Written by JJ Barnes
I interviewed author Lucy Martin about her life, what inspires her, and the creative writing process behind her new book; Stop At Nothing.
Tell me a bit about who you are.
I have been and still am so many things – a mother, dog-owner, part-time carer for my mother, and juggling those roles is hard enough before you add my job (teaching languages online) and my passion which is writing. Language and all things related fill me with delight and creativity with language is what drives me. I have written poems, comic songs and two non-fiction books. I also self-published lots of books for language students and one children’s book before writing my latest novel – Stop At Nothing – which is my pride and joy.
When did you first WANT to write a book?
When I was a small child, probably, but I didn’t actually get around to it until my mid-thirties, and even then I wasn’t brave enough to try a novel.
Non-fiction is about facts, but if you’re writing fiction, how can you be sure the ideas will come? What if it’s no good? Because facts are facts but fiction is your personal creation. It comes from your soul, leaves you vulnerable. I’m not sure where the bravery finally came from – perhaps my advancing age!
When did you take a step to start writing?
Back in 2002 after my third child was born, I decided to set up a nanny agency (needing one myself for a start), and looked around for books for business startups but found them inaccessible, full of presumptions and dare I say directed at men with a wife at home. There was no acknowledgement of the hardships entrepreneurs face when they have caring responsibilities and have been out of the workplace for years.
Those were just some of the issues that motivated Bella Mehta and me to set up Wimbledon Women in Business, a support group for female entrepreneurs, and then to collaborate on our book Make It Your Business – a business start-up guide for women. We were both busy working mothers, but we started writing pretty much as soon as we had the idea.
How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?
Not long! We wrote alternate chapters and proof read each other’s work. We went directly to 5 publishers and got 5 offers, then probably only a year after we had the idea we were drinking champagne at our launch with Nicola Horlick and Theresa May amongst others. We were a relatively unique phenomenon and the book led to exciting roles like sitting on the Small Business Forum and attending lunches at 10 Downing Street. We were celebrities, of a sort!
How long did it take you to complete your latest book from the first idea to release?
Now this was a rather different matter! It was reading Gone Girl back in 2012 that I first felt properly inspired to start writing fiction. That was nine years ago. The sequel will have to be done and dusted in 12 months to meet the deadline, but with a publisher in place it’s a whole different ball game. The writing part doesn’t take as long as finding an agent and a publisher which can (and did) take years!
Focusing on your latest release. What made you want to write Stop At Nothing?
Reading inspires writing, for sure, and it was reading Gone Girl that really inspired me to actually get going. I was so impressed at Gillian Flynn’s ability to manipulate the reader’s sympathy and create twist after twist. That was my starting point, then I let my mind go into the darkest places to run riot and come up with an idea. Other authors have inspired me in other ways, just for their sheer brilliance, like Ian McEwan and Margaret Atwood, and more recently I have been been impressed by Cara Hunter who combines an in-depth understanding of police procedure with a riveting plot.
Aside from that, I was inspired to write something which challenged our preconceptions of mental health and our expectations of girls and women in terms of gender stereotypes. These are subjects that fascinate me and will continue to be themes in my work.
What were your biggest challenges with writing Stop At Nothing?
Finding an agent and a publisher. That is an absolute nightmare. There must be so many brilliant authors out there whose work never sees the light of day. And yet so many mediocre novels are on the shelves of our bookshops. I think there is a lot of luck to it, but you really need to dig deep into your reserves of resilience to plough on in the face of rejection.
The other thing was finding the time. Not many authors have the luxury of taking a year off paid work to write something they have no backing for yet, and it’s a real skill being able to fire off the odd chapter in between other daily commitments. I have to say I still struggle with that, but one of my solutions has been to go on writers’ retreats. Specifically the Urban Writers’ Retreat run by Charlie Haynes – cheerleader, mentor and general motivator of all those who want to immerse themselves, or even just dabble in the writing world.
Who or what inspired you when creating your Protagonist?
So many women I’ve met have struggled with combining motherhood and career, and then divorce and other family issues on top. I think DS Delmar is a combination of the many facets of women I have known. She’s driven, she’s a powerhouse, but she’s also fallible and insecure. She is the personification of the modern woman’s struggle to spin all the plates. She judges herself for her faults, she’s forced to learn lessons, but she doesn’t give up.
Who or what inspired you when creating your Antagonist?
I just imagined someone doing the worst things possible. Not just Cruela De Vil style, but deeply hidden and unexpected. There was no inspiration (thankfully), just imagination. You have to be original these days. The policeman did it isn’t an option anymore!
What is the inciting incident of your book?
After a gritty prologue foreshadowing a brutal murder, we learn that our Detective Ronnie Delmar has been called to investigate the sexual assault on a teenager at a leafy suburban school. How are the two incidents linked, and who will be next?
What is the main conflict of Stop At Nothing?
DS Delmar has issues of her own that cloud her judgment and throw her off the scent. Your gut feeling can lead you to make hasty presumptions that send you down the wrong path. She’s headstrong and her personal and professional life power along like the Oxford and Cambridge boats, getting dangerously close at times, and at one point clashing oars leading to disqualification… Ronnie has to let go of her convictions to see the truth behind the lies.
Did you plot Stop At Nothing in advance, or fly by the seat of your pants and write freely?
A combination of the two. I plan things, then under my tapping fingers the story often takes a new turn as the words hit the page. Ideas form and the plot takes shape sometimes in a different direction to what I had envisaged. I admire authors who can plot thoroughly before putting pen to paper. That’s like doing all the prep work, filling and sanding and masking taping before you get on with painting the walls. Admirable, but no fun at all.
Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did Stop At Nothing need?
I have had the most marvellous editorial support from the team at Welbeck. They hunt for plot holes and check every aspect of your timeline to make sure everything fits. I don’t know how long it took but they did a terrific job.
What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a story?
Go on a writing retreat if you can, or just take some time out at a weekend to be alone somewhere quiet. Treat it like a holiday that you deserve, then indulge your imagination and let the words flow. Remember it doesn’t have to be a work of art or a best seller. It doesn’t even need to be published. The creative process is therapeutic and life-giving, and the end product is a unique reflection of the self.
Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?
The sequel to Stop at Nothing is on its way… Ronnie Delmar hasn’t finished yet, but I can’t tell you any more than that.
And, finally, are your proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?
Most definitely. Whatever happens from here, I will be so proud to have got this far, and I couldn’t have done it without my supportive partner, children, friends, agent, editor and of course the legendary Charlie Haynes I mentioned above.
Pop all your book, website and social media links here so the readers can find you:
Amazon author page: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Lucy-Martin/e/B001JOZWUY/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0
Agent’s page – bio http://www.sophiehicksagency.com/lucymartin
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