Tricky – in so many ways. If you write you have to do some, even if you’re following the well-worn adage, ‘write what you know.’ If you write fiction with any kind of historical content, then you have to do some.
What comes first? The story, or the research?
In my case, it’s the story.
Most of the time.
I write a very basic, very rough first draft and then research what I need to make it live - to make it feel authentic. I was asked recently at a writers’ event how I made my writing feel of the period it’s set in. I couldn’t really reply. I suspect the questioner wanted an easy solution, or a pat answer. Sadly, it involves a lot of reading, a lot of leg-work and a lot of browsing on the internet. There’s no short-cut. It helps, of course, if you have some prior knowledge and an interest in the period in which the book is set. I believe you also have to love that time in history. To use an over-used phrase, it must be a passion.
When writing While I Was Waiting, which is partly set during World War 1, certain things resonated. A visit to a nearby stately home set up an ‘experience room’ based around the time the three sons of the house were fighting at the front. On the mantle-piece was a photograph. They were posed in front of the house, sitting on their glossy horses, looking impossibly glamorous and waiting for the hunt to begin. Horses and men both full of vigour and energy. Four short years later all three brothers were dead, killed in action, in service of their country. That photograph haunted me for a long time and I included a similar experience in the book.
I had to do a great deal of research for the historical narrative for While I Was Waiting and even though some of it was harrowing, it was fascinating too.
I set the modern part of the story in the year 2000. However, I soon found out writing about the near past is almost trickier than writing about a hundred years ago. Could I blithely have my characters talk on mobile phones? No – the signal was dire! What television programmes could they watch? Had Big Brother started yet? What songs were on the radio? Was there broadband or only dial-up? In some ways, it caused more problems! Thank goodness for the internet.
The work in progress, which is set in Lyme Regis on the UK’s Jurassic Coast, takes place in 2015.
Cue big sigh of relief.
Then I wrote a scene which occurs during the stormy weather of 1924 ... and added a narrative thread which happens in the summer of 1863. I like to make life hard for myself! To make matters worse, the main male character is a boat-builder. I know nothing of the craft. I live in the English midlands, about as far from the sea as you can get! I’ve had to overcome my shyness (I still find it hard to admit to what I do) and invite myself to Lyme’s Boat Building Academy. I’m secretly hoping a hunky carpenter in a blue Guernsey sweater, just like Matt, my hero, will be there.
Sometimes research can take you in all sorts of surprising directions!
While I Was Waiting is available as an e-book. The paperback is out on 10th September and is available for pre-order now (HERE)
Tired of her life in London, freelance illustrator Rachel buys the beautiful but dilapidated Clematis Cottage and sets about creating the home of her dreams. But tucked away behind the water tank in the attic and left to gather dust for decades is an old biscuit tin containing letters, postcards and a diary. So much more than old scraps of paper, these are precious memories that tell the story of Henrietta Trenchard-Lewis, the love she lost in the Great War, and the girl who was left behind.
I used to live in London, where I worked in the theatre. Then I got the bizarre job of teaching road safety to the U.S. navy – in Marble Arch!
A few years ago, I did an ‘Escape to the Country’. I now live in a tiny Herefordshire village, where I scandalise the neighbours by not keeping ‘country hours’ and being unable to make a decent pot of plum jam. Home is a converted oast house, which I share with my two beloved spaniels, husband (also beloved) and a ghost called Zoe.
I’ve been lucky enough to travel widely, though prefer to set my novels closer to home. Perhaps more research is needed? I’ve always wanted to base a book in the Caribbean!
I am addicted to Belgian chocolate, Jane Austen and, most of all, Strictly Come Dancing. Keep dancing, everyone!