Thursday, 18 August 2016

M.K.Tod and the Making of a Novel

I've had a very busy creative writing teaching schedule this summer, plus I've given a lecture at Oxford University on writing historical fiction and am getting ready for the Historical Novel Society conference here in Oxford at the start of September - I've been helping judge the short story competition and I'll be on a panel at the conference discussing the relative advantages and disadvantages of traditional and self-publishing. With this focus on historical fiction, I'm particularly delighted to welcome M.K. (Mary) Tod to Literascribe with a guest-post on how she set about writing her third novel, Time and Regret, published this week by Lake Union Press. If you're interested in historical fiction, Mary also writes a brilliant blog on it at 

Each author creates and writes in her or his own way. There is no best approach; what matters most is whether in the end the story is compelling from a reader’s point of view. I tend to get an idea and then put flesh on it using a detailed chapter outline before I begin the real writing. The idea for my latest novel, Time and Regret, came while travelling in France with my husband Ian to visit the battlefields, monuments, cemeteries, and museums dedicated to World War One.

On that trip, we went to Bailleul, Lille, Amiens, Ypres, Mont St. Eloi and other towns and villages, and to memorials at Vimy, Courcelette, Thiepval and Passchendaele. We visited the Musée de la Grande Guerre in Peronne. We stayed at a charming hotel that used to be a château and dined at its next-door restaurant. Those places and the landscape of the region engaged every sense and, along with the hundreds of pictures taken have fuelled descriptions of meadows, villages, windows, tastes, gardens, restaurants, and other parts of Time and Regret.

Of most significance to this novel is the night we spent at a café in the small town of Honfleur across the mouth of the Seine from Le Havre. Shortly after the waiter poured our first glass of red wine, I wrote a few words in a small notebook.

“What are you writing?” Ian said.

“An idea for a story,” I replied.

Refusing to be put off by my cryptic response, Ian persisted. “What’s the idea?”

“Nothing much. Just thought it might make a good story to have a granddaughter follow the path her grandfather took during World War One in order to find out more about him.”

Ian took on a pensive look and no doubt had another sip of wine. “You could include a mystery,” he said.

Now, you should know that mysteries are my husband’s favourite genre. Indeed, I suspect mysteries represent at least eighty percent of his reading. So I played along.

“What kind of mystery?”

And that was the birth of Time & Regret, as ideas tumbled out and the plot took shape. Needless to say, the bottle of wine was soon empty.

Tackling a mystery was new for me – my first novels were a combination of war and romance. But a mystery, well, that’s something different. Mysteries need clues artfully dropped in an unsuspecting manner and more than one potential culprit. The plot needs to be full of tension and drama and unexpected twists. And you have to wait until almost the very end to reveal ‘who dunnit’.

To make the job more difficult, I decided to write Time and Regret with two time periods, one in early 1990s and the other in World War One, which meant interleaving chapters in a way that was effective rather than confusing.

The Town Hall at Bailleul
As with any historical novel, research was critical. Beyond the trip to France, I spent ages investigating a particular infantry unit of the Canadian army (my WWI protagonist is in the Canadian army although after the war he moves to New York). For purposes of story and authenticity, I needed to know his whereabouts and the battles in which he participated. Fortunately, the Canadian government has stored battalion diaries online which meant I could read about troop movements, casualties, weather conditions, important visitors, training programs, skirmishes with the enemy, battles, preparations for battle and other details the battalion commander chose to record during every day of the war.

Beyond that, I researched casualty clearing stations, hospitals in London serving WWI officers, the effects of shell shock, military weapons, the use of tanks. And for the more present day portion of the story, I found things like information on French beers, French food, fashion styles and major events of 1991, the world of museums and art galleries and many more details.

Writing is a labour of love. Passion and serendipity keep me going.

Time and Regret: A cryptic letter. A family secret. A search for answers.
When Grace Hansen finds a box belonging to her beloved grandfather, she has no idea it holds the key to his past—and to long buried secrets. In the box are his World War I diaries and a cryptic note addressed to her. Determined to solve her grandfather’s puzzle, Grace follows his diary entries across towns and battle sites in northern France, where she becomes increasingly drawn to a charming French man—and suddenly aware that someone is following her.

-- Juliet Grey: author of the acclaimed Marie Antoinette trilogy

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