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.

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.

The Evolution of a Novel

No doubt some authors conceive a novel, create a brief outline then write full steam ahead. The Admiral’s Wife, my current WIP, is not such a novel.

At the beginning, this novel was titled East Rising Sun, the inspiration taken from a qigong move of that name. Around 2009, I conceived the idea of writing a novel about four expat wives living far away from their respective homes. The notion came from my own three years as an expat – the pejorative term was trailing spouse – based in Hong Kong.

I imagined a story about the trials and tribulations of living far away from everything that is familiar, surrounded by a different culture, strange foods and an incomprehensible language. From personal experience, I knew how difficult this was – excitement and euphoria followed by the slam of reality and intense feelings of loneliness and dislocation. I’d even written a series of articles about the journey and the personal growth involved and at an optimistic moment, outlined a non-fiction book – never written – called Thriving as an Expat Spouse.

Four women – a Brit, an Australian, an American and a French woman – all met at a qigong class. Yes, I attended a series of qigong classes one fall while living in Hong Kong. Each woman had her own struggle (husbands, children, life), which the group helped her overcome. I had in mind a story like The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs or The Bridge Club by Patricia Sands.

Not surprisingly, one of the characters was based on my own circumstances although the others were totally fabricated. Here’s the opening paragraph of that long ago version.

Dislocation. That was the word that came to mind as I sat on my favourite chair, feet stretched out on the hassock, reflecting on our first four months in Hong Kong. Loneliness didn’t quite capture how disconnected I felt, severed from the familiar, out of place, startled each time I looked at my surroundings, as if perhaps a good pinch would transport me back home.

Twelve months later, I set that novel aside in favour of writing Lies Told in Silence, my second work of historical fiction. I had no intention of returning to it.

More on the evolution of a novel next week.

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.