Historical research and writing WW2 fiction, with Madeline Martin
29 March, 2023
For our first ever episode of The History Quill Podcast, our expert hosts Theo and Julia are joined by New York Times and international bestselling author of WW2 historical fiction and historical romance Madeline Martin. Based in sunny Florida, Madeline is a die-hard history lover with her works spanning medieval castles and Regency ballrooms.
In this episode, Madeline shares why she loves writing about the WW2 period, what goes into her historical research, and how using a humble magnifying glass has helped to bring her stories to life.
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[00:00:00] Introduction: Welcome to The History Quill Podcast. All about writing and publishing historical fiction. Brought to you by the History Quill. The home for historical fiction writers.
[00:00:12] Theodore Brun: Hi everyone. Welcome to the first episode of the History Quill podcast, brought to you by the History Quill. My name is Theodore Brun and I’m here with my co-host Julia Kelly.
[00:00:24] Julia Kelly: I am Julia Kelly. I write historical fiction and I have just recently started a new foray, a new series for historical mystery as well. Most of my books are focused on World War II, but I have a little bit of a wide-ranging background that I’m sure we’ll get into in future episodes.
[00:00:42] Theodore Brun: And I am a historical fantasy fiction writer. My period is actually in the deep, dark ages of the eighth century, mainly focused in sort of, the old Norse world and the kind of early medieval period. And I’ve got just one series out there, three books published, another one coming later in this year.
So, I haven’t chopped and changed between genres yet, but there’s still time. There’s still time.
[00:01:09] Julia Kelly: Who knows, maybe a new adventure. Actually, that’s kind of a perfect segway coz our guest today is somebody who is familiar with a lot of different genres and I’m really excited to talk to her. It’s Madeline Martin who has done historical fiction, historical romance. She has been all up and down the timeline and she’s most recently been writing World War II, so it should be a fascinating conversation.
[00:01:31] Theodore Brun: Well, particularly so as that’s your own area of specialism at the moment, so I’m looking forward to hearing what she’s got to say.
[00:01:44] Julia Kelly: We’re really excited to be joined by Madeline Martin. Madeline, welcome.
[00:01:48] Madeline Martin: Thank you so much for having me. I’m really excited to be here with you guys today.
[00:01:52] Julia Kelly: Could you give people a little bit of an overview of, you as a writer? I know that’s a hard question to jump right in with, but perhaps if you could let people know a little bit about your background as a historical fiction author, that’s a good way to kind of start and orient ourselves.
[00:02:08] Madeline Martin: So I started writing probably about 15 years ago.I’ve been writing full-time for about two and a half years before writing historical fiction. I had written, historical romance. I’ve written over, I think almost 30 at this point, medieval, regency, all different kinds. I love history and I’ve recently started writing World War II historical fiction with my debut release of The Last Bookshop in London, and I’ve also just recently released The Librarian Spy and have another one coming out next year or this year.
[00:02:40] Theodore Brun: Yeah, I’ve really enjoyed, in fact, I am now currently deep in the middle of The Last Bookshop in London, which actually is really fun being here, living in London, which Julia does as well, and yeah, I mean, it’s so, so in depth that the level of research that you’ve kind of drawn out for this novel, and I’m sure you do that for all your novels, having seen your impressive back lists of stories.
So I mean, the thing that really comes through for me is just the detail and the meticulousness with which you’ve constructed this world of Second World War London. When you’ve got an idea and you’re thinking, right, I need to build this world, build this story. How do you kind of build it up as a process in terms of sort of layering in both research, ideas, story and then I guess sort of where it finally ends up?
[00:03:29] Madeline Martin: For me, I do all of the research first. It takes about, gosh, probably like 10 months worth of research and like for example with my book that I just wrote about Warsaw, I had over a hundred nonfiction books that I read, many of which were out of print. You know, with that particular one, you also have to worry about like, because it was occupied by Russia for so long or the Soviet Union, you have to worry about censorship. So if it was prior to a certain date, and it was published in Poland, I couldn’t use it. I had to go with something that was published like in England, for example, so that it wasn’t going to be censored. So even having to think about those little things that really come into play with doing research.
But I filled up about 15 spiral-bound notebooks with research notes, including a two week trip to Warsaw. And so once I have all of that together, That’s when I really go through and I figure out what key pivotal points in history I want to have my character experience. And then from there, really after I do my research is when I build my character and the plot is really dictated by historical fact and really how my character is reacting to those events that happen and what direction it leads them in.
[00:04:41] Julia Kelly: I think the first time I heard you talk about this because we’ve spoken a little bit before about your research process. I was really stunned by the volume of initial research that you do, those a hundred non-fiction books that you talked about. When you start ordering those books and reading those books and kind of start getting a grasp on a topic, how much of an idea of the story do you have already?
Do you have characters in place? Do you know ultimately I wanna write a book about X? Or is it really just immerse yourself in this world, immerse yourself in this time period and see what you come up with?
[00:05:16] Madeline Martin: Usually I have a spark of an idea of really where I want to go with it, and from there I kind of have an idea of the character that I want to have. But you know, the research really is so important with coming up with the actual like foundational details of the character. I do a lot of research, not only on World War II time period, but also what happened in their country beforehand, you know, with government, economics, that kind of thing.
Just because like I know here in America, everything that I’ve learned in school about America has helped to create me as the American woman that I am today, and that’s going to transcend all time periods. So I know that somebody in World War II, in Poland or in England or you know, Portugal would, would be exactly the same way as well.
And, and it really is so important too to grasp the mood of the country and really the culture. And one of the prime examples that I usually give for that is, In The Last Bookshop in London when Buckingham Palace was bombed, um, during World War II. And I know here in America, if the White House was bombed, Americans would be all up in arms.
We want retaliation immediately. Let’s go to war. I mean, they were already at war, but, you know, like, let’s go get them. And you know, when Buckingham Palace was bombed, the Queen said, well, now I can look the east end in the face. As you guys know, the east end got it the worst in the beginning of the blitz.
And you know, people in England were like, the king and queen are being bombed. They’re just like us. And so really the blitz, which the whole intention of that was to really destroy the morale of the British people. It did exactly the opposite and really brought them together, and that’s such a prime example of how the mood of the culture can really be so different.
And it’s that sort of foundational detail that is really necessary for building a believable character for that time period in that location.
[00:07:08] Theodore Brun: Yeah, speaking about the location, I actually used to live on Britain Street, which is where the main character in the last bookshop in London lives, doesn’t she, Grace? Is that her name?
[00:07:18] Madeline Martin: Yes, and full disclosure, I wrote that during the pandemic, so I didn’t get to actually go there and visit. That’s like one of the few books I’ve done that haven’t been able to go visit.
[00:07:27] Theodore Brun: Well, this is what I thought was so amazing. Julia and I were talking about this, just saying what an amazing sort of job you’ve done in terms of bringing London to life. Given that we knew, I think we’d done some backreading or something. We knew that you hadn’t actually been there during that time and I wonder whether you’d beat you now had a chance to come to London and kind of infill the world that you’d created and then kind of inhabit, place your story within that world.
[00:07:53] Madeline Martin: Well thank you so much. I really do appreciate that. And actually I will be going to London in March and I’m very much looking forward to it. That’s what Julie and I were actually chatting about earlier.
[00:08:06] Theodore Brun: Hey, that’s fantastic. Well, you must revisit Britain Street because having lived there, I can tell you that there’s a pub there called the Jerusalem Tavern. And it’s one of about probably 20 pubs in London that claims to be the oldest pub in London. So you must, have a little trip.
[00:08:21] Madeline Martin: Oh, that’s cool. I’ll have to check that out.
[00:08:24] Theodore Brun: It’s an amazing job you’ve done. And also, I have to say, as an American writing about what seems to be a very English experience, at least in that book, you do an amazing job of just coming across as an English person and also that your narrator I’m listening to on audio audiobook, Saskia Maarleveld?
[00:08:42] Madeline Martin: Saskia Maarleveld. Yeah.
[00:08:43] Theodore Brun: I discovered she’s American as well. So between you, you’ve absolutely nailed this sort of crossover into appearing as English people.
[00:08:51] Madeline Martin: Oh, thank you so much. I knew that Saskia would do a great job, but I confess I am so glad because when you said you were reading my book, I was like, oh gosh, not gonna be intimidated because you’re English and I am an American writing English characters. So hearing you say that honestly is like, Thank you,
It’s a little intimidating. I’m not gonna lie,
[00:09:15] Julia Kelly: Speaking about some of that on-the-ground research in detail, at what point do you make the decision that you have enough background reading to know what you’re looking for when you make those trips?
[00:09:27] Madeline Martin: It’s really dictated by deadline because you know, we have a certain time we have to turn our books in by, you know, I really want to do the on-the-ground research before starting to write the book. And then you have to think about realistically, how much time am I going to have to write this book? I confess the research aspect of it. I love it so much. I really think that I probably would never, ever write a book if I didn’t have a deadline. So it’s honestly a very good thing that I’m limited because I probably would spend like 10 years, I’d probably move there for like three months or something and, and be like, Madeline, you can never turn in this book.
Like, well, you didn’t gimme a deadline.
[00:10:06] Theodore Brun: How do you actually go about the process of the drafting then? Is that different from the research? So once you kind of think, right, I’m gonna go now. What happens in your world as a writer.
[00:10:17] Madeline Martin: So I usually want to have a lot of research done before I go. I’ve been very fortunate to find some really incredible private tour guides who have been able to really modify an entire scheduled based on what it is that I need in my research, and by the time I reach out to the tour guides, I usually have an extensive amount of knowledge.
In fact, I’ve had some before that are like, wow, I think you actually know more about my history and during World War II than I do my country. You should probably go to somebody else. And then I have other people who are enthusiasts and are like, oh my gosh, this is incredible. I have exactly where I wanna take you and what I wanna do.
And that’s been hugely helpful for making sure that I have, that I get the depth of knowledge that I need when I go. Because as much as it as it’s like, oh, this is so cool to get to go to Warsaw and eat the food? I mean, I work from like as soon as I wake up in the morning and I usually go way past my bedtime usually.
Because of just wanting to get as much as I possibly can in. And then, you know, I have an idea of the plot before I go. I have like a pretty kind of like a skeletal outline before I go. And then going there, it’s almost like getting to travel and getting to experience the location, the food, just like the culture, like the immersion of all of it.
I also try to learn the language when I go as well. Not fluently. There’s no time for that unfortunately. But I try to. Be able to get enough that I can communicate a little bit. And so it’s almost like a black and white coloring book and then going to go travel and go there is what fills it in with all those vibrant colors and experiences.
And so when I come back, I get to really flesh out that entire plot. And once that plot is totally and completely fleshed out, that’s when I start writing and I can usually draft the book in about anywhere from one to three months, depending on my deadline.
[00:12:08] Theodore Brun: That’s astonishingly fast, it seems to me.
[00:12:12] Madeline Martin: Thank you. Now, I will say that my experience with, I mean, just because I have written, I think it, I’m at 35 books right now that I’ve written, and so, you know, the writing process for me, it has gotten faster as I, as I’ve gone. Like I think my first romance novel that I had written previously, or my very first one, I think took like a year, and now I can write like a 75,000 word historical romance in about three weeks.
It’s not a pleasant three weeks , but it’s definitely, like, you know, kids are on their own for dinner. Nobody talked to me. I haven’t brushed my teeth and it’s three o’clock in the afternoon, kind of three weeks, but, but it’s still three weeks.
[00:12:52] Julia Kelly: So it’s a pretty all-consuming process it sounds like. When you kind of put all these pieces together, and I think every writer has their own perspective on their writing process. Love it or hate it. Are there some challenges to the way that you approach writing historical fiction that you would prefer to change, but you’re sort of, this is the process and you’re stuck with, or do you like this method of kind of large scale research on the ground and then fill in the plot and begin that drafting process?
[00:13:21] Madeline Martin: You know, honestly, I really do love the process that I do. I’m very fortunate in that regard. It would be easier for myself if I could do less research, but I can’t let myself do it because I’m incredibly Type A and in my mind I’m like, but this happened in history. I don’t wanna change that. This is going to have to accommodate this thing that happened in history.
So, you know, I, I definitely think I make things harder on myself with the amount of research that I do, but, but I also love it, so I’m like, sorry, not sorry,
[00:13:51] Theodore Brun: Having swapped over from historical romance to historical fiction, like what brought about that shift? Was it just sort of interest or other pressures?
[00:14:02] Madeline Martin: Going to historical fiction is something that I’d been wanting to do for a while and especially when, you know, when I was writing historical romance, like initially I started writing in the 17 hundreds, and then I realized, oh, you know what? I think I want to write medieval. So then I switched to medieval and I did about a year’s worth of research before I started writing medieval.
And then I thought, oh, what about regency? So then I did like a year’s worth of research and then I started writing regency. And so when I did World War II, when I did The Last Bookshop in London, Once I really got into the research of it, I realized, oh, I love the research. I mean, I love writing the books as well, but that’s why I kept jumping around I think so much in the historical genre and romance because the research aspect of it is really just so incredibly appealing to me. I love learning about how people lived. I like to learn all the everyday details for me are more fascinating. Like what they ate, what they wore, how they worked around this, what normal people did.
You know how ordinary people became extraordinary with the efforts that they were able to put forth during such difficult times. It’s just fascinating to me. And so once I did that, I realized, you know, I think I really found my niche.
[00:15:17] Julia Kelly: There’s an incredible wealth of stories, detail and different things that you can bring to a World War II novel, and I think as an author, it’s such a great, well to go back to over and over again, but I’m curious about when you were researching World War II and you were researching Medieval and you were researching Regency and sort of all these different time periods that you’ve done, are there some commonalities between your approach to researching those?
I mean, I imagine that your sources must change and kind of what you have access to, but are there certain things that you’re always looking for?
[00:15:51] Madeline Martin: Yeah, I mean really it’s just like, I really do like to find out everyday details, which can be difficult, especially as the time period goes deeper. Like for example, medieval. It was all the wealthy people who were writing down their day-to-day. So finding out information about average people is a lot more difficult.
You know, unfortunately, same thing sometimes with Regency because it was really all the rich people who were like, oh, my life is so important, you know, and so you don’t always have as much of that day-to-day. You know, one of the things that was really amazing for me with doing World War II research is the access to media files.
Being able to hear things, being able to watch videos. I actually always keep a magnifying glass next to, oh, cat here just flew up. That was embarrassing. She likes to hang out behind my computer cuz it’s warm. But I always like to have a magnifying glass next to my computer because I can look at actual pictures of the street and I can use my magnifying glass and I can see the names of all of the businesses.
I can see advertisements that are in the window. So, but as far as the actual process of, delving into the time period. I mean, one of the biggest sources that I always go to, and I think this happens with a lot of historical fiction authors, is that bibliography. It is gold. And it’s so funny because I remember being a little girl in school and there’s like, and there’s a bibliography and I’m like, boring.
Who’d want all that stuff? And now as an adult I’m like, Ooh, the bibliography.
And you know, the bibliography really just opens the door to so many gems that you would never even think to look for, because some of these titles are very incongruous with what it is that you’re actually looking for. But it could be one chapter that gives you this most amazing detail that you never would’ve found if you hadn’t gotten that book.
And unfortunately a lot of them are out of print. So I always tell my family if I meet an untimely demise, they have to make sure that my library gets donated to like a university or something, because I feel like so many of these books are so out of print. I don’t want them to just disappear, you know?
[00:18:00] Theodore Brun: I know sometimes I feel like we’re, we’re,kinda like magpies just sort of sifting through the detritus of the person and be like, Ooh, that’s a nice shiny fact, or that’s a little detail that I can sort of take and steel and appropriate and put it in my story. What do you think just more generally about historical fiction and kind of roving around in these different time periods?
Like what is that appeal to you?
[00:18:23] Madeline Martin: You know, I think it’s just, I’ve always been a reader and I’ve always just had stories come to life in my head, and I think a lot of that comes from, well, like I said, always being a reader, but also I, my dad was in the army growing up and we had three different tours in Germany, so I was very fortunate that I got to spend so much time in castles and going to these amazing historic sites all over Europe because we really did take advantage of living in Germany and we traveled all over Europe while we were there and, you know, tour guides, if you get a really good tour guide, they just bring it to life.
They’re the most amazing storytellers. And so I really grew up with so many of those stories in my head and so I think for me, I’ve always sort of tied in the idea of history with storytelling for that reason. And as much as I love non-fiction books and I go through so many of them, I really do enjoy the fictional aspect of it and just kind of getting to think like, oh, what would this character do?
And putting myself in that character’s position and really just thinking about my personal experience if I were that person.
[00:19:25] Julia Kelly: And we have two World War II authors on this conversation. So I gotta ask you, what do you think is the appeal of World War II? Because every time you and I talk, or it seems like I talk to any other World War II author, we always are asked or always talk about why this particular time period continues to be popular with readers, and continues to be popular with writers who want to to write about it as well.
[00:19:50] Madeline Martin: You know, I think one of the things about World War II is that it feels very like accessible to our generation because there are still people alive who lived during World War II and it’s amazing to think that the people who went through those experiences can still share those details with us.
So it feels very, like, very reachable, but also it really, it was such an incredibly dark time in history and there’s so much hope and life that still was able to come out of it. Like the fact that people sacrificed so much and sometimes even put their lives of their families at stake sometimes to help people that they didn’t even know.
I mean, that’s like the most intense kind of altruism there is out there. And also even just like the workarounds, like when you think about the fact that they had no food, how they still managed, you know, to make food like with The Librarian Spy when I was doing my research for. You know, the prevailing theme really through every firsthand account that I read was hunger.
And, and so a lot of times when women were like cutting bread, they wouldn’t, you know, like when you think about cutting breading of those crumbs leftover and you like dump ’em in the trash can or you like wash ’em down the sink, they would actually scoop them up and put them into a mason jar and keep them so that when they made a casserole later or something and they had a little bit of egg or something, they could actually use it as a thickener to get more calories from their meals.
That kind of thing. It’s just, it’s incredible when you read about those you know, small little details. And, and so for me, you know, I think that that just the amazing feats that people did, oftentimes ordinary people and the workarounds that people did to make sure that they lived and, and remained safe and protected others is really the appeal.
And I have to say, like before I started writing World War II, you know, I’ve always read World War II and The Light of London is one of my favorites.
[00:21:40] Julia Kelly: Aw. Thank you. I appreciate that. Thank you.
[00:21:45] Theodore Brun: I listened to that quite recently as well, and there’s, yeah, I mean there’s something, so particularly in this city, I think burned on our collective consciousness about the second World War. And, and it obviously it can come across in a sort of jingoistic way sometimes, and it’s sort of like a bit tub-thumping, but it was such an extreme experience and I think the stakes were so high that, I mean, just even whether it’s history, podcasts or historical fiction, it’s like your imagination just keeps falling back into that thing that, that period, which I think is really compelling.
I mean, it’s sort of, it’s an interesting question, like the change, you’ve done these different periods and obviously had some success and settled on the second World War, but I was wondering, you must, and you’ve got the kind of mind that can write 40 novels, you must have ideas flying around in your head all the time.
How do you kind of evaluate, like, I’ve got these five ideas, I’ve finished that novel, now I’m onto the next one. How do you look at them and go. A taking in, you know, is there some more life more interest in one particular idea over another? But also is there a commercial kind of assessment going on in your head of like, yeah, this could actually do well as opposed to this other idea.
How do you kind of evaluate that?
[00:23:03] Madeline Martin: I mean, I wish I could say that I never have to think about the marketing appeal, but unfortunately that’s really kind of the most important aspect of it because you know, otherwise, like if we were just writing just to write, you know, we could write without any kind of rules as to where our stories went.
But I’ve unfortunately had ideas that I’ve pitched to my publisher and they’re like, nah, it’s been done. And I’m like, oh, okay, because you know, you really get excited for it. So really it goes kind of through a lot of filters. Like you have an idea and, and I actually have like, call it my shiny new idea book.
And it’s just like a spiral notebook that I just kind of jot ideas down as they come to me. So you can just kind of get it outta your brain and focus on the current thing you’re working on. But then after that, then, you know, run it by friends who are with historical fiction as well, and be like, oh, have you heard of a book that sounds kind of like this?
And if you’re like, oh yeah, there’s a couple of those out there, then you’re like, ah, move on. And if they’re like. No, I’ve never heard of that. That sounds amazing. You’re like, okay, we’ve reached level one. And then, you know, from there, then, you know, kind of put together like a loose proposal idea. Send it to my agent, what do you think of this?
And if she’s like, oh, it’s been done before, or, you know, there’s really probably not very much market appeal, then you’re like, oh, okay, move on. And then if she says yes, then it’s like level two. And so that’s, that’s kind of how, you know, the buildup of that. And a lot of it is just making sure you know, you’re not just kind of harping on the same idea that’s already been played many times before, which can be difficult sometimes, especially with so many World War II historical fictions coming out.
But I feel like there are just always more stories to tell. I feel like so many people during World War II had this mindset of like, I just did what I had to do. And so they don’t think about the things that they’ve done as being extraordinary.
[00:24:47] Julia Kelly: I’m curious about those times where there has been some disappointment. For instance, you know, your agent or publisher says, you know what? That’s not really the idea for us. Because I imagine you have this big career that’s been, I think you said you’ve been writing for 15 years. Obviously what we see in the stores and on the shelves is all of the success of getting the book out and getting the book published.
But when it comes to kind of the moments that are a little bit less exciting or disappointing sometimes, how do you handle those and how do you sort of keep finding the joy in writing?
[00:25:19] Madeline Martin: Well, I think that I’ll always find joy in writing because even when I’m not writing, like my head writes, you know what it’s like, you’re like start putting together things in your head and your head. of course, And also head writing, by the way, is always so much better than hand writing, like it sounds amazing.
Like, oh, this is perfect. And then I write on paper, I’m like, yeah, maybe not so much. But you know, so I think there’s always going to be excitement there for me. Yeah. And, I feel like as soon as I get a spark of an idea for something too, it’s like that passion just immediately reignites. As much as I would love to say that publishing is all joy and happiness.
You know, edits can be devastating. Sometimes reviews can be devastating. Sometimes they’re, having your idea passed over can be devastating, especially if you’ve already purchased way too many books and spent a lot of time researching and your heart is married to the idea, it’s really heartbreaking.
So, you know, there are, there can definitely be some disappointments. And I think also having a strong network of writer friends is integral for really helping to overcome some of those hurdles. Because, all of those things that I mentioned sadly, are things that all authors have to face. You know, everyone from, from somebody who’s, who’s just published their first book to like Nora Roberts, although she probably cares a lot less, but you know, it happens to, to all of us.
[00:26:38] Theodore Brun: It’s nice to hear such enthusiasm for what seems to be quite a difficult job at times. So you’ve been writing for 15 years. Could you talk a little more generally about some of the lessons that you’ve learned? Because a lot of our audience are kind of setting out that maybe they’ve got some couple of early drafts of their first novel or whatever.
What is your sort of approach to that in terms of learning over the course of your career, and what are some of the key lessons that you have learned in those 15 years?
[00:27:07] Madeline Martin: Well, number one is always go with your gut. If you’re signing a contract and you’re like, oh, I don’t really know about this, the answer is no. Don’t do it. Because you will have regrets. It always seems like, oh, well I can always get my rights back, but. Five years, sometimes can feel like 5 million years if you’re in a bad contract.
I think they say like having a bad agent or a bad editor is worse than having no editor at all. That’s so incredibly true. You need to always make sure that you make time to learn. It’s so easy to rest on our laurels. Oh, I’ve published this book and people loved it. I’m an amazing author. Okay, well you can get better.
Everybody can get better. You know, if going to conferences and doing group classes, maybe no longer works for you, which it’ll work for a long time, but at a certain point, you know you’re going to hit a wall, then hire a book coach. I actually am working with a book coach right now, one-on-one. I meet with her twice a month and and that’s how you will always, always improve yourself.
Reading constantly obviously is always really important as well and I think also really making sure that you have a really strong network of friends who are in the same industry because you know as, as great as my family is like, oh yeah, your book came out today, right? Oh, congratulations. It’s not nearly the same as your girlfriends being like, Hey girl, happy book release day.
And they’re all sharing it online with their friends and everything, you know? I mean, really having that like connection with other readers is incredibly huge. And you know, one thing too is oftentimes I’ve had a lot of people tell me like, oh, I’d love to write a book, but I, but I don’t have time.
And I think time is one of those things that, you can make time. Because I know when I was writing initially I was working, I was a business analyst, so my degree actually is business administration with minors in economics, political science and accounting. Nothing to do with journalism or MFA or history or anything like that.
These, for me, I’ve all just been passions that, that I’ve really been able to fortunately be able to make into a career for myself. So I was a business analyst full-time. I was a single mother. My girls were, gosh, like, they were both under 10. I was a single mother for over three years, and they were in girl scouts, gymnastics, ballet. I have no family in the area. It was just me and I still managed to write every single day. You can do your 15 minute non-smoker breaks at work. You can get up half an hour early or stay up half an hour late. Take a lunch, break, write and eat like a, you know, eat something while you’re doing your lunch break, whatever the case may be.
But, but just, you know, try to make sure that you’re making time for it. If you’re passionate about it and it’s important to you, then you need to do that for yourself and for your story.
[00:29:56] Julia Kelly: I love that message about prioritizing writing and finding the time, and trying to figure out how to balance that with the rest of your life, which can be really challenging, but is also doable with some changes. And, you know, favors asked if, if you’re lucky enough to have support at home or you know, again, a place in the break room at work, if you’re in an office, things like that.
I think it’s a good message to hear and it’s definitely one that,, it sounds very familiar to the first 10 years of my own career. So, Im glad to hear that both of us went through that and I’m sure that’s not an uncommon story across the board with many writers. Well, Madeline, I think we may be wrapping up.
This is such a fantastic conversation and I think we could talk to you for hours and hours and I wanna ask you so many more questions about research and learn spoilers about your next book and all of those things. But we really appreciate the time that you’ve taken and the various things that you’ve talked to us about.
I think there’s a lot for people to find here and hopefully come away feeling a bit inspired to do their research and do their writing and figure out how to make it work for them.
[00:31:01] Madeline Martin: Thank you so much and thank you so much for having me. Like it really was just so great chatting with all of you. And I mean, we could all talk historical fiction, you know, forever.
[00:31:10] Theodore Brun: Madeline, thank you so much for so much that you’ve shared with us today. What, I wanted to know just before you go, what’s next for you and where can we find you online?
[00:31:19] Madeline Martin: Thank you so much for asking. My next book is called The Keeper of Hidden Books. It’s set in Warsaw, Poland, and it’s about the true untold story about the librarians of Warsaw’s Public Library during World War II. And that comes out August 1st of this year. And online, you can find me at my website, madelinemartin.com. I’m on Instagram and Twitter as madelinemmartin.com or at @madelinemmartin because somebody already stole Madeline Martin and I couldn’t get it. And also Facebook. I’m pretty much everywhere except TikTok because I’m too old to figure all that stuff out, and so thank you so much again for having me.
It really was just so wonderful chatting with you guys today.
[00:32:10] Julia Kelly: I think that was a really fantastic way to start off The History Quill Podcast. Madeline’s just such an inspiring person to listen to and it’s so fascinating listening to her research project as well and her whole process.
[00:32:22] Theodore Brun: Absolutely. Yes. I mean, she was a fantastic guest, really, and loved hearing lots of what she had to say. I just wanted to remind all our listeners to visit thehistoryquill.com/1, where you can access a range of resources relating to this particular episode. You can also join our email list to receive new podcast episodes and more content for historical fiction writers so find the link in the description of this podcast and you can enter it into your browser. So where should we start with everything that she had to say?
[00:32:53] Julia Kelly: Gosh, I think one of the things that really stands out to me is just the incredible amount of discipline that she has. I mean, this is, I don’t think I’ve ever met anybody who does this much background research and reading before they even get into really fully fleshing out a plot. I think it’s a really, really interesting approach and one that I have to say I really admire because it’s really about getting the details right.
[00:33:16] Theodore Brun: Yeah, she sounded extremely systematic about the way she went about everything, didn’t she? And also, I suppose when you’ve written that number of books, you start to realize what’s working and also it gives, it must give you a tremendous amount of confidence that if I do it this way, then the characters do start to appear, and then the story comes, the plot comes and you know, and then I know that, you know, when it comes to the actual mechanics or the hard graph of getting the manuscript down, I can do that too. So, yeah, I mean it’s, it’s inspiring a little bit intimidating, but I suppose we should be encouraged to, you know, push ourselves a little bit harder.
[00:33:54] Julia Kelly: It really makes me feel like my own research process is completely chaotic and very much lacking. But I suppose everybody’s process is their own. So, so that’s another thing to learn from it is, it doesn’t have to be an exact replica of what Madeline does, but. I do really love the commitment to, you know, being on the ground and if it’s possible for you to do that, I think that’s wonderful.
But just trying to get those slice of life details right, it can make such a big difference. It makes such a big difference too when you’re riding along and you know, you have to stop yourself and think, what would this person have eaten or what would they have worn it? It really can pull me out of a manuscript when I’m in a good working flow.
[00:34:33] Theodore Brun: Yeah, you’re absolutely right. No, I mean, what came across a lot for me was her a love of the idea of sort of spending time in this world and like wanting to understand what it was actually like to live in that whatever the particular period or context she’s sort of basing her story in. And it, it made me wonder, I mean, I know what, what my answer to that question would be.
I wonder what you thought in terms of why do you love historical fiction? What is it about it that draws you in to it?
[00:35:03] Julia Kelly: I have to admit, I had a little chuckle when she said, you know, I didn’t do history or journalism, and I was like, that’s exactly what I did. So my background is, that I did an undergraduate degree in history and then a graduate degree in journalism and was a journalist for a number of years, before deciding to move on from the business.
And I’ve just, I’ve always loved the research side of things. I think in another life I would’ve probably tried to go into academia and, and have tried to pursue a career in history. But I think for me, the additional thing that historical fiction adds is I really love exploring the things that you don’t necessarily get to, you don’t always have the access to when you write or research history, which is how real people felt, thought, lived.
You know, people who are not necessarily just the ones who had, you know, big biographies written about them and, and things like that, but everyday people and ordinary people. And I think that’s one of the really big appeals for me, writing World War II fiction and specifically writing predominantly about women is a lot of those stories are still coming to light, and I meet people who talk about, you know, I had no idea that my grandmother was at Bletchley, or, you know, my parents lived through the blitz and they’ve only just started talking about, or we’ve just found a family diary talking about, you know, what happened during the war.
So I think there’s that discovery and then that connection with story and narrative and character that I really love. But how, how about you? Cuz you write in a very different time period, but I think so many of these things are applicable across the board no matter what era you write about.
[00:36:43] Theodore Brun: Yeah, I think it’s interesting that you say it sort of comes outta your background of history and journalism. Cuz I suppose in a way, mine, my enthusiasm comes out of a background in archeology, which tends to kind of couch you in a slightly more distant time period. But one of my frustrations, I did it as my undergraduate degree, and. I sort of enjoyed it, but not as much as I thought I was gonna enjoy it. You know, I was probably in a very ill-advised way, informed about choosing archeology as a degree, cuz I really enjoyed the Indiana Jones movies when I was a kid. But that was kind of what I was looking for was, was the Indiana Jones experience of archeology.
And so the reality was like these sort of images of foundations of old buildings and it was just, it just didn’t come to life at all. And it was probably a good, you know, decade or 15 years of life experience before I realized that the solution to my problem was actually historical fiction. That actually you can kind of time travel because your imagination is so engaged, your emotions, all, the detail that you’ve just described, but also your, you know, you feel it when you are.
A writing the stuff and of course that’s why people like to read it as well. So that was, that’s really what it was for me. It’s this opportunity to kind of time travel in a way that I don’t think anything else can replicate.
[00:38:06] Julia Kelly: Yeah, it feels like such a luxury being able to do that and whether it’s sort of escaping from everyday life or just diving into an era that you really love. I think it’s a wonderful experience, but I was really glad that she talked about some of the difficulties and some of the things that haven’t gone so well and how much having a community and a support network really helped her and continues to help her as an author.
I think that’s such an important thing that we maybe don’t talk as much about. Maybe, I don’t know, maybe we should talk about more how important it is to have people who understand what it is that you do and what you’re going through.
[00:38:41] Theodore Brun: Yeah, I mean, I suppose this, The History Quil is itself a good way of building community or participating in community around the idea of, historical fiction. But also, you know, as a writer it can be quite lonely, can’t it? And there’s that sort of first level that it’s gotta be about you.
But it was interesting to hear her talk about, even at the ideas level, she was already testing that with friends and then with her agent and her editors. And I suppose that becomes part of the profession of being an author as you wanna know that you’re doing this for a commercial reason. But even at that level, you can knock about ideas and either you light up or someone else lights up and without that sense of community, I guess it’s hard to do that. What else did you think? Anything for our listeners in terms of key takeaways?
[00:39:31] Julia Kelly: I just love the fact that you have an author who’s been on the New York Times bestseller list, on the USA Today bestseller list. She’s written dozens of books and she still has this commitment to learning. And continuing to get better and really has this belief that that’s something that everybody can do.
And, and I think that’s absolutely true. I look back at things that I wrote five years ago and I think about how much I’ve changed and grown as an author, and I hope five years from now I’ll be in the same situation about what I’m writing now.
[00:40:01] Theodore Brun: Yeah, I think that’s interesting, isn’t it? Is that the, what came across for me was the, passion that she obviously has for it, but passion without the discipline is not, not really enough. And so you kind of have the fire in your heart for the historical fiction itself, but then for the, for the period for the story.
But then you have the backbone that’s also there to kind of carry it through. And I suppose that’s a good lesson for any writer who wants to see anything get out there and other readers to enjoy their work. So it’s probably a good, a good note to end on.
[00:40:34] Julia Kelly: Well, I think that wraps up our first episode of The History Quill Podcast. If you enjoyed today’s show and want to find out more about the topics we discussed, head over to thehistoryquill.com/1 to gain access to a range of resources related to this episode. You can also join our email list to receive new podcast episodes and more content for historical fiction writers.
The link is in the description or you can enter it into your browser.
[00:41:00] Theodore Brun: And of course, wherever you’re listening to this podcast, make sure you like, subscribe, and leave a comment or a review. Thank you so much for listening, and we’ll see you next time.
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