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Paris in Ruins

Author M.K. Tod reveals the history behind her new novel

I’m thrilled to welcome author M.K. Tod on the blog today. I first discovered Mary through her informative blog about historical fiction ( Over the past year, I’ve gotten to know Mary and jumped at the chance to be an early reader of her new novel. Paris in Ruins is the absorbing, impeccably-researched story of two young women swept up in the 1870 siege of Paris. Please join me in welcoming Mary for a chat about her research, writing process, and more.

AM: In a nutshell, what is Paris in Ruins about?

MKT: Paris 1870. Raised for a life of parties and servants, Camille and Mariele have much in common, but it takes the horrors of war to bring them together to fight for the city they love. War has a way of teaching lessons – if only they can survive to learn them.

AM: How did you come up with the idea for your book?

MKT: An earlier novel featured the protagonist’s grandmother, a woman called Mariele. Readers of that novel – Lies Told In Silence – seemed to like Mariele and kept asking for her story. So, I did the math to figure out when Mariele would have been about twenty years old and landed in 1870 Paris, a tumultuous time in French history involving a war, a five-month siege and 10 weeks of bloody insurrection. Perfect for a novel!

AM: How did you create a realistic setting for your story?

MKT: Writing historical fiction involves a huge amount of research—definitely part of the fun! Two elements of the research process stand out. Diaries and journals written by those who lived through the siege and commune were critical to helping me appreciate the day-to-day experience of fear, trepidation, food shortages, bombardment, death, and destruction. A three-week stay in a rental apartment provided a deeper sense of Parisians and their way of life. Those weeks also allowed me to walk the streets, climb the hill to Montmartre, stand at the top of the Pantheon and the Arc de Triomphe, visit stores that were established before 1870, and visit several grand homes furnished in 19th century style. Those marvelous three weeks allowed me to bring the feeling of long-ago Paris back with me.

AM: What surprised you in the course of your research?

MKT: Let’s begin with the fact that I had no idea of that time period of French history. So, in a way, everything was a surprise. A couple of things stand out in retrospect. One was the ineptitude of the French military. For example, Napoleon III (nephew of Napoleon I) surrendered to the Prussians less than two months after war began. As another example, despite having hundreds of thousands of soldiers at his disposal, the General in charge of defending Paris during the siege made only two significant attacks on the Prussian army and lost both of them. A second big surprise was the level of unrest of the Parisian working class. I knew of the first French revolution and the reign of terror that followed. But I hadn’t known—I was not a good history student—of subsequent revolutions in 1830 and 1848. Unrest and agitation were a way of life for the working class. One might argue that it’s still that way.

AM: Do your research findings guide the plot, or do you plan out the plot first and flesh it out with research?

MKT: For me, it was a combination. The big historical events of the siege and the commune gave the story its major story arc. My characters and I filled in the day-to-day or week-to-week events that occurred. Much later in the development of the story I added some subplots and removed others. When I came across Sarah Bernhardt’s hospital that the famous actress established in the Odeon Theatre, I knew I had to add Sarah to the story. Similarly, when I read about Louise Michel and the role she played in the Paris Commune, I found a way to include her by having Camille—one of my two main characters—spy on the Montmartre Women’s Vigilance Committee that Louise led. The story now is nothing like the story I first sketched out.

AM: What is your usual writing routine?

MKT: Write, write, write, write … and then write some more! Just kidding. But, when I’m deep in the actual writing, as opposed to the research, I can happily write all day. I’m a planner, so I sketch out a chapter outline with highlights before I sit down to write chapter by chapter.

AM: Do you have any tips for other writers about historical fiction research? I have lots of tips and would encourage writers to visit my blog where there are around 1,000 posts on writing and reading historical fiction.

MKT: Do you prefer to write in silence or with background music? I write in silence. My head is too busy to listen to music :-).

AM: Who are some of your favorite authors/books?

MKT: I have a terrible time with the notion of favorite. But several authors come to mind: Elizabeth Chadwick, Margaret George, Sharon Kay Penman, Kate Quinn, Stephanie Dray, Paula McLain, Geraldine Brooks, Ian McEwan, Sebastian Faulkes, Lauren Willig.

AM: Why do you write historical fiction?

MKT: I discovered writing when I was in my fifties and living as an expat in Hong Kong. I’m a Math and Computer Science grad and would never have imagined being able to write a novel. What began as a way to pass the time while my husband flew around Asia, has become a passion. I love the research and I love the writing. I love hearing from readers who have enjoyed my novels.

AM: What do you have planned for your next writing project?

MKT: I’ve written a novel set in early 20th century Hong Kong, which my agent has on submission with a few publishers (fingers crossed!). And I’m in the midst of writing a contemporary novel with identical twin sisters as the protagonists. And, of course, there are more ideas brewing!

AM: What do you enjoy doing when you’re not writing?

MKT: I enjoy hiking, biking, traveling, golfing, being with my family, which has been so difficult this past year, cooking something fancy with my husband—we’ve mastered the art of working in the kitchen together—and spending time with friends.

Many thanks, Amy, for inviting me onto your blog! It’s a treat to connect with your readers.


Purchase Paris in Ruins at the following online stores:


Amazon Paperback

Amazon Canada Kindle

Amazon Canada Paperback



Google Play

Connect with M.K. Tod: Find Mary on Twitter, Facebook, or on her website,

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