An antique car takes you unexpected places

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While writing Lies Told in Silence, I created a scene with my characters arriving by train in a small village in northern France and conceived the idea that someone would drive them from the station to their destination. The time is 1914. War between France and Germany is a distinct possibility. The women of the Noisette family, including Helene, the main character, as well as the youngest son are leaving Paris in case the German army invades.

A car, I thought. I need some sort of vehicle to suit the era – a French one would be ideal. I searched various websites, clicking here and there on photos that caught my imagination. Suddenly, there it was: a red Tonneau with just the right blend of style and uniqueness. Not only was it quirky but it fit my notion of the woman who originally owned it – a fiercely independent woman who’d never married but had had many relationships, particularly with one or two of the impressionist painters of the time. And here’s how that vehicle made its entrance in Chapter 6.

On a hot June day, humid air pregnant with rain, their train drew into Beaufort. The screech of metal brakes, hiss of steam and loud cry of a lone conductor marked their entrance. No grand hallway bustling with porters and echoing with footsteps greeted them. No marble arches, no vendors selling croissants, no shoeshine men, no newsboys yelling the latest headlines. In fact, no one at all except a dishevelled driver waiting next to an automobile, the likes of which Helene had never seen.

“How will the six of us fit into that?” Helene’s mother said with a dismissive wave of her hand.

“I’m sure we’ll manage.” Helene’s father approached the driver. “Gaston?”

“Oui, Monsieur.” The man chuckled. “I’m sure I look much older than the last time you saw me. Madame Lalonde asked me to meet the train.”

Papa had inherited the Beaufort property when his maiden aunt died six years earlier, and Madame Lalonde, who oversaw Tante Camille’s house, had prepared it for their arrival. But who was this man? Whiskered, angular, bow-legged, an Adam’s apple that bobbed every time he spoke, the man looked nothing like the drivers they used in Paris. Helene knew it was rude to stare, so she shifted her gaze to the pile of suitcases and boxes they had brought with them and began to count.

 “If Monsieur will agree, I think it best for me to take passengers first and return for your baggage.”

“Hmmm. You’re right. We haven’t a hope of fitting everything in. What sort of automobile is this?”

“Tonneau, Monsieur. Built in 1903. Your aunt was very proud of it. God bless her soul.”

Papa walked all around the vehicle. The Tonneau was red, the colour of ripe cherries. And it had no roof. Instead, it looked like a fancy horse-drawn carriage without the horse. On the driver’s side, a large bulbous horn sat ready to clear the way with a purposeful squeeze, and the polished wooden handle of a steering stick protruded where the driver would sit. Brass-encased lanterns were mounted near the front wheels, and large wicker baskets were strapped to either side. Crude metal springs, positioned above the rear wheels, promised passengers a modicum of comfort.

“Was it always red?”

“Always, Monsieur.” Gaston held out his hand first to Helene’s grandmother and then to her mother, assisting them into the backseat. Helene scrambled in after the two women while her father and Jean sat next to Gaston. “We had best go before it rains,” he said.

“Thank heavens,” Helene’s mother muttered through pursed lips.

The Tonneau makes several appearances in the novel. Here’s another view of it from the front.

When I see photos like this, I’m transported back to an era where women carry parasols and wear long flowing dresses; where men have top hats and fancy walking sticks; where dinners are formal events and society imposes strict rules of behaviour on every class of people.

If you’ve read Lies Told in Silence, please consider posting a review on Amazon or Goodreads.

Photo source: www.special-classics.com

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION follow A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

In the Trenches – 20th April 1916 – Part 2

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Continuing Henry Tod’s experiences on that day in the trenches.

At 5 a.m. to the second, a most intense bombardment broke out along our lines, and we had all that uneasy feeling it was a prelude to an attack. We had been sitting tight under this [I think he’s referring to the bombardment] for half an hour or so when – sniff! and the next moment we were struggling into our gas helmets. The gas gongs were beaten to raise the alarm for those in dug-outs (the worst place when gas is about) and to warn those in the rear. It was a horrible sensation to be tied up in these gas bags capped as they were of course by our shrapnel helmets. We looked fearsome enough, and everyone looked alike, but one’s sight hearing and breathing is so interfered with and to run around in these things to see the men were properly fixed up was the acme of discomfort. The men were splendid and there was no sign of panic which was a great relief.

The gas cloud came over thick and blotted everything out in a white mist and was supplemented by a shower of gas shells. You could not see more than a step or two but the helmets were effective and s long as they were well tucked in under the collar, nothing came through. I had got a mouthful or two in the early stages but beyond tickling up my inside a bit and a subsequent headache I was none the worse.

Of course our main concern was the possibility of a visit from our friends. [!!] We kept up a slow steady rifle fire into the mist just to show we were still there and our artillery was putting over heavy stuff good and hard. I think they had the wind up in the back regions. The Germans did not attempt an attack on our front, that we could see.

The bombardment lasted an hour and a half and the gas cloud was beginning to clear away when they had another surprise for us. They sprang a big mine just to the left of my crater and we came in for a deluge of earth and stones and mud, which completely buried one man and gave the others a proper dousing. I had just left the crater but was back in a jiffy to find my little band standing by, bombs in hand, ready for any emergency and covered from head to foot in mud. We got the submerged on excavated and he pulled round after a bit. The men were really splendid and I recommended the sergeant for a decoration.

The gas finally cleared away and we resumed our normal existence again, but the strain was telling and we were relieved that afternoon, i.e. a day before time and we went into the reserve trenches.

One of the company officers, Bethune, whom I think I’ve mentioned, was very seriously wounded and also gassed, and an officer of A company was killed and two others wounded. Our casualties were pretty stiff but I have a feeling we gas more than we got, as our artillery kept up a very hot fire all the time and we succeeded in pinning him [the Germans] down on our front. He attempted an attack on other parts of the line but at no place did he gain a footing. The Irish division on our right lost some ground, but regained it before the end of the day.

We had comparatively few cases of “gassing”, the only fatal one being a little white terrier which had adopted us and followed us into the trenches. Poor little chap: no one thought of a gas helmet for him. He had his day and the rats he has killed are countless.

We go up to the same spot tomorrow for a couple of days to complete our spell and are hoping things will not be quite so lively. Our friends are very restless now and no doubt our time is coming.

My first three novels pictured below feature WWI and drew inspiration from letters like these.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION follow A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

The Perfect Town for a Cozy Mystery – Dianne Ascroft

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Dianne Ascroft and I met at a Historical Novel Society conference in London a few years ago and got on so well we’ve remained in touch despite living on separate continents! Dianne writes historical and contemporary fiction, often with an Irish connection. Welcome, Dianne.

The Perfect Town for a Cosy Mystery – by Dianne Ascroft

There are some places that just linger in your mind. Something about the atmosphere of a particular location grips you. For me that spot is Fergus, Ontario, Canada, one hundred kilometres northwest of Toronto. It first captivated me almost forty years ago, and last summer I realised that I had to share it with my readers.

I first visited Fergus in the early 1980s. The Fergus Highland Games (now the Fergus Scottish Festival and Highland Games) is held at the beginning of August each year and, for nearly a decade, I competed in the pipe band contest with the band I belonged to. It was always an amazing day as the town’s Scottish heritage came to the fore. The air was filled with the skirl of bagpipes and the rattle of the drums, and there was a sea of tartan everywhere: from kilts to picnic blankets to car stickers. This yearly event linked the quaint town with fun and excitement for me.

At the beginning of this century, I became a regular visitor and got to know the town a bit better when my mother went to live in the local nursing home. I discovered the townspeople’s sense of community: a sense of responsibility and caring towards each other that I hadn’t known in the huge city where I grew up. When I visited, I pushed my mother’s wheelchair along the peaceful banks of the Grand River, greeting other walkers we passed, and at a nearby diner where we ate lunch, the waitress always remembered my mother’s order.

After I left my mother each day, I wandered along St Andrew Street East, the main thoroughfare, stopping at the squat, stone Carnegie Library to use the computer, and leisurely browsed in the bookshop and numerous craft shops along the same street. I also wandered into the old-fashioned clothing store with its wood panelled interior and the market, housed in a barnlike building beside the river. In the evenings, as the air cooled and the sun sank lower in the sky, I strolled along residential streets shaded by mature oak, beech and maple trees admiring the traditional stone architecture of the houses. After being a city girl all my life, I really enjoyed being in this small, welcoming place.

For the past few years I’ve written Second World War fiction, set in Northern Ireland. Then last summer, I decided to have a change of pace. I had an idea for a mystery series, Century Cottage Cozy Mysteries, and knew that Fergus would be the perfect setting for it. Part of the enjoyment of reading a cozy mystery is losing oneself in a pleasing setting. Fergus, as I remember it, is the perfect place to evoke this response. I fictionalised the town as Fenwater and changed some details, but many places in A Timeless Celebration, the first book in the series, closely resemble Fergus as it was during the 1980s.

In the novel, I use ‘place’, or the setting, as an atmospheric backdrop to the plot, and to reflect the main character Lois Stone’s emotional journey as she adjusts to life as a widow, coping with the challenges she faces in her new life and home.

In the opening chapter, the reader meets Lois and begins to get a sense of who she is from her reactions to her new surroundings. Lois has recently moved to Fenwater and is adjusting to the move from the city to a small town. She has bought an historic house in the Ontario Cottage style known as a century house, a traditional style of the region, and is settling in and reflecting on her new life:

Raggs took mincing steps toward the hallway and stopped at the door. Lois stood up and followed the cat. She opened the door and let her hand trail across the wide, dark wood architrave that surrounded the doorway. All the doors in the house were framed with architraves, which had a simple parallel line design running the length of the wood with ornate carving in each corner of the frame. The style was repeated in the window architraves, and she loved it. With the age-darkened architraves, window frames, floors and skirting boards, she felt like she was living in an old, welcoming library. What could be better for a semi-retired librarian? Combined with the furnishings she had chosen to either bring with her or buy, she was sure she had created an atmosphere that would make her love this house. It would take time to adjust to leaving the city but this house would sure help her to settle in. She didn’t regret buying it.

Lois hesitantly begins to meet the town’s residents and inadvertently gets involved in helping to solve a crime. I weave details about buildings and other locations she visits into the story to reveal Lois’s internal struggles as well as to create for readers the kind of place where they would like to be.

In the second chapter, Lois has reluctantly accepted her best friend’s invitation to attend the opening ceremony for the town’s Sesquicentennial Celebration Week and her reaction to the venue where it is held reveals her insecurities as she faces this new social situation:

Lois parked in the large parking lot and walked around to the front of the building. Oatka Museum and Archives was conveniently located halfway between the sister towns of Fenwater and Alderton almost three miles from each of them. Lois took a deep breath as she climbed the two long flights of steps to the Museum entrance, feeling the heat of the sun as she climbed. Looking up at the light grey stone, two-storey building, its Italianate-style architecture reminded her of a Victorian orphanage or even poorhouse, which it had been originally. But, despite its gloomy beginning, she found the Victorian building’s architecture reassuring: stable and familiar as if it were somewhere she already knew. She still wasn’t sure that she was ready to start mingling with the other residents of the town but Marge had insisted that she come. She couldn’t disappoint her. So, despite her unease, at least the building made her feel welcome.

     At the top of the flights of stairs, she opened one of the huge, double wooden doors and stepped inside, squinting as her eyes adjusted to the dim interior. The large foyer with its pastel blue walls and black patterned tiled floor immediately made her feel cooler than she had been a moment before out in the blazing sun.

 

As I have mentioned, fans of cozy mysteries want to be transported to appealing places, so as well as using the setting to reveal information about the character and the story, it is important to create a place that beckons readers to step in and stay a while. That’s what I’ve endeavoured to do in A Timeless Celebration and I hope readers will enjoy it.

I’ve finished writing the novel and am running a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to edit and print it. For more information about A Timeless Celebration and my Kickstarter campaign, please visit the campaign page. The campaign ends on May 25th. Here’s the link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1073238739/a-timeless-celebration-a-century-cottage-cozy-myst

Wishing you great success, Dianne. I can see Fenwater already!

Dianne Ascroft’s series The Yankee Years is a collection of Short Reads and novels set in World War II Northern Ireland. She’s also written an historical novel Hitler and Mars Bars. She recently began writing the cozy mystery series, Century Cottage Cozy Mysteries. an historical novel, Hitler and Mars BarsDianne lives on a small farm, in the western region of Northern Ireland, with her husband and an assortment of strong-willed animals. When she’s not writing, she enjoys walks in the countryside, evenings in front of her open fireplace and folk and traditional music. 

Online she lurks at: https://www.dianneascroft.com. You can also connect with her on Facebook and Twitter. 

A Timeless Celebration by Dianne Ascroft – When an artefact from the Titanic is stolen before her town’s 150th anniversary celebration, it’s up to Lois Stone to catch the thief. Middle-aged widow Lois has moved from bustling Toronto to tranquil Fenwater and is settling into her new life, feeling secure away from the dangers of the city. Then two events happen that shatter her serenity: her house is burgled and an antique watch belonging to a Titanic survivor is stolen from the local museum. Her best friend, Marge was responsible for the watch’s safekeeping until its official presentation to the museum at the town’s 150th anniversary party and its disappearance will jeopardise her job. Lois won’t let her friend’s reputation be tarnished or her job endangered by an accusation of theft. She’s determined to find the watch in time to save her best friend’s job and the town’s 150th anniversary celebration.