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On The Table Read Magazine, “the best book magazine in the UK“, author Martin Barratt shares what inspired him to write The Greatest Escape, about the experiences of his father and his Bomber Command crew in World War 2.
Written by JJ Barnes
I interviewed Martin Barratt about his life and career, being inspired to write about the experiences of his father in World War 2, and the work that went into his new book, The Greatest Escape.
Tell me a bit about who you are.
I’m a branding and marketing specialist by profession and have co-founded and ran several companies over the length of my career. I’m now joint owner and Managing Director of the family business ‘Realm’ (a creative 3D/CGI studio specialising in architectural visualisation). I love creative writing (English Lit graduate) and have written and contributed to newspaper and magazine features and articles across a range of subjects including music, shooting, classic cars and literature as well as publishing three books.
Outside of work I like relaxing with the family (I have two grown up daughters and two teenage stepsons …plus a grandson). When not working or writing I enjoy tinkering with classic cars, playing the guitar and shooting.
When did you first WANT to write a book?
I remember first thinking about actually wanting to write a book when I was about 15 but I think that was just youthful fancy!! It would be another 30+ years or so before I finally did so.
When did you take a step to start writing?
I thjnk it was around 2012.
How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?
Probably around a year or so from the first idea and then sending off a synopsis/example chapter, to seeing the finished book on the shelves.
How long did it take you to complete your latest book from the first idea to release?
A lifetime! Actually it took about 24 years (genuinely) to see The Greatest Escape go from concept to printed book due to the amount of research needed. Tracing crew relatives took up most of that time.
Focusing on your latest release. What made you want to write The Greatest Escape?
Several reasons really. I wanted to record and relate my father and his crew’s story while I was still able to as although I had a lot of research a number of anecdotal elements that my father related were retained in my head and I was the only one still around who had heard them. The sudden death of a cousin, who was only a year or two older than me, gave me a real jolt and I realised that the clock ticks for us all so I thought I should get on with it and finish the book. I also wanted to give Dad and his crew a voice – especially those who never came back – to keep my promise to the many ex-aircrew and relatives (almost all now gone) that I would one day publish the book.
What were your biggest challenges with writing The Greatest Escape?
Essentially, time. I run my own business and the challenges of Brexit and then the pandemic made it hard to find time for anything else but I found time after work and at weekends to devote to writing.
What was your research process for The Greatest Escape?
As much as it is a personal story I wanted it to be a part of a historical archive, containing as much info as possible on events, people, history, crews and even the fates of individual aircraft mentioned in the book, in the hope that it may assist others studying the period and/or a particular crew or relative. I wanted it to be as accurate as possible and so I read extensively the work of other authors who were writing about the bomber war and Bomber Command.
Interviewing past veterans who flew and fought with dad and spent time in a POW camp with him as also invaluable as was researching at the PRO for squadron info and raid reports and then tracing relatives through local press where the crewmen were known to have next of kin.
How did you plan the structure of The Greatest Escape?
That was relatively straightforward as the timeline of the story lent itself to a linear chronology and the narrative helped deliver that accordingly.
Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did The Greatest Escape need?
I had a great editor through my publisher Pen & Sword but they told me that very little editing was needed and were pleased with the draft MS I sent over.
What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a book?
For non-fiction? Before you do anything ask yourself three key questions:
- Why does this book need to be written?
- Why am I the person best placed/qualified to write it?
- Who is going to buy it once it’s published?
If you can answer those three with conviction and then craft a good synopsis and example chapter you’ll be on your way.
Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?
With pleasure. I am planning to write a follow-up to The Greatest Escape, looking at the treatment of mental health issues within Bomber Command in WW2. On a lighter note I am also planning my first novel which involves history, architecture…and love!
And, finally, are your proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?
Yes, I am very proud of The Greatest Escape as a piece of work. The reviews so far have all been excellent (5 stars) and people have been very kind. The biggest compliment of all was from a relative of one of my father’s crew (Flying Officer John Baxter who sadly lost his life) who wrote to me to thank me for telling John’s story to a wider audience and also as the book gave his family an insight into his wider experience with that of the crew. It also gave my own relatives, including my many cousins (dad had seven sisters) many of whom had no idea of how much he had suffered during the war. Like most Bomber Command veterans, he spoke little about it.
Was it worth it? 100%
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