Saturday, November 26, 2011

Speaking to Writers

I had the pleasure, and privilege, of speaking to a large writing group further down the Scottish coast the other evening. My subject was historical fiction, and I’ve been asked to judge the club’s competition for the first chapter of a historical novel. Although I’ve spoken to groups before on market research, and have judged many short story competitions, this was a first. And historical fiction is a wide subject.
In the event, it went very well and I even sold some print copies of my own historical novel, Dangerous Deceit, while others had read the e-book. After talking about all the different types of historical fiction, I gave them a fun excercise to do - a sheet with five paragraphs from novels in different periods. They had to decide roughly what time the novel was set in, which was fun as we went over the answers together. One of the main concerns some writers had about trying historical fiction was the shear breadth of research needed for a particular period. So I came up with this advice:
  • Choose a background period with which you are already familiar, through books or film
  • Research from primary sources as much as possible: books and diaries of the period, paintings and drawings, maps, guides and newspapers (if possible)
  • Find your characters and begin the story, filling in any further detail as and when required
I think we sometimes have to remember we’re writing historical fiction and not a serious academic book. Having good background knowledge of the period should allow a writer to get started. We can always leave a space if we need to check a fact and fill it in later, rather than stopping the flow of writing. It also saves us doing so much research we never begin the story!
At the end of the evening, a few writers seemed enthused to get on with their own historical novels, so hopefully I’ll get a good selection of first chapters to read. Although I’ll enjoy the task, it’s quite a responsibility to comment on their work and award a first, second and third in the competition, but that’s another subject!
Rosemary Gemmell (Romy)
Dangerous Deceit, Champagne Books and Amazon


Julie Eberhart Painter said...

Being able to picture the period is essential. Well reseached films are helpful as are museum displays.

My background was in architectural and furniture design for use in interior design. We had a lot of leeway there as Aunt Bessie's vase from the wrong period often anachronized the room, something an author would have to explain as a quirk of character. Placing readers back in the century where "it's happening" is a responsibility. You did it well in your book. Glad you are getting the word out to others.

Linda LaRoque said...

What a fun activity for them to do, Rosemary. Sounds like the group had a good time and you did a great job of entertaining/guiding them.

Royce A Ratterman said...

Straight and to the point.

I have writing from family on times past and plan a work related to that. much more detail there than the internet. Many times that will make a big difference to a reader who 'was there'.
Thanks for the post!

AstonWest said...

The amount of research is one of the reasons I thoroughly enjoy writing science fiction/space opera tales. ;-)

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Thanks for that, Julie! I do agree about good period films and museums - I visited one in southern Scotland last year which displayed the wedding dress from the BBC Pride & Prejudice film.

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Thanks for your comment, Linda! At least it saved me talking the whole time.

Thank you for commenting, Royce - it's always best if you can talk to family about the past.

I can imagine it must be great to create your own worlds, Aston West!

January Bain said...

Rosemary, the judging part will be hard, I know it never really gets easier. But giving antidotal help is essential to help these budding writers. It's very good of you to do this!

January Bain said...

PS. I love the research part too, makes me feel smarter!