An antique car takes you unexpected places

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: www.special-classics.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.

Fiction takes you places

Fiction = stories. But no story is complete without at least one reader’s imagination, empathy, personal experience, mood, and openness. Authors find a story to tell – readers decide more precisely what and where that story is.

For example, I set Lies Told in Silence in a village in northern France at the beginning of World War One. It’s your job to fill in the details of the local shops, the church, and the main square. [photos are from my travels]

Soon they turned onto Rue Principale, where cobbled streets lined with squat, red-roofed houses ran perpendicular to the road. Down one lane, Helene saw a group of children playing skittles and an old woman in a black dress sweeping her front step. Faded coveralls, rough linen shirts and long aprons hung from clotheslines strung across the lane from second storey windows. As they neared the centre of Beaufort, the houses were larger, with wide front doors and lace-curtained windows, and the shops looked more prosperous.

Gaston talked as he drove, pointing out the doctor’s clinic, a brasserie known for local beers, the school Helene and Jean would likely attend and roads leading south to Amiens and north to Lille. He slowed the car to a crawl as a horse-drawn wagon drew in front of them.

“This is the main square,” Gaston said.

The circular space was dominated by a fountain with a central plume of water shooting high into the air, ringed by six smaller plumes, the entire structure enclosed by a stone wall no more than a metre high. A church and its tall belfry anchored the far side, and five streets fanned out in all directions, one marked by the statue of a rearing horse.

What do you imagine this church looks like? Did you picture a series of small shops circling the square? Was there a soldier on that horse? How many people were sitting on the wall surrounding the fountain? Was the town bustling or sleepy? Did a dog scamper along beside the car? Were the cobblestones grey or red? Are there flowers in the window boxes? Were there any prominent colours? What else did you see or hear or smell?

In subsequent chapters additional details emerge …

They crossed the bridge into Beaufort, following its winding main street crowded with flat-fronted shops, painted shutters protecting second-floor rooms from both heat and cold. Wooden crates were piled beside the green grocer, and a bicycle leaned against the wall under its window. Next to the green grocer was an unoccupied store, its stuccoed walls marked with a large crack. Above the lintel, a gnarled vine clung to life, snaking around a wrought iron lamp full of cobwebs. Beyond the vacant store was La Fontaine Fleurie, the local florist, its door open to welcome shoppers. Stacked on either side of the door were buckets of fresh-cut flowers as well as pots in all manner of colours and shapes overflowing with houseplants.

And …

While her grandmother spoke to the pharmacist, Helene looked around. One wall contained a picture of a beautiful, full bosomed woman holding a mirror while contemplating a selection of powders and perfumes. It was an advertisement for Savon Blanche Leigh, a miracle soap, or so the sign said. On the opposite wall was a desk topped with five concentric rows of narrow shelves, each shelf jammed with carefully labelled glass bottles, and in the middle of the desk, a set of scales and weights ready for Dr. Valdane to prepare his prescriptions.

The hope is for descriptions like these to allow you, the reader, to situate yourself in a small French village more than one hundred years ago.

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.

The Evolution of a novel (2)

We left East Rising Sun firmly tucked in the digital equivalent of a bottom drawer as I worked on a historical novel titled Lies Told in Silence.

The writing journey continued. In 2013 I self-published Unravelled and in 2014 Lies Told in Silence hit the shelves at Amazon and other online retailers. These generated modest success. I finished Time and Regret in late 2015, approached Lake Union Publishing with it and they published that dual-timeline novel in 2016. A joyful sense of accomplishment.

Lake Union had right-of-first-refusal for my next novel – Paris in Ruins – which I turned in to them in early 2017 and the world came crashing down when they rejected it. Joy to rejection in less than a year. I pitched several ideas and my editor said yes to East Rising Sun. Actually, she said ‘send us 50 pages and a detailed synopsis’.

Returning to a novel after a seven year absence is a challenge. Who are these characters? Why on earth did I write that chapter? What’s the story and where’s the plot? I’d learned a lot about writing and East Rising Sun definitely needed work.

So I conceived a new story with the same characters and a similar expat journey but added a twist involving a nasty father and a kidnapping, a scheming husband and a divorce, a shaky marriage, and a woman who became the confidant to each of the friends involved.

As you can imagine, all of this took several months. I now had an agent (fist pump) and she submitted the materials last August. Crossing my fingers and toes, I kept working on the story.

Less than a month later – quick turnaround in the publishing world – my agent informed me that Lake Union would prefer me to add a historical timeline to East Rising Sun since that would be more consistent with my brand! While I managed to keep my temper under control – my inner self was saying ‘what the fuck?’.

Sigh … back to the drawing board once more. Next instalment coming soon.

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.