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:

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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

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

The beginning of battle – Vimy Ridge April 9th 1917

Central figure of the Vimy Memorial (personal photo)

April 9, 2017 is the 100th anniversary of the battle for Vimy Ridge, a battle where thousands of Canadian soldiers distinguishing themselves by taking this important ridge from the Germans. To commemorate the anniversary, I’ve featured excerpts from each of my three published novels – Unravelled, Lies Told in Silence, and Time and Regret – which feature this battle. Today’s excerpt is from Lies Told in Silence.


Helene Noisette and her brother Jean have been observing the preparations for Vimy Ridge. One night they race to their hilltop post as battle begins.

Dressed in heavy coats and knitted hats, they left the house without a sound and ran, fear pounding with every step, following familiar paths, leaping across melting streams, scrabbling through ferns and bushes and as they approached the hill, she heard the opening roar, a deafening sound that shook her body. In an instant, a second crash followed, splitting the sky directly overhead, penetrating her world like a never-ending drumroll.

Helene and Jean clawed their way up the hill. The guns grew even louder, and a sharp, acrid smell filled the air. Her legs had almost given out when they reached their perch and stood with no need to crouch down and hide, for no one could possibly notice them given the furor of action rippling across the battlefield. Never in her wildest dreams could she have imagined such a scene.

Instead of orderly drills or the calm stacking of sandbags and trucks waiting to load or unload, below them was a sea of churning mud; grey dawn streaked the sky; there were sharp flashes of red, the rumble of airplanes overhead. In the far distance near the ridge, an orange glow hovered like a bulging midnight sun. Shells burst from all directions, illuminating soldiers advancing, bayonets flashing with deadly purpose.

Helene looked at Jean, a mix of fear and awe on his face. She said nothing, for what possible words could make sense of the destruction carried out below? In the preceding weeks, what they had heard and seen—the bright snap of flares and answering clouds of smoke, the stuttering back and forth of machine guns, the sharp whine as planes breached the horizon, the gentle drift of observation balloons—were only the barest hints of reality. They were silent, standing vigil over an unfolding battle, honouring those who fought for their freedom, men they would never know.

Wherever she looked, troops moved forward, less than thirty metres behind exploding bombs launched by their own artillery. This barrage was their shield, a curtain of steel protecting them from German counterattacks. Step by step they advanced, scrambling across uneven ground, thick clumps of earth flying through the air around them.

Gradually, the sky lightened, bringing the battle into sharper focus then a sudden flurry of snow obscured her view, and she wondered how the soldiers could possibly find their way. The snow left as quickly as it had appeared, and in the far, far distance, she saw white and black puffs of smoke; then a plane, trailing black streamers, emerged from the far left and flew low over the scene, its klaxon sounding like an ancient battle cry.

Vim Memorial is set on top of the ridge taken by Canadian soldiers in 1917 (personal photo)

While they watched, Helene thought of Guy. Had he grown accustomed to these mind-numbing sounds mixed with exploding bursts of earth and shrapnel? Was this what it had been like when he was wounded? Was he brave, or did he fear for his life? Did he lead his men with care? Did he shout at death as it whirled around him? How could he face battle again and again, her wonderful brother who laughed and teased, enjoyed the give and take of argument, took pride in his studies, loved his family? How could any of them?

The first post commemorating the 100th anniversary can be found here – Preparing for Vimy Ridge 

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 was 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