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.

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

The Story of a Novel

Dear Friends .. things may look a little different for a while. Please bear with me as I adapt to the new WordPress block editor and switch to a new theme for A Writer of History.

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.

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.

~~~

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.

~~~

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 .

~~~

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

~~~

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. 

~~~

“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.