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.