Last month, M.K. Tod released her debut novel "Unravelled" set during World War II and the years leading up to it. Tod sat down with the New Orleans Examiner to discuss writing, publishing, and researching our past.
Q: Give us a blurb about "Unravelled" that released on September 19.
Unravelled: Two wars. Two affairs. One marriage.
In October 1935, Edward Jamieson's memories of war and a passionate love affair resurface when an invitation to a WWI memorial ceremony arrives. Though reluctant to visit the scenes of horror he has spent years trying to forget, Edward succumbs to the unlikely possibility of discovering what happened to Helene Noisette, the woman he once pledged to marry.
Travelling through the French countryside with his wife Ann, Edward sees nothing but reminders of war. After a chance encounter with Helene at the dedication ceremony, Edward's past puts his present life in jeopardy.
When WWII erupts a few years later, Edward is quickly caught up in the world of training espionage agents, while Ann counsels grieving women and copes with the daily threats facing those she loves. And once again, secrets and war threaten the bonds of marriage.
With events unfolding in France, England and Canada, UNRAVELLED is a compelling novel of love, duty and sacrifice set amongst the turmoil of two world wars.
Q: What inspired the book?
At the age of seventy-five, my grandmother died on the way to her second wedding. I had often thought such a dramatic curtain on life would make a good story and one day, I decided to write about her life. And, given that I had become a ‘trailing spouse’ living in Hong Kong, away from family and friends, I had oceans of time.
I’m impulsive so I plunged right in drafting a prologue set on the day of her death with the thought that the story would then go back to the 1920s when she met my grandfather. I soon realized that to create a story based on the lives of my grandparents, I would have to understand WWI, the Depression and WWII.
Happily, the Internet offered reams and reams of information on military and political events as well as maps and photos and stories of individual experiences of war. I found soldiers’ diaries lovingly transcribed by relatives to honor long ago sacrifice. I found regiments maintaining information about those who served in WWI, the weapons used and uniforms worn, the rations eaten and songs sung. A world of chaos and bungling and death emerged and I became utterly captivated.
By the way, Unravelled ends in 1944 so the woman who is modeled after my grandmother doesn’t die!
Q: What was it like living in Hong Kong?
Hong Kong was an amazing experience. It was noisy and chaotic, full of different smells and foods and wonderful sights. Instead of a house, my husband and I lived on the sixteenth floor of a high-rise overlooking Hong Kong harbor. Everywhere I went I was surrounded by Chinese speaking an incomprehensible language and for the very first time I knew how it felt to be a minority. Most people imagine Hong Kong to be densely crowded and full of tall office and apartment towers. In reality, beyond the city center are wide-open spaces with hills, beaches, islands, and small villages to explore. While living there, I was fortunate to travel to other countries: Thailand, India, China, Malaysia, Bali, New Zealand, Maldives, Taiwan, Australia. Places I would never have otherwise seen.
Q: During your research what was the most interesting factoid/story you came across about your grandparents?
I discovered that my grandfather had been involved with a spy training camp in a secret location fifty miles from Toronto. I can safely say that this was the most interesting story for me and as part of writing "Unravelled", I researched as much as I could about WWII spy training and incorporated some of this into the storyline.
Q: What path to publication did you choose and why?
I have an agent for another book I’ve written – it’s a companion book to "Unravelled", not a sequel but it has what I call intersecting characters. Unfortunately, given the state of the publishing industry, my agent has not been able to find a publisher for it. And so, rather than continue to wait for that novel to sell, I decided to take the plunge and self-publish "Unravelled". Who knows what will happen next!
Self-publishing has been an intensely interesting process. Beyond getting "Unravelled" printed and available in both print and e-book on a number of platforms, I had to find an editor, cover designer and publicist to help. In addition to those individuals, the historical fiction community has been incredibly supportive offering advice, guest post opportunities, endorsement and cheering me on the way.
Q: What advice can you give other writers?
If you write historical fiction, come on over to A Writer of History for advice from other authors or to understand more about the genre by reading insights from the reader survey I did last year.
It’s difficult to say something original in the advice category but here are a few things that come to mind:
- Treat your writing like a job.
- Find a community of writers, get to know them, get involved, don’t be afraid to ask for help.
- Build your platform well before you publish.
- Don’t let rejection get you down. It happens to everyone.
- Read, read, read. Analyze what you read to understand what works.
- Don’t be afraid of social media. You don’t have to tackle them all but you need to tackle at least one or two.
Q: What book/scene/character do you wish you had written?
"Birdsong" by Sebastian Faulks. An absolutely riveting story about WWI.
Q: What other works do you have in progress?
"Lies Told in Silence": In 1913 Paris half the city expects war while the other half scoffs at the possibility. Lies Told in Silence is the story of three generations of the Noisette family living through WWI: Henri Noisette who works for the Ministry of War, Guy Noisette who enlists in the French artillery and Lise, Mariele, Helene and Jean Noisette who leave Paris for the false safety of a small town in Northern France. As war unfolds, love and loss, duty and sacrifice and the unexpected consequence of lies affect every member of the family. This is the companion novel to "Unravelled".
I am working on a third novel, "Blind Regret": While cleaning house to eliminate traces of her ex-husband, Grace Hansen discovers her grandfather's WWI diaries along with a puzzling note. Surprisingly, the diaries reveal a different man from the beloved grandfather who raised her. A few months later, Grace follows the path her grandfather took through the trenches of northern France and discovers a secret he kept hidden for more than seventy years.
M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her debut novel, UNRAVELLED: Two wars. Two affairs. One marriage. is available in paperback and e-book formats from Amazon (US, Canada and elsewhere), Nook, Kobo, Google Play and soon on iTunes. Mary can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.
Erin Eymard aka The Bookworm has been an Examiner since May 2013. She also has her own book blog, The Bookworm's Fancy, and contributes to The New Podler Review of Books. For more updates, subscribe to the New Orleans Book Examiner.