Writing Historical Fiction

One of my favourite things about writing is the research needed to write a factually correct story. This is especially the case when writing historical fiction. When I read historical fiction, I am often thrown out of a story if the fact presented doesn’t feel quite right. Same goes for anachronistic language (language out of place/time).

In an effort to appeal to modern readers, I’ve seen writers use anachronistic language for the sake of ease of explanation. Certain words, although anachronistic have been around long enough that the use of them in a historical setting wouldn’t feel out of place–for example, ‘silhouette’ has its origins in the 18th century–yet using it as a descriptive word for something set in say, Tudor England, would likely go over most readers’ heads. (You noticed I said ‘most’ there!)

Anachronistic language I’ve seen in particular with regard to romance and sex. Is it easier for a reader to understand my character when they say ‘I took a turn amongst the cabbages’ or to say ‘I had sex’?  But I guess write what feels right to you or your character–go with your gut, I say!

So how do I go about research? Even though they are only short stories, when I was writing ‘An Easter Lily on the Somme’ coming out this week, and ‘Miss Minnie’s Courage and Cupcakes’ (coming out in the RWA short story anthology in July/August) I felt an obligation to know more about women’s work in WW1؅–the setting for both stories. For Ivy’s story in An Easter Lily on the Somme, I needed to find out how a British Army casualty clearing station (a military medical facility behind the front lines, but not quite a hospital) operated near the front. I needed to know how an army nurse differed to a Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD and more commonly depicted) nurse. I needed to know about the Irish Easter Rebellion and I needed to know about the flora of the region. For Minnie’s story I needed to know about the suffragette movement during WW1, and how their tactics changed in order to evoke sympathy for their cause.

Army Nurse (left) and Voluntary Nurse (Right)
Source: Anon (2019)

It was so joyous to do this research and find out more about how women fared during the war years, how the war affected women’s work during this time. But not only that, I was able to find out what plants grew on the landscape of Belgium and France (Wearn et al, 2017), how the landscape reflected the trauma of people and how it could recover. A great methaphor for people’s own recovery from trauma.

Keep an eye open for Easter Promises, coming out April 9! And for the Cupcake anthology from RWA in July/August!

References

Anonymous (2019). Women in War: Voluntary Aid Detachments or nurse?https://anzac100.initiatives.qld.gov.au/remember/women-in-war/index.aspx. Queensland Government Website.

Wearn, J. A., Budden, A. P., Veniard, S. C., & Richardson, D. (2017). The flora of the Somme battlefield: A botanical perspective on a post-conflict landscape. First World War Studies8(1), 63-77.

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