The Story of a Novel

Dear Friends .. things may look a little different for a while. Please bear with me as I adapt to the new WordPress block editor and switch to a new theme for A Writer of History.

With two novels in the capable hands of editors, I’m turning my mind to the challenge of what to write next. Two ideas have been swirling around: one is the continuation of the life of Claire, the daughter of World War One lovers Helene Noisette and Edward Jamieson. Raised by Francois Delancey as his own child, Claire never knew of her biological father until after her mother’s death. Lies Told in Silence ends when Claire calls Edward and he picks up the phone.

I’ve had many readers ask me to tell the story of what happened to Claire. Until recently, my response has always been: “When I know the story, I’ll be able to write it.”

The second idea is to write a sequel to Paris in Ruins, the novel I plan to publish in a few months time. That story would follow the lives of Camille Noisette – Helene’s aunt – and Mariele du Crecy who marries Camille’s brother. The plot would unfold during the Belle Epoque and feature some of the impressionist painters. Two years ago, I even wrote a few chapters.

I’m leaning toward the first idea. When I originally thought about writing a sequel to Claire’s story, I kept trying to imagine what would happen after Claire called Edward. It was only when I turned my imagination to what Claire’s life might have been like as a young woman living in Paris at the beginning of World War Two, that an idea sparked.

Recently, I purchased four books focused on stories related to D-Day to further spark the creative process.

Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies by Ben Macintyre ~~ Macintyre returns with the untold story of the grand final deception of the war and of the extraordinary spies who achieved it.

D-Day Girls by Sarah Rose ~~ The dramatic, untold true story of the extraordinary women recruited by Britain’s elite spy agency to sabotage the Nazis and pave the way for Allied victory in World War II.

The Paris Game: Charles de Gaulle, the Liberation of Paris, and the Gamble that Won France by Ray Argyle ~~ Amid the ravages of a world war, three men — a general, a president, and a prime minister — are locked in a rivalry that threatens their partnership and puts the world’s most celebrated city at risk of destruction before it can be liberated. This is the setting of The Paris Game, a dramatic recounting of how an obscure French general under sentence of death by his government launches on the most enormous gamble of his life: to fight on alone after his country’s capitulation to Nazi Germany.

The Longest Day by Cornelius Ryan ~~ A compelling tale of courage and heroism, glow and tragedy, The Longest Day painstakingly recreates the fateful hours that preceded and followed the massive invasion of Normandy to retell the story of an epic battle that would turn the tide against world fascism and free Europe from the grip of Nazi Germany.

I dipped into each one of these books just a few mornings ago before settling in to read Double Cross.

I’m cautious about yet another novel set during WWII, however, a good story is a good story regardless of the time period. With luck, I can turn the germ of an idea into a story arc. I’ll let you know how it goes.


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

17th Century Polish Winged Hussars inspire Griffin Brady

Griffin Brady, author of The Heart of a Hussar, talks about the inspiration for this novel and its sequel, The Hussar’s Promise, and shares some of her research journey. Griffin – also known as Kae – and I met at the Historical Novel Society conference in 2019.

Why 17thcentury Poland?

When I tell people I write historical fiction about 17thcentury Poland, the usual response is either “Are you Polish?” (to which I answer “no”) or “Why?” Simply put, it’s because I fell into a rabbit hole one day while doing research for a completely different tale. The rabbit hole, which has since grown into a megalopolis of warrens, was the discovery of the Polish winged hussars. I’d never heard of them.

My curiosity piqued, I began reading … and reading … and couldn’t stop. And so began my journey into the fascinating world of Polish winged Hussars that resulted in two novels, The Heart of a Hussar, released in September, and A Hussar’s Promise, scheduled November 2020.

A love story at its heart, The Heart of a Hussar is the tale of a young Polish winged hussar determined to distinguish himself in order to gain an estate, but his ambitions and enemies undermine his secret love for a noble maiden.

Who were the Polish winged hussars?

The Polish winged hussars were an elite group of armored cavalrymen who comprised a jaw-dropping fighting force. Exceptionally trained, the hussars were highly skilled shock troops who dominated the battlefield for over a hundred years. In short, they were a 17thcentury version of our modern day special forces, and they were formidable.

A little history

The rise of the hussars began in the late 16thcentury at the behest of King Stefan Batory, when the Kingdom of Poland was united with the Duchy of Lithuania in one vast commonwealth. Europe’s most populous country at the time, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was also one of the largest.

Poland was a center of cultural enlightenment, known for its democracy and religious freedom. Unfortunately, the Commonwealth was constantly warring with its enemies: Muscovy, Sweden, and the Ottoman Empire, together with their vassals, the Crimean Tatars. A strong military was a necessity, but Poland had only a small standing army. Hence, it relied heavily on the nobility to fight its wars.

Victory in the face of incredibly bad odds

I’m no military enthusiast, but I couldn’t help but be impressed by the stats as I immersed myself in research. Polish winged hussars were the difference maker in numerous battles where enemy armies far outmatched them, and they prevailed.

For instance, in one of their most extraordinary victories, the Battle of Kłuszyn, Muscovy, on July 4, 1610, a force of roughly 6,500 (1,000 infantrymen and 5,500 winged hussars) defeated 35,000 combined Muscovites and foreign troops in a conflict that lasted five hours.

Different accounts of this battle diminish the number of the Polish force, increase the size of the Muscovite army, or both. No matter how the numbers are nudged, however, the difference in troop sizes was eye-popping, and yet the hussars triumphed.

What I find even more astonishing is that this battle was not just one aberrant phenomenon. During the winged hussars’ golden age (late 16thcentury to late 17thcentury), they engaged in similarly skewed battles where they emerged the victors. A few examples: the Battle of Kokenhausen in 1601, the Battle of Kircholm in 1605, and the Battle of Chocim in 1621.

The Polish winged hussars were truly exceptional soldiers who flexed their formidable muscle for over a hundred years, garnering respect and dread from those familiar with their feats.

Noble warriors

Polish sons of nobility, or the szlachta, and their retainers (pacholiks) filled the ranks of the winged hussars, motivated by duty, love of country, and honor. They began training as young boys, taught to master horses and myriad weapons, including sabers, bows, broadswords, war hammers, pistols, and the lance.

Conflicting theories abound on the purpose of a hussar’s trademark wings and whether they were regularly used in battle. That’s not the case with regard to the hussar’s other telltale battle accessory, the kopia, a hollow, metal-tipped lance used in charges. If any disputes exist with regard to the kopia, they would likely concern the lance’s length. Estimated at between thirteen and twenty feet—long enough to outreach enemy pikes—so few survived that an accurate measurement is hard to gauge.

Prowess on the Battlefield

The winged hussars came in waves at their foes, riding in formation, kopie leveled at their enemies’ navels. They barreled into their opponents with such speed and force that more than one adversary could wind up impaled on a single lance. Once a hussar shattered his lance—usually on first impact—he fell back to seize a fresh one or took up his saber and continued the attack.

The hussars’ tactics were highly effective on open ground, as documented in reports that survive today. Narratives recount the decimation of an enemy line after sustaining only one or two of the hussars’ impressive charges. The spectacle of a wall of armored cavalrymen clad in animal pelts, riding full out with girded lances, had to have been terrifying and spectacular. That sight alone was often enough to send enemy soldiers fleeing, causing their front line to open up—precisely the result the winged hussars sought.

Whether the wings added to the adverse psychological effect, they certainly wouldn’t have lessened the intimidating visual impact. No doubt they enhanced its magnificence. They are now the stuff of legends.

Where history lives and breathes

In September 2019, I had the good fortune to visit Poland and explore its treasure trove of windows into the past. At times, it felt as though an ancient structure stood on every corner! Did this history nerd get her fill? Not a chance.

Though it was my second such visit, it merely whetted my appetite to discover more. Everywhere I traveled, I found myself walking along the same paths the Polish winged hussars once walked. Being transported into the long ago was truly magical for me.

The history of this time, this place, and these valiant men is rich and deserves to be told. I hope readers will be spurred to delve further and unearth the many wonders awaiting them.

The Heart of a Hussar by Griffin Brady ~~ A tale of chivalry, love, and conflicted loyalty set in 17th century Poland

Exploiting Muscovy’s Time of Troubles, Poland has invaded the chaotic country. Twenty-two-year-old Jacek Dąbrowski is an honorable, ferocious warrior in a company of winged hussars—an unrivaled, lethal cavalry. When his lieutenant dies in battle, Jacek is promoted to replace him, against the wishes of his superior, Mateusz, who now has more reason to eliminate him.

Jacek dedicates his life to gaining the king’s recognition and manor lands of his own. Consequently, he closely guards his heart, avoiding lasting romantic entanglements. Unscathed on the battlefield, undefeated in tournaments, and adored by women eager to share his bed, Jacek has never lost at anything he sets out to conquer. So when he charges toward his goals, he believes nothing stands in his way.

Upon his return from battle, Jacek deviates from his ordinarily unemotional mindset and rescues enemy siblings, fifteen-year-old Oliwia and her younger brother, Filip, from their devastated Muscovite village. His act of mercy sets into motion unstoppable consequences that ripple through his well-ordered life for years to come—and causes him to irretrievably lose his heart.

Oliwia has her own single-minded drive: to protect her young brother. Her determination and self-sacrifice lead her to adopt a new country, a new religion, and a new way of life. But it’s not the first time the resilient beauty has had to remake herself, for she is not what she appears to be.

As Jacek battles the Muscovites and Tatars threatening Poland’s borders for months at a time, Oliwia is groomed for a purpose concealed from her. All the while, Mateusz’s treachery and a mysterious enemy looming on the horizon threaten to destroy everything Jacek holds dear.


The First Rose of Tralee by Patricia O’Reilly

I met Patricia O’Reilly at an Historical Novel Society conference in 2014. As travelling companions on the writing journey, we kept in touch with occasional emails and Facebook comments. Today, Patricia shares a thoughtful post on her latest novel.


Researching and Writing The First Rose of Tralee, the story of Mary O’Connor (182?-1845)

It was while sitting in my aunt’s kitchen in Tralee, Co Kerry during the school holidays that I first heard of Mary O’Connor, the young girl who inspires the annual Rose of Tralee International Festival, now in its 60thyear.

Each morning after 10 o’clock mass, auntie and her relatives had tea and biscuits sitting around the oil-clothed table. The chat was mighty. They talked the Irish history that I learned in school as though it was happening outside in the street – the patriot Daniel O’Connell and his campaigning for Repeal of the Union, the disruptive Whiteboys, the Great Famine, the curse of consumption, and Mary O’Connor featured frequently.

Mary, the daughter of a shoemaker from Brogue Lane, lived more than 150 years ago – it is said, her beauty had heads turning. The handsome William Mulchinock, a poet, campaigner and master of West Villa, fell in love with her and wrote The Ballad of the Rose of Tralee.

The story of Mary O’Connor stayed with me, lurking at the back of my mind until about four years ago when I discovered her story had not been written in novel form. Researching was a minefield of differing bits of evidence. But because I was writing historical fiction I settled on some facts, embellished others and added characters and intrigue, taking creative liberties with set pieces, imagining places, occurrences and dialogue – bearing in mind that the book could not be research-led. As I wrote fact blurred into fiction and vice versa.

The story is set in the 1840s during the time of Daniel O’Connell’s monster rallies for Repeal of the Irish Union of 1801.  The parts of his speeches that I quoted are taken from Richard Aldous’s Great Irish Speeches. The love affair between the master and the servant was doomed from the start – William’s mother was horrified; the schoolmaster grieved for them, and the final straw was when William was wrongly accused of killing a man, having to flee the country, ending up in India for five years.  When William was finally exonerated his return to Tralee and plans to marry died a quick death.

I visited Tralee and met archivists and local historians who furnished me with information maps, drawings and portraits – though there are none of Mary. I stayed in Benners Hotel, a Bianconi coach stop in the mid-19thcentury and imagined William leaving and returning to Tralee by coach.

Google provided information on the shoemaking industry of the mid-nineteenth century; the running of big houses – kitchen to upper floors; the lives of the peasants; education of the time; consumption or the white plague as TB was known.

Poverty in 19th century Ireland

When writing about a particular era I like to read works of fiction by other authors. Compared to what’s been written about Ireland during and after the Famines I didn’t come across much pre-famine, but I re-read Beatrice Coogan’s The Big Wind. Despite it being a contemporary novel, I familiarised myself with sensory India with Gregory David Roberts’s wonderful Shantaram.

‘The Way We Wore Exhibition’ in Dublin’s Collins Barracks Museum provided an insight into the clothing of the time. The National Famine Museum in Co Roscommon and Kerry County Museum proved useful information about  coaches, carriages, kitchen utensils and furniture of the time.

My first draft was a mess. The second daft was little better. I spent what, at the time, I considered to be inefficient days soaking up atmosphere and getting a bit of information here and there. Those ‘inefficient’ days proved invaluable as I ended up with a notebook full of information – such as the way dresses were hung in the wardrobes of the time; the use of tea to restore mahogany furniture; the healing properties of goose fat for chapped hands and the favoured foods for a formal dinner – when trifle was known as an Empire dessert.

As writers we know that the opening paragraphs – or point of entry, as it’s called in publishing circles, is most important. The opening I finally settled on has Mary’s father threatening her with marriage and her flouncing out to the potato market before wandering along to Denny Street that was ‘black with people’ as one of Daniel O’Connell’s rallies was in progress.

Great. I had a rally, Mary O’Connor and Daniel O’Connell. As I felt the story cohese I added falling snow. Why not include William Mulchinock, the hero? Margaret Mulchinock, William’s mother, an important character, was introduced in the second scene. On the death of her husband in the early 1830s she took over the running of the family businesses.

William managed the drapery store on the Mall – known as the Munster Warehouse in the 1960s where the fashion-conscious of Tralee shopped. I had him source jewel coloured silks and taffetas from the Far East – I saw such examples in London’s Victoria & Albert Museum.

Mary started as a kitchen skivvy in West Villa, progressed to the upstairs and finally was promoted to the position of nursery maid where William first met and fell in love with her.

Gradually re-write after re-write – in between illness visited on our family – The First Rose of Tralee was published. And I’m glad to say, as is said in publishing circles, it was well received.


Many thanks, Patricia. Such a mystery the way novels come together. Best wishes for another success.


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