The Story of a Novel – an idea takes shape

A few weeks ago, I wrote about beginning a new novel. That post – The Story of a Novel – featured four research books and two potential plot ideas. Having now read Double Cross by Ben MacIntyre – unfortunately, not his usual page turner – I’ve dipped into The Paris Game searching for clues about Charles de Gaulle’s whereabouts during WWII, and read several chapters of The Longest Day, which seems to be superbly written. The life of an author has its perks.

All the while, the laptop beckoned.

Two weeks ago, I could no longer resist the temptation to set down some ideas for Claire’s story. Not surprisingly, there’s no title yet. Just a glimmer of how the plot might come together after I realized how many novels feature soldiers, spies, code breakers, and everyday British people involved in World War Two. What if, I thought, Charles de Gaulle and other French leaders were to play a role of some sort in this new novel?

Hmmm. And that prompted more thoughts and more digging around to see if I could construct a timeline of de Gaulle’s whereabouts from 1940 to 1945 and develop an understanding of the role the Free French organization played during the war. I wish I could read French, as I’m certain I could find other sources explaining the French perspective.

Where has all this noodling led?

In one document, I’m building a timeline of de Gaulle’s whereabouts. For example, on November 29, 1940 de Gaulle does a radio broadcast on BBC from London. I don’t know what he said, but I plan to find out. On January 24, 1943, he’s in Casablanca with Churchill and Roosevelt and General Henri Giraud, a fierce rival for leadership of the Free French.

In a second document, I’m jotting plot points for how Claire might get involved with de Gaulle and where all that might lead.

Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post

Early days, of course. Just a very rough shape at the moment – like a sculptor making the first strikes on a piece of marble.

I’ll be back with more developments.

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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 AmazonNookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on FacebookTwitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

The First Rose of Tralee by Patricia O’Reilly

I met Patricia O’Reilly at an Historical Novel Society conference in 2014. As travelling companions on the writing journey, we kept in touch with occasional emails and Facebook comments. Today, Patricia shares a thoughtful post on her latest novel.

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Researching and Writing The First Rose of Tralee, the story of Mary O’Connor (182?-1845)

It was while sitting in my aunt’s kitchen in Tralee, Co Kerry during the school holidays that I first heard of Mary O’Connor, the young girl who inspires the annual Rose of Tralee International Festival, now in its 60thyear.

Each morning after 10 o’clock mass, auntie and her relatives had tea and biscuits sitting around the oil-clothed table. The chat was mighty. They talked the Irish history that I learned in school as though it was happening outside in the street – the patriot Daniel O’Connell and his campaigning for Repeal of the Union, the disruptive Whiteboys, the Great Famine, the curse of consumption, and Mary O’Connor featured frequently.

Mary, the daughter of a shoemaker from Brogue Lane, lived more than 150 years ago – it is said, her beauty had heads turning. The handsome William Mulchinock, a poet, campaigner and master of West Villa, fell in love with her and wrote The Ballad of the Rose of Tralee.

The story of Mary O’Connor stayed with me, lurking at the back of my mind until about four years ago when I discovered her story had not been written in novel form. Researching was a minefield of differing bits of evidence. But because I was writing historical fiction I settled on some facts, embellished others and added characters and intrigue, taking creative liberties with set pieces, imagining places, occurrences and dialogue – bearing in mind that the book could not be research-led. As I wrote fact blurred into fiction and vice versa.

The story is set in the 1840s during the time of Daniel O’Connell’s monster rallies for Repeal of the Irish Union of 1801.  The parts of his speeches that I quoted are taken from Richard Aldous’s Great Irish Speeches. The love affair between the master and the servant was doomed from the start – William’s mother was horrified; the schoolmaster grieved for them, and the final straw was when William was wrongly accused of killing a man, having to flee the country, ending up in India for five years.  When William was finally exonerated his return to Tralee and plans to marry died a quick death.

I visited Tralee and met archivists and local historians who furnished me with information maps, drawings and portraits – though there are none of Mary. I stayed in Benners Hotel, a Bianconi coach stop in the mid-19thcentury and imagined William leaving and returning to Tralee by coach.

Google provided information on the shoemaking industry of the mid-nineteenth century; the running of big houses – kitchen to upper floors; the lives of the peasants; education of the time; consumption or the white plague as TB was known.

Poverty in 19th century Ireland

When writing about a particular era I like to read works of fiction by other authors. Compared to what’s been written about Ireland during and after the Famines I didn’t come across much pre-famine, but I re-read Beatrice Coogan’s The Big Wind. Despite it being a contemporary novel, I familiarised myself with sensory India with Gregory David Roberts’s wonderful Shantaram.

‘The Way We Wore Exhibition’ in Dublin’s Collins Barracks Museum provided an insight into the clothing of the time. The National Famine Museum in Co Roscommon and Kerry County Museum proved useful information about  coaches, carriages, kitchen utensils and furniture of the time.

My first draft was a mess. The second daft was little better. I spent what, at the time, I considered to be inefficient days soaking up atmosphere and getting a bit of information here and there. Those ‘inefficient’ days proved invaluable as I ended up with a notebook full of information – such as the way dresses were hung in the wardrobes of the time; the use of tea to restore mahogany furniture; the healing properties of goose fat for chapped hands and the favoured foods for a formal dinner – when trifle was known as an Empire dessert.

As writers we know that the opening paragraphs – or point of entry, as it’s called in publishing circles, is most important. The opening I finally settled on has Mary’s father threatening her with marriage and her flouncing out to the potato market before wandering along to Denny Street that was ‘black with people’ as one of Daniel O’Connell’s rallies was in progress.

Great. I had a rally, Mary O’Connor and Daniel O’Connell. As I felt the story cohese I added falling snow. Why not include William Mulchinock, the hero? Margaret Mulchinock, William’s mother, an important character, was introduced in the second scene. On the death of her husband in the early 1830s she took over the running of the family businesses.

William managed the drapery store on the Mall – known as the Munster Warehouse in the 1960s where the fashion-conscious of Tralee shopped. I had him source jewel coloured silks and taffetas from the Far East – I saw such examples in London’s Victoria & Albert Museum.

Mary started as a kitchen skivvy in West Villa, progressed to the upstairs and finally was promoted to the position of nursery maid where William first met and fell in love with her.

Gradually re-write after re-write – in between illness visited on our family – The First Rose of Tralee was published. And I’m glad to say, as is said in publishing circles, it was well received.

©por2020

Many thanks, Patricia. Such a mystery the way novels come together. Best wishes for another success.

DON’T MISS OTHER POSTS 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.

Novels are made of tiny details

I often write the broad strokes of a story first with the basics of setting, the primary actions that occur and the dialogue that moves the story along while revealing each character’s emotions and motivations.

On another pass, I add emotional reactions, inner dialogue and telling details. Like any other genre, historical fiction readers appreciate small details of setting, clothing, facial expressions and so on and, in particular, those that transport them in time and place.

I added a few such details just last week during a final pass at Paris in Ruins before sending it off for a copy edit. Below are just a few to give you a sense of what I mean.

“Bertrand turned west onto rue Faubourg Saint Honore and they fell silent. Most of the small shops were shuttered for the night, but the cafés were lively with patrons sitting both inside and out sharing laughter and boisterous conversation, consuming beer and wine and cognac, smacking their lips and eating with gusto. Here and there a ragged child lingered at the edges of these groups, holding out a hand for a coin or a crust of bread.” 

I wanted to illustrate the inequalities in Parisian society so readers can begin to understand the factors leading to the Paris Commune.

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Camille watched her father drop a dollop of jam on his croissant. He seemed just as calm as usual despite the mounting crisis unfolding around them. They were in the breakfast room, which was located across the hall from the main dining room and much less formal. The room’s pale green walls, floral drapes, and tall windows that opened outward to let in the morning air reminded her of summers by the sea.

Camille is one of two main characters in the story. These details help paint the scene and provide a little background of Camille’s upbringing that was wealthy enough to include summers by the sea.

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After her eighteenth birthday, and with her mother’s encouragement, Mariele had redecorated her bedroom, stripping out all but a few childhood possessions, and replacing the décor with more adult choices including a canopied bed, a new dressing table, and a chaise for reading. Mariele picked up the book of Victor Hugo’s poems that lay on the chaise and added it to her bag.

Mariele is the other main character in Paris in Ruins. The furnishings and reference to Victor Hugo are to help situate the time period. I chose to reference his poems rather than famous works like The Hunchback of Notre Dame to give an insight into her personality. Serendipity led me to Victor Hugo’s poetry – I wrote about one of those poems last week .

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By Unknown author – Le Monde illustré, 17 juin 1871 (Gallica), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=65283878

The gates of Paris had closed. No one allowed in or out without permission and the proper documents. Fortified by a wall thirty feet high, a moat ten feet wide, and an outer ring of forts comprising a forty-mile circumference around the city, most Parisians were convinced of their impregnability. The Prussian army, however, had gradually surrounded Paris with a fifty-mile ring of troops and was now digging in, building their own fortifications while assembling the necessary tools of siege warfare: cannons, provisions, bridges, access to water, living quarters, fuel, medical facilities, and equipment. If assessments were accurate, the siege could be long and difficult. Some would not survive.

I wanted to know just how big those walls were and thought readers would too. Their massive size contributed to the cocky attitude of Parisians. On the map below you can see the walls as well as the forts beyond the walls.

Walls and outer forts of Paris 1870

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He lowered the newspaper and peered at her. “Volunteered? At a hospital run by Sarah Bernhardt? What do you know about hospitals? Or about Madame Bernhardt, for that matter? And why would I allow my daughter to do such a thing?”

Camille bristled at his words but knew not to spark a quarrel. Her mother always cautioned with an old proverb: Le miel est doux, mais l’abeille pique. Honey is sweet, but the bee stings.

An early reader recommended that I show the way young women were confined in 19th century Paris by their parents and by society’s rules. The proverb tells us something about Camille and her mother. 

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“You don’t have to do this,” he [André ] said. “It could be dangerous work and I certainly wouldn’t think less of you if you declined.”

Camille squared her shoulders. “I’m doing it for Paris, for my family and friends, for France. It’s important and I want to do something important. I’m privileged, monsieur. Privileged to be part of an educated, wealthy class. With privilege comes responsibility.” Her lips formed a rueful smile. “That’s what my sister would have said, if she were still alive.”

André has asked Camille to collect information about the Montmartre Vigilance Committee, a radical group of women calling for revolution and led by Louise Michel (a real person) and report her findings to him. I wanted to add depth to her motivations for doing so.

I hope you enjoyed these few snippets. As you can imagine, there are many more!

DON’T MISS OTHER POSTS 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.