We are delighted to welcome RITA-winning, historical novelist, and friend, Isolde Martyn, to Romaniac HQ.
Good morning, Isolde, and thank you so much for joining us. Can we get you an Earl Grey and a Hobnob? We’ve restocked our cupboards, and the contents of our fridge could feed a family of ten for a month.
Thanks, Laura, great to be made so welcome.
How is the Australian weather?
Not Brrrrr but PHEW!!! On Friday, we had the hottest day ever recorded in Sydney –over 46C. You’ll have probably heard about the bushfires in Tasmania and parts of New South Wales. A friend of ours down near the Snowy Mountains had half their land burnt. Fortunately their house survived. Sadly, a lot of people have lost their homes to fire this summer.
Perhaps we shouldn’t complain about the snow here…Having read about your bus stop encounter – how do you divide your time between the UK and Australia? Do you feel you belong to one country more than the other?
I try and get over to the UK as often as I can. I miss the history, and my Mum and Dad need a lot of help now. However, I’ve lived in Australia since 1970 so I feel at home in both countries. When I’m back in Dorset, I guess it’s like putting on a comfortable shoe, and it’s lovely to attend the ‘Off-the-Cuff Writers’ Group’ or the local ‘Book Club’, for instance, and feel accepted.
Is there a different market for romance in Australia than in the UK or, indeed, America? Do you write with a particular country in mind?
I write for readers who love history and want more out of a story than just the relationship. Attending the Romance Writers Conference in the US in 2000 was a mind-blowing experience, especially for anyone like me writing single titles –all those publishers, all those writers, all those readers. Yes, there are plenty of Romance readers and writers in Australia/New Zealand but we don’t have the same population so we tend to try and get published in the US as well as here.
British publishers generally require you to approach them first. So although I write novels that deal with British History, because those books have already come out in Australia, they have been turned down in the UK. That’s even with winning major awards. I hope it may be a different situation with Mistress to the Crown.
May I say, too, that it seems to me that the UK was rather tardy in grasping the immense potential of the ‘single title’ romance market. It is only recently that the Romantic Novelists’ Conferences have copied some of the successful aspects of the US conferences.
Historical heroines need to have aspirations that modern readers can relate to. Elizabeth Lambard aka Mistress ‘Jane’ Shore, has it in heaps. The real life Elizabeth was married off in her early teens to William Shore, a young man twice her age and she was determined to get the marriage annulled. Becoming mistress to King Edward IV helped her achieve that aim. However, it wasn’t all success and revelling in being part of the Yorkist glitterati. When the king died, she was arrested for witchcraft and treason on the orders of the future Richard III.
The book is about her relationship with the men in her life but it is also strongly based on what is known about her—that she was a warm-hearted, intelligent woman who tried to help people where she saw injustice being done.
I should add I also wanted a historical heroine who was at the heart of events rather than home minding her manors and Mistress Shore was perfect.
Please tell us about the journey this book has gone through to get published.
I wrote a great deal about her childhood and life as the daughter of an alderman, who was Sheriff of London and highly political. Gradually, however, the mss became shortened and eventually the first chapter was the day her life changed — the day the King’s friend Lord Hastings walked into her shop.
It was hard to find a publisher. It was either ‘too sexy’ or ‘too historical’, ‘too much intrigue’ or ‘too little intrigue’, ‘too romantic’ or ‘not romantic enough’. But finally an Aussie editor and her team fell in love with the story.
I should add I hope to have two of my backlist, The Maiden and the Unicorn and Fleur-de-Lis available in the UK as e-books and a new e-book The Devil in Ermine also available on Amazon.
Your love for the era about which you write shines through your writing. What is it about the Plantagenets that inspires you to write?
I find the major historical people so fascinating and the times are dangerous. How do these people react to sudden change? What pressures are they under? And there are real life women who can thwart the system and achieve their ambitions despite living in a very masculine world, where they have few rights: a Queen who leads a rebel army against her gay husband, a woman spy, a girl who hires a stranger to pretend he married her before her real marriage took place, a mercer’s wife who moves from being a housewife to becoming a royal mistress; and a steward’s daughter who marries a handsome king. Fantastic material!
If you could be any of your heroines which one, and why?
Oh, goodness, that’s a damn tough question. Maybe Fleur, of Fleur-de-Lis, even if living in revolutionary Paris had its dangers.
What have been the most memorable, unusual and enjoyable pieces of research you’ve done to date and do you enjoy that aspect of writing?
Research has taken me to Normandy, the Loire, Yorkshire, Wales and strangely enough, Ormskirk. The most interesting? Interviewing a professional clairvoyant for the character of Heloise in The Silver Bride/Moonlight and Shadow. I wanted to ask what it felt like to have premonitions and how she coped with having a fey ability.
What are your thoughts on the recent discovery of a body in Leicester? What do you think would be the resulting effects should it turn out to be Richard III?
I think it will be fascinating to see how the reconstructed face compares with portraits. They are also doing a full reconstruction of how body might have appeared. We’ll even know what the man ate for breakfast before the battle since they’ve found dental plaque, too. It’s interesting that the skeleton shows scoliosis but not a hump, so he did have an uneven gait. Maybe he received a wound in his Achilles tendon at the battle of Barnet or Tewkesbury to cause a limp or maybe it was all that combat training. By the way, the famous bushranger, Ned Kelly, has finally been reinterred a day or two ago with full RC funeral rites. They identified his bones through DNA back in 2011.
Would you consider writing in any other genre, if so, which?
I enjoy reading fantasy and a lot of fantasies have a medieval flavour, but if my readers still enjoy the mix of historical fact and a love story, then I’ll stick with that.
You are a multi-award winning author in Australia and America. That must be very exciting, and every writer’s dream. Please tell us about those moments.
It was marvellous to win the inaugural ‘Romantic Book of the Year’ in Australia in 1999 except I was told before the winners were announced so that rather spoilt the moment of drama. Winning the Rita award in Washington DC from Romance Writers of America for ‘Best First Novel 2000’ was absolutely wonderful, a romance Oscar. There were five other very good writers hoping to win as well, including fellow Australian Anne Gracie. And the Rita was golden, large, heavy and utterly beautiful. I couldn’t have felt prouder.
If you could be presented with a literary award by any celebrity, who would you choose, and why?
If she was still alive, the historical novelist Dorothy Dunnett.
As members of The Romaniacs, and our own local writing groups, we appreciate the importance of the support we receive from one another. What do you consider important factors of belonging to such groups?
It made all the difference to me. Not just the wonderful sisterly support but the workshopping. Learning what didn’t work and seeing mistakes in my own work as well as theirs. Each of our group has something to contribute. One lady always sees the big picture, the subtle themes; another member will have comments on the emotional journey; and another on the historical logistics. Because we all write differently (light romance, suspense, erotica, historical and popular fiction), we all have our different strengths and between us, we have gained a huge understanding of markets, digital as well as hard print. Half of our group are published authors and one lady runs a highly respected Facebook site that promotes Australian Women Writers.
The downside with critique groups is that their dynamics have to be right for you otherwise it’s damaging. Not everyone who joined our group has stayed. We tend to workshop problems and give constructive criticism. If someone just wants pats on the head, that’s not the point of the group.
If you were not an author, what would you do?
Well, I’ve worked as an editor and a historian and enjoyed both. A new challenge would be a screenwriter perhaps or a successful sitcom writer.
Now, we don’t know if the craze has hit Australia yet, but in Britain, the Onesie has taken off big time. It’s like a baby sleep-suit, but in adult sizes. We have even witnessed a grown man walking down the high street in his. Have you come across these Down Under?
What!!!! Precisely my response, Isolde.
Thank you so much for visiting today, Isolde, and bringing the Australian sunshine to a chilly Britain. Best wishes with Mistress to the Crown. It will be a great read.
Romaniacs, I wish each of you every success and thanks for the hospitality.
Isolde runs an excellent website, including a writer’s resource section. Please do take a look. The advice is, as ever, excellent. http://www.isoldemartyn.com/index.php/writers-resource