‘Ghost Love’ has two intertwined stories set twenty-five years, the first set in present day England and the second in Moscow circa 1990. They feature the same lead character, a Russian girl called Tonia, though in the present day part her name has been anglicized to Toni. The story is told from her POV.
The idea I had was to compare and contrast Tonia/Toni’s life in the two eras and to show how the decisions she made back in the USSR affected things a quarter of a century later. It also allowed me the opportunity to explore how Toni’s attitudes had changed after she settled in the UK. Initially I thought about making the book a two-parter, the first part in 1990s and the second in the present day. But as I began to write the two stories I came to the conclusion that it would be much more satisfying and provide the reader with a much more immediate and stronger contrast if I were to alternate one chapter set in the 1990s with one set in the present day.
There were problems with this though. In the book Tonia’s English boyfriend, Peter, who she meets when he visits the university where she’s an undergraduate, dies, leaving Tonia and her baby by him alone and destitute in Moscow. Now by intertwining the stories it was impossible to hide this from the reader (I mean, he only features as a memory in the present day section) so all the surprise was gone. So what I did was confront this head-on and in the first page of the book the reader learns Peter’s dead (but seems determined to communicate with Toni via FaceBook). In retrospect I think this helps the story telling by making Tonia’s love affair with Peter all the more poignant because we know it’s doomed.
The other problem is making the chapters past and present complement each other. For instance, an important character in the book is Georgie, Peter’s devoted but unbalanced sister. Georgie believes Tonia is a gold-digger simply after Peter’s money (and a British passport). There are scenes in both the past and the present when Georgie takes Tonia/Toni to task over this and I wanted them to follow one another in the book so that Georgie’s hostility was emphasized. This took some very careful writing (and a whole load of cut and pasting!)
The final problem is that with Toni being twenty-five years older than Tonia and with their stories being told side-by-side I had to make the character’s development both convincing and consistent. Toni is considerably tougher and more world-weary than she was as a twenty-two year old girl in Moscow and this jaded outlook had to be communicated. The fun I had was seeing Toni recover some of her youthful joie de vivre when a new man walks into her life.
So to sum up. Intertwining stories in a novel presents narrative opportunities (especially regarding character development) but is tricky to pull off. Fortunately, thus far, my readers seem to have enjoyed the novelty of it. I’m encouraged, so-much-so that this intertwining trick is one I’m determined to pull off with my “next after next” book ‘Hotel Rus’.