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Local Author Spotlight: Martin Turnbull

Catherine Royalty, Senior Librarian, Acquisitions,
Local Author Spotlight: Martin Turnbull

Author BioOriginally from Melbourne, Australia, Martin Turnbull moved to Los Angeles in the mid-1990s where, after a long stint in the travel industry, he worked as a private tour guide showing locals and out-of-towners the movie studios, Beverly Hills mansions, and Hollywood hills vistas. After writing three practice novels, in 2008, he hit on the idea to write a series of novels telling the history of Hollywood through the eyes of the residents of the real-life Garden of Allah Hotel which stood on Sunset Boulevard from 1927 to 1959. He hasn’t looked back since.

The Garden on Sunset is Turnbull’s first novel
Right before talking pictures slug Tinsel Town in the jaw, a luminous silent screen star converts her private estate into the Garden of Allah Hotel. The lush grounds soon become a haven for Hollywood hopefuls and heavies to meet, drink, and revel through the night. George Cukor is in the pool, Tallulah Bankhead is at the bar, while Scott Fitzgerald sneaks off to a bungalow with Sheilah Graham. The Garden’s first three residents are runaway writer, Marcus Adler, aspiring reporter, Kathryn Massey, and beautiful Gwendolyn Brick. Can they make it big without losing themselves along the way?

The Garden on Sunset was designated a SELF-e Select title by the staff of Library Journal and is now available at participating libraries nationwide.  The Los Angeles Public Library congratulates Martin on his award—let’s hear a bit more about him and his winning title!

Interview with Martin Turnbull

The Garden on Sunset

You do such a wonderful job of setting the scene in Hollywood’s golden age for The Garden on Sunset--did you do a lot of local historical research before starting to write? 

The Garden on Sunset is the first in a series of nine novels covering Hollywood from the advent of the talkies in 1927 to the last of the studio system blockbusters, 1959’s Ben Hur. I wanted to weave my fictional plotlines around factual events, so I needed to know what happened when, and who was involved. So I spent a whole year reading every book, memoir, biography, and account I could find on the studios, places, and personalities that influenced this time and place.

The narrative point of view in the novel alternates between Marcus, Kathryn, and Gwendolyn, the three main characters.  Can you discuss why you chose to use this structure?

I saw fairly quickly that I couldn’t tell the story of golden-era Hollywood from the perspective of just one person. So much happened! I developed the revolving narrative structure so that I had someone experiencing Hollywood in front of the camera (Gwendolyn), someone behind the camera (Marcus), and someone with access to all levels of the movie business, from the stagehands to the moguls, which is why Kathryn becomes a columnist for the Hollywood Reporter.

Did you always know that The Garden on Sunset would be the first in a series?

Right from the get-go, I could see there was far too much story to cover in just one book. So then I thought, “I’ll make it a trilogy.” But even that wasn’t enough. Quickly, it became a trilogy of trilogies – one covering the 1930s, another for the 1940s, and a third taking readers through the 1950s. Each era had its own distinctive feel, so the whole project seemed to fall naturally into that structure.


Do you have any advice for first time authors attempting to finish their first novel?  Do you have a daily writing routine?

I’m a big believer in the butt-in-seat approach to writing. Just keep writing until you type those two delicious words: THE END. You can’t go back and fix what you haven’t written. Even if you throw out everything and start again, at the very least you’ll have found one way not to tell your story.

Unless I have something else going on, I write every single day. I’m really juggling three plots in each book, so writing every day helps to keep the plot in my mind and the forward momentum going.

When writing The Garden on Sunset, did you complete multiple drafts?  Did you show unfinished versions to friends or beta readers for feedback?

I always start with a detailed outline, which includes plot, character motivation, snatches of dialogue, reminders from previous books, historical reference points—it all goes in. I don’t begin the actual writing until I know exactly what will happen at each moment in the story. I probably do half a dozen drafts before I’m satisfied I’ve told the story as succinctly as I can. Then I hand it over to my team of 5 or 6 advance readers. Each of them has a different approach so I get different sorts of feedback, which is great. Some suggestions I’ll take on board, others I reject, but not before I’ve thought it through. It’s always good to have someone who can challenge your reasoning and motivations.

The self-publishing industry has really exploded, especially in e-books.  What advantages and/or challenges do you see in self-publishing your work?

The advantages in publishing my work independently can be summed up in one word: control! I get to tell the story I want to tell without some editorial committee in New York coming in and messing it about without understanding the wider implications for later books. I get to put the cover I want on my books; I get to price them the way I want; and I get to market myself the way I prefer. I also get to correct typos or add new information or new titles whenever I want. Plus, the royalty rates are much more generous. AND I get to do all of this totally in MY schedule, so for me, there is no downside. I guess the challenge comes with having to learn everything needed to develop your presence: build a website, foster a following via social media, find the right cover artist and editor, turn a manuscript into an ebook file. There’s a fair bit of techie stuff to learn, but it’s all very doable. However, you need to have to have an entrepreneurial nature, which fortunately I do.

Explore the SELF-e collection to discover more great new talent!

If you are a self-published author please consider submitting your work to the Library’s SELF-e platform. Click here to learn more.