I’m very nearly done with my new historical novel, which is so full of lies, duplicity and sheer bloody cruelty that I cannot wait to write the sequel to Fifty Shades of Neigh and spend the next few months wallowing happily in a big bunch of dick jokes.
I love writing historical fiction, but the main problem with it that all that research you did? All those lovely, carefully catalogued period details? All that time you spend immersing yourself in the popular culture of the era, absorbing the contemporary fads, fashion and slang?
Yeah – shut up about that.
In a good historical novel the characters will use enough contemporary slang to lend a flavour without making it incomprehensible to the modern ear. In a bad historical novel everyone will antiquey-speakey most verily even though yea, it sucketh great donkey balls, and in a really bad historical novel everyone will not only yabber on like they’re at a Renaissance Faire but also discuss the etymology of their gibberish. A really good historical novel will slip you a history lesson without you even knowing it. A bad one will beat you over the head with lumps of Wikipedia a la Dan Brown or go full on Downton and have people say things like “Well, indeed – after the War to end all wars we’re all in need of a little gaiety, and why shouldn’t Lady Ethel get her hair cut like the popular contemporary actress Louise Brooks in this year of our Lord 1926?”
This is not to say you can skimp on the research – you’d better damn well do it. I once came across a vampire novel that was utterly spoiled by the fact that not only was I supposed to believe that the vampire hero had trained as a Catholic priest in late 16th Century England but in the 1650’s had been quite the sexy young thing at the theatres and operas of old London town. You do research so that things like this don’t happen. Then you shut up about it. Research is essential but should remain invisible – sort of like Spanx.
So this is where blogs come in handy. Here’s just a taste of the fascinating stuff that either got a one line mention or kept an urgent playdate with the DELETE key. Continue reading