French Blood was inspired by some of the research my wife did when she was looking into her family tree a few years ago. We did a lot of work hunting and scanning old photographs, visiting cemeteries, and listening to stories from the olds. There were a few interesting details, and a few secrets that struck me as intriguing.
Then last summer, and for a few holidays before that, we stayed for six weeks in the old family farm house, and did quite a lot of work in and around it. We hunted through the junk in the cupboards, moved furniture, opened boxes… Outside the house, we tidied up a lot, and moved the legendary cantilevered log-pile from the front of the house to the old chicken shed.
In real life, it was mere drudgery, but in my imagination, it became more: what if there was something buried at the base of the woodpile? We did in fact find field canteens, bullets, shells, and all kinds of detritus from the two world wars. We did also find a 1917 American rifle under one of the beds upstairs.
So when I sat down to do National Novel Writing Month in November 2013, this was all on my mind.
When Pete Fraser’s estranged sister dies and leaves him a house in France, he takes the opportunity to leave his problems behind and start a new life. He finds a 200 year-old property full of the junk of generations—and family secrets dating back to the Second World War.
What looks like history soon becomes something more urgent when the bodies start appearing and Pete starts seeing connections that nobody has made before…
For the 2013 NaNoWriMo experience, I encouraged my A Level Creative Writing students to participate, and I think this helped me to (a) finish and (b) encouraged me to work on the rewrites.
When you’re on the NaNoWriMo, you’re obsessed with word count: getting to 50,000. As you rewrite, you add details. Someone on Twitter likened this process to being the second unit director on a movie: you capture the insert shots and cutaways, the fine detail. After a couple of drafts, you have to become ruthless in the editing suite. I actually cut out three whole chapters. The resulting novel is a 250-pager, which is the noveling equivalent of the 35–40 minute vinyl album.
Thanks to my sister for checking one of the drafts for typos. I hope I haven’t added too many since then.
French Blood is available for Kindle now, and will shortly be available in paperback. Purchasers of the paperback will be able to download the Kindle version free of charge.