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.

Some exciting writerly news for 2020!

I hope everyone has had a restful (and fun!) festive season! Welcome to 2020! It’s been a sad start to the year with all the people affected by fire around the country. My thoughts are with everyone struggling both with the reality and the news of it. It’s hard not to feel helpless but seeing the writing community active with support #authorsforfireys has gladdened my heart. Several work colleagues are still fighting to keep their properties safe, and I have friends who’ve had to try and keep their families out of harms way, hopefully no more than an inconvienience for them. I just hope the skies open up enough to bring us rain and clear the smoke.

For myself, I’ve been a busy girl, writing, writing, writing (between spending time enjoying a break with my family) and feeling very creative. Although going back to work has meant some reorganising my time to fit everything in I’ve had some success in trying to be more ‘structured’ in my everyday tasks. I’ve been busy working on editing my novels and another thing has kept me very busy too…

What is that other thing? Keep a lookout for some exciting news later this week!

2019 wrap up!

Perseverance – secret of all triumphs. ~ Victor Hugo

It’s been quite an amazing writerly year. One I should be proud of, but as all writers are wont to do, I have downplayed my achievements. But here is a short list of things that happened of which I am most proud!

  • A finalist in the RWA Valerie Parv awards (highly commended)
  • Second Placing in the RWA Selling Submission contest
  • Asks for full manuscript submissions from publishers for my second novel.
  • Made it to the third round of the international NYCMidnight Flash Fiction comp (when I have time I’ll publish my winning shorts here!)
  • A finalist in the 2020 West Houston RWA – The Emily awards (Winner tba 6th January)

On a personal note, the retirement of my mentor and boss of twenty plus years, Peter is a sad loss, but joyous in that he will finally get to enjoy life to its fullest. I hope I don’t flounder in my job without him! Also my daughter excelling herself both at school, in the swimming pool and in her new found excitement as a member of the Australian Girls Choir are also 2019 highlights!

So what’s happening in 2020 then?

2020 here we come!
  • I will be hitting a birthday milestone in August and plan to have a glorious holiday with my partner Tony and my daughter to go along with it
  • Refine my completed novel ‘The Bridge’ and submit.
  • Complete editing of ‘Love, War and Emu’s’ and submit to several competitions and publishers.
  • Partake in a super exciting project for Easter with some fabulous ladies all with an historical fiction bent like me! I’ll be announcing news on this blog in the near future!

And in addition, I will keep on keeping on. Happy New Year Everyone!

And another November is over!

National Novel Writing Month is over for another year. This year I became a ‘Nano rebel’ – choosing to review and edit a previous novel. I think I made some significant improvement to the story and managed to edit 58k words – with around 40k of that being complete rewrites of scenes! Another 30k will see this edit done and hoping to complete it by Christmas.

Having said that – I’ve enrolled in an online course in Characterisation through Narration by Michelle Somers, whose work I often get to read before it goes up on the RWA blog (I’m the blog co-ordinator). Michelle has some great advice for aspiring writers and her blogs for RWA have been very useful to me in the past.

In other news I am planning a stort story for an anthology with some fellow Historical Fiction writers, and very excited to get that underway in the next month too!

The Regency Buck

I’ve gone a complete Regency binge of late, and having only read Georgette Heyer when I was a teenager I can’t remember a hell of a lot about the stories. I do remember there were rakes and dandies and lovely fiesty heroines.

In the last 6 weeks I’ve read: The Talisman Ring, The Grand Sophy, Frederica, Sylvester the wicked uncle, and Arabella. I can’t remember any of them, except maybe The Grand Sophy because I remember the dog. Maybe my priorities in retaining details of novels were different back then.

Time reading them has been lovely, and with BBC1 Sanditon now playing on tv it feels like I have been transported once again to nineteenth century England.

I’m currently reading the ‘Nonesuch’ and it has to have what I consider (and many others consider) one of the most annoying female characters Georgette Heyer ever wrote. Miss Tiffany Wield is a an annoying brat of 17 year old whose temper tantrums and general unlikeability contrast greatly with the books heroine and Tiffany’s governess – Miss Ancilla Trent. A woman from a genteel background only bought to seek an independent living by the circumstances of her family’s impoverishment. In contrast to her, the hero is Sir Waldo Hawkridge, called ‘The Nonesuch’ for his superior sporting ability, talents and of course extreme wealth. He doesn’t have a title but it doesn’t matter because he’s rich! Not a lot happens in the novel, but watching Ancilla resisting the urge to fall in love and Waldo’s general good natured amusement is utterly delightful.

I’m almost finished reading the story, and I can’t wait for them to kiss, but I know when they do I’ll also want to go back a few pages and read it all over again.

Stolen butterflies, charismatic ski-jumpers and NaNoWriMo 2019

It’s that time of the year again lovelies! I’m going to be editing my novel from last year as I’ve had several requests for full manuscript submissions and it needs work! It’s had a title change – but not much else.

I had intended on writing a new manuscript – based on this chappie:

Colin Wyatt, was an Englishman, who came to Australia in 1939, left to complete service during the war but came back soon after. He was best known for his prowess as a champion ski jumper. He spoke over half dozen languages and was an accomplished painter and landscape artist who held several exhibitions here. He was also a very charismatic individual by all accounts!

What sets Wyatt apart – aside from his champion ski-jumping and overall charm, he was also a learned entomologist, and collected many rare specimens.

He was also a thief.

In fact he stole over 1500 butterfly specimens from the Australian museum in 1947 and as it turns out many others from museums around Australia during his time here. When the theft was traced back to England, over 3000 Australian species were found in his vast private collection.

The species he stole were from the Ogyris genus of butterflies, many of which are a pretty mettalic blue. I can definitely see the attraction! I’m sure we have several species from this family at the Waite Insect and Nematode Collection (where I work) I should takes some images. In fact South Australia has several species – SA Butterflies.

It’s a fascinating story, one that bears retelling. After I did Hannah Kent’s workshop recently on historical fiction I’ve been much enthused about the project. For now its on hold until early next year and until Nano is over and done for another year!

RWA Conference roundup

What a great conference in Melbourne this year, a highlight for me was that I was a finalist in two awards – The prestigous Valerie Parv Awards (for unpublished author/unpublished manuscript) and runner up in the Selling Submission competition.

I did the wonderful Natasha Lester’s plotting masterclass and attended many insightful sessions. Nalini Singh and Anne Gracie’s presentations were definitely high craft moments.

The panel on diversity chaired by Amy Mathews and with participants MV Ellis, Nicole Hurley-Moore and Renee Dahli-Geelen was a particular important milestone for the Australian Romance community and I found it enlightening and heartfelt.