While those of us in the US mourn the ocean that separates us from this month's premiere of Season 3 of Downton Abbey over in the UK (we have to wait until January 5th here in the States), there is good news for fans of the era. The Charles Todd writing team, which has brought us the acclaimed and bestselling Ian Rutledge and Bess Crawford series (the latter of which we enjoyed reading together here earlier this year), has written a holiday tale that goes on sale this fall and sounds just perfect for Downton fans. The Walnut Tree: A Holiday Tale (on sale 10/30) tells the "unforgettable story of a woman who puts herself in the line of fire for the sake of wounded soldiers and falls deeply in love with a man who may be forbidden to her." And while it is a standalone novel, fans of Bess will be glad to hear that Nurse Crawford does make an appearance!
WHAT’S IN A NAME—OR NAMING A NOVEL
Most of the time—at least for us—a novel’s name comes out of the story itself. After all, these are mysteries, suspense novels, and the title reflects what’s in the book. THE CONFESSION, the 2012 Rutledge, actually starts out with a confession, although from the beginning it’s suspect. The question then becomes why was it suspect, what did the man who walked into Rutledge’s office at the Yard have to gain from admitting to murder? So, it’s the catalyst, if you want to think about it that way. The 2012 Bess Crawford, AN UNMARKED GRAVE, begins with a death that there is no time to investigate—and the victim disappears into an unmarked grave, making it all the more difficult for Bess to prove what she’d seen in the shed filled with the dead from the trenches and the flu epidemic. And so she is forced to put her own life at risk in order to find an elusive murderer with all the cards in his or her hands now.
When it came to THE WALNUT TREE, we had to give our editor a title before the manuscript was even written, because we were aiming for a holiday pub date and production had to begin straightaway. Very unusual circumstances to say the least! So what does an author do then?
We knew several things about the novella. It wouldn’t be a Rutledge or a Bess Crawford. It would be a bittersweet love story as well as a mystery. It would be set in France and England and Scotland. And finally, there was a tiny village we hoped would have a strong impact on the love story. Hardly enough material to help us pick a book’s title. We were in Kent at the time our editor’s request arrived, and we asked our English friends, Pauline and Brian, for suggestions. Nothing seemed to click.
Driving around England researching the next Bess and the next Rutledge, we noticed a very attractive house along the road. The sign on the gate posts was Walnut Tree Cottage. And then in a small town we spotted The Walnut Tree Pub. Not too many days after that, we passed by The Walnut Tree Hotel. When we went to have lunch with our other English friends, Sally and David, what was in their front garden? A young walnut tree they took pride in. Was all this trying to tell us something? Our friends thought it just might be, and so we ran THE WALNUT TREE by our editor in New York. She liked the idea very much. What’s more, when we came to write the novella, the inspiration of the title led not only to an exciting jacket but to a moment in the love story that was so tender and touching we knew we’d chosen well.
Sometimes happenstance works just fine.
Charles and Caroline Todd