Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Interview with M.K. Tod, author of Unravelled

Today, Flashlight Commentary is pleased to welcome author M.K. Tod to our little corner of the net to discuss her debut release, Unravelled. 

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Welcome to Flashlight Commentary. To start things off, please tell us a bit about Unravelled. 
Many thanks for having me, Erin. It’s a delight to be on your blog. Unravelled’s tag line is the fastest way to sum up the book. Two wars. Two affairs. One marriage. But let me tell you a little bit more.

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.

What inspired you to write this story?
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, living in Hong Kong as an expat spouse with very little to do, I decided to write about her life. After all, 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. After hours and hours of research, time spent with my mother listening to stories about her parents and examining several books about writing, the story took shape. Although Unravelled contains many facts that are true to life, the plot and characters have become totally fictional.

What research went into Unravelled and did you discover anything particularly surprising while investigating background material for your book? 
I spent hours and hours researching the times from 1915 to 1944. Everything from the details of a soldiers uniform and the ships that brought troops from Canada to England to the reasons why the 1942 attack on Dieppe failed and signaling equipment used in WWII. For me, researching was almost as much fun as writing. I found government sites containing incredible records from WWI, places where I could listen to music from the time period of Unravelled, WWI journals and diaries, maps of battlefields, diagrams showing the layout of a trench. I visited museums and travelled to northern France to walk the fields where battles had occurred. I read oodles of fiction set either in WWI or WWII and a number of non-fiction books relevant to my story.

One of my mother’s stories was a huge surprise. She told me that my grandfather had been involved in some capacity with espionage in WWII. My grandfather and espionage. I still shake my head. That revelation led to the inclusion of Camp X (Canada’s spy training centre) in Unravelled.

Your story takes readers to three different countries during two world conflicts. As an author, did you ever find the massive scope of this piece intimidating? 
Because I knew the arc of my grandparents’ lives and was using that to frame the story behind Unravelled, I don’t recall feeling intimidated but I do recall feeling like giving up on a few occasions. And on one occasion I did give up and began a second book instead. That book was so much easier to write and that book found me an agent. While my agent attempted to find a publisher, I went back to Unravelled and with the help of an editor, improved the manuscript.

Married to the Marine Corps, I know military relationships are not easy and I think you did a wonderful job exploring the loneliness Ann feels and walls Edward builds around his war time experiences. Why did this material appeal to you and how did you approach incorporating it into your story?
Thank you for the compliment, Erin. I have never been a student of history. In fact, I disliked history in high school – something about all those dates, facts and historical figures to memorize. However, Unravelled began as a story about my grandparents who are very real people to me and I think the fact that my research allowed me to understand their lives and experiences spoke to me in a very profound way. I would read about being in the trenches during WWI and say to myself, “My grandfather lived through that. Somehow he survived it all.” On another occasion, I found a picture of my grandmother with a group of women wrapping Christmas bundles to send overseas and it made me realize what those on the home front endured. I listened to radio broadcasts stored in the CBC and BBC archives and imagined my grandparents along with my mother and uncle listening night after night to news about the war.

Gradually I blended fact with fiction and found the shape of the story. What happens to a marriage when the husband will not share how war affected him? What happens when the wife is alone day after day after day? How do ordinary people watch their sons or lovers go off to war? I wanted to make the reality of war tangible for my generation and the generations that have followed, women and men who have had little experience with war.

You probably have many, but is there a scene that you really enjoyed writing?
I have a few scenes that stand out. Two scenes from the battle at Vimy Ridge stay in my mind. I worked hard to write those scenes in a way that were realistic without being too gory. I had done so much research, I felt that I had lived through that battle just as my grandfather had. Every time I read them, I want to cry. And, of course, the sex scenes are great fun to write.

What scene posed the greatest challenge for you as an author?
I struggled to write the last scene in the book. Deciding on the ending is a difficult task. I wrote the ending many different ways before settling on a relatively quiet scene to close the story. Others wanted me to add more zest like a grand sweep of music that ends with soaring violins and a crescendo of drums. Ultimately I decided to stay with my quiet ending as it felt appropriate to the characters involved.

Sometimes fiction takes on a life of its own and forces the author to make sacrifices for the sake of the story. Is there a character or concept you wish you could have spent more time with or expanded on?
Ann Jamieson – the main female character – has three very good friends in the novel. I wished I could have spent more time on the notion of friendship sustaining women during difficult times.

If you could sit down and talk with one of your characters, maybe meet and discuss things over drinks, who would you choose and why?
Because the main characters are modeled on my grandparents, I feel that I already know them. So this is a difficult question. The character I might want to meet is Helene Noisette, Edward’s WWI lover. That might be an interesting conversation.

What do you hope readers come away with after reading your work?
I hope they come away with an appreciation for war from both a man and a woman’s perspective. I also hope that Unravelled helps them understand what their grandparents or great-grandparents sacrificed in order that our world remained free.

Finally, what is next for you? Any new projects waiting in the wings?
What’s next is to publish Lies Told in Silence, which is Helene’s story. It begins in 1913 and is set in France. Beyond that, I plan to return to my third novel, Blind Regret which is a dual time story set partly in the early 1990s and partly in WWI.

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About the Author: 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 (USCanada and elsewhere), NookKoboGoogle Play and on iTunes. Mary can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.

About the Book: 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 Canada, France and England, UNRAVELLED is a compelling novel of love, duty and sacrifice set amongst the turmoil of two world wars.

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CHECK OUT ALL THE STOPS ON m.k. tOD'S vIRTUAL bOOK TOUR


Monday, Nov 4
Review + Giveaway at
Tuesday, Nov 5
Review + Giveaway at Words And Peace
Wednesday, Nov 6
Review + Giveaway at I Am, Indeed
Thursday, Nov 7
Review + Giveaway at Suko’s Notebook
Review + Giveaway at Vvb32 Reads
Friday, Nov 8
Review + Giveaway at Caffeinatedlife.net
Saturday, Nov 9
Review + at Jorie Loves A Story
Guest-post at Jorie Loves A Story
Sunday, Nov 10
Review + Giveaway at Giraffe Days
Monday, Nov 11
Review + Interview + Giveaway at
Tuesday, Nov 12
Review + Giveaway at Mommasez…
Wednesday, Nov 13
Review + Interview + Giveaway at Flashlight Commentary



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