Transported to 1912 Hong Kong


, , , , , , , , , , ,

I’ve mentioned before some of the photos that have inspired scenes in my novels. I found several that helped me piece this scene together, which is from the current work-in-process. The first photo is of Alice Roosevelt on board ship during a trip to Asia in the early 1900s.

Isabel Taylor clutched her straw hat in one hand and her daughter Georgiana’s hand in the other as the China Seas cleared the tip of an outlying island and Hong Kong Harbor came into view.

“Look at all the little boats, Mummy,” Georgiana said. She pointed at a jumble of vessels the size of large rowboats clustered along the quay, anchored one to another.

“I see them, sweetheart,” Isabel said. “I believe they’re called sampans. The Chinese use them for fishing. But I had no idea there would be so many.”

At least fifty passengers stood at the bow railing, while they steamed into port. Isabel smiled at the line of hats her shipmates wore: boater hats, colorful, wide-brimmed hats, and parasols for the women; bowlers and Panama hats and the occasional bare head for the men.

Hong Kong early 1900s“It’s mountainous.” A woman standing nearby said to no one in particular. “I didn’t expect mountains.”

Isabel hadn’t expected mountains either yet there they were, craggy peaks that embraced the city of Victoria, where she and her husband and daughter had come to live. She was struck by the sudden reality that this foreign place would be her home—a place of strange customs and exotic scenery, of unusual food and dramatically different climate, and of people who looked nothing like her. For a brief moment she wondered if she could stay onboard and return to London.

“Will we get off soon, Mummy?” Georgiana asked.

Isabel smoothed Georgiana’s curls. “Yes, Georgie. Very soon.” She often called her daughter Georgie. Georgiana seemed too grand a name for a little four-year-old girl.

“But where’s Papa? Isn’t he coming with us?”

When they’d gone out on deck an hour earlier, Isabel had been unable to find Henry. Not an unusual occurrence. “Of course, he is. I’m sure your father is talking with Captain Davidson,” she replied.

Isabel crouched down, taking care not to wrinkle the white muslin jacket and long white skirt she’d put on that morning in anticipation of finally reaching their destination. “The captain will have wanted his advice about coming into port.” The ship’s bridge was the most likely place Henry would be right now. Duty and family were often at odds for her husband. For the most part, duty took precedence.

“I’m glad we’re here, Mummy. Will my toys be here too?”

After reassuring her daughter, Isabel continued to watch as they passed other steamers at anchor and navigated through a harbor crowded with tugboats, sailboats, and barges. A green ferry with white trim passed so close to the China Seas that she could see the faces of its passengers standing beneath a dirty canvas canopy.

Hong Kong HarbourIsabel shielded her eyes from the glare to get a sense of their new home. Four- and five-story buildings built of stone lined the shore, while long piers jutted from the quay and smoke belched from factories in the distance. Dotting the hillside beyond the central area of the city were apartment buildings and what looked like spacious homes. When they were closer still, she noticed brightly colored awnings and a church spire that reminded her of St. Mary’s in London.

“Here you are, Mrs. Taylor,” Muriel Fletcher said. “I’ve finished the packing. Can I help with Georgiana in any way?”

“Georgie’s fine with me,” Isabel said to the governess. “But stay and watch the ship dock, Muriel. What do you think of your first glimpse of Hong Kong?”

“It’s astonishing, Mrs. Taylor. I’m so fortunate you asked me to come along.”

The ship made a wide turn as it prepared to dock, exposing a low-lying area filled with ramshackle buildings that looked like they’d blow away in a strong wind. This was Kowloon, located on the mainland to the north of Hong Kong Island. The turn complete, Isabel noticed the Union Jack flying proudly atop what might have been a government building and a line of palm trees waving in the breeze. The quay teemed with people and waiting vehicles—everything from carriages and lorries to rickshaws and motorcars.

Slowly the China Seas drew alongside a concrete pier where men shouted in a language unlike any other Isabel had ever heard and fastened thick ropes tossed by the ship’s crew. After four long weeks, they had finally arrived.


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

A Lifelong Feminist


, , , , , ,

Articles about feminism, #MeToo, and women’s anger are everywhere. I’ve been avoiding the topic. After all, this is a blog about historical fiction. However, given the events of the past week, I can’t remain silent any longer. As a lifelong feminist, I owe it to myself and to others to share a few thoughts.

Thankfully, my story isn’t nearly as horrible as those that have captured widespread attention such as Christine Blasey Ford, Gretchen Carlson, Rosanna Arquette, and Stormy Daniels. Nonetheless, each incident remains vivid in my memory.

When I was eight or nine, my family spent several weeks of the summer sharing a cottage with another family. The fathers came up on the weekend while the mothers managed a brood of five children who were delighted to swim, invent games, and generally hang out without much supervision. No helicopter parents in those days. Ruth and I liked to wander along the dirt road that led to the cottage collecting wildflowers or bullrushes or whatever else caught our attention. One day, we stopped in front of a small ramshackle house set back from the road and noticed a man sitting on the porch.

He was a bit scruffy – although I doubt that concerned us – and he looked old to me. Of course, anyone over 30 would have looked old. He asked us if we wanted a glass of coke. We were thirsty. Coke was a treat. Ruth and I didn’t hesitate to accept the offer and followed the man inside. We sat together on a couch that had seen better days and sipped our drinks.

I don’t remember any conversation – perhaps I chattered away, perhaps I was tongue tied. But I do remember feeling shocked, when he undid his fly and pulled out his penis. Ruth and I were old enough to know that such behaviour was unacceptable and quickly fled the premises. Consistent with others who don’t report such incidents, I never told my parents.

When I was fifteen with the still developing curves of that age, I was at a family gathering. I don’t remember the occasion but I do remember the great-uncle who fondled me in a corner while sipping his gin and tonic. The first time he touched me, I thought it must be a mistake. The second time he touched me, I politely – I was a girl after all – extricated myself from his presence. I didn’t report this incident either.

When I was about 34 and working for IBM, the department I was in had a party – a staff-only party so no spouses invited. We must have been celebrating something, perhaps a successful sales year, perhaps a new product launch. At any rate, food and drinks were served and there was music and dancing. My boss asked me to dance. He was a nice guy, a bit loud and full of himself, but basically a nice guy. I said yes not thinking about the fact that it was a slow dance. A few bars into the song, when he pressed against me and I could feel his hard-on, I walked away. Never said anything about that one.

A year or two later, I had an afternoon meeting with a client. In those days, I managed a sales team and this man was one of our biggest clients. I don’t remember what we were discussing but afterwards, he asked if I’d like to have a drink. He was an important client. I said yes. When he propositioned me in a dark corner of the bar, I told him in no uncertain terms that his behaviour was unacceptable. Did I tell my boss? No. Did I tell my husband? No. I felt stupid, so I didn’t tell anyone.

As a woman working in relatively senior roles often dominated by men, there were other issues to contend with: verbal innuendos, crude talk, personal slights, opinions ignored, ideas taken by male bosses with no credit given, being excluded from after-hours events. Over the years, it adds up.

All women experience incidents such as these. Let me emphasize that – all women. It makes me furious.

Fortunately, I’m blessed with resilience, a wonderfully supportive husband, two great children, a loving family, and a great group of friends.

Thanks for listening.


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

Somewhere in Africa – 2nd March 1917


, , , , , ,

Henry Tod refers below to his Cook’s tour of Africa, which seems an apt description of his long voyage. This letter is written from Dar-es-Salaam, (then part of what was German East Africa, now part of Tanzania).

I arrived here [Dar-es-Salaam] five days ago and completed another stage in this Cook’s tour. This is the base of our operations in German East [Africa] but I and the other K.A.R. men have to go on to Mombasa thence Nairobi where we have to report to H.Q. of our new regiment, to which we have been seconded. We have not yet heard when we get a steamer up the coast. Meantime we are encamped, with other details, among the cocoa-nut palms until further order.

There are quite a number of Germans at large here, plying their usual calling. Some have been interned but most seem to be at liberty, with the only restriction of having to be indoors by dusk. The town, which is a fine one and laid out on spacious lines, has got somewhat damaged by bombardment from our warships, especially the wireless station. There is a fine natural harbour, in which several ships have been run aground and one also in the river mouth, to avoid being captured by us. The fighting at present is to the south of this, on the Rufiji River, towards the Portuguese frontier. ‘Tis rumoured that the enemy have been able to get large supplies smuggled through from our ancient allies.

You can see the Rufiji River (also spelled Rufigi) in the map below just a little south of Dar-es-Salaam. By 1917, the British had taken quite a lot of German East Africa.

Our camp is about two miles inland in a most picturesque situation, in the middle of a cocoa-nut plantation and every tree has a heavy cluster of nuts. An occasional one falls with an alarming thud, which would just about lay you out if it caught you. It was some time before we could persuade and of the ‘base barnacles’ to recognize our existence and the only rations we had for the first day or so were the cocoa-nuts.  The milk of the cocoa-nut with a lime squeezed into it makes a splendid drink.

There was a welcome thunder ‘plump’ yesterday, lasting 3 hours which has helped to cool the air a bit. It found the weak spots in our tent and our kit got a good soaking. We have engaged our ‘boys’ or native batmen and are practising Swahili on them, and they make excellent servants. There is little for us to do here, with no shooting within reasonable distance, so we are all impatient to get on to our destination.

I am writing this sitting up in bed, under a mosquito net, which probably accounts for the writing being worse than usual. These pests are rather troublesome, likewise ants and a hundred other varieties of insect. A lizard has just this moment crawled into one of my open boxes and disappeared into its depths, and it can stay there for all I’m going to do about it. The first night I slept but little owing to the whole world being a-buzz with insect life, but it doesn’t worry me now. Have just heard that there is a boat coming in tomorrow so we will soon be at the end of our journey.

Henry left England in early January 1917. He was in Sierra Leone several weeks later, followed by Cape Town and then Durban and now Dar-es-Salaam. He’s gone more than half way around Africa. I wonder when he’ll see action?


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