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.

Finding Authentic Voices by Jeffrey Walker

Jeffrey K. Walker is an award-winning author who came to writing historical fiction from a unique background as a bomber navigator, criminal prosecutor, legal historian, and international attorney. He’s written two novels of his Sweet Wine of Youth trilogy, depicting the epic events and impact of the First World War. As many of you know, I have a soft spot for those who write about WWI. Over to you, Jeff.

Finding Authentic Voices by Jeffrey Walker

My second novel just went on sale, so now with Two Books In A Row I might have something mildly interesting to say. With a big dollop of trepidation considering I’m writing this post for the crazy-talented M.K. Tod’s blog [OK, I’m blushing here – MKT], I’d like to share my struggles to find authentic historical voices.

Like M.K., I write in the period of the First World War. This has distinct advantages compared to writing in Saxon England or Ancient Mesopotamia—there’s a lot of material available. On the other hand, the epoch of the Great War is much more familiar to modern readers than remoter stretches of history. Some might even come preloaded with first-hand accounts from grandparents. This adds a free radical to how readers approach a WWI-era book. Suffice it to say, authors who write Tudor or Regency don’t have quite the same problem.

As historical fiction writers, we’re chasing the bubble of verisimilitude. We’re seeking to lull our readers into a fictive dreamscape set within our chosen period, not pass a blind peer review by a panel of PhDs. Within the superstructure of solid research, we imagine our histories and we therefore have to find voices for the characters we’ve imagined placing there. By this I mean not only their dialogue, but also their patterns of thought, reactions to all manner of situations, and interactions with each other and their world. That’s the challenge in developing richly drawn, three-dimensional characters that engage readers on a deeper level than merely as historical curiosities.

Admittedly, I’m a little neurotic about dialogue. As a result, I spent time researching well beyond what kit soldier’s carried on the Somme or what daytime shoes a woman would’ve worn in 1922 Harlem. In the end, my obsession with authentic voices led me down some interesting rabbit holes.

My biggest and earliest Aha Moment came with Paul Fussell’s 1975 work, The Great War and Modern Memory. Technically a work of literary criticism, this incredible book opened my eyes to the great tectonic shifts the First World War produced in Western culture from top to bottom. The insidious turning of the forces of science and industrial progress to the mass production of death and destruction resulted in a wholesale rejection of a hundred years’ worth of cozy Victorian consensus about the benign progress of modernity. With this personal epiphany, I went off in search of primary sources to find the voices of those who somehow endured 51 months of carnage and privation.

I started by diving headlong into the War Poets. The highly distilled emotion of these poems—some by men like Rupert Brooke and Wilfred Owen who wouldn’t survive the conflict—established a poignant benchmark for other first-person sources, as well as providing titles for my trilogy and the first book. This propelled me on a free-range survey of other original material.

I was desperate to get the sound, cadence, vocabulary, and idiom of these remarkable men and women into my head. I read all four volumes of Ford Madox Ford’s Parade’s End, some Robert Graves, and reread for the umpteenth time Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. I bought used copies of war letters, trench diaries, and memoirs. (I caution against relying on memoirs written more than10 years or so after the War. Rose-colored glasses and all that.) One of the more remarkable of these was a recent translation of the notebooks kept by a socialist barrel maker from the Midi, a poilu named Louis Barthas who served from the first day of the War through the Armistice.

I bought a box of reproduction artifacts in the gift shop of the Imperial War Museum—which led me to spending several hours listening to two dozen songs listed in a Red Cross entertainment program from 1917 to literally get the sound of my character’s music in my ears. On a more practical level, this broad survey of original writing gave me a strong grounding in the slang, idiom, word choice, and level of formality used by people of the period. I found one important exception—profanity. Writers self-consciously cleaned things up, even when writing to their diaries. I found one of the more authentic sources for period profanity to be original lyrics of soldiers’ songs. I refer you to the invaluable Punch publication, Soldiers’ Songs and Slang of the Great War, collected by Martin Pegler.

Then there was the problem of dialect. In my first book, I drew main characters from Newfoundland and Ireland, as well as supporting characters from New York, Boston, Scotland and England. Without a lot of forethought, I managed to stumble into some of the densest dialects of English outside the Caribbean islands.

The dialect issue was a two-axis challenge. Not only did I have to reckon with the regionality, but I also had to place the dialect within a specific time period. This meant expending a lot of effort researching the etymologies of idiomatic phrases. As an example, I wanted to say of my main character Deirdre Brannigan, a delightfully opinionated nurse from Dublin, “Sure, she’d snogged a few boys before…” There were two problems with that little phrase. I knew snogged was British idiom, but is it Irish? In particular, is it something a Dubliner would say as opposed to a Corkonian? Yes? Good. Now, when did it enter common usage on either side of the Irish Sea? Shoot, not until the 1950s. So that phrase never made it into the book, although to my 21st-century Yankee ear it sounded rather old-timey.

And there’s a deeper problem with dialect. My Newfoundlanders presented a stark example of the tradeoff between authenticity of voice and accessibility of dialogue. Anyone who’s spent more than 15 minutes on Newfoundland or watched the later seasons of Republic of Doyle can attest to the impenetrability of Newfounese. Complicating matters, the historical isolation of the various parts of the island has led to some two dozen sub-dialects within a population of 528,000. Yikes.

It took me a few drafts to figure out how best to skin this dialect cat. Particularly with the Irish and Newfoundlanders—two cultures with strong oral and storytelling traditions—I thought it essential to impart some sense of the sound of their dialects. My early attempts at phonetic punctiliousness yielded something impenetrable to all but linguistic nerds. As is often the case, I ended up with a compromise, trying to impart just a flavor of the rhythms and textures while keeping the dialogue comprehensible to the elusive Average Reader. So my Newfounese is something of a pastiche of old idiom and some unavoidably characteristic phrases. Whadda ya at, b’y.

I went through a lot of effort and angst to capture to the authentic voices I was chasing, but in the end isn’t this sort of challenge why we write historical fiction? I’ll leave it to you to judge if I’ve succeeded.

Many thanks for adding your voice to the discussion of historical fiction, Jeffrey (pun intended). You’ve reminded me of the research I’ve done – although not with the same dialogue challenges. Wishing you great success with your trilogy.

Truly Are the Free by Jeffrey K. Walker – Ned Tobin leaves his Newfoundland comrades to join the American forces in 1917. Chester Dawkins, son of an affluent African-American family, joins a newly formed regiment destined for France. They both confront their long-held assumptions and prejudices when Ned is assigned as a white officer to Chester’s “colored” regiment, the 369th. Meanwhile, sister Lena Dawkins secretly chooses an unsavory path to keep her family’s Harlem home. And Ned’s beloved, the alluring Adèle Chéreaux, carries a secret of her own as she flees the Germans to an uncertain future in Paris. In Truly Are the Free, the second book of the Sweet Wine of Youth Trilogy, these intriguing characters from None of Us the Same and some surprising new ones come vividly to life. How do the soldiers of the 369th endure the unspeakable horror? What new relationships lie ahead in Jazz-Age Harlem and avant-garde Paris? Can Ned and Adèle find happiness together?

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 Alice Network with Kate Quinn

What book am I recommending these days when friends ask? The Alice Network by Kate Quinn. Why? Because it grabbed me from the very start and wouldn’t let go. And what special ingredients does it have? Flawed, heroic, and intriguing characters – check. Tension that builds and builds – check. A superb sense of history and setting – check. Strong writing – check. An immersive experience – check. A flawless weaving of two timelines – check. What more could you ask for?

Better still, Kate Quinn has graciously agreed to answer a few questions about The Alice Network and her writing.

Can you tell us a little about the inspiration for The Alice Network?

I first came across the historic Alice Network in a fantastic non-fiction book called “Women Heroes of WWI” by Kathryn J. Atwood, and was astounded that I’d never heard of this spy network or its brave operatives before. It was a story that begged to be told.

Eve and Charlie are powerful characters – do you use any special techniques to outline your characters in advance? And if so, how did you decide on the attributes for these two women?

I do a lot of outlining with Scrivener in advance, tracing character arcs, background, inner wounds, etc. I knew I wanted Charlie to be pregnant and unmarried, because that was an effective catalyst to get her to Europe and because it gave her story emotional ballast–being an unwed mother is a huge problem to overcome in the 40s! And it was my husband’s idea to give Eve a stammer; he has a similar speech impediment, and has faced many of the same struggles Eve does. I loved the idea of having a heroine with a speech problem–taking what could be a weakness, and weaponizing it into an advantage as she lets people underestimate her.

Writing a dual-timeline novel is challenging. How did you keep your plot organized and ensure that the pacing flowed effectively back and forth?

I plotted out each timeline separately first, A-Z, then intercut them as I wrote, going back and forth from chapter to chapter. Plotting each timeline out separately kept them organized, and then going back and forth as I wrote made it easier to tease out the parallels between plotlines.

What did you leave out of the novel – scenes that went by the wayside? Characters you discarded?

Quite late in the editing process, I came across some wonderful information about real life members of the Alice Network–all through letters discovered in family archives by their modern-day descendants. These real-life figures make tiny cameos in the book, but I’d have loved to make them bigger characters with more story and plot. If I hadn’t been 5/6 finished with final edits, I would have!

You’ve previously written about ancient Rome and the Italian Renaissance – what made you change time periods? Were WWI and WWII easier eras to tackle?

I’ve never been a one-era-only writer; I’ve always had potential story ideas set all the way from the ancient world to the 20th century. So when I saw the recent boom in 20th century war fiction, it made sense to revisit some of those ideas (“Book about a female spy…? Use a real spy…?”) and see if anything took off in my imagination once I started researching. And it did!

Many thanks for answering my questions, Kate. I’m sure both readers and writers will find your experiences fascinating.

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn1947. In the chaotic aftermath of World War II, American college girl Charlie St. Clair is pregnant, unmarried, and on the verge of being thrown out of her very proper family. She’s also nursing a desperate hope that her beloved cousin Rose, who disappeared in Nazi-occupied France during the war, might still be alive. So when Charlie’s parents banish her to Europe to have her “little problem” taken care of, Charlie breaks free and heads to London, determined to find out what happened to the cousin she loves like a sister.

1915. A year into the Great War, Eve Gardiner burns to join the fight against the Germans and unexpectedly gets her chance when she’s recruited to work as a spy. Sent into enemy-occupied France, she’s trained by the mesmerizing Lili, code name Alice, the “queen of spies,” who manages a vast network of secret agents right under the enemy’s nose.

Thirty years later, haunted by the betrayal that ultimately tore apart the Alice Network, Eve spends her days drunk and secluded in her crumbling London house. That is until a young American barges in uttering a name Eve hasn’t heard in decades, and launches them both on a mission to find the truth . . . no matter where it leads.

 

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.