When Nancy Jardine isn't reviewing, blogging or running around on her official job as a grandkid minder, she enjoys writing interesting stories. Fascinated by the research into her own family history, she felt inspired to write novels based around an ancestral tree. Topaz Eyes was an immediate success and was a Finalist in The People's Book Prize 2014. As our author of the day, Jardine tells us more about the book, the characters and why she made changes to Topaz Eyes while it was already in the final editing stages.
Please give us a short introduction to what Topaz Eyes is about.
Keira Drummond finds herself involved in the search for a missing collection of extraordinary jewels once owned by a Mughal Emperor but who can Keira trust among the unfamiliar third cousins who are mysteriously brought together in Heidelberg? Can she even trust Teun Zeger, a man she is very drawn to as they pair up to unearth the jewellery? In Topaz Eyes - greed, suspicion and murder are balanced by growing family loyalty, trust and love.
What inspired you to write this book?
Who’s the black sheep in your family? It’s a fabulous question and, I thought, a great premise for a novel—even if a wee bit clichéd. I was amused by the colourful characters that I uncovered in my own family history researching and was desperate to write novels based around an ancestral tree. Topaz Eyes is my second ‘family tree’ structured novel and I purposely made its European-based family more complex than in my debut novel (Monogamy Twist). This meant I could ‘scatter’ the family in Topaz Eyes around lovely European locations with some members in the US taking it to a worldwide quest.
Topaz Eyes was very well received and was a Finalist in The People's Book Prize 2014 (UK) - what has the experience been like?
Being a Finalist in the broad “Fiction” Category of this Award was an incredible honour. I travelled the approximately 400 miles from my home in Scotland to attend the splendid Awards Dinner that was held at Stationers’ Hall, in London. The venue (official title: The Worshipful Company of Stationers and Newspaper Makers) is an ancient building with an inspiring interior and was the traditional headquarters and regulatory board of the Printing and Publishing industry in the UK. As a fairly new author, it was my first taste of what prestigious publishing events are like!
Tell us about Keira - what makes her so special?
She’s a character that’s very dear to me! Keira’s a translator who spent a year at Heidelberg University in Germany. Now, anyone who knows me personally will know that—coincidentally ‘wink, wink’— my older daughter studied languages at a Scottish University but spent her final year at Heidelberg University. My visits to my daughter during that year, accompanied by my younger daughter, gave me location ideas that I used in Topaz Eyes. As the story develops, Keira’s Dutch connection also comes into play, but if I wrote here about my own personal and family experiences of Holland, it would be too much of a ‘spoiler’ for new readers. I got a huge buzz out of making Keira independent, curious and courageous, and yet she also has a certain degree of vulnerability.
This book is a mixture of romance and mystery and is packed with thrills. Why did you take this approach?
My own extended family is lovely and extremely supportive of each other yet, being realistic, I know that not all families have members who are kind to each other. I intended Topaz Eyes to have a developing romance binding the main protagonists together during their quest but I wanted it to be more than a basic contemporary romance about two people. The deep ‘mystery within a mystery’ with dark thriller elements also has strong secondary characters playing their parts.
How did you manage to describe the different European locations with such detail?
I lived in Holland for three years and have travelled to many European cities over a number of decades. The locations that feature in Topaz Eyes are cities I’ve personally loved visiting. I’ve also been to the places in the US that feature in Topaz Eyes, except one, and I challenge my readers to work out which that is! My other contemporary mysteries feature different, and equally fabulous, world wide locations that I’ve visited.
The book contains quite a couple of twists. Did you plan them all out before you started writing?
No. I created the basic family tree first and chose the cities I wanted to feature. The twists and turns arose as I got stuck into the writing and the ideas flowed. I’m essentially a ‘pantser’ author but I had great fun changing and adapting my basic plot structure as the writing progressed. Of course, being a ‘pantser’ means a lot of editing at the end to ensure all of the strands fit together perfectly…so it’s just as well I love the editing as much as the writing. Though, occasionally there were LOL moments that made me wish I’d done more planning before starting!
How much fun do you have coming up with these story lines and characters?
Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?
I can turn my hand to basic DIY projects when I need to and I’m fairly adaptable in most situations, which I think comes from me being an upper primary school teacher for almost 3 decades.
Do any of your characters ever take off on their own tangent and refuse to do what you had planned for them?
Yes, that’s happened but I generally trust my instincts and re-write if necessary. It happened in Topaz Eyes with more than one of my secondary characters but I’m not saying who!
What was your greatest challenge when writing this book?
Topaz Eyes was at the final edits stage with my publisher—Crooked Cat Books—when I took a short trip to Holland. I’d not been back for a couple of years and went to central Amsterdam to a favourite location on the main pedestrian street named Kalverstraat. The Poffertje Stall (tiny Dutch pancakes) that I’d included in my novel was no longer there. The pretty little fairy tale like structure had been a tourist spot for decades and… was gone. I was devastated. I emailed my publisher from Holland and begged for a little time to re-write a couple of scenes. My readers would probably not have noticed anything different if I’d just ignored it but it would have rankled with me for ever after!
Talk to us a bit about your writing habits. Do you write early in the morning, or through the night? Pen or laptop?
I’m neither a night owl nor a lark and have no fixed time. I write at my desk using a keyboard and monitor connected to my laptop. My desk at the dining room window, overlooking my garden, can be an inspirational place but is often a distraction! My writing is slotted into whatever time I can free up from my other commitments as mentioned in my author bio.
What are you working on right now?
Depending on time and inclinations, I’m working on: Book 4 of my Historical Celtic Fervour Series set in 1st century Roman Scotland; Book 1 of a 3-book Family Saga, beginning in Victorian Scotland and ending in contemporary times; and Book 2 of my Rubidium Time Travel Series set in Victorian Scotland.
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
Amazon Author page http://viewauthor.at/mybooksandnewspagehere
Nancy Jardine invites you to hitch a ride to fabulous world wide locations in her contemporary romantic mysteries. Immerse yourself in the daily life and dangers that befall her Celtic clan members in her Celtic Fervour Series, set in first century Roman Britain. Or time travel back to 3rd century Roman Scotland with her characters in #1 The Taexali Game (Rubidium Time Travel Adventures) which acquired second place in the Barbara Hammond Competition for Best Self Published Book March 2017 (Scottish Association for Writers).
Nancy’s week vanishes in a blur of reading, writing, reviewing and blogging. She’s creative about squeezing in gardening but regular grandkid minding (official & unpaid) is a priority—any time left is for keeping up with news, politics sleeping and breathing. She’s a member of the Romantic Novelists Association, the Scottish Association of Writers and the Federation of Writers Scotland. Mainly published by Crooked Cat Books, she’s also recently delved into self publishing.