I like nothing better than bunkering down at my computer on a cold, rainy day and writing about people in far flung places from another time. I am transported to another part of the world, the way I want to transport my readers. Writing historical fiction novels can become an addiction. It’s a complete escape from the world as we know it and the hours fly by.
The essence of any good book is the story – it has to have interesting characters, plots and sub-plots but when you write historical fiction there’s the added responsibility to get the details right. If you say something significant happened in, say, 1750, then you need to make sure you have your facts right as your readers will have put their trust in you.
I usually start with basic research and, as I write about real people in real places, that means finding birth, baptism, marriage and death certificates and I start to craft the story from there. Some days I can write whole chapters and other days I feel the need to go back over what I’ve written to make sure that the story is still on track.
On occasion I have found a character I have written as getting out of bed and ‘turning on the light’. It’s then that I start researching when electric lighting would have been available in homes, and I can tell you that many a light switch has been traded for a candle. Similarly, you need to be sure of the mode of transportation used at that time, for example, were trains running in the period you are writing about or were people still using horse and cart.
You also need to research the type of clothing people wore in that period, what they ate, where they worked and how they spent their leisure time. What would the sounds, smells and tastes of the time be like? Rotting garbage in the streets would have an odour that would need to be described to your readers but so would the smell of freshly-baked bread and cakes.
In my novel I had a character bringing a gift of apples at Christmas time but when I checked to see if apple trees would be in bloom, I found that they were not, so instead the character picked raspberries some months earlier and presented raspberry jam as the gift.
Readers of historical fiction want the setting to be as real as the writer can make it so that they can feel a sense of being there, and learn a little about life in times gone by. Getting the details right can make all the difference to the reader’s enjoyment of your book.
About Carmel M. Audsley
Carmel M Audsley is a Journalist, Editor, Author, Theatre and Book Reviewer who has taught creative writing students. She is currently the Editor of Scots News Magazine and the Author of Ours, Yours and Mines. http://www.oursyoursandmines.webs.com. http://www.amazon.com.