The Story of a Novel

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With two novels in the capable hands of editors, I’m turning my mind to the challenge of what to write next. Two ideas have been swirling around: one is the continuation of the life of Claire, the daughter of World War One lovers Helene Noisette and Edward Jamieson. Raised by Francois Delancey as his own child, Claire never knew of her biological father until after her mother’s death. Lies Told in Silence ends when Claire calls Edward and he picks up the phone.

I’ve had many readers ask me to tell the story of what happened to Claire. Until recently, my response has always been: “When I know the story, I’ll be able to write it.”

The second idea is to write a sequel to Paris in Ruins, the novel I plan to publish in a few months time. That story would follow the lives of Camille Noisette – Helene’s aunt – and Mariele du Crecy who marries Camille’s brother. The plot would unfold during the Belle Epoque and feature some of the impressionist painters. Two years ago, I even wrote a few chapters.

I’m leaning toward the first idea. When I originally thought about writing a sequel to Claire’s story, I kept trying to imagine what would happen after Claire called Edward. It was only when I turned my imagination to what Claire’s life might have been like as a young woman living in Paris at the beginning of World War Two, that an idea sparked.

Recently, I purchased four books focused on stories related to D-Day to further spark the creative process.

Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies by Ben Macintyre ~~ Macintyre returns with the untold story of the grand final deception of the war and of the extraordinary spies who achieved it.

D-Day Girls by Sarah Rose ~~ The dramatic, untold true story of the extraordinary women recruited by Britain’s elite spy agency to sabotage the Nazis and pave the way for Allied victory in World War II.

The Paris Game: Charles de Gaulle, the Liberation of Paris, and the Gamble that Won France by Ray Argyle ~~ Amid the ravages of a world war, three men — a general, a president, and a prime minister — are locked in a rivalry that threatens their partnership and puts the world’s most celebrated city at risk of destruction before it can be liberated. This is the setting of The Paris Game, a dramatic recounting of how an obscure French general under sentence of death by his government launches on the most enormous gamble of his life: to fight on alone after his country’s capitulation to Nazi Germany.

The Longest Day by Cornelius Ryan ~~ A compelling tale of courage and heroism, glow and tragedy, The Longest Day painstakingly recreates the fateful hours that preceded and followed the massive invasion of Normandy to retell the story of an epic battle that would turn the tide against world fascism and free Europe from the grip of Nazi Germany.

I dipped into each one of these books just a few mornings ago before settling in to read Double Cross.

I’m cautious about yet another novel set during WWII, however, a good story is a good story regardless of the time period. With luck, I can turn the germ of an idea into a story arc. I’ll let you know how it goes.

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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 Craft of Writing: Beginnings

King's-ScarletJohn Danielski has two historical novels to his credit: Active’s Measure and The King’s Scarlet, both set in Napoleonic times. He has graciously offered to talk about Beginnings – how writers start their novels. Readers will appreciate the insight into how novels are created and writers will feel the clang of familiarity. Many thanks, John, and over to you.
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“First there is nothing but a slow growing dream that your fear seems to hide deep inside your mind.”

The words are from the movie Flashdance, but reflect the way novels begin. You have an inspiration; it may come from a picture, a book, a song, last’s night’s dream, or even a chance remark in an otherwise prosaic conversation. It could pertain to a character, an event, a predicament, a conundrum, or a thousand other undreamt of things. It’s a doorway to an undiscovered country, above all else. You first think, “that might make a really interesting story,” but then cranky Mr. Perfectionist, ruler of the island of lost ideas, chimes in with his verdict; it’s silly, no one would want to read about it, and you don’t have the talent to make it work.

You pursue your usual banal routine and your conscious mind copes with the day to day worries we all have, but unbidden, like a hidden embryo , the idea evolves, expands, and grows in complexity. Your subconscious unobtrusively taps into some cosmic data base and feeds the idea energy. It starts to look at possibilities and works through various permutations. Late in the day, your subconscious sounds a bell that announces,” you’ve got mail.” You stop, you stare, and you smile. You think,” I had never considered it from that angle. There is the gold nugget of a story hidden in all that mud. By God, that just might work.

Like rioters with clubs, more ideas come at you fast and hard. You feel overwhelmed, yet exhilarated. A stern part of you reads those shouting voices a mental version of The Riot Act. You tell them,” order, order! Your insistent voices are useless, unless they can be separated calmly and listened to one at a time.” You look at your laptop across the room and know it’s time to pay it an extended visit. Those boisterous, undisciplined ideas have short attention spans; they may decide to become surly and depart forever.

You assume your secret identity of the hermit monk. You make sure the phone is off and the cat is out. You pour yourself a mug of coffee, put on some soft classical music, Mendelssohn today, and sink deep into your writing chair. It’s an old battered Lazyboy, hopelessly déclassé and not much to look at it, but supremely comfortable, like donning a pair of well used bedroom slippers. You feel it brings you luck, even if Mr. Spock would raise his eyebrows askance at such a ridiculous thought.

You boot up your laptop and Word appears. The vast expanse of screen whiteness naturally intimidates, like a lifeless, Antarctic landscape. You stiffen your resolve and decide it’s time to put some life into that landscape.

You form up those shouting ideas into disciplined ranks and sound the roll call. The trick now is to get those ideas onto the computer, without judging, censoring, or amending. You are dealing with the raw ore of creativity here. You can worry about refining the stuff later.

You pound the keyboard and the screen begins to fill. You are writing a stream of consciousness yet breaking it into discrete blocks. The ideas flow swiftly as time seems to slow down. The world fades and the only thing that matters is what’s on the screen in front of you. Mr. Perfectionist is unceremoniously booted out and his alter ego, Mr. Creative, assumes command.

You smile in satisfaction and think, “ hey this stuff really isn’t bad! It’s actually kind of cool. Wow, where in the blazes did that thought come from?” You could quit now, you have already filled the equivalent of five pages with ideas and performed due obeisance to the Lords of Creativity. But ideas are fickle; they may not want to come out to play the next time out. You are in a flow state and they are rare. Like a mad scientist, you press on. “ I’ve got to see the machine at its full power! “

Ideas continue to appear and part of you is impressed, although you are frankly a little puzzled as to exactly where those ideas are coming from. They are certainly better than anything you could invent; almost as if some outside force is directing your fingers on the keyboard. But you don’t have time for mystical speculations. You keep writing.

Finally fatigue begins to set in. You hear the cat meowing and scratching at the door. Flow states have their limits. You idly glance up at the clock in the corner. Six o’ clock, it can’t be. Five hours gone! Your stomach begins to growl and you realize you have not eaten anything for quite a while. You are reluctant to depart the country you are in, but know you have to. You have mind melded to a higher energy, now it’s time to step that energy down to a level compatible with the world of the mundane.

You get out of your chair, stretch your arms and touch your toes, and let the cat in. You pet him for a few minutes and realize the link is broken. You are back. You print out your product and glance over it.

You have done good work today. It’s but a small step and it’s a long way to Tipperary. You have a puzzle ahead of completely unknown configuration, but at least you have mined enough materials to start shaping the pieces. Lots of frustration, hair pulling, and highly creative use of expletives await you in the months ahead. Any sensible person would put their warp drive into full reverse, but like a moth drawn to a flame you know you will continue. You are a writer, after all. You can’t help yourself. It’s what you do.

I found so much of this resonating in terms of how I work. Many thanks for sharing your ideas, John. And good luck with Mr Creative!

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 and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET will be published by Lake Union on August 16, 2016.

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.