Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Charles Todd--The Shattered Tree: A New Bess Crawford

DEBORAH CROMBIE: What a treat we have today! One (two, actually) of my favorite authors, mother and son writing team CHARLES TODD (Charles and Caroline!) are here with us to talk about their new book featuring WWI battlefield nurse Bess Crawford, THE SHATTERED TREE, out on August 30th.  (And what gorgeous cover!)

The Todds are such an inspiration to me. They write TWO terrific books a year, one featuring shell-shocked Scotland Yard detective Ian Rutledge in post WWI England, and the other featuring Bess, a colonel's daughter who joins the British nursing service at the beginning of the war, a time when nice young women did NOT do those things. The books are chock full of research but are so gripping that only later do you realize you've learned history. The Bess books are to me particularly vivid, because they are told in first person and often in the midst of the battlefield action.

Here's what happens in THE SHATTERED TREE:

At the foot of a tree shattered by shelling and gunfire, stretcher-bearers find an exhausted officer, shivering with cold and a loss of blood from several wounds. The soldier is brought to battlefield nurse Bess Crawford’s aid station, where she stabilizes him and treats his injuries before he is sent to a rear hospital. The odd thing is, the officer isn’t British—he’s French. But in a moment of anger and stress, he shouts at Bess in German.

When Bess reports the incident to Matron, her superior offers a ready explanation. The soldier is from Alsace-Lorraine, a province in the west where the tenuous border between France and Germany has continually shifted through history, most recently in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, won by the Germans. But is the wounded man Alsatian? And if he is, on which side of the war do his sympathies really lie?

Of course, Matron could be right, but Bess remains uneasy—and unconvinced. If he was a French soldier, what was he doing so far from his own lines . . . and so close to where the Germans are putting up a fierce, last-ditch fight?

When the French officer disappears in Paris, it’s up to Bess—a soldier’s daughter as well as a nurse—to find out why, even at the risk of her own life.

I loved this book! It was fascinating to see wartime Paris through Bess's eyes. And of course I was thrilled to have the chance to ask the Todds what inspired them. Here's Caroline to fill us in.

*Why Paris, when Bess was so at home in London and other parts of England?

 Paris was where many English officers and a lot of Aussie enlisted men went to recuperate from their wounds,  and we really hadn’t done much with it. So this was our chance, and that meant creating a French mystery to use it more thoroughly than an English mystery would have done.   And THAT meant a whole bucket full of new research!  We found some really fascinating material about the salons and a designer who worked on French Army uniforms, and all sorts of odd tidbits that didn’t fit the book but were fun to discover.  You wouldn’t believe some of it.  Like a French air ace and his relationship with a French designer.

 *She was out of her comfort zone there—without her father’s knowledge and influence, without Simon, and so on.  How did you manage that?

That made for very interesting opportunities!  We needed some new characters.  That meant learning enough about the period in France to draw them well.  People who really would have been there, people Bess would have been able to turn to, not just handing her versions of her English background.  You’ve done much the same in Cambridge and Cheshire—where your characters are out of their element.

 *You bring back a very popular character in Captain Barkley, the American serving with the Canadian forces. How did he fit into this new setting?

 He’s there to help Bess—but she doesn’t quite trust him!  And he has his own agenda, one part of which is trying to keep Bess safe, and only succeeding in creating problems.  Bess has been used to the freedom that being raised wherever the Regiment was sent, and she missed out on many of the more suffocating English views of women carrying over from the Victorians.  He wants to make sure she doesn’t run into trouble, he wants to see her rest in bed and take care of her own wound and stay out of trouble, but Bess knows her own mind, and much as she likes the Captain, she just isn’t the sort of woman who is afraid of doing anything a man would disapprove of as “unladylike.”   She’s more modern because of her upbringing than many of her contemporaries.  And many of the young women who chose to become nurses often faced these ideas of what a well brought up young lady should see or do or know about.   When it came to bathing the wounded, most Victorian women had never seen a grown man in his underwear much less stark naked, and for many it was more shocking than the wounds they’d suffered.

 *Where does Bess go from here?

(How the devil do I know, we’ve only got a few chapters written!)  Ahem.  Next year’s Bess,  A CASUALTY OF WAR,  goes back to the Front as the war draws to a close. And there is a patient from Barbados in the Caribbean, serving as an English officer, who is certain he was shot by another English officer he recognized, although all the Army’s records show that this man was killed in an attack two years before.  What really happened there in No Man’s Land during that awful retreat when he was wounded? Is this young officer suffering from shell shock or mentally unstable from the strain of war?  He’s a long way from home, and Bess tries to find out just what the truth is.

 *How is Rutledge doing?

 He’s currently in production for next winter.  RACING THE DEVIL starts in France where five English officers who survived the Great War have met in Paris to race each other to Nice. But something goes wrong, and a year later,  tragedy appears to have followed them to England. 

DEBS: Caroline and Charles will be stopping in to answer questions, and will be giving away a copy of THE SHATTERED TREE to a lucky commenter, so get your oar in!


  1. What a gorgeous cover! And wartime Paris sounds like an intriguing place for Bess to find herself. I’m looking forward to reading “The Shattered Tree” . . . .

    Bess’s stories have been set within the framework of the war . . . if the war is drawing to a close in “A Casualty of War,” I'm curious about what might be on the horizon for our favorite battlefield nurse . . . .

  2. Joan asked exactly the same question I had about what happens after the war. Is it difficult to write a series about historical, but finite, events? We all know that he Korean War was much shorter than the run of M*A*S*H, but that show wasn't really about the war. Bess has been moving along through "real" war time, do you have plans for her in peacetime?

  3. Oh my goodness, welcome welcome welcome! If I say I am your biggest fan, I know there are a lot of people vying for the same title, but I am in contention!
    I'm so intrigued by your French ace tidbit… Can you tell us more?
    And wow, Caroline, how do you make time for it all?

  4. Good morning! It's 58 degrees after a week of 90s and a heat index over a 100--107 at one point. This sudden change feels like long johns and hot chocolate.

    Hi, Joan! You were commenting at 1 am, while we were working on a chapter of NEXT summer's Bess. Lots of things ahead for her. One more book set in the war itself, but the war didn't end abruptly. After the shooting stops the wounded are still in need of care, and Bess won't abandon them. But soon she'll receive an invitation to a wedding in Ireland, and find herself caught up in the troubles there. And we want to take her back to India for some unfinished business--both Simon and Melinda have stories that haven't been told.

  5. Hi, Kate!

    This is Charles now. To tell a really good story set against the war backdrop, we needed to bring in events that actually happened during the Great War--for instance the Spanish flu epidemic, or the use of tanks, or the explosion at the black powder company. This meant using the actual time line of the war itself. And you're right, this is finite. Exciting--and sort of sad, because with each book, we knew we were drawing closer to the end. But as we were writing the series, we saw so much in Bess that was unexpected when we started out with A DUTY TO THE DEAD, and that told us she had more to say about herself and her time. For instance, in Ireland, still reeling from the Troubles, war has another face.

  6. Hi, Hank! Greetings and hugs from both of us! Yes, it's true that one of the famous designers was in love with one of the war aces, and it was reciprocated. This would probably have caused some ripples in the British or American Army, but the French never raised an eyebrow. But it was also a sad story--the ace was killed. Something else that was interesting to us. A good many of the well-known writers and artists and designers went to Salons in the evening where they talked and drank until dawn, then slept in until late afternoon. Captain Barkley says something in the book about these famous Salons, but there was no way to take Bess there, so that the rest of us could see the scene through her eyes. One of the problems with research. You find so many gems that can't be included for one reason or another, mainly because they don't fit the story line or because they are distracting when you want to keep the suspense high. But we enjoyed going back to Paris in 1918 and seeing a very different approach to the war than Bess had seen in London.

  7. Welcome Caroline and Charles! You were working on the next book at 1 am?? very impressive! And so interesting that you've thought well ahead of your readers about what happens after the war.

    I always think writing with someone could be wonderful--or very bad, depending on the day and the person. Will you tell us about a great day where two heads were much better than one?

  8. And--a comment about yesterday's Jungle Red. Deb, Wren is adorable and growing sooo fast. I loved the pictures of her during her first flight, and I'd sit next to her any time, any where. What a smile she has! Glad to see she takes after Grandma and loves to travel! Great account of the trip.

  9. Welcome, Carolin and Charles! Yes, please let us know what it's like to work together...

  10. That was funny, actually. We were working on THE CONFESSION, a Rutledge book--and the village in Essex where we were setting the story had a secret that had been kept by the villagers for centuries. Something awful had happened there and it was something they didn't want the world to know. (This had come out of the fact that the village we saw when we were exploring it was unwelcoming and cold to outsiders.) But what WAS this secret? No idea, and the book itself wasn't telling. We tossed it around and still had no idea. Then I had to have an MRI of my back to see why it was hurting. My ear plugs fell out during the session, and the sounds of the machine reminded me of the war--I could pick out machine gun fire, rifle fire, and artillery! And it occurred to me that this was a great time to find an answer to the question driving us mad. And it came to me. I couldn't wait to go home and call Charles. He loved it and took it a step further, and we had our secret. By the way, he's just back from a fabulous Killer Nashville weekend, and we were catching up. As a rule 1 am finds us both asleep, but we had a scene to finish. :-)

  11. It was my pleasure to meet you both at LLC this year, and I look forward to Bouchercon 2017. Good luck on your newest book. Paris is my favorite place in the world, and it will be great to read more about Bess Crawford and her experience during WW1. As a nurse, I envy those who served. Thanks for being here.

  12. Susan, it's fun, really--but we can't work in the same room--too easy to get off topic. So whether I'm visiting him or he's visiting me, we go to separate rooms in the house to do any work. Nice thing about computers, it doesn't matter where you are sitting. We work together scene by scene, talking and trying and testing until we have it "right" and then move on to the next scene. No dividing up. And we don't outline. The story is told to us by the characters, and this can lead to new directions and fresh ideas that we wouldn't have thought of in the outline stage. Characters can tell you the most amazing things about themselves and their role in the mystery, if you give them a fair chance. This isn't to say that no outline is better! It entirely depends on the writer. Many people find them very helpful and do exciting work with one, and for them it's the right way to go. Jeffrey Deaver, to name one, outlines extensively, and look where it got HIM! It just happens that I have always hated them, even in high school. It was easier to write the paper and THEN outline it than to outline first. But my teachers never discovered that.

  13. Thank you, Ann, for being a nurse! We've met so many caring and dedicated men and women in the nursing field. We try to capture in Bess some of the dedication and training and feeling for her patients that we've seen in the real world. Actually, many of the skills she learned in her own training, added to those she learned in the years with her father in the army, make her the detective she is. As for Paris, we were nearing the end of the war--and Bess had never been there! It's a place I love as well. So this was a great opportunity to explore. Poor Charles--he had to go back to Paris last fall to do some final research. The suffering one does for one's work. :-)

  14. Yes, I'm always willing to volunteer for hazardous duty, to spare Caroline. But kidding aside, Paris today has changed so much--and just in the last decades. So finding the material we were after took some doing. But I want to take a minute here to say something about a fan we met in Florida a few years back--over in the Lake country, which we really enjoyed visiting. She had been a French teacher and she was retiring. On her visits to France, she bought a lot of books and other materials for her classwork. She had quite a bit on France in WW1 and offered these to us. We gladly accepted, and I hope she knows how much those books have helped us in writing about the war from the French perspective. If she reads this--thank you all over again for being so thoughtful and so generous. In our opinion, mystery readers are the smartest and nicest folks out there. We've made a lot of great friends over the years. Fans and writers like Lucy and Deb and Hank, just to name a few.

  15. Hurrah!1 New Bess on the horizon, new Rutledge--all's right with my world!!!

    As for the war being a finite event--the actual fighting, perhaps--but the effects of that war carried on into the next generations--I can foresee many more stories ahead for Bess--and not necessarily ones that involve more fighting. Love it when you both visit the Reds--always fascinating to hear from you both!

  16. Good morning, Caroline and Charles,

    How do you do research in a non-English speaking country? Do either of you speak French? (And, oh, the suffering the two of you endure in order to bring your characters alive for your readers!)

    How thoughtful of that teacher to offer the historical materials to you!

    Deb Romano

  17. How is it that Caroline and Charles can make any morning better?

    It is such a relief to hear that Bess will be carrying on for some time now. Visits to Ireland and India again sound just about perfect.

    Thank you both for all the hard work you put into these books - both the writing and the research.

    See you soon in New Orleans!

  18. Thanks, FChurch. And you are so right, there's a lot in store for Bess! And for the war's effect on everyone. We've already seen some of that in Rutledge.

    The pub date was originally today! But it was changed to August 30 instead, and I hope you'll enjoy this Bess as much as you have the others. We enjoyed writing sort of a thriller, a spy story and a war story all in one!

  19. Hi Caroline and Charles! What fun to get up on Texas time and find you all having such a great discussion already! Such good questions from everyone. And I certainly agree that Caroline and Charles can make any morning better. I'm sitting here looking at this book, and it is GORGEOUS, and, as always, I was pulled into the story from the very first page and couldn't put it down. So glad I had just turned in my book when I got the copy of The Shattered Tree and so could enjoy it.

    I am always fascinated by the fact that you two don't outline--although I think from our discussions that you do work out a lot of the book, you just don't put your ideas in an outline form.

    Have you ever had to backtrack, because the story veered too far off in an unexpected direction?

    And, by the way, Hank, you can't be their biggest fan because I am:-)

  20. Hi, Deborah, fortunately I speak French and can read it, so I can translate it for Charles. And our editor can speak French so she can double check us. As for other places, one or both of us has been there and had a chance to get to know the country. We might not know the language, but Agatha Christie said once about Poirot that it's the flavor of the language, the rhythm, that matters, not the actual words. So we pay attention to that and ask questions about how the language is put together. We both love to travel, so it's never a hardship to do research somewhere. You'll notice too that we don't use the local dialects of the places Bess or Rutledge travel to in England. Some of them are incomprehensible and even harder to duplicate, but in the time of our characters there were very pronounced differences in how regions sound. We feel it distracts the reader from the story to have to sit there and figure out what someone from Somerset or Wales is actually saying. :-)

  21. Hi, Kristopher! Thanks for the kind words. Glad you like what's in store for Bess in the future.

    Yes, indeed, New Orleans (Bouchercon is there this year, for those who don't know the reference) is going to be great! See you there.

  22. Good morning Caroline and Charles. First, I want to say how much I enjoyed our chats at LCC. My cranky hip wasn't crazy about all the walking we did, but it was still so much fun.

    I particularly love the Bess Crawford series because like Ann, I'm a retired nurse. Although my military service was limited, I still remember sitting in Officers' Basic in the Army Nurse Corp and seeing the films on wound cavitation. Amazing how much destruction is done by the passage of the bullet through tissues, not just from the bullet itself, but from the kinetic energy accompanying it. I also spent time on the firing range with both a .45 pistol and a fully automatic M 16. Loved getting to go through a clip on full auto! There were at least 25 of us on the range, so lots of gunfire.

    Looking forward to the new Bess!

  23. Morning, Deb! I am so absolutely delighted to hear that your latest is in production. That's one step nearer being in my waiting hand. I already have an order in. And maybe I can twist someone's arm and get an early copy.
    And yes, we've been chatting away. Great comments and questions, as always. It's nice to hear what readers and fans have to say.
    But no, we don't work out anything in advance. It's scene by scene, although by a certain point you have faint glimpses of where it might be going. John (husband/father) used to say as he proof read the manuscripts that it felt strange to read a book that wasn't all there. We hoped he was referring to the story and not us! :-)
    Not so much veering off track as learning something about a character that we didn't know in the beginning, and having to go back and take that into account. A good example is THE RED DOOR. As the book opens, there is a woman lying dead in the open doorway. But as we began to learn about the woman before her death, we saw that she had a much larger role than just being the first victim. And we had to go back to the beginning and let her take her rightful place in the story. As a result, she became one of our favorite characters.

  24. Diane, you are so right about the walking! Hope the hip is better now. Are you coming to New Orleans? But LLC was a great convention, and we enjoyed talking to you.

    I know what you mean about tissue damage. We've seen photographs of men who lost the lower part of their faces to shrapnel--and they lived! The result was horrific and almost impossible to repair, and many only went out at night with scarves around their jaws, so that they wouldn't frighten people. But there was a place in Sussex, I think it was, where they tried to work on restoring some of the face, where possible. A start, but of course they didn't have the tools or the knowledge we have today. They used leather, for instance. Still, it gave hope to some men, who could look in the mirror without cringing. We also learned about the knee damage from machine gun fire. Shell shock was also fascinating--no physical damage you could see or fix, but the mind was torn apart.

    I have been to a couple of firing ranges, and it was interesting to use the weapons we write about--sometimes a modern version, but it gives you a very good idea of how it felt to fire and how to aim and what the moving parts were. Charles didn't do too badly either. He kept his target to prove it.

  25. What a beautiful cover!

    I would imagine that the "end" of a war is never really THE END, right? There are almost always issues that trail out after the armistice is signed. As you said, troubles elsewhere? War is, unfortunately, always with us it seems. Or am I imagining that?

  26. Hi, Caroline!

    No questions here, just appreciation that I have another Bess Crawford book to read!

  27. Caroline, I am so with you about outlining. Yuck! And I did the same thing in high school and college. I'd get my paper all written, then do the outline and none of my teachers ever knew the difference.

    I so love Bess! She's a great character in so many ways. Her experiences are different from the norm and her parents so much more understanding than the average Victorian/Edwardian parent (think Vera Brittain!). Her willingness to look beyond the obvious, both as a nurse and an investigator make the stories fascinating. When I read a new "Bess" book, I am completely sucked in and have a hard time stopping long enough to do other things: eat, work, sleep, etc.

    Keep up the great work. And I would LOVE to win a copy of The Shattered Tree.

  28. It certainly seems to be, Mary! And although the war ended on Nov. 11, the wounded didn't all go home and the armies didn't all go home the next day. Bess will have much to do to finish the war from her own perspective of caring for the wounded. Even in the famous Pax Victoria, when there were no big wars, there were dozens of others, and men still died on the battlefield. For some reason people seem to think that war is a solution, when it is really only an extension of the problem and an accounting of men and weapons and money spent on waging it. But it has been going on for millennia, and I don't think we'll see the end of it soon.

    Glad you like Bess's spirit. We wanted a different protagonist from Rutledge, and she has really lived up to her promise!

  29. How wonderful your latest is coming out soon! Questions. Rutledge and Bess have Melinda in common. Have they ever crossed paths prewar or during the war? Why did Simon "retire" when Col. Crawford did, prewar? He must be only in his 30s?

  30. First, I think the Todds are wonderful just from observing them at Bouchercon, how they conduct themselves, so gracious and kind. My biggest embarrassment was that I hadn't read either Ian Rutledge or Bess Crawford. Oh happy day! I have started on the Ian Rutledge series and am ready for #5. I love this series! I would have read only that series this summer, but I had other Bouchercon reading I needed to do, too. I have the first two Bess Crawford books waiting. So, I already know what my winter series reading is going to be. I am most protective of my reading these series and don't want to know what lies ahead, so I didn't read much of the post today. A couple of items slipped in, but not enough to spoil anything. And, of course, you can't talk about a series without spoilers for those who aren't yet caught up. This is problematic for me as a reviewer, too, but I just have to assume that if someone is reading a review for book #9, they are familiar with the series thus far.

    So, thank you for visiting today, Caroline and Charles, and I can't wait to see you in New Orleans.

  31. Caroline and Charles, I have NOT read The Red Door. It's the only book in either series I have for some unaccountable reason missed. But I've bought a copy and it's waiting on my shelf as a special treat. Now I'm really intrigued!

  32. These are marvelous books The stories are excellent and I learn so much.

  33. Thanks so much, Julia! Always nice to hear from you! See you at Bouchercon?

  34. Thank you, Bev! I think the computer glitches at this end are over--sorry to be so late in answering. One of the things we were looking for in a second series was a young woman who was on the brink of modern, yet still of her time. And the way around that strict Victorian code was to have her live in India and other places where she could learn from other cultures. Those living in such places didn't always escape the Victorian stamp, but if you had an inquiring mind and a willingness to learn, there was so much that could interest you and frame your way of thinking. That made her a lot more fun and a lot more interesting to write as well.

  35. Good question, Pat! I am sure Bess and Rutledge have met through Melinda many times. In fact, Melinda says in A FINE SUMMER'S DAY that she'd invited Simon and the Crawfords for the same weekend--but they were in France visiting friends. The thing is, we never imagined Bess as a future wife for Rutledge. Melinda, an Army widow, was perfect for a Crawford connection, and as an anchor for Rutledge, whose parents are dead. But Rutledge's background is the law. His father was a solicitor. And Bess is Army. So they probably wouldn't have much in common beside simple friendship. I do think, though I have no proof, that they would have liked each other. As for Simon, he'd been Richard Crawford's batman (military servant), then risen through the ranks to the Regimental Sergeant Major when Crawford was Colonel. I think he left the service because he couldn't picture anyone else in Crawford's place. This was not unusual. But Simon has a secret that predates his enlisting. We haven't had many hints about that, but once it was said that he would die for Mrs. Crawford because he owed her a great debt. And another time he hints to Bess that he isn't ready to go back to India. Hmmmmmmmmm. Good question. And early 30s is the right age for him.

  36. Thanks, Kathy! We hope we continue to intrigue you! And we'll look for you in NO!

  37. I think you'll like it, Deb. It has some interesting characters, one of whom I will tell you more about after you've read it. Too much of a spoiler to talk about too soon.

  38. Thanks, Libby. I think one thing Charles and I have loved about mysteries is that while you are enjoying a great read, you also learn about a period or a place or something you hadn't come across before. I loved Dick Francis and his world of racing. And through his stories I caught a glimpse of a way of life I'll never be a part of, but I've learned something about it. And Deborah Crombie has all sorts of interesting worlds--the guitar, rowing, fabrics, whisky, to name a few--that make the books even richer. So do Lee Child, and Hank, and Rhys, and on and on. It's really a door opening as well as exciting and intriguing and fun.

  39. We have enjoyed hearing your questions--here's one from me. What are you reading this week? Bess doesn't come out officially until the 30th, so fire away and tell us what you are enjoying now?

  40. Ah, Caroline, you constantly amaze me by exploring fresh territory time and time again, keeping your two series so enticing. As Deb says, when we finish reading a Charles Todd book, we find we've absorbed some history in the bargain. Hope to see you at Bouchercon, maybe even share dinner again! Congratulations on the newest entry in the Bess series - and I have to say the one on the works sounds fascinating....

  41. Caroline, what terrific answers. And I'm moving The Red Door up on my pile so we can talk about it at Bouchercon.

    As for reading, I've just finished The Paris Librarian by tomorrow's guest, Mark Pryor, and what a fun read it was.

    I've had a copy of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child sitting on my bedside table since the day it came out, but have resisted because of my own edits and other commitments. But tonight I'm going to dive in!

  42. Thanks so much! Writers write hoping there's an audience out there, and ours has been wonderful, supportive, and very sharp! See you in Sept.

  43. Deb, you have more strength of character than I do. I hear a title calling my name even in the dark of night, and have little resistance to that siren song. Tell me what you think of Cursed Child.

    And what you've told me about Mark's book sounds terrific. I'll be checking in tomorrow to hear what he has to say.

    This has been such a fun day! Thanks so much for having us and giving us a chance to answer some really great questions! Good night, everybody! Happy reading!

    Cheers, Caroline and Charles

  44. No question - I just love your books! Thanks for writing them.

  45. I am reading Deborah Crombie's NECESSARY AS BLOOD, Enjoy Cursed Child. Plays scripts are a whole different "scene." ;-)
    I'm still trying to figure out how multiple authors coordinate the writing; it has to be a fairly complex effort. <3

  46. Caroline and Charles Todd,

    Bess Crawford is one of my favorite characters. I've read several Bess Crawford novels and I look forward to reading the Shattered Tree.

    I also read several Ian Rutledge novels. I had a comment about Hamish. I imagine Hamish as the Paul Bettany character in the movie, Beautiful Mind.