Beginning the long journey of writing a new novel

Paris Next WeekYes, I know, I’ve just finished my manuscript The Grey Silk Purse and have made my first submission but I’m nervous. As a diversionary tactic I’m researching a new novel. I even have a title – Paris Next Week.

I’m at the absolute beginning which is always exciting. I have a vague idea about the plot and I have the two main locations – Sydney and Paris in the 1920s. I’ve just picked up my first book to read. It is Women, the Arts, and the 1920s in Paris and New York edited by Kenneth W. Wheeler and Virginia Lee Lussier and even after a quick glance it looks like the perfect ticket. The ship hasn’t docked yet but I already have a list of books to take on the voyage and some of these books may even help determine aspects of characterisation and plot.

That’s the fun of researching. You read to learn about something new. It may be Serbia in 1917, Port Stephens in 1942, England in the middle ages and as you find out more information you often stumble across an amazing fact that alters your writing completely.

Originally at the very start of The Grey Silk Purse I had a vague idea that my main character would be a nurse in Salonika, although something nagged at me that this profession wouldn’t suit my Miss Summerville. I began reading about the Australian nurses working there during WWI and discovered that other Australian nurses were working in Serbia, of all places! When the Australian troops were sent to France a lot of our girls were sent to the little known Macedonian Front. I began to read about Serbia in earnest and very quickly stumbled upon the wonderful Olive Kelso King who drove an ambulance. That was more like it. This is what my girl would have been doing!

Through reading I discovered not only the beautiful and very important location Lake Ostrovo for my novel but what my character did during the last year of the war. I read six memoirs of women involved in the Scottish Women’s Hospital and I drew from their knowledge to set the scenes for the most crucial chapters in the book – the why and wherefore of life in a field hospital. I can’t imagine the completed manuscript without all these facts now common knowledge to me. I don’t reveal them all of course but they are crucial to a lot of decisions I made (or my character makes) during the course of her war work.

I now have an even greater admiration for the women who were involved in this terrible conflict. We often talk about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. We can now see that returned soldiers from all major offensives were victims but how did the women cope? We know the men either ended up in asylums or drank excessively after both world wars but what happened to the VADs, the ambulance drivers and the nurses when they returned to civilisation? That question is the driving force of the novel and it’s one I really couldn’t have asked without at least the basic facts behind me. So happy research reading. You’ll never know what you may stumble upon!

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13 thoughts on “Beginning the long journey of writing a new novel

    • Thanks Linda. You wouldn’t believe it but I hadn’t finished the blog. I hit publish instead of update. Will be posting the rest of it in a few days!
      Hope you are doing okay

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  1. If you’re after information about Paris in the 20s, a dear friend of mine is working on a PhD at Sydney Uni at the moment looking at the way African-Americans and black French intellectuals interacted and collaborated during the civil rights era (right through from the 1900s to 1970s) – I’m sure she’d love to share some sources.

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    • Hi Tara,

      Lovely to hear from you. I would definitely lovely to touch base with your friend. I’m exploring a lot of options at the moment and I am very interested in that part of the cultural life of Paris. One of my favourite books is Passing. Let me know how I can get in touch.

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  2. Noah Lukeman, author of The First Five Pages, says “Don’t stop writing just because you’ve started querying. Immediately write another book. It will help take your mind off waiting to hear back .. and will keep you doing what you should be doing–writing. It could take six months to finish the querying process, and by then if you end up with 50 rejections and no agent, you could be upset. But if you’ve been writing all the while, by then you may has a new novel–or at least be far along the path of one.” Sounds like you’re on the right path, Debbie 🙂

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  3. Hi Debbie,
    I have been doing some family history of the King family of Fintona and I realise Olive Kelso King is a descendant of Rev George King originally from Fintona, Tyrone. I am trying to prove a connection between Rev George King and my ancestor Anne King and if you come across any family connections to Olive could you possibly direct them my way. suemccall20@gmail.com. Thanks heaps.

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    • Yes, I will Sue. I’m not sure if it is worth contacting her niece. She is the one who put the book together. I will go back over my records and see if I have her name. She might be able to help you. I am away in New Zealand at the moment so give me a week or so.

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    • Hi Sue,
      Olive’s relation was Hazel King. From memory she is a half sister actually not Olive’s niece. Her father married again and Olive got on well with her stepmother. Olive’s father was a very wealthy businessman G. Kelso King. Let me know how you go.
      Debbie

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