Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Interview with author MK Tod

Our guest today is MK Tod, author of Time and Regret, which is her third novel. She began writing while living as an expat in Hong Kong. What started as an interest in her grandparents’ lives turned into a full-time occupation writing historical fiction. Her novel Unravelled was awarded Indie Editor’s Choice by the Historical Novel Society. In addition to writing historical novels, she blogs about reading and writing historical fiction at www.awriterofhistory.com. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

What or who inspired you to first write?

I began to write when I was an expat spouse in Hong Kong. My husband and I had embarked on a three-year assignment with gusto but after a year reality set in. I had no friends, no family, a husband who travelled constantly and a job that hadn’t worked out. So I conceived the idea of researching my grandparents’ lives with the possibility of writing about them. Roughly four years later, and back in our hometown of Toronto, I gave up my consulting practice and began to write full time. I was obsessed!

What is the inspiration for your current book?

On a trip to France a few years ago, my husband and I were in a small bistro and I pulled out a notebook and wrote something. Hubby asked what I had written and I told him I had an idea for a story featuring a woman following her grandfather’s WWI diaries. It was my husband who suggested adding a mystery and over dinner—and a bottle of wine—we amused ourselves sketching out the story, which is now Time and Regret.

Is there a particular theme you are exploring in this book?

So far, each of my novels has featured World War One and the devastation that occurred as well as the lifelong effects one those who survived. So that’s one theme. In Time and Regret I also explore the notion of regret and how it can eat away at an individual over time often with unexpected consequences. We all have regrets in life and I wanted to explore that for both Grace and her grandfather Martin.

Which period of history particularly inspires or interests you? Why?

I seem to be drawn to periods of great conflict although I have no idea why! While in school, I was never a fan of history classes, however, as an adult I am discovering that I’m very keen to understand the political, social and military forces that shape change. I am also drawn to time periods that are not too distant. Such periods feel more tangible and relatable to me.

Which authors have influenced you?

I’m constantly reading and while I have some favourite authors, I tend to find different techniques to emulate from different authors. For example, when I wrote the character Grace Hansen in Time and Regret, I had the styles of Beatriz Williams and Lauren Willig in mind. The novel I’m working on now is set in 1870s Paris so I think the main characters will need a different approach. I hope that makes sense!

Which methods/ strategies do you employ to write?

I’m a planner so I create a concept, then a summary outline. Following the summary outline, I develop a detailed chapter outline and only then do I begin to write. When I wrote Unravelled, my first novel, the process was totally ‘seat of the pants’ and while I am happy with the final result, it took many, many iterations to get there!

What do you do if stuck for a word or a phrase?

My thesaurus is always in reach—my son gave me the largest one he could find as a Christmas gift one year—as is my dictionary. I frequently look at poetry for inspiration and occasionally I put in #needsabetterword as a placeholder to return to later. There are times when the creative spirit has disappeared so I leave those rather than become frustrated.

What advice would you give an aspiring author?

There’s so much advice out there, it’s hard to know what to emphasize! However, here are a few takeaways that have worked for me. (1) Learn how to write well. I know that’s obvious but if you want to be competitive, you have to develop a style and write very well. (2) Learn about your genre. In my case I’ve done a lot of research on historical fiction (who buys it, why, what are their preferences, what kind of stories do they prefer and so on) and while I wouldn’t suggest you invest the time I have in conducting surveys, I would suggest you look for similar information about your chosen genre. (3) Build a platform. This is another truism in today’s social media driven world. You can’t start building a platform soon enough. I originally thought this was nonsense until I heard more than one agent/editor mention that they always look at a prospective author’s social media presence before deciding whether to take them on. (4) Develop a writing approach and discipline that works for you. Others talk about ‘bum glue’ as a key component for success and I agree with that notion. Novels don’t get written unless you sit down and write!

Tell us about your next book

Thank you for asking. My next novel is currently called Camille and Mariele, mainly because I haven’t yet come up with a more compelling title! It’s about two women who are nothing alike but develop a strong, enduring friendship and is set in 1870s Paris, a time of conflict and great turmoil for France. These two women originally appeared in Lies Told in Silence. In that novel, which is set during WWI, Camille has already died and Mariele is a grandmother. The new novel has them as young women on the verge of marriage and, of course, many twists and turns will unfold. If I were cleverer, I would have written this one earlier and develop a series!!

Many thanks for sharing your insights, Mary. Good luck with Time and Regret.

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. Determine 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.

From her grandfather’s vivid writing and Grace’s own travels, a picture emerges of a many very unlike the one who raised her: one who watched countless friends and loved ones die horrifically in battle; one who lived a life of regret. But her grandfather wasn’t the only one harbouring secrets, and the more Grace learns about her family, the less she thinks she can trust them.

Time and Regret is available from Amazon US, Amazon Canada, Amazon UK, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound, Indigo and Audiobooks.

Mary’s other novels, Lies Told in Silence and Unravelled are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes

Wednesday, June 15, 2016



Great news! The Historical Novel Society Australasia is delighted to announce our 2017 conference will be held in partnership with Swinburne University in Melbourne on the weekend of 8-10th September 2017. SUBSCRIBE to our newsletter to be the first to hear about heavily discounted EARLY BIRD registration.

Once again, writers and readers will have the chance to come together to celebrate the historical fiction genre with a conference program that will include sessions on craft, research, inspiration, publishing pathways, social media and personal histories. There will be an academic program, manuscript assessments and super sessions. And we will be introducing a short story contest as well.

SAVE THE DATES of 8-10th September 2017 in your diary. More information will be available as we develop our program. Bookmark the HNSA WEBSITE and this BLOG. Interested in becoming a sponsor? Find out more about our SPONSORSHIP OPPORTUNITIES.

Join our HNSA Facebook Group for discussions on history, writing, reading and historical fiction. Feel free to connect with us through Twitter  and Facebook. We look forward to meeting you in Melbourne in 2017!  

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The Forgotten Queens of 1066 by Joanna Courtney

HNSA is delighted to welcome Joanna Courtney to  provide a different perspective of the events of 1066 in her guest post on the women behind the Battle of Hastings. Thanks Joanna!

Ever since I sat up in my cot with a book, I’ve wanted to be a writer. I’ve had over 200 stories and serials in women’s magazines and, to my delight, PanMacmillan have now published The Chosen Queen and The Constant Queen, the first two books of my historical trilogy – The Queens of the Conquest.

It was when studying English lit at university that I discovered medieval literature and unlocked what has become a true passion for ancient history. I find the Saxons, Vikings and Normans absolutely fascinating and was very drawn to the amazing women – one from each nation – who were vying to be Queen of England in 1066. How come, I wondered, everyone knows about the kings but no one about their queens? It didn’t seem right and my trilogy seeks to tell their stories.

Women are something of a rarity in history – supposedly shy, domestic creatures who peep out between the cracks of their husband’s ‘greater’ deeds. However, anyone who has ever lived with a mother/sister/auntie/girlfriend/wife/daughter will know that very few women really stand quietly in the background of life and I see no reason why this would not have been every bit as true in the past as it is now.

Too many stories of historical women are lost to us and that is why I chose to write The Queens of the Conquest, about the women fighting to be Queen of England in 1066.  Not that I don’t like the men (I’m a little bit in love with all my heroes) but theirs are the grand stories everyone knows and I am more interested in capturing what happened behind the scenes of the battles.

Exploring the female side of a previous era allows access to those more intimate stories, but it is not without problems. The first is the lack of information about women in times past, especially further back. This isn’t really prejudice, simply that little was considered worth documenting unless it affected who owned land, property, goods or titles and that rarely included women.

This is a huge frustration for the historian but something of a gift for a novelist armed with an eager imagination, though it does create the second big problem in exploring female history – how we can truly get under the skin of these women? How can we know what they really thought when we have no access to the basic assumptions and attitudes that must have underpinned their approach to life? To me, it all comes down to the essentials of being human and of being female, essentials which surely have not changed that much?

This year we’ll celebrate the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings and in some ways 950 years is a long time, but in terms of the evolution of humanity, it’s nothing and it’s surely arrogant to assume that emotions are a modern invention? Saxons, Vikings and Normans would have loved their children, fought with their siblings, made and lost friends, laughed and cried, hurt and grieved, and fallen in love. These are all fertile ground for the novelist and hopefully, therefore, the reader.

I firmly believe that the women (and, indeed the men) of the eleventh century were similar to us in all the essentials of what it is to be human and they certainly didn’t live from headline to headline. Battles, even in those times, were few and far between and in the intervening days people didn’t just sit around waiting to be ‘history’. For me it’s really important to think about those long hours, days and weeks of ‘normal’ life. The three heroines of my books were all educated young woman, brought up at the heart of powerful courts. They would have understood the problems facing their husbands and would be a logical person to talk them over with. These were not women to underestimate, however little we may know about them, so who were they?

Edyth, heroine of The Chosen Queen, was the only daughter of the powerful Earl of central England and became Queen of Wales at the age of 14. She reigned for 9 years and gave birth to 3 heirs before losing her husband to the English and returning to her homeland. Back there, still only 23, she was the only woman powerful enough to help Harold join North and South to make England strong enough to resist invaders. Edyth was carrying Harold’s son when he died on Hastings field and had history been the turn of a sword different, she could have been the mother of a line of kings stretching who knows how far.

Elizaveta, heroine of The Constant Queen, was a fiery and elegant Princess of Kiev. Born of royal Rus blood on her father’s side and Scandinavian on her mother’s, she was brought up to be a ruler. Having won the heart of Harald of Norway when he was exiled to her father’s highly influential court, she was at his side both when he reclaimed his own country and when he set sail to conquer England. A woman of drive and energy, she fuelled her husband’s ambitions and, with a network of sisters in all the royal courts of Europe, could have made England a highly cosmopolitan queen.

Finally Matilda, heroine of The Conqueror’s Queen (out in 2017), was the eldest daughter of the politically canny Baldwin of Flanders and, with French royal blood flowing in her veins from her mother’s side, was also raised for a high place in the world. Although initially unwilling to marry Duke William because of his bastardy, she soon recognised in the young ruler a fierce and proud ambition to match her own. Together they set out to master Normandy and, eventually, to conquer England, the country they’d been promised by King Edward. As a great-great-great-great-granddaughter of Alfred the Great, Matilda gave William a vital pedigree in his claim to the throne, but as his wife she also gave him culture, stability and credibility to make him the viable ruler he became. The victory in 1066 was not just his, but theirs.

These women were rivals in 1066 and they were battling every bit as hard as the men, if not with swords then with the traditional women’s weapons of words, influence and care. They may not have known each other but they did know that their own success would necessarily be at the expense of the others and so it eventually proved. By the end of 1066 there would be two exiled widows and one queen. Did the best woman win? You’ll have to read my books to decide but I do hope that in doing so you can help recover a little of these amazing women who should not have been lost to history.

‘You need not take England without me, Hari, because I will be your constant queen – there with you; there for you.’

Elizaveta is a princess of Kiev but that doesn’t stop her chasing adventure. Defying conventions she rides the rapids of the Dnieper alongside her royal brothers and longs to rule in her own right as a queen. Elizaveta meets her match when the fearsome Viking warrior Harald Hardrada arrives at her father’s court seeking fame and fortune. He entrusts Elizaveta to be his treasure keeper, holding the keys to his ever-growing wealth – and eventually to his heart.
 Theirs is a fierce romance and the strength of their love binds them together as they travel across the vast seas to Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Iceland. In 1066, their ambition carries them to the Orkneys as they plan to invade England and claim the crown…
The Constant Queen is a powerful absorbing novel which tells the story of a daring Viking warrior, his forgotten queen and a love that almost changed the course of history.

Thanks so much Joanna - you certainly will be busy over the next year with your trilogy! You can learn more about Joanna on her website and you can connect with her via Facebook or Twitter.
The Chosen Queen and The Constant Queen are available on Amazon Australia or via Pan MacMillan.