Friday, August 19, 2016

Interview with M.K. Tod, author of Time and Regret

Author interviews are one of my favorite things to post which is why I am super excited to welcome author M.K. Tod to Flashlight Commentary to discuss her latest release, Time and Regret.

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Welcome to Flashlight Commentary. It’s great to have you with us. To start things off, please tell us a bit about Time and Regret.
Many thanks for having me on your blog, Erin. It’s a pleasure to be here again chatting with you. The tag line for Time and Regret is: A cryptic letter. A family secret. A search for answers. And I’ve been promoting it as mystery + war + romance – hopefully an intriguing premise that will capture readers’ interest. 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 family 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 battles sites in northern France, where she becomes increasingly drawn to a charming French man—and suddenly aware that someone is following her …

Where did the idea for this story come from? 
I love telling this story. A few years ago, my husband and I took a trip to France. We spent an evening at a café in the small town of Honfleur at the mouth of the Seine river. 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 favorite 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 beginning of Time and Regret.

Without giving too much away, what can you tell us about Grace Hansen? What kind of woman is she? 
Grace is a recently divorced mother of two in her early forties. She’s had a successful career but has found it easiest to allow her ex-husband to dominate their marriage. Grace was raised by her grandparents – a loving grandfather and a strict grandmother who favored criticism over praise. I picture her as good looking but not glamorous with a slim build and dark brown hair (but readers are free to create their own impression!). Divorce has been difficult. When Grace discovers her grandfather’s diaries and the puzzling note he left for her, she’s captivated by the challenge of solving the puzzle and sees the trip to France as a chance to get away from all the stress. I think of her as stronger than she’s given herself credit for, someone who is awakening to new possibilities, a woman who is willing to fight for her family and ultimately to stand up for herself.

Grace shares a special bond with her grandfather. What can you tell us about Martin? 
We first meet Martin as a young soldier heading off to war in 1915. He’s tall and angular and has readily acquired the skills required to lead men into battle. With him as he heads overseas are three close friends: Bill, Pete and Michel. Initially optimistic and ‘gung ho’, the horrible conditions of war and the casualties involved gradually bring on profound anger and despair. We also meet Martin through the eyes of his granddaughter Grace and see an understanding, caring man who has successfully built an art gallery in New York. And through the eyes of his wife, Cynthia, we appreciate Martin’s loyalty and love.

Cynthia was a difficult character for me to appreciate, but she grew on me and ended up being one of my favorite members of the cast. What inspired her and her arc?
Cynthia is totally fabricated, not based on anyone I know although I might have been subliminally affected by Maggie Smith’s character on Downton Abbey! Cynthia is British born, raised in a family that always struggled to make ends meet despite the fact that her mother had been born into a wealthy family. Childhood poverty has left Cynthia striving for riches; family tragedies have caused her to be caustic and difficult. I think I will leave her character arc for readers to discover.

As a novelist, what drew you to this particular period?
I’ve been obsessed with World War I since researching my own grandfather’s participation in that dreadful conflict. I found it very difficult to imagine the man I knew as being capable of killing people and of enduring what soldiers had to endure. This is my third novel that concerns WWI – I like to think of them as my tribute to the sacrifices made by men and women of those times.

What sort of research went into Time and Regret? What sources did find most valuable? 
I could go on and on about sources! Writing Time and Regret was in some ways easier because I had already written two other novels set during this period. Nonetheless, I had to create believable scenes in the trenches and on the battlefield for Martin and for this I found the Canadian battalion diaries for WWI all carefully preserved on a government website. I read every entry for the 19th battalion of the 4th brigade, 2nd division of the Canadian army and knew exactly where Martin would be at any point in time.

You probably have many, but is there a scene you particularly enjoyed writing? 
Looking back, I think the scenes I really enjoyed writing are those involving Grace and her grandmother. Those episodes allow both characters to be difficult, cantankerous, argumentative and so on. Rather fun to imagine and then create.

What scene posed the greatest challenge for you as an author? Why was it troublesome and how did you work through it? 
You’re asking such great questions, Erin! It’s a truism that opening scenes are always difficult – I probably wrote five or six different ones for Time and Regret. However, the scenes where the mystery culminates were the most difficult for me. I wanted the tension to build and build but also wanted to avoid going ‘over the top’ or being too clichéd in those final scenes. The ending was also a challenge!

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 on?
I would have enjoyed fleshing out Pierre’s character more. He’s not a simple man and deserves more attention – perhaps a future novel! Also I had originally written more of Cynthia’s story as a young woman but had to edit those bits out.

Historical novelists frequently have to adjust facts to make their stories work. Did you have to invent or change anything while writing Time and Regret and if so, what did you alter? 
I don’t think I altered anything to do with Martin’s battalion except the name of the ship he travelled on to France and the fact that in reality the 19th battalion spent several months doing further training in between arriving in England and embarking for France.

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? 
I’d love to have dinner in a cozy French bistro with Grace and Pierre. Not only would the food and wine be excellent, I have a feeling the conversation would be very interesting.

Just because I’m curious, if you could pick a fantasy cast to play the leads in a screen adaptation of Time and Regret, who would you hire? 
Judi Dench for Cynthia, the grandmother.  Ryan Gosling for the young Martin Devlin. Hugh Jackman for Pierre (as long as he can do a reasonable French accent). Anne Hathaway would be a wonderful Grace.

Finally, what's next for you? Do you have a new project in the works?
Thank you for asking, Erin. And yes, I do have a new project in the works – based on two women who are nothing alike but develop a strong, enduring friendship. It’s set in 1870s Paris, a time of conflict and great turmoil for France and the two women are Mariele and Camille from Lies Told in Silence. In that novel which is set during WWI, Camille has already died and Mariele is a grandmother. My new novel – as yet untitled – has them as young women on the verge of marriage and, of course, many twists and turns will unfold.

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"As I settled down to read this captivating novel, strains of “As Time Goes By” filled my mind. Throughout this sensitively written and heartrending book about love, loss and redemption, the author takes us on a journey between 1990’s New York and the French battle fields of the Great War. Traveling smoothly between time and place, the writing is evocative and compelling, and with two points of view between recently divorced Grace Hansen and her grandfather, who fought in the war, we are quickly enfolded in a tale of family intrigue and mystery." - Elizabeth St.John, Goodreads Review

"I loved the unraveling of the mystery in this book. It really kept me engaged and I loved seeing the trip that the author took us on. While I enjoyed the mystery, I enjoyed reading Martin's journal entries even more. The author packs a ton of historical detail in so you can feel all of the things that Martin is experiencing throughout the book. I love reading about WWI and you definitely get a good sense of just how much soldiers were expected to deal with during that time period." - Meg, A Bookish Review

"M. K. Tods Time and Regret captivated me right from the beginning. The twin viewpoints the story is told from moves the reader from what Grace reads in her Grandfathers journals, and experiences as she retraces his journey through World War I France; and tells the story as Martin, her Grandfather, experienced it. The writing was superb, flowing easily, keeping the plot interesting and intriguing, while building the ever changing French country side in a way that made it easy to imagine being there." - John, Goodreads Review

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Hi - I'm M.K. Tod, Mary actually, the author of TIME AND REGRET, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED. I have enjoyed a passion for historical novels that began in my early teenage years immersed in the stories of Rosemary Sutcliff, Jean Plaidy and Georgette Heyer. After a 20+ year career in business, in 2004, I moved to Hong Kong with my husband and no job. To keep busy I decided to research my grandfather’s part in the Great War. What began as an effort to understand my grandparents’ lives blossomed into a fulltime occupation as a writer. I live in Toronto and I’m happily married with two adult children.

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