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.

Reflections on Writing Historical Fiction with Ben Kane

Ben Kane was born in Kenya and moved to Ireland when he was 7. With a veterinarian for a father and a love of animals, Ben did the logical thing and became a vet. All his life he’s been an avid fan of military and historical fiction. In 1998 he set out to travel the world for three years. It was during this time that he first had thoughts of writing military historical fiction. As Ben tells it: “What started as a hobby soon became an obsession, and about four years later The Forgotten Legion emerged into the light.” His latest novel is LionHeart.

Is there a particular time period you concentrate on? If so, why? If you’ve switched time periods, why?

My first thirteen novels were set in ancient times. I have long wanted set books in other time periods, however, because my interest in history is not confined to Rome and its enemies. When my publisher offered me the opportunity to write a non-Roman novel, I seized it with both hands. Why Richard the Lionheart? Because he has fascinated me since childhood, and because there aren’t that many books out there about him.

Why historical fiction? Why not contemporary stories?

History is my one true love; I have adored it since childhood. While I have toyed with the idea of writing contemporary stories (and may yet do that too), history is what really lights my fire – all time periods!

What are you passionate about in terms of historical fiction?

See above! In short, everything. Getting it right regarding how people lived, spoke, behaved, ate, drank, fought, died. Filling the pages with tiny brush-stroked detail so that the reader is transported to the time and place that the book is set in.

How do you choose the stories you tell?

With one eye on the story and the other on the market. I wish I could just write novels about whatever takes my fancy, but my book sales keep a roof over my head, and feed my kids. (I am, fortunately, a fulltime author.) I could write the best-written work about the pottery making people who lived in southern India in the fifth century BC, but no one would buy it. The title and subject have to appeal to the reader.

How has your writing style changed over time?

It has improved immeasurably – I am so much better at writing than I was ten, twelve years ago.

What would you do differently if you could start again?

I would re-write my first three novels knowing what I know now, and edit thousands of overwritten sentences. Things like, ‘he shouted loudly’ really grate with me now!

What are you working on now?

I am in the finishing stages of Crusade, which is the sequel to Lionheart. It’s been a blast to write – so many contemporary accounts of Richard’s crusade have made my job pure joy.

What advice do you have for new authors?

For the vast majority of us, it takes years of writing to hone your craft well enough to publish. Do not assume that because you have finished a novel that it is ready for publication. Set it aside for a month or two when you have ‘finished’ it, and then go back and re-read the whole thing. You will see it through different eyes, and your edit then will be worth a dozen of the ones that went before. PAY for a professional editor to edit the book before you publish – and make sure they are high-quality. Only then should you consider publishing. Never give up!

Many thanks, Ben. You can read another blog post featuring Ben Kane here

Lionheart by Ben Kane ~~ 1179. Henry II’s Norman conquerors have swept through England, Wales – and now Ireland.

Irish nobleman Ferdia has been imprisoned in Wales to ensure the good behaviour of his rebellious father. But during a skirmish on a neighbouring castle, Ferdia saves the life of the man who would become one of the most legendary warriors to have ever lived: Richard Plantagenet. The Lionheart.

Taken as Richard’s squire, Ferdia crosses the Narrow Sea to resist the rebellious nobles in Aquitaine, besieging castles and fighting bloody battles with brutal frequency.

But treachery and betrayal lurk around every corner. Infuriated by his younger brother Richard’s growing reputation, Henry rebels. And Ferdia learns that the biggest threat to Richard’s life may not be a foreign army – but Richard’s own family . . .

Available on The Book Depository and on Amazon.

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.

The evolution of a novel (3)

… or how East Rising Sun morphs into The Admiral’s Wife. I left off with my wonderful colleagues at Lake Union suggesting I weave a historical thread into the contemporary novel I set in Hong Kong. And you might recall that I was not exactly pleased 🙂

This little suggestion was tantamount to starting over. I fussed and fumed, muttering less than positive statements about my publisher. “They have no idea how difficult this is!” “Why did they encourage me to write this novel in the first place?” “I should throw it out and work on something else.” Mutter, mutter, mutter. My poor husband had to listen to all this and I’m grateful for his patience and encouragement.

After several days of paralysis an idea twigged. I scrolled through the WIP looking for something I’d written – a few throwaway lines about one of my characters’ family background.

Early in the nineteenth century, the Wen family fortune began with diamond mining in China then expanded to ship building and lucrative trading across Asia. In a move against the British, Patricia’s great-great-great-grandfather used his trading company, cleverly hidden behind several shell companies, to transport opium to Europe and Britain. That decision generated even more wealth.

Maybe this could lead somewhere. Thoughts swirled around. This could happen. No, that wouldn’t work. What about this? What about that? I kept mulling until something finally gelled.

I now had two story lines and a sense of how they would connect. The present day story featured two expat women: Patricia, a Chinese American, and Sara who was from Boston. The past storyline focused on Winifred, the admiral’s wife, who was British and had arrived in Hong Kong because her husband had been posted there. And of course, there was a connection between the two stories that would gradually emerge.

I discussed the general idea with my editor. She liked it and made several suggestions. She wanted roughly 75 pages and a chapter-by-chapter synopsis. I worked on it for several weeks – hardly did anything else. My agent reviewed it. I made changes. My agent reviewed it again. A few minor edits. Then we sent it off.

Wait, wait, wait. After a heads up from my agent, I received feedback from my Lake Union editor. The floor plummeted out from under me again – they weren’t going to take it. Didn’t think my writing was good enough. But, but, but.

To make matters worse, I then sent the same material off to a freelance editor I work with. She gave me the honest truth. Definitely not my best writing and there’s too many main characters. You should cut out one of them.

Bloody hell. Did I tell you writing is hard work?

So here’s where I am. The present day story features Patricia, my Chinese American character. She’s married. She and her husband have moved to Hong Kong to reunite with her parents and older brother. Having lived in the US her entire life, this new world is foreign and disorienting. The past story focuses on Winifred, the admiral’s wife. She’s moved to Hong Kong because of her husband’s naval career. She too finds the place foreign and disorienting. And there’s a mystery connecting the two timelines – hopefully a fascinating, dramatic connection.

The novel has taken shape. I’m excited about it and love my main characters. With any luck I’ll have the first draft completed by the end of March.

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.