Monday, 25 April 2016

Kathleen McGurl on writing dual timeline novels

I write novels where a historical story and a contemporary story interweave in alternate chapters. I hesitate to call them timeslip as there’s no actual time-travel, or slipping through time, involved. Dual timeline is probably the best description.They’re my favourite kind of novel to read, and I adore writing them.
I’ve written three complete novels of this form now, and am writing a fourth, and a definite pattern is emerging. I like to start and end on a contemporary chapter, although sometimes I’ll include a prologue from the historical story. I aim at 90,000 words, with around 3,000 in each chapter, so that gives 30 chapters, but since I want to end on a contemporary chapter that means 31 chapters. All very precise! I write a chapter plan before beginning work on the novel so I know in a sentence or two what will happen in each chapter.
Sometimes I’ll write the whole of the historical story before writing the contemporary story. Or I might write a chapter or two of the contemporary, then the historical story, then come back to the contemporary. It helps to know the start point for both stories, and have all the main characters straight in my head, even if I’m going to concentrate on one timeline at a time. Often while writing the historical I’ll have ideas for little snippets for the contemporary story, to strengthen the themes, add some parallels, or improve the plot.
I like to ask questions in one timeline that are answered in the other. This works well but is not always easy to do. And it’s fun to sometimes end chapters on a little cliff-hanger, knowing the reader has to read a whole chapter of the other timeline before they get back to that story... by which time I’ll have thrown them another cliff-hanger in the other timeline...
Overall I probably prefer writing the historical stories.  They require more research of course, and I need to be careful not to use phrases or colloquialisms that weren’t in use at the time, so they can be harder to write. But I love immersing myself in the past, in my chosen period, and often I feel more free writing the historical sections. For instance for some reason I am happy to kill off my historical characters whereas I’ve never (yet) killed a contemporary character! Perhaps this is because I can justify the killing off by thinking that the historical character would be dead by now anyway...
The contemporary sections are often harder to write because I need to include a complete plot and also have the characters research the past and find the solution to the historical mystery. It’s a lot to weave in, and a real challenge, but very satisfying when it works out and people tell me they enjoy my books!

Blurb: When Gemma discovers a pair of ancient duelling pistols encrusted with rubies in the basement of the local museum, she is immediately intrigued…

On a fateful night in 1838 two sisters were found shot in the cellars of Red Hill Hall. And when Gemma begins to delve deeper into their history she begins to realise that the secrets of that night are darker than anyone had ever imagined.

As the shocking events of the past begin to unravel, Gemma’s own life starts to fall apart. Loyalties are tested and suddenly it seems as if history is repeating itself, as Gemma learns that female friendships can be deadly…

Amazon UK: 

Author Bio: Kathleen McGurl lives near the sea in Bournemouth, with her husband, sons
and cats. She began her writing career creating short stories, and sold dozens to women’s magazines in the UK and Australia. Then she got side-tracked onto family history research – which led eventually to writing novels with genealogy themes. She has always been fascinated by the past, and the ways in which the past can influence the present., and enjoys exploring these links in her novels. 

When not writing or working at her full-time job in IT, she likes to go out running or swimming, both of which she does rather slowly. She is definitely quicker at writing.

You can find out more at her website,, or follow her on Twitter @KathMcGurl . 

1 comment:

  1. Thanks so much for hosting me here today, Simona!