Transported in Time and Place by Harald Johnson


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Harald Johnson brings us his take on transporting readers in time and place. In his novels Harald builds the world of 1609 and the early days of what we now know as New York City. He’s lived in Paris and speaks fluent French, worked in Hollywood as an art director, and published magazines. Harald also launched and ran a marketing communications agency in LA. Quite the career!

Transported in Time and Place – by Harald Johnson

The final motivation for writing and publishing NEW YORK 1609 came in the mail from my mother. It was an old family photo album; the kind with the black pages, white ink captions, and those little black-and-white photos with the scalloped edges. For some reason, I had placed it next to a binder of my old swimming accolades, and it now struck me: When I had swum around the island of Manhattan in 1983 as part of a swim race, I was swimming over the exact spot where my family had arrived (with me as a child) on a ship from Germany in 1953 to start a new life. And this was also the very same location Henry Hudson encountered in 1609 when he arrived with his Dutch-Anglo crew seeking a new water passage to the Orient. The parallels were just too hard to ignore.

Photo: Arriving in NYC in 1953. That’s me in traditional lederhosen and knee socks with my Mom and Dad. My mother’s written description reads (translated): “Now we’ve done it, and in a few moments, we’ll step for the first time on American ground.”

I had already decided that I wanted to write a historical fiction novel in the style of James Michener or Ken Follett (two of my favorite HF authors), and had played around with different concepts, including one involving New York City, a place I had visited many times over the years. But nothing really clicked until I made the connection between my own history and that of the city itself. It seemed we were solidly tied together. It was time I took action on this idea.

The first thing I did was to locate and read the historical novels about NYC that already existed. And oddly enough, I could only find three that covered this early- to mid-17th-century time period. And none of them started at the beginning, which in my mind is clearly 1609 with Hudson. So I was determined to be the first.

After reading all the nonfiction history books about NYC I could find, my last step was to make another trip to The Big Apple to meet with history experts and to basically verify the research I had already done from a distance (and from my memory). This trip also included finalizing the licensing of the amazing image you see on the cover of the book. It’s a computer simulation of what Manhattan would have looked like on September 12, 1609—the day Henry Hudson and his crew sailed to it.

And most importantly, this final visit would help me get one last “look and feel” for my setting. My characters would be living and spending their time in and around the rivers, sounds, and straits that are such an important part of what New York is, so I had to re-experience that for myself, both on land and water (I didn’t swim this time!). I wanted to watch the sun as it arced through the sky, listen to the gulls wheeling overhead, touch the gnarled bark of an oak tree, smell the rotting of seaweed, and, yes, taste the water’s brininess (NYC is situated in a tidal estuary). In other words, I wanted my readers to really feel like they had been transported, in both time and place.

Here’s a small excerpt from the novel to give a sense of place and of the time period:

“Hudson spent each morning tasting the water for its saltiness. He used an empty bottle partially filled with small stones for weight, which he tied to a long rope and flung over the side. The presence of salt far up the river suggested he wasn’t sailing on a river at all but, rather, on a fjord or strait, which to him could only mean one thing: this channel connected to a saltwater sea. The South Sea. The Orient. So far, there was a fine taste of salt in his mouth in the mornings.”

PHOTO: Here I am on Governors Island judging the distance across to Lower Manhattan in bow shots. It’s five, and it’s in the book!

For me, there is nothing better than standing in an important historical location and imagining what it was like before. Sometimes long before. In my case, I would travel to New York City again and again, and on each trip, I’d stop and stare at the waters encircling Manhattan. And think back to the day I was treading water at the island’s tip, waiting for the ebbing tide to change, and looking up to wonder: What was this place like at the beginning? I mean, what was it REALLY like? And how did things get to be the way they are today? Imagining the answers to those questions helped inspire me to write the story told in—and transport readers to—NEW YORK 1609.

PHOTO: Standing at the tip of Lower Manhattan, this is the view—minus the Statue of Liberty above my right arm—the native Manahate band would have had as a strange ship carrying strange beings sailed into New York Harbor in September of 1609.

(photo: Jay Tanen)

NEW YORK 1609 by Harald Johnson

When a Native American (Lenape) boy joins Henry Hudson’s expedition up the river that now bears his name, the fearless and visionary–and misunderstood–Dancing Fish doesn’t realize his entire world and way of life are in peril. Enthralled at first by these strangers, he begins to discover their dark and dangerous side, touching off a decades-long struggle against determined explorers, aggressive traders, land-hungry settlers, and ruthless officials. If his own people are to survive, the boy-turned-man must use his wits, build alliances, and draw on unique skills to block the rising tide of the white “salt people.”

Many thanks, Harald. I can vouch for the authenticity Harald brings to this novel and I’m sure readers will be delighted to experience that long ago time.

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

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:

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

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