Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Nancy Jardine: Plot first? Characters? Or what?

Please welcome Scottish author Nancy Jardine to Writer Wednesday while she talks about writing her latest novel, an ancestral adventure called Topaz Eyes.

If asked what came first—the chicken or the egg—we know there are many philosophies on that. With regard to a story, is it the story premise that generally comes first? Or the characters? Or what, in fact, triggers the writing process? 

When I started to write my ancestral mystery novel Topaz Eyes (December 2012, Crooked Cat) I had a few aims in mind. The first was to create a story that was based around a complicated ancestral tree. The second was to include some of the fantastic world locations I’ve been fortunate to visit. My third aim was to write a mystery that was more complex than those I’d done before, and my fourth was to write another contemporary novel. My need to develop a more extensive family tree was based on the fact that I love ancestry research; and because I’d already had a first ‘go’ at creating a tree for my debut novel, Monogamy Twist—a sensual, light-hearted version of a Dickensian bequest theme with weird stipulations. I enjoyed creating that first tree so much I really wanted to get my teeth into designing one with more levels. After some erasing and general shifting around of information and dates, I ‘gave birth’ to the family of Geertje Hoogeveen on a large sheet of paper. During the writing process of the novel the tree developed in such a way that I was able to expand the mystery, and I was able to deepen the family connections which hopefully keep the reader guessing till the very end of the story.

Why the need to write about places I’ve visited? I’d included Barcelona, Paris, and a few other destinations in my second novel, Take Me Now. Deciding on those cities was so difficult; there were so many more fantastic places that had begged to be featured. When conceiving the plot for Topaz Eyes, I sat with a world map and decided I would include Heidelberg, Vienna and Amsterdam—locations I adored visiting. My whole story would have a European base but would branch out a bit as well. The other places – Edinburgh, New York, Rochester and Duluth, Minnesota—all appeared during the writing.

My mystery would be a precarious treasure hunt that would send my main characters world-wide in search of it. There would be a long lost set of jewellery—fabulous emeralds once owned by a Mughal emperor—for the protagonists to find and, since my ancestral tree was to third generations, my contemporary cousins would know nothing about each other at the beginning of the quest. To have everyone related by distant blood seemed too boring, so there I devised some characters that do not belong to the progeny of Geertje Hoogeveen. To increase the intensity of the plot, I added dark dimensions by introducing threat and… worse, though the intention was never for the story to be a murderous crime thriller. Which family member is the vilest, the greediest, spices up the mystery.

And to make the plot even more tortuous and stimulating, my distant cousins discover there’s yet another unknown, exceedingly precious item to seek. What is this most mysterious object? And where is it to be found? Those are sneaky twists I built into the story for the reader to guess at. Adding that extra item was incredibly good fun and took more than a little deliberation. I loved tying in all the characters on my fictitious tree. Linking them into the unfolding events took time, and if honest, I have to say a bit of trial and error before all the dates and plot procedures matched up.

Am I now only writing contemporary mysteries? Well, not at present. I’m currently writing a sequel to The Beltane Choice. And I have a very good plot outline done, and around eight thousand words written, for a family saga. Will I need to create a complex family tree for that one? Not really since a lot of it is based on the black sheep amongst my very own ancestors!

Thank you so much, Maggie, for inviting me to talk about how Topaz Eyes came into being. As a lover of history I’m sure you’ll have noted most of my novels have some form of history in them.

Topaz Eyes 

A peculiar invitation to Heidelberg embroils Keira Drummond in the search for a mysterious collection of extraordinary jewels once owned by a Mughal Emperor; a hoard that was last known to be in the possession of Amsterdam resident, Geertje Hoogeveen, in 1910.

Who among the progeny of Geertje – hitherto unfamiliar third cousins brought together for the quest – can Keira rely on? Distrust and suspicion among them is rife.

Which one is greedy, and determined enough, to hire thugs to tail her… and worse… as she travels to Vienna and Minnesota?  Can Keira even trust Teun Zeger - a Californian she is becoming very drawn to – as they pair up to unearth the jewellery? As they follow a trail of clues, will they uncover the full collection before the hired gun kills them? Details remain furtive and undisclosed until danger and death forces their exposure. And who harbours the ultimate mystery item that is even more precious than the Mughal jewels?

Greed, suspicion and murder are balanced by growing family loyalty, trust, and love.

Topaz Eyes is available in Kindle and and paperback from Amazon UK and
Other e-formats from Crooked Cat Books  and Smashwords. 

Check out the fabulous trailer on YouTube Topaz Eyes  

All books by Nancy Jardine: Amazon .com author page:

An Excerpt from Topaz Eyes

     “Would you ditch the mystery, Jensen, and just enlighten me as to what you think I have that interests you? And tell me why you couldn’t have asked for it in the letter you sent to me? I came here of my own free will – granted – but I’m not hanging around any longer if you’re going to drag this out, for I’m damned sure I’ve no idea what you’re referring to.”
     Jensen’s reply lacked emotion, his face a blank screen, his gaze focused on Teun as Keira regarded the by-play.
     “Teun. It may come as a surprise to you, but you actually know more about this invitation than Keira. At least you knew from my letter I had something of family interest you might be glad to take back to the USA with you. Keira had no such suggestion made to her.”
     Tension rose in the room, which didn’t only radiate from Teun.
     Keira sat uneasy, also unwilling to be in the dark any longer. “Would you please explain why you think I may have something you want, Herr Amsel?” She found herself reluctant to use his first name, considering the antagonism now mounting.
     “All in good time, Keira. And please call me Jensen. I don’t set out to be anyone’s enemy. I believe each of you can provide access to items belonging to the collection. All the pieces are likely to vary in monetary value but, viewed as a complete entity, it will make an impressive display. It’s a historic set… and unique.”

About Nancy Jardine 

An ex-primary teacher, Nancy Jardine, lives in the fabulous castle country of Aberdeenshire, Scotland. Her husband mans the kitchen, her offspring only an hour’s drive away. When time permits, ancestry research is an intermittent hobby. Neglecting her large garden in favour of writing, she now grows spectacularly giant thistles. Activity weekends with her extended family are prized since they give her great fodder for new writing.

A lover of history, it sneaks into most of her writing along with many of the fantastic world locations she has been fortunate to visit. Her published work to date has been two non-fiction history-related projects, two contemporary ancestral mysteries, one light-hearted contemporary romance mystery, and a historical novel, The Beltane Choice, also published by Crooked Cat.

How to find Nancy

Twitter @nansjar 
As “Nancy Jardine”, she is easy to find at Goodreads, LinkedIn, and Google+

Coming Wednesday, January 30:
T.E. MacArthut, The Volcano Lady


  1. Thank you for hosting me today, Maggie. It's lovely to visit a new blog.

  2. You're so welcome, Nancy,. And thanks for gracing my page today.

  3. Fab post, ladies! Topaz Eyes is an intriguing treasure hunt full of twists and turns.

    1. Thanks for popping in, Cathie! It is full of twists and turns. *wink, wink*