JULIET is here today with a few friends with a guest post. If you recall, yesterday we featured her fantastic book 'MOZART'S WIFE'
A Few Thoughts on Writing the Historical Novel
In writing historicals, many factors must be explored before the writer can bring the chosen period to life. It’s not enough simply to dress up our characters in period clothes—complete with all the flounces and undergarments—plop them down into an equally detailed setting, and call it historical fiction. Even as human nature has remained unchanged for thousands of years, the ways in which people speak, act, and think have always been determined by a host of influences. Social hierarchies, politics, religion, and locale are just a few of the forces that determine an individual’s view of life.
Here for your reading pleasure, historical novelists, Juliet Waldron, Kathy Fischer-Brown, and Louise Turner share thoughts on their use of dialogue, primary source material, and the extent to which their fiction is based on fact to create the novels spotlighted on their current book tours.
LOUISE: I’d opt for contemporary dialogue, every time. It would be impossible to accurately recreate how my characters originally spoke—I would virtually be writing in a different language. ‘Middle Scots’ was the dialect in use in late 15th century Scotland, and believe me, modern Scots is hard enough to get a grip of, even for someone born and raised in Scotland, though it’s very lyrical and poetic when it’s wielded by a master. Instead, I ‘translate’ from the original, using figures of speech and metaphors which might have struck a contemporary resonance for the characters.
KATHY: Although I try to represent the feel of 18th century English speech, I’m not averse to modernizing a bit for today’s reader. I also observe the etiquette of address and sprinkle in healthy doses of the verbose style associated with the period, especially among the well-to-do and aristocratic. One thing I am adamant about is avoiding words that had not yet appeared in the lexicon. Even if a word sounds modern, I won’t use it.
Letters, plays, novels, political treatises, newspaper articles of the period all provide glimpses into the way people wrote, which was generally more formal than daily speech. Judging from these sources, it is probably safe to say that the “average” person in the American colonies was more articulate than today’s speakers, especially in the extent of their vocabulary. My English aristocrats have different cadences, vocabulary and colloquialisms from those of the “common born” and those born and raised in the colonial wilderness.
JULIET: Language delivers color and life to characters. The innocent colonial teen, Genesee, speaks and thinks differently from the urban sophisticate, Klara. Study of 18th century novels, plays, letters, newspapers and diaries does inflect my dialogue. To me, the circumlocutions and “big words” are not only amusing but seductive. I‘m careful, however, not to go too far. (After all, it's not my goal to deliver a mock-up of Pamela or Tom Jones.) I do use an approximation of the high 18th Century style when the speaker is an aristocrat, or terribly anxious to be seen as “genteel.” Two of my novels are written in the difficult—but always intimate—first person. That way, Mozart’s Wife can confide to her readers like a BFF, sharing intimate secrets over (perhaps) too many glasses of wine.
LOUISE: I’m at an automatic disadvantage here, because there’s a dearth of primary sources available for the particular time and place that I work with. Thankfully, there are several family cartularies available, and the Register of the Great Seal and the Exchequer Rolls can also provide an insight into the machinations of the Scots court.
I was very much reliant on secondary sources while writing Fire & Sword—the research process was profoundly influenced and the novel itself inspired by the work of two outstanding Scots academics: Norman Macdougall, who wrote a comprehensive biography of James IV, and Stephen Boardman, whose Ph.D. thesis covered the feud in late medieval Scotland, with particular emphasis on the Montgomeries and the Cunninghames.
JULIET: The Mother Lode for every historical novelist! Mozart’s Wife took decades to write because whenever I discovered some new bit of information, I’d go back and alter the story. Pamina, of The Magic Flute, sings “Die Wahrheit, sei sie auch Verbrechen” which translates, “the truth, the truth, even if it be a crime.” This became my mantra. I used the composer’s operas as well as more conventional material, such as The Mozart Family Letters and Otto Erich Deutsche’s comprehensive Documentary Biography. Nightingale, similarly set in Vienna among the theater crowd, also grew from this research.
The American Revolution in New York State is well documented, with mountains of primary source available in print and on-line. Since I wrote Genesee, readers have become more aware of the captivity narratives of Mary Jemison and others. Contemporary accounts assisted my imagination in countless ways.
Roan Rose is a Ricardian novel. Five hundred years is a long time ago, but the internet now provides texts/translations of primary source, such as The Warkworth Chronicle, the Crowland Continuations, and the Arrival of King Edward IV. The Paston Letters gave insight into the life of the beleaguered minor aristocracy during the Wars of Roses. The Richard III Society provided access to hard-to-find material.
KATHY: As Juliet mentioned, there is a wealth of primary source material available on the internet and I availed myself of as much as I could to recreate the America of the War for Independence. Maps, diaries, shipping logs, merchant inventories are just a few I found indispensable. For example, although I wasn’t able to go into great detail in The Partisan’s Wife about the fire of 1776 that destroyed nearly a quarter of New York following Washington’s retreat from Manhattan, I found accounts from both sides of the conflict. (The cause of the fire is still being debated.)
My greatest thrill was finding maps—street maps, maps of defenses, roads and supply routes, drawn up by engineers of both armies. For Courting the Devil and The Partisan’s Wife, these proved vital in charting the course of my characters’ journey from the wilds of upstate New York prior to the Battles of Saratoga, down through Albany, to New York City and Philadelphia, and in and around the cities themselves.
Real vs. Fiction…
KATHY: Although the characters in my books are creatures of my own imagination, the worlds they inhabit are real, as are the events…for the most part. In Winter Fire, I took liberties in fictionalizing actual incidents by changing and combining the settings and the people involved. For example, the raid and massacre in which young Zara is captured by “Indian” warriors are based on countless events of a similar nature, as is the retaliation by colonial militia in which Ethan is involved. I took great pains to create fictional characters who think, act and speak like people of their times.
In Courting the Devil and The Partisan’s Wife, actual historical figures make cameo appearances. Daniel Taylor, a loyalist spy; Hugh Gaine, a New York publisher; and even brief appearances by George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and spy master Elias Boudinot round out my fictional cast.
In Lord Esterleigh’s Daughter and Winter Fire, I took further liberties by creating some of the settings. In much the same as with the characters, I hoped to make them come alive for the reader.
LOUISE: My personal preference is to recreate a real personality, though this has its difficulties. I don’t think you can ever think about re-animating individuals in isolation—you have to breathe life into a network of contemporary characters, because it’s how this ‘community’ interacts that shapes both your character and the world they inhabit.
In a late medieval context, this is hierarchical—from your starting point (your lead character) you have to move upwards into the higher echelons of society (king, nobility), but then conversely you have to travel downwards, too. This is where the difficulty lies, because the further down the social scale you go, the less evidence is left in the documentary record. This is particular true of women, and of the ‘commoners’ who made up the massed ranks of tenants and retainers.
I suppose I’m far more forgiving of created characters than I am of created places. I don’t know if it’s the archaeologist in me talking, but when I’m reading historical fiction, when I come across a hypothetical land holding shoe-horned into a place I know well, it just doesn’t sit comfortably with me at all!
JULIET: Mozart’s Wife and Roan Rose are pure historicals, an attempt to time travel the reader to another place and time. There aren’t many invented characters in the first. In the second, I used a fictional servant, Rose, as the heroine in order to get a “downstairs” view on a familiar story. Genesee and Nightingale are what I’d term “romantic historicals” in which I used primary source as a framework upon which to hang fictional HEA lives.
I believe that historical novelists have a responsibility to honor the Past. Therefore, I don’t fill my books with modern characters decked out in fancy dress. I want them to speak, think and act in ways appropriate to their period.
Open the door and step inside! You might not like everything you see, but it’ll be the real deal.
About Kathy Fischer-Brown
As a child Kathy wanted to be a writer when she grew up. She also wanted to act on the stage. After receiving an MFA in Acting from the Mason Gross School of the Arts and playing the part of starving young artist in New York, she taught theater classes at a small college in the Mid-West before returning home to the East Coast, where over the years, she and her husband raised two kids and an assortment of dogs. During stints in advertising, children’s media publishing, and education reform in the former Soviet Unions, she wrote whenever she could.
Her love of early American history has its roots in family vacations up and down the East Coast visiting old forts and battlefields and places such as Williamsburg, Mystic Sea Port, and Sturbridge Village. During this time, she daydreamed in high school history classes, imagining the everyday people behind all the dates and conflicts and how they lived.
Claiming her best ideas are born of dreams, Kathy has written a number of stories over the years. Her first published novel, Winter Fire, a 1998 Golden Heart finalist in historical romance, was reissued in 2010 by Books We Love, Ltd., which also released Lord Esterleigh’s Daughter, Courting the Devil, and The Partisan’s Wife.
When not writing, she enjoys reading, cooking, photography, playing “ball” with the dogs, and rooting on her favorite sports teams.
For more information visit Kathy Fischer-Brown’s website. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.
Novels by Kathy Fischer-Brown
Lord Esterleigh's Daughter (The Serpent's Tooth, Book One)
Courting the Devil (The Serpent's Tooth, Book Two)
The Partisan's Wife (The Serpent's Too, Book Three)
Blog Tour & Giveaway
See Kathy Fischer-Brown's Blog Tour Schedule & Enter to win a $20 Amazon Gift Card! Open to US residents only and ends on June 30th.
Kathy Fischer-Brown Blog Tour: http://hfvirtualbooktours.com/kathyfischerbrowntour
About Louise Turner
Born in Glasgow, Louise Turner spent her early years in the west of Scotland where she attended the University of Glasgow. After graduating with an MA in Archaeology, she went on to complete a PhD on the Bronze Age metalwork hoards of Essex and Kent. She has since enjoyed a varied career in archaeology and cultural resource management. Writing has always been a major aspect of her life and in 1988, she won the Glasgow Herald/Albacon New Writing in SF competition with her short story Busman’s Holiday. Louise lives with her husband in west Renfrewshire.
For more information visit Louise Turner's Website and Blog. You can also connect with her on Facebook and Goodreads.
Novels by Louise Turner
Fire & Sword
Blog Tour & Giveaway
See Louise Turner's Blog Tour Schedule & Enter to win a $20 Amazon Gift Card! Open to US residents only and ends on June 30th.
About Juliet Waldron
“Not all who wander are lost.” Juliet Waldron earned a B. A. in English, but has worked at jobs ranging from artist’s model to brokerage. Thirty years ago, after the boys left home, she dropped out of 9-5 and began to write, hoping to create a genuine time travel experience for herself–and for her readers. She loves her grand-girls and her kitties, likes to take long hikes, and reads historical/archeological non-fiction as well as reviewing for the Historical Novel Society. For summer adventure, she rides behind her husband of 50 years on his “bucket list” (black, and ridiculously fast) Hyabusa motorcycle.
You can find more information at www.julietwaldron.com or connect with Juliet on Facebook.
Novels by Juliet Waldron
Blog Tour & Giveaway
Juliet Waldron Blog Tour: http://hfvirtualbooktours.com/julietwaldrontour
FYI....I am currently reading Juliet Waldron's book MY MOZART....loving it!!!