For the Reckord | Agricultural journalist turns novelist
Retired communications specialist and current agricultural journalist Hugh Martin has started a third career - novel writing.
His first novel, For All My Pains, a 82,000-word work, came out earlier this year. His second, the JCDC medal-winning Dancing on the Auction Block, has been accepted for publication, and he expects it to be available in about a year.
For All My Pains was finished in a mere three months. "I wrote every day for four to five hours," he explained. "I usually manage a thousand words each session, though once, I wrote 2,500. The story was flowing."
The second novel, which is some 20,000 words longer than the first, took four months, excluding the weeks spent on revisions. It's about human trafficking and is inspired by an actual case. It is, Martin says, very different in style from the first, which is entirely a product of his imagination.
For All My Pains is a thriller about a man who wakes up in a Kingston hospital under police guard. With near-total amnesia, he is horrified to learn that he is to be charged with murdering his wife and child, whom he can't even remember.
Martin has been complimented on the novel's intriguing opening sentence, "It was the second shot to the head that brought me back." That short hook is part of the larger hook that is the first two chapters that Martin sent to the publishers - along with a query letter - that made them want to see the full manuscript.
This was towards the end of 2016. A year of continual communication and many revisions passed before the book was finally printed. He said that year taught him a lot about publishing.
The novel began as a short story that took on a life of its own and just kept on growing. Martin told me that he has written many others more, which have been published in The Sunday Gleaner and the now defunct The Daily News, and in 1968, a short story enabled him to emerge the leader in the JCDC literary competition.
He has also written two plays - one, a full-length stage play that won a JCDC medal, the other a one-act television play directed by Leonie Forbes for JBC TV in 1975. His other contributions to theatre were as an Actor Boy Awards judge for 11 years and as an actor. Two of his favourite productions in which he appeared were Derek Walcott's Remembrance at The Barn Theatre and William Shakespeare's The Tempest at the UWI, Mona.
Asked if he would be interested in reworking For All My Pains as a play, he said that its multiplicity of scenes, flashbacks, and characters made it more suitable for rewriting as a screenplay. But he didn't see himself doing it.
Love for writing
Martin says his love for writing began in primary school and probably flowed from his voracious reading as a child. That, in turn, began when, searching an old trunk one day, he found a lot of books with stories he came to enjoy.
Then, when at school, teachers asked the class to write the traditional "what did you do during summer holidays?" compositions, he wrote stories instead. They turned out well, and he said, "I had quite a bit of pleasure seeing my teacher showing other teachers the stories."
He stopped writing stories when he went to college to study agriculture, where the focus was on the sciences, but he started again when he actually started working in the field. A good friend (and former Gleaner freelance writer) C. Roy Reynolds took a then popular correspondence course with the International Correspondence School (ICS), and Martin would study the material and do the assignments himself.
The short-story writing module, with the work of the famous short story writer O. Henry being the model, gave him much guidance on fiction writing, Martin said. It was the assignments for that module that he sent to The Sunday Gleaner.
He finds writing a novel very different from writing a short story and explains, "With the novel, you bring in more situations, settings, characters, themes and subplots." He clearly has a talent for both.
Published by Pegasus Publishers, Cambridge, England, For All My Pains is available locally at Bookophilia and Kingston BookShop on The Springs Plaza and on Amazon.