they had back then, they had escalators. Who knew? And they even had roller coasters. It blows my mind every time I find something new where I'm like, "Oh my gosh, they had that back then too?" It really is just incredible to me.
James Blatch: Yeah, and they were driving to the shops and their lives ostensibly were sort of the same, whereas you couldn't say that about somebody in 1500 or even 1700's. So this was something, I get the feeling this was a labour of love, not a labour of love, a labour as such, but this was a project that you wanted to do and you were less concerned about perhaps the commercial side of it.
You just wanted to write this book, is that right?
Madelaine Martin: Correct, yes, absolutely. I grew up in Germany and it's really interesting having grown up in Germany just because of World War II and getting to go to the museums and having speeches that were given to our school, it really put things in such a fascinating perspective for me, just because they want to make sure that nothing like this ever happens again. And I think that that really left an indelible mark on me as I grew up. And so World War II has been something that I've always been very fascinated by as a result.
Really getting to delve into a lot of this research and write these books about World War II, it's unveiling each individual aspect because I've done a different country for each book. And so it's almost showing me different cogs in the whole World War II aspect. And I feel so honoured to be able to share a lot of these stories that I feel like have been buried in history to demonstrate how brave people have been in the past.
James Blatch: Yeah, it was an extraordinary period. And you've set it in London, I think. So sorry, briefly tell me about your journey.
Was your father and mother in the services?
Madelaine Martin: Yes, my dad was in the Army. So we were there for three different tours. So we were in Frankfurt, Darmstadt, which was by Frankfurt, Würzburg the next tour, and then [inaudible 00:24:14] for the third one.
James Blatch: Yes, okay. I was also a service child but stayed in the UK. And of course, even within Europe, in Germany, World War II is talked about in a different way for very obvious reasons than it is in the UK. You must have noticed that as well.
I guess you were exposed to that sort of sensibility on the German side that we don't get exposed to so much.
Madelaine Martin: Right, there definitely was a lot of just the horrors of what happened and the shame of it. And we don't ever want this to happen again. And in Europe also, they don't really filter things as much. And so seeing a lot of the horrors and the atrocities and everything, it really just struck me very, very deeply as a child. And so yes, I think that's really what got me on the path of wanting to learn more about World War II and how the other countries reacted and everything.
James Blatch: So the book, what was the story and the gist and where did that come from?
Madelaine Martin: So with The Last Bookshop in London, that particular one was inspired by a bombing of Paternoster Row at the end of December in 1940. It was during the Blitz and Paternoster Row was where the publishing industry really was. During that particular bombing, over 5 million books were destroyed. And there was a paper ration on at the time. So these books really couldn't just be reprinted.
It was something where it just made me think, "What if there was this bookstore and it really was almost like a community that really brought people together with all of these horrible things going on. And they found solace not only with one another as readers, but also in books themselves." And that's where the idea of where The Last Bookshop in London came from.
James Blatch: Okay. I know Paternoster is a square near St. Paul's Cathedral. Is that the same area or is that-
Madelaine Martin: Yes, yes.
James Blatch: And that's it. Okay.
Madelaine Martin: Yes. Yeah. In fact, St. Paul's Cathedral, they were so worried about that burning, they actually had people who were there who volunteered to throw sticks of incendiaries off and had buckets of water they'd run up with and everything. And there's this beautiful picture where the smoke is clearing from the Blitz and St. Paul's Cathedral is there completely intact still.
James Blatch: That's a very famous photo. We see it a lot in the UK.
Madelaine Martin: Oh, I'm sure. Yeah.
James Blatch: Sums up the Blitz at that period. Yeah. It is amazing when you look back that St. Paul's got through virtually unscathed.
Madelaine Martin: Oh, absolutely. 100%.
James Blatch: Yeah. That sounds like a great story. And funny enough those little bookstores still exist in London now. In fact, if you come to the Self-Publishing Show live in June in London, there's a very famous bookstore just down the road on the South Bank there, which has been going for many years, maybe even back to Second World War. Still there today.
Madelaine Martin: Oh, that's awesome.
James Blatch: Yeah, they set it up every morning. So you have your situation, and then you obviously have to have a story. And I'm interested in this, because despite the fact I read fiction, not so much anymore. I think I read mainly genre fiction now because I'm writing it. But up until writing, I used to read just literary fiction. I used to read Ian McEwan and people like that. And it fascinates me now as to how stories work when it's just fiction and you don't have those expected beats that you've got to hit in romance and thriller and so on.
How did you set about adjusting to that?
Madelaine Martin: Well, I think the biggest thing for me is that I explored a lot of the other character development with the supporting characters. Because I've written romance for so long, I was used to having a hero and a heroine. There are arcs that go together. And the black moment really is entangled with both of them. And at the end they both help each other grow.
So for me, I think one of the biggest differences was really being able to explore those outside characters so I could develop friendships and almost pseudo parents, and things like that. And that really did help as far as moving the plot along as well, because you wanted to have all of these different relationships that were developing as the story went on.
And especially with the Blitz, because I start before the Blitz and I end after the Blitz is over. Even if you just take us into consideration before the pandemic and after the pandemic, I feel like the people that we are now are still different than the people we were before we started the pandemic. And that was really integral, not only to character creation and development, but also the plot as well.
James Blatch: Yeah. Of course there is plot, but the character development is more of a substantial part of the read, I guess.
Madelaine Martin: Correct, yes. And as far as the plot goes, I hate to say it's almost written for you. But history, man, right?
James Blatch: Yeah.
Madelaine Martin: I did extensive research, I knew all of the bombs. In fact, all of the bombs that are detailed in The Last Bookshop in London are real, with one exception. Yay, fiction.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Madelaine Martin: But I really did use actual real life events that were happening to form my plot. And it was based off of how my character was reacting to those and what path that might have set her on.
James Blatch: And did you discover much about attitudes to the Germans at that time? In the war films that we grew up on that were made mainly in the 50s and 60s, they hated Hitler as this demon.
Madelaine Martin: Oh, absolutely. Yeah.
James Blatch: Quite a rightly demonised guy.
Madelaine Martin: Yes.
James Blatch: But there was no subtlety to that, it was just a kind of, this guy's trying to kill us.
Madelaine Martin: Well, and it wasn't even just... It was not only hate, but there was also a need to want to understand him a little bit more. For example, because I researched books that came out during that time period, and there was one book that was published by Penguin and it was called, What Hitler Wants. And I found that really interesting, because apparently people really did want to understand. Because even if you think about here and nowadays in the contemporary world, if there's a school shooting, everybody says, Why did he do it?
There's like this fundamental human desire to know why something happens. I think it's actually really interesting that somebody wrote a book as to what Hitler wants, and people are wondering, what does he want? Why is he doing this? I thought that was really interesting. But generally, of course the people also were obviously very angry and derogatory toward the Nazis as well. Obviously, because they're being bombed and these horrible things are happening, 100%.
James Blatch: Yeah. I have heard a couple of quite dark stories about pilots who were downed and didn't survive back to when they came down in a field. They survived the crash, but they didn't survive being rescued by local farmers. And that sort of gives you-
Madelaine Martin: Oh, you mean the German ones.
James Blatch: The Germans survived their crash landing, but they didn't survive being 'rescued' by local people with pitchforks.
Madelaine Martin: Absolutely. They were more than happy to take their aggressions out. Yes.
James Blatch: And so that just is an insight into how bitter people felt.
Madelaine Martin: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. One interesting tidbit that I learned when I was writing The Last Bookshop in London was how the countries were actually also using propaganda against one another. For example, with the RAF, the Royal Air Force, they had radar technology. So they were able to pinpoint when the planes were coming in for the Blitz. Well, the Germans didn't know about the radar technology, so in Britain they started spreading a rumour that they were feeding all their pilots all these carrots so they could see in the dark. And so with the blackout going on, they encouraged everybody to eat a lot of carrots. And apparently, rumour has it that in Germany the pilots were being fed carrots as well in the hopes that they too could see in the dark.
James Blatch: That's brilliant.
Madelaine Martin: Yeah.
James Blatch: I'm sure that's right as well. Because I remember as a kid being told carrots help you see in the dark. It was only later it became, that story that you are telling now is actually only really been understood in the last 20 or 30 years that it was propaganda. It was trying to distract from the-
Madelaine Martin: The radar technology.
James Blatch: The radar, yeah. Funny enough, I'm investigating this area at the moment for my next book. And there was a radar station at Ventnor in the Isle of Wight I'm thinking about, it became a nuclear bunker in the 60s. I'm thinking about doing something on that.
Madelaine Martin: Oh, cool.
James Blatch: And funny enough, I phoned my dad, who was an Air Force pilot, and he immediately said, "Well, I've got a little Ventnor story." And he told me this. He was briefly in charge of it. He never went there, but he put some people in some housing there in the 60s and it didn't go well. But anyway, that's an aside. But what I've seemed to have found out is the Germans were told about, or they knew this somehow they had people over here. They knew about the radar technology, they just never believed it worked.
Madelaine Martin: Oh, I didn't realise that.
James Blatch: And they were absolutely certain there was a bit of a front, so they didn't take it seriously. And that was very much to their loss.
Madelaine Martin: Yeah. Oh, absolutely. Thank God.
James Blatch: Yes. Yeah. The battleground's so crucial. Well, this is right up my street, I have to say. World War II fiction.
And did you enjoy it more than writing genre romance?
Madelaine Martin: What I really enjoyed about it was getting to explore all the other character relationships rather than just being relegated to the hero and the heroine. Just because, you had the friendships that they explored. And with my particular heroine, her mother passed away and her father, she had never really known because he had died before she was born. And so she had this pseudo mother who was her mother's best friend, that I got to explore that relationship. The relationship with the owner of the bookstore who almost became a father to her. And really getting to delve into a lot of the emotion and the depth of those relationships was really enjoyable.
James Blatch: Yeah. Sounds great. And you wrote this intending it to be independently published initially?
Madelaine Martin: Actually, no, this one, I was actually contracted with this one. I put together the proposal and it was contracted.
James Blatch: And that was with an Amazon publisher?
Madelaine Martin: Nope, this was with Hanover Square Press who was under Harlequin.
James Blatch: Okay. Oh, Harlequin, yes. Okay. All right.
How did that come about? Because you were indie publishing, weren't you? Your series.
Madelaine Martin: Correct. Well, I was indie publishing, but I also was writing Harlequin historical romance as well. So I was with Harlequin, so that was that introduction.
James Blatch: And tell us how The Last Bookshop in London was received and how it did.
Madelaine Martin: People have loved this book. Obviously, I've written a lot of books and none of them had even close to that success. But it was on the USA Today best seller list, I think for five weeks.
James Blatch: Wow.
Madelaine Martin: And it's being translated into 26 different languages. It's just absolutely incredible. And the really cool thing is people tag me from all over the world on Instagram, with all these different international translations and all these different languages telling me that they love this book. It's been such a dream come true for so many people to love this story that really was out of my head. Out my head and also out of history.
James Blatch: Yeah, fantastic. Oh, congratulations on that.
Madelaine Martin: Thank you.
James Blatch: Two questions about that. First of all, traditional contract versus indie publishing, when books sell well, the contract tends to give you a lower... Obviously, in most cases, a much lower royalty.
How did that work out for you? Is it still because of, I guess the volume of sales, still a lucrative deal for you?
Madelaine Martin: Yes, the volume of sales is just far greater than I ever could have done as an independent. Now, I will also say, I'm no hustler when it comes to indie pubs. I know there are so many people out there who have all these amazing ideas and they do all of these incredible things. And I'm like, and then I wrote this book, would you like to read it? I will say that the help with really getting my book out there from a traditional perspective has been very welcome. That definitely is a big part of it.
And also, just even dealing with, I wouldn't know the first thing about internationally selling my books. I am with an agent, and she probably could do that if I... Well, I know she could do that if I needed her too. But as far as, with indie books, obviously you do make significantly more money because you don't have to worry about a royalty rate. But it is the difficulty of getting it out there and finding those ad copies that are unique and original.
James Blatch: So you've enjoyed sitting back and just being the author here. And as you say, traditional publishing, one thing it can do is it can deliver your print version of the book around bookstores in the world, which is much more difficult for us to do at any kind of profitable rate.
Madelaine Martin: Correct. Yes. Because my other book too, that was just recently published, the Librarian Spy, and so was The Last Bookshop in London, at Costco, at Sam's, in airports, at Target. It really was all over.
James Blatch: When you get into Target, that's it, I think. That's the key moment.
Madelaine Martin: Here's a funny story about Target, really quick. I would always go, I'm huge at Targét. I love Target.
James Blatch: I love Target.
Madelaine Martin: Yeah. Always in there. And whenever you walk past that book section, there's only so many books. It's a really finite selection of books. And I would always tell myself, someday I'm going to be in Target. And so when The Last Bookshop in London came out, I said, "Is it going to be in Target?" And they said, "Yes, but it's going to be out a little bit later. They're releasing it for some..." There was a certain reason why. And I said, "Okay."
So every day I would go there. Not every day, but every time I'd go to Target I'd stop by and I checked. And finally, finally, finally it was at Target. And it was in the very, very back at the bottom section where nobody could see it. And I was happy, but also kind of like, oh, man. So then The Last Bookshop in London did so well and the Librarian Spy came out, and it was in Target on release day. I went to Target and it was in the best selling fiction section, and I kind of started crying a little.
James Blatch: Yes. Of course you did.
Madelaine Martin: Because it really felt like the full realisation of this dream come true of, I am going to be in Target.
James Blatch: Oh, that's so fantastic. I can't imagine what that moment looks like. And so-
Madelaine Martin: Thank you.
James Blatch: Tell me this title again, the second book.
Madelaine Martin: The Librarian Spy.
James Blatch: The Librarian Spy. And that is not set in England.
Madelaine Martin: No, it opens in America. And it takes place, half of it is in Lisbon, Portugal, which was neutral during World War II. And the other half is in Lyon, France, which was the French Resistance capital during World War II. And I love research. But, wow. I really took a big chunk off with having to research essentially three countries during World War II.
James Blatch: Did you do much with the Resistance? Was that a big part of the book?
Madelaine Martin: It was for the French half because she actually works with the printing press. She was inspired by a real woman who existed. And I was very lucky. I got to go to Portugal and France for my research, and also the Library of Congress, where the American aspect was set. But it was amazing. When I went to Lyon, when I was at the French Resistance Museum, they had the actual printing press, the Minerva, that the woman who inspired my character used during World War II.
James Blatch: Wow.
Madelaine Martin: It was absolutely incredible.
James Blatch: That is incredible. I think I've been to that museum as well. It's very good.
Madelaine Martin: Oh, it is so good. I was there so long the security guard started following me around.
James Blatch: I think that that whole area is something, potentially, I might look at some point in the future. Particularly the female Special Operations Executive agents, who were sent out from the UK, who were invariably murdered, and really nasty things happened to them.
Madelaine Martin: Yes.
James Blatch: But they were the bravest people.
Madelaine Martin: They were incredible.
James Blatch: And then of course, the war finished then women were told to go back into the homes for the next 40 years until, eventually, they could come back out and fly jets and stuff again.
Madelaine Martin: Yeah. It really was very sad because they had so much purpose in everything during World War II. A lot of women did. And just afterwards, "Okay, we're done with you. Go back home and clean your house."
James Blatch: Same with our dear Queen, who was in uniform driving trucks in the second World War.
Madelaine Martin: She was amazing. I was actually telling my kids about that the other day. Yeah. I was like, "You know the queen was actually a mechanic during World War II?" They're like, "What?"
James Blatch: Yeah.
Madelaine Martin: Showed them a picture and everything.
James Blatch: Yeah. Well, it's been a really fascinating conversation. And I think particularly for those of us who write historical romance have heard some of the pain points that we go through with this. And I've kept myself relatively in my comfort zone of writing in an area that I just know a lot about because I've been fascinated with it for most of my adult life.
Which does make it easier. So I know where to look. I know which stones to pick up to look underneath. And a lot of stuff I know even without having to check it. But if I move into the second World War, which I have thought about doing, I'm going to be going down your route, which is, I hope...
Madelaine Martin: Oh, please call me if you need anything at all. Email, whatever. I can point you down some wonderful rabbit holes, and help you with anything you need.
James Blatch: Who doesn't love going down a World War II rabbit hole?
Madelaine Martin: Oh, I know, right? There's so many of them.
James Blatch: I know more about Ventnor Radar Station than I did a couple of years ago, and that's for sure.
So where are you now? You said you are still working on the World War II series. That'll be book three, will it?
Madelaine Martin: Correct. Yes. So this one is called The Keeper of Hidden Books, and it is set in Warsaw, Poland. And it's about... Really, the Nazis went through and were trying to completely... They actually wanted to completely get rid of Poland. They wanted to make it into a second Germany. And they wanted to kill off most of the Poles and keep the few that were left to be slave labour, basically.
So they were trying to eradicate all culture in Poland. And there was this huge underground organisation trying to ensure that Polish culture was still able to really live. That's what this book is about.
James Blatch: That's an incredible era, what happened over there.
So the Katyn Massacre was the beginning of... Although, I think the Soviet Politburo had a lot to do with that as well. But anyway. I think they...
Madelaine Martin: Right.
James Blatch: All the Germans blamed the Soviets. I can't remember which way around it was now. Yeah, I think the Germans must have blamed the Soviets for it. Either way.
Madelaine Martin: But the Soviets... Sorry. Just really quick. I love history.
Poland really hadn't been free for 123 years until after World War I. After the Treaty of Versailles, it was given its independence. And it had just celebrated 20 years of freedom as an independent country when Hitler attacked. And then it didn't get to be free again until after 1980.
James Blatch: Yes. Incredible.
Madelaine Martin: Which is just incredible. Absolutely. I'm Polish. My dad's side is Polish. And so getting to explore this aspect of my heritage was really just such a incredible and really interesting opportunity for me.
I got to go to Poland. My mom and I went to Warsaw for two weeks and just did so much research. And she was a total trooper.
James Blatch: Yeah. Brilliant.
Well, look Madelaine, it's been fascinating talking to you. I've loved it. I hope people have enjoyed listening to us anorak a little bit about these particular forays into the past. I'm so impressed with everything you've done.
Madelaine Martin: Thank you.
James Blatch: And I'm so pleased you've had this big breakout hit which is such an experience for you. I'm looking forward. I'm going to have to pick it up at some... I have a long TBR, has to be said, at the moment.
Madelaine Martin: Don't we all.
Well, thank you so much for having me. I've listened to SPF for ages, and it's so wonderful they get to actually just be on the show and chat with you. You're always fabulous. I always love seeing you.
James Blatch: It's lovely. It was lovely to meet you and Link. And we will see each other again.
Madelaine Martin: This sounds good.
James Blatch: There you go, Mark. So you did your Soho Noir book. Was it more than one book? Just one book?
Mark Dawson: There's three.
James Blatch: Three. Was more than one.
Mark Dawson: Yeah. The first one published 10 years ago in November. The Black Mile is set in Soho during the '40s. Then The Imposter is set in the '40's and '50s. And Gaslight, which is set before the war in the... '40... Well, '37, '38.
James Blatch: And, of course, you and I were working in Soho at the time. And it is quite an inspiring historical place, Soho is. And it actually hasn't changed very much. You walk down past The Toucan and through Carlisle Street, all those buildings, they look pretty much the same. Private Eye has been in there for... Yoinks, probably almost back to the '60s, I'd imagine. So you can almost reach out and touch what's now history. And that inspired you.
Did that make it easier for you to do your research, being in that area? Was that why you did it?
Mark Dawson: No. I didn't do it for that. I did it because I had a very interesting story I wanted to tell there. Well, it was based on a true story. So what I was able to do was...It was based on a serial killer that was operative during the Blitz in London. I knew where the houses where victims were found, so I was able to go to the houses, which is kind of weird. You're looking up a house, and you think it's an office now, and no one in the office knows that something very horrible happened there 70 years ago. They'd have no idea. Nobody ever would.
James Blatch: How many London houses that are a couple hundred years old probably have had something horrible happen in them, at some point?
Mark Dawson: Well, maybe. Yeah. That was quite interesting. I don't know if it made it easier. It probably actually made it longer because there was a lot more that I could do because I quite enjoyed the researching. I did lots of it. Probably more than I... Well, definitely more than I had to do.
James Blatch: You didn't have to go into all those opium dens, did you? But you still did.
Mark Dawson: I did. Yeah. And still, to this day... Still have... Got one downstairs. A little opium den.
James Blatch: I did read The Black Mile. I think that opium den scene is quite... I can still remember it. You wrote that quite vividly. You've got quite an imagination. I don't know. Have you seen the Last Night in Soho? Is it Last Night in Soho? The Edgar Wright film about the serial killer?
Mark Dawson: No, I haven't. I know it's supposed to be quite good.
James Blatch: Yeah. It's really good. I thought I'd just think of you, actually, watching that. Very Soho noir. Good. Okay.
Well I love writing historical fiction and I have... Gives me excuses, if you're watching on YouTube, to have things like the Venom FAW pilot's notes from 1955 with me at any one time. I was referring to those yesterday in fact, writing a scene.
And we'll have more information about our foundation course for self-publishing authors, which is called Self-Publishing Launch, a very, very comprehensive course to get your career going. I'll have more about that next week.
That's it. Thank you very much, Mark. Thank you to the team in the background. And thank you to Madelaine Martin, our wonderful guest today. And what congratulations we can give her for the success she's had with The Last Bookshop in London.
And all that remains for me to say is this a goodbye from him?
Mark Dawson: And a goodbye from me. And hello, Barstram's. Goodbye.
James Blatch: Goodbye.
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