The evolution of a novel (3)

… or how East Rising Sun morphs into The Admiral’s Wife. I left off with my wonderful colleagues at Lake Union suggesting I weave a historical thread into the contemporary novel I set in Hong Kong. And you might recall that I was not exactly pleased ūüôā

This little suggestion was tantamount to starting over. I fussed and fumed, muttering less than positive statements about my publisher. “They have no idea how difficult this is!” “Why did they encourage me to write this novel in the first place?” “I should throw it out and work on something else.” Mutter, mutter, mutter. My poor husband had to listen to all this and I’m grateful for his patience and encouragement.

After several days of paralysis an idea twigged. I scrolled through the WIP looking for something I’d written – a few throwaway lines about one of my characters’ family background.

Early in the nineteenth century, the Wen family fortune began with diamond mining in China then expanded to ship building and lucrative trading across Asia. In a move against the British, Patricia’s great-great-great-grandfather used his trading company, cleverly hidden behind several shell companies, to transport opium to Europe and Britain. That decision generated even more wealth.

Maybe this could lead somewhere. Thoughts swirled around. This could happen. No, that wouldn’t work. What about this? What about that? I kept mulling until something finally gelled.

I now had two story lines and a sense of how they would connect. The present day story featured two expat women: Patricia, a Chinese American, and Sara who was from Boston. The past storyline focused on Winifred, the admiral’s wife, who was British and had arrived in Hong Kong because her husband had been posted there. And of course, there was a connection between the two stories that would gradually emerge.

I discussed the general idea with my editor. She liked it and made several suggestions. She wanted roughly 75 pages and a chapter-by-chapter synopsis. I worked on it for several weeks – hardly did anything else. My agent reviewed it. I made changes. My agent reviewed it again. A few minor edits. Then we sent it off.

Wait, wait, wait. After a heads up from my agent, I received feedback from my Lake Union editor. The floor plummeted out from under me again – they weren’t going to take it. Didn’t think my writing was good enough. But, but, but.

To make matters worse, I then sent the same material off to a freelance editor I work with. She gave me the honest truth. Definitely not my best writing and there’s too many main characters. You should cut out one of them.

Bloody hell. Did I tell you writing is hard work?

So here’s where I am. The present day story features Patricia, my Chinese American character. She’s married. She and her husband have moved to Hong Kong to reunite with her parents and older brother. Having lived in the US her entire life, this new world is foreign and disorienting. The past story focuses on Winifred, the admiral’s wife. She’s moved to Hong Kong because of her husband’s naval career. She too finds the place foreign and disorienting. And there’s a mystery connecting the two timelines – hopefully a fascinating, dramatic connection.

The novel has taken shape. I’m excited about it and love my main characters. With any luck I’ll have the first draft completed by the end of March.

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, Nook, Kobo, Google Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

Characters – you need to know what they look like

Writing any kind of fiction involves an intense relationship with your characters. I’ve read of other authors creating a bulletin board with photos of their characters so they can easily bring them to mind. At any rate, I decided to do this with my current work in process, a dual timeline novel set both in 1912-ish and 2015 Hong Kong.

I’ve found photos for two of my 1912 characters – Winifred and Henry Taylor. Henry is an admiral and Commander in Chief of the China station. Winifred is his wife who, along with their four year old daughter accompanies him to Hong Kong.

Sir Hedworth Meux is the model for Henry. As it turns out, Hedworth Meux was Commander in Chief of the China station in 1908 so it seemed fitting to style Henry Taylor after this fellow. Hedworth Meux was a career naval officer who became Commander-in-Chief, Portsmouth in WWI so he must have been quite accomplished.

For Winifred I chose a woman named Alice Keppel, a British society hostess and a long-time mistress of King Edward VII. Apparently she had beauty, charm and great discretion and is the great grandmother of Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall. I rather like that little twist.

In any event, I’m becoming rather found of these two. They seem to speak to me now which is helpful. I still need to find the right images for my present day characters and for the other main character – a man of Chinese ethnicity – for the historical time period.

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, Nook, Kobo, Google Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

When your editor asks …

Some of you will know that I’ve written a fourth novel – working title Acts of Rebellion – set in 1870s Paris. It was an incredible experience researching that period of time in French history and I know I’ve shared various photos and other bits here and on social media. However, as it turns out, my publisher wasn’t keen on a novel set in that time period and so the work I did for most of a year is sitting on the shelf (a digital shelf, that is) while my agent decides on next steps. A few tears have been shed.

But as the song says … pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start all over again.

In the months that followed I developed an idea for another novel, this one contemporary and set in Hong Kong. My editor thought that might work but after seeing the synopsis, recommended that I weave a dual timeline into the story in order to maintain a historical flavour.

Hmmm. Not exactly what I wanted to hear. And not exactly a straightforward request either.

Fortunately, I’d written something in the first few chapters of this Hong Kong novel that sparked an idea.

“A few drops of white blood entered the family when her great-grandfather had an affair with the wife of a British official and, to avoid a scandal that would have ruined the woman, raised the baby as his.”

And now, I’ve just completed a draft outline of a new dual-timeline story.¬†Amazing what one sentence can spark.

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, Nook, Kobo, Google Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.