“Eva is a successful DI, but struggles with an under-lying anxiety about becoming mentally ill, as her mother suffers with schizoaffective disorder.” Hemmie speaks of her character in “What Happens After,” published by Winter Goose Publishing.
Hemmie Martin is the author of seven books. She spent most of her professional life as a Community Nurse for people with learning disabilities, a Family Planning Nurse, and a Forensic Nurse working with young offenders. She spent six years living in the south of France, and currently lives with her husband, one teenage daughter, one house rabbit, and two guinea pigs.
Hemmie corresponded with me from her home in Essex, England.
What did you like to read as a child?
I really enjoyed reading Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books and the Nancy Drew series written by Carolyn Keene, which is the pseudonym for a number of authors who wrote the stories. I have very fond memories of reading, ‘A Testament of Youth’, which is a memoir of Vera Brittain, covering the years from 1900 to 1925. I then read her following book, ‘A Testament of Experience’. I lived not far from Buxton in Derbyshire, where Vera came from.
What inspired you to write your first novel? Had you always wanted to be a writer?
I think most people feel they have a book within them, but usually life gets in the way of following the desire through. Many writers do manage to run a home and family, and still write a novel, of course. When my ill health halted my nursing career I took up writing as a therapeutic measure, and soon found that I felt I had a purpose once more. Writing is certainly addictive!
What got you interested in writing mysteries?
As mentioned previously, I loved mystery books as a child. I also loved watching ‘Murder She Wrote’ on TV, as it encompassed two of my passions, mystery and being a writer. I’ve loved reading Agatha Christie novels throughout my life; I sometimes reread her novels just for the pleasure of her words. I especially like her Miss Marple books.
Tell us a little about What Happens After? Where did you get the idea for it?
I read an article in a Sunday newspaper a few years ago, about a scheme where people get divorced amicably in the Netherlands. I stored this idea away until I was ready to use it.
This story follows four couples as they try to divorce amicably in a hotel in Cambridge, but the second evening there, one of them is murdered. It transpires that no one liked the victim and all had reason to want the victim dead.
You have repeating characters in What Happens After. What was your inspiration for this series?
When I wrote ‘In the Light of Madness’, it was supposed to be a one off crime novel. However, I loved being in the company of DI Eva Wednesday and DS Jacob Lennox, and I wanted to see what happened to them. So the one book turned into a series of four books, with another one burgeoning in my mind.
You tend to write about strong women with flaws. What is your inspiration for DI Eva Wednesday and her half-sister Scarlett Willow?
They are a figment of my imagination, forged by the many women I have met over the years, plus nuances of myself. Over time, these women have become very real to me; I can see, smell, and hear them, and I hope the readers have a similar experience.
Scarlett Willow, Eva’s step-sister (they share the same mother), is a journalist with a desire to get ahead in her field, and often tries to get inside information from Eva. She is flirty, vivacious, and bi-sexual, with long, red, pre-Raphaelite curls. She is the antithesis of Eva, who is less sure of herself, especially around men.
Eva is a successful DI, but struggles with an under-lying anxiety about becoming mentally ill, as their mother suffers with schizoaffective disorder. She scrutinizes Scarlett’s behavior and worries about her too, with good reason. My interest in mental health issues stems from my nursing career, and all of my novels to date, have an element of mental health related issues woven in them.
Will you continue to do more books with DI Wednesday and DS Lennox?
I have another one burgeoning in my mind currently. I have the title and I’ve jotted down the cast and a brief outline of the story. I’m currently finishing a women’s contemporary novel, the other genre I write, so once completed, I’ll turn my attention to Eva and Jacob.
How do your murder plots come to you?
Usually when I’m daydreaming or completing a mundane task such as washing-up. As I’m writing the story other ideas develop, twisting the murder in ways I hadn’t seen until then. I have found a couple of times that the perpetrator changed from my original plan, giving an exciting twist to the denouement.
What is a typical writing day like for you? Do you keep to a set schedule? What are your surroundings?
Unfortunately, I don’t have a dedicated room to write in, so I tend to use the lounge, dining room, and sometimes the bedroom, depending on what else is going on in the house. If I can’t get the peace to focus, I put my headphones on and listen to Irish or classical music, as music with words tends to distract me.
I write every day unless life conspires against me, or the words and ideas aren’t flowing. I will read, swim, walk, watch TV, anything to relax my mind and make it more open to ideas. I don’t punish myself if I haven’t written a certain amount of words – that way lies madness.
What is your process for constructing a novel? Are you a planner, or a free form writer.
If I’m writing women’s contemporary fiction I find free from writing more conducive, where as when I’m writing crime, I have to have a mind map to plan red herrings and where people were when the crime took place. There are so many threads to weave and tie up in the denouement, I couldn’t write crime free form.
Have you ever faced writer’s block? If so, how did you deal with it?
Of course! However, what I would add is that fighting it can be far more detrimental than going with the flow, and letting the words come naturally, resulting in a better draft. Staring at a blank screen or page can be intolerably depressing.
What is the greatest challenge you have had to overcome in your writing career?
Overcoming the negative voices in my head that rear up from time to time to say that my writing isn’t good enough, or that I will run out of ideas. When I read other author’s books, I always compare myself unfavorable; it’s hard to be constructive about one’s own writing.
What is your advice to aspiring writers?
Read, read, and read, to learn as much as you can about styles of writing and what works and doesn’t work in a novel. When writing your own work, remember the first draft is always only that, it’s not something to send to an agent or publisher. You will need to rewrite several times, and edit until your fingers bleed on the keyboard, before you have something you can submit to agents and publishers.
When you’re not working, what are some of your favorite ways to relax and have fun?
Going to pubs to watch live rock covers bands; I go most weekends. I also go swimming once a week, which helps keep my body in some sort of shape, and my mind alert. It goes without saying that I love reading, especially in the garden when the weather is clement. We board Guide Dogs in training for three months at a time which encourages us to go for regular walks, and is generally enjoyable, as having a dog around the house transforms it into a home.
What happens after the murder? A killing has occurred during a Parting Ways weekend, where couples make an attempt at divorcing amicably. The fallout points in many directions as Wednesday and Lennox are faced with a widow, sparring couples, the group facilitators, and the hotel staff, all as suspects. While the confounding case strengthens Wednesday’s negative views on relationships, it brings Lennox to a place of reflection as he analyzes his past and contemplates his future.