Q &A with M.K. Tod, Author of UNRAVELLED

Monday, September 23rd, 2013 | Uncategorized

M.K. Tod’s debut novel Unravelled can be summed up in its tagline: Two Wars. Two Affairs. One Marriage. Beginning in 1935, the novel interleaves stark memories of WWI with the unfolding of WWII to tell the story of one couple’s struggle to keep their marriage alive.



Thanks for joining me today, Mary. I have to ask, when did you begin writing Unravelled?

In 2004 my husband and I went to live in Hong Kong. After a few months of excitement, the reality of living so far away from home struck hard. I was lonely, my husband travelled almost every week, I missed my children, family and friends. With no job and oodles of time on my hands, I decided to write a story based loosely on the lives of my grandparents.


How did you research your novel?

One of the most wonderful aspects of historical fiction is the research. Although I hated history at school, I found researching WWI, the Great Depression and WWII to be fascinating. I spent hours looking for tidbits to enhance the story and facts to ensure an accurate depiction of trench warfare, period clothing, dance music, popular foods, regulations, the building of a kite, the sound of bombs dropping, 1920s midwifery practices, and on and on. Often I stumbled on a detail in the serendipity offered by Google and wove that detail in. I found websites galore as well as traditional sources like non-fiction books, libraries, museums, personal travel and so on. One regret is my failure to properly document the research sources I used.


How long did it take to write it?

Having never written anything except business reports and a few academic papers, fiction turned out to be much more of a challenge than I had naively anticipated. After returning to Toronto in 2007, I went back to work and wrote in short bursts at night or on weekends. In 2009 I sent close to fifty query letters to literary agents and, while waiting for responses, began another novel. Interestingly, that novel was easier to write in part because it was a total fabrication but also because I had learned quite a bit about the writing process. In the fall of 2011 I focused my time on Unravelled once more.


What inspired this story?

My grandmother died on the way to her second wedding and I had always thought this dramatic event would make a great ending for a novel. But stories need more than an ending. My mother provided further ingredients for the story by telling me that my grandfather fought at Vimy Ridge in April of 1917 and went on to be part of the Army of Occupation in Germany after WWI ended. She spoke of my great-grandparents and what she knew of her parents’ wedding, a few memories of the Depression and more substantial memories of living through WWII. She gave me a box of old photos and newspaper clippings and my grandfather’s scrapbooks. She also relayed the story of my grandfather’s involvement with Camp X, a place not far from Toronto where espionage agents were trained in WWII. My grandfather and espionage – who would have imagined? And gradually the twists and turns of a plot unfolded.


What is your writing process?

After the haphazard approach to writing Unravelled, I have used a more structured process for my second and third novels based on Elizabeth George’s suggestions in Write Away, her book about writing. I write a general plot summary, then a chapter-by-chapter outline that includes setting, narrator, bullet point outline, dramatic dominoes (this chapter leads to follow on events), and open questions (questions the reader is left wondering at the end of the chapter).


Except when I’m doing ancillary activities like marketing, blogging, or conducting my survey, I write every weekday usually six or more hours. As I said once in a blog post, writing is like no other job I’ve had.


NO ONE GIVES YOU A JOB DESCRIPTION – except all the writers who’ve written books on writing and the professors who teach writing, everyone of them with something different to say.

NO ONE REVIEWS YOUR JOB PERFORMANCE – except thousands (wouldn’t that be nice) of readers, none of whom have met you.

NO ONE MONITORS YOUR WORK – except that little voice in your head or occasionally, if you are lucky enough to get a publisher, an editor who sets deadlines for each of an incredible number of revisions.

YOU HAVE NO COLLEAGUES – no one to bitch to, no one to go for coffee with, no one to discuss difficult problems with.

YOU HAVE NO BOSS – many would say this is a good thing but in my experience bosses can help set direction, clarify priorities, help you see the big picture or negotiate the politics.

YOU HAVE NO SUBORDINATES – which means having no one who seeks your guidance or to whom you can delegate.

YOU RECEIVE NO REGULAR INCOME – in fact you can work for years and earn nothing, zip, zero, nada.

YOU REGULARLY DISCARD YOUR WORK PRODUCT – who else would put hours and hours into a small paragraph and later delete it?

YOU AGONIZE OVER COMMAS, ADVERBS, WORDS IN GENERAL – writing in many other careers only has to be ‘good enough’.

IT NEVER MATTERS WHAT YOU WEAR TO WORK – even pajamas are acceptable.

Thanks again for joining me. Tune in Wednesday, Sept. 25th  for a chance to win a copy of her debut novel…

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 soon on iTunes. Mary can be contacted on FacebookTwitter and Goodreads.

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2 Comments to Q &A with M.K. Tod, Author of UNRAVELLED

Carol Bodensteiner
September 23, 2013

What a great description of writing as a job, Mary. We writers really do take on a whacky job – one that we wouldn’t accept if an employer offered it to us! I’m really enjoying your blog tour. My copy of UNRAVELLED arrived in the mail on Friday. Yeah!

M.K. Tod
September 23, 2013

Thanks for following the tour, Carol. And I’m so glad your copy of Unravelled arrived. Please let me know what you think!

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