FeedSpot – a great source on so many topics

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Feedspot.com recently featured A Writer of History among 35 blogs and sites dedicated to historical fiction. It was an honour to be included in the #7 spot.

In case you aren’t aware, Feedspot curates lists of the top sites on a whole host of topics and lets you read all your favourite blogs and websites in one place. From business to sports, from healthy living to religion, Feedspot has something for everyone. You can even start your day with Feedspot to read the latest updates from all your favourite news sites and blogs, in one convenient location.

Many thanks to Anuj Agarwal and the team at Feedspot.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.

Flappers, Fops and Murder – the Poppy Denby Investigates books

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Fiona Veitch Smith is a writer and university lecturer, based in Newcastle upon Tyne. She’s written four mysteries set in the 1920s: The Jazz Files, The Kill Fee, The Death Beat and her latest, The Cairo Brief. Fiona has previously written for stage and screen which gives her a unique background for historical fiction. I’m delighted to host Fiona as part of the blog tour introducing The Cairo Brief to readers.

Flappers, Fops and Murder – the Poppy Denby Investigates books  by Fiona Veitch Smith

The Poppy Denby Investigates books are murder mysteries set in the early 1920s. At the beginning of the first book, The Jazz Files, it is less than two years since the armistice that ended the Great War, resulting in the death of seventeen million people, and only eighteen months since the height of the Spanish Flu that wiped out a further seventy million. Poppy Denby, who is just starting out on a career in journalism, is full of hope – but sorrow is never far away.

That is something that really attracted me to the period and why, ultimately, I decided to set my books in the 1920s. I wanted to write stories that balanced darkness and light. On the surface the books are fun, frolicking adventures, but you don’t have to scratch very far under the surface to find some serious social issues. While some characters are living the high life, others are in misery. The 1920s – alternatively known as the Roaring Twenties, the Jazz Age and the decade of the Bright Young People – is characterised by a generation desperate to leave the horror of war behind them and to create a ‘bright new world’. Little did they know, the world they were so blithely building would crash into economic darkness within nine years, and be at war, once again, by the time Poppy turns 40. I find that thought deeply poignant, and it is never very far away from me when I am writing.

But in the early 1920s they did not know this and they danced to new jazzy music from America and wore skimpy dresses and cropped or ‘shingled’ hair that scandalised their Edwardian mothers. Everything was new, daring and very self-consciously turning its back on the past. There is a certain romance about the 1920s, and a rich vein of material to draw upon for any writer setting work in that period. It is the decade in which moving pictures became popularised and much of the film footage is available to us today. In addition, the music and fashion are iconic, providing a fabulous soundtrack and wardrobe for Poppy and her friends.

As I have previously written for stage and screen, my writing is very visual. One reviewer said she could almost ‘see’ the story as if it were being acted out on stage. Just as I would create the mis en scene by selecting representative costumes, props, music and actions to evoke a sense of the period, I do the same in my novels. Before I even start writing – and certainly during the process– I absorb myself in the music, fashion, art, architecture, cuisine, cinema and theatre of the period. There are lots of collections online, plus books to read and museum exhibits to visit. I even made an outfit from an original 1920s pattern for my first Poppy Denby photo shoot!

In terms of the historical background I take a more academic approach. I have a degree in history (simply a BA) but it is enough to ground me in the techniques of historical research. I prepare for writing in the same way I used to prepare for my university exams – sketching timelines and flow charts and trying to reach an understanding of the broad historical, political, social and economic backdrop, rather than memorising ‘details’. The details can, and are, easily added later. But I do not start writing until I have a feel of what it might have been like to live in that period – I try to read diaries, biographies and novels written at the time – as well as how the period ‘fits’ into history.

For my latest book, The Cairo Brief, I signed up for a six-week online course in antiquities theft, run by Glasgow University through Future Learn (a totally free service!).

But then I stop, switch brains, and start to focus on the story, the characters and the mystery. That for me is the most important part. The history is certainly the skeleton of my books, but the muscles, the flesh and the beating heart are Poppy, her friends and their adventures.

I build my fictional worlds in concentric circles. The outer circle is the social, political, religious, economic and historical backdrop within which my story takes place. This needs to be dealt with lightly as it can easily overpower a story. The trick is to provide enough for readers who really like to get their teeth into the ‘history’ of the period, but not enough to weigh down readers who are more interested in the genre element: ie the mystery. I also try to use recognisable historical events and – at times – real historical characters that can help set the scene for the reader. In The Cairo Brief, Emmeline Pankhurst, Arthur Conan Doyle and archaeologist Howard Carter all make an appearance.

The next circle in will include the ‘props’ that the characters interact with – the vehicles, the food, the clothing etc, as well as the social mores and style of dialogue.

Finally, the innermost circle is the emotional core of the characters. This is the most speculative of the three circles as no one really knows what it felt like to live in a particular period. We can get glimpses of it through diaries and memoirs, but these still need to be filtered through our own emotional experience of what it is like to be a human being today. In the end that is what readers will connect with most: real, authentic human beings.

The Cairo Brief by Fiona Veitch Smith

“I’ve heard all about you, Miss Denby. Everyone knows you have a nose for murder.” Poppy Denby is intrigued when she is invited to attend the auction for the Death Mask of Nefertiti. Held on the country estate of Sir James Maddox, a famous explorer, the auction promises to be a controversial and newsworthy affair. Representatives from the world’s leading museums are gathering to bid on the mask, which was discovered in Egypt. Poppy quickly sniffs out that the mask was not the only thing found that night: the underground chamber also contained a dead body. Poppy and her colleagues from The Daily Globe, who are trying to stay one step ahead of their rivals from The London Courier, dismiss rumours about the mask’s ancient curse. But when one of the auction party is murdered, and someone starts stalking Poppy, the race is on to find the killer before ‘the curse’ can strike again…

Many thanks, Fiona. Having written three novels featuring WWI, I can appreciate the perspective you want to bring to your novels. Best wishes for success with The Cairo Brief. Fiona appeared earlier on the blog discussing the magic ingredients that make historical fiction so successful.

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.

 

What’s Unique about Hong Kong?

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The current manuscript is a dual-timeline novel set in Hong Kong. For some reason I’ve found it easier to create the atmosphere of historical Hong Kong (1912-1914) than that of modern-day Hong Kong. So I decided to ask friends to share their thoughts on what makes this city/region special.

The results are in:

  1. The natural beauty of Hong Kong is unbelievable …lush green trees – in fact, green everywhere – and beautiful South China Sea; tropical island scenery; contrast between mountains and sea; and contrast between natural and modern
  2. Public transportation makes life easy for residents and visitors and the city runs efficiently and is kept very clean
  3. Foodie heaven for all tastes and budgets, and more so now, even for aspiring vegans
  4. Great place for outdoor activities ….. beautiful parks and lush hiking trails, rock-climbing, hidden waterfalls and swimming holes, beaches
  5. Very high tech
  6. Fresh markets and street markets are in abundance
  7. Hong Kong has the best skyline in the world
  8. Most of the families in HK hire overseas domestic helpers from Philippines and Indonesia to look after their children and housework. On Sundays these women (95% women) gather in large clusters in different parts of the city to eat, talk, dance, and sell things
  9. Hong Kong is one of the safest places to live in the world
  10. Mountain views
  11. Orchids everywhere
  12. Shopping paradise, again for all interests and budgets, and for what you can’t get here, “almost no borders” insofar as online shopping is concerned
  13. Stanley market and all its small, unique shops
  14. Sunday’s in Shek O and going to the Thai restaurant for lunch
  15. Taking the fast ferry to Macau and a walk in its Portuguese colonial parts
  16. Soho area for great shops and restaurants
  17. Visiting Sai Kung for fresh fish and Sunday bbq
  18. The Foreign Correspondents Club
  19. Views from Kowloon looking over at Hong Kong Island
  20. Edginess and party scene on the streets especially on Friday evenings in Lan Kwai Fong
  21. Walking around the stilt house village of Tai O
  22. Non-stop direct flights to almost anywhere one might wish to go, with almost hassle-free airport, exit and entry
  23. It’s a special place that is full of energy, with people who have drive, resilience, and a “can do” attitude; some of this has been overshadowed by more recent politics
  24. A cosmopolitan city that is very diverse in terms of food, shops, culture, etc.
  25. The British influence from colonial days also makes it unique in terms of culture and diversity and the blend of old and new, western and Chinese
  26. The many foot massage shops
  27. High tea at all of the beautiful hotels
  28. The islands surrounding Hong Kong including Lamma Island for a fish lunch, Cheung Chau, Lantau, and the fishing villages that seem frozen in time
  29. Live seafood available everywhere
  30. Street snacks 
  31. Fast pace of the city, the bustle on the streets
  32. Incredible density of skyscrapers and high-rises; HK ranks #1 of numbers of completed skyscrapers that are taller than 150m
  33. The Peak
  34. A Symphony of Light has set the Victoria Harbour ablaze every night since 2004.
  35. You can see many mainlanders carrying their luggage around Causeway Bay and Tsim Sea Tsui for shopping everyday
  36. Contrasts: In the harbour, you can see junks next to cruise ships; on the streets you can see people hang drying their clothes outside their windows next to gigantic sky scrapers
  37. Stark differences between the classes. There is so much wealth in HK (which most people see), and there is poverty that many people could not imagine.
  38. Made-to-measure clothing available in a few days time

Now, all I have to do is convey some/most of this in the novel in a seamless, unobtrusive fashion! PS – photos are all from my personal collection.

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.