Last night on the bus home, as I scrolled down my twitter feed, I suddenly remembered a writing project I’ve been having a break from for a few weeks. ‘Oh yeah,’ I thought, as I clicked on to a Buzzfeed article about the runaway Thelma and Louise llamas, ‘I should probably do something about that.’
The story I was thinking about is historical fiction, and the reason I have needed time away from it is for pretty much that reason. Because it is historical fiction. And, understatement of the year, folks, – writing historical fiction is hard.
I love a book with a historic setting: it doesn’t matter whether it’s a classic or a book written by a modern writer, so long as it’s interesting, well-written and has more of a plot than just being smut with corsets. I am history nerd, out and proud. I love learning about history, and I love reading about it in fiction too. Particularly if it involves
a) Elizabeth I,
b) strong female protagonists ahead of their time,
c) a barouche–landau
e) plots centred on times of unrest and seismic change,
f) characters who get all caught up in said seismic changes.
But this is the first time I’ve tried to write a historical story since I went through this hardcore Victorian phase when I was about ten and we were studying it in school. All my stories at that point seemed to involve smog, down-trodden yet feisty heroines and Australian convict ships.
Partly this avoidance is because of the amount of research that is involved in it. A little bit of me thinks it’s because I am put off by that lady I share a surname with, Philippa Gregory, and all the cross feelings I have over the one book of hers I ever read, ‘The Other Boleyn Girl,’ (FYI Why does everyone always portray Anne Boleyn as such vile human being? Seriously, hardly any modern historians think she was guilty anyway. But that’s a blog for some other time).
Anyway, the point is, despite my misgivings I have always wanted to write a historical story. One that’s more than 4 pages of handwritten Biro and ends up with a fight ensuing at a debutante ball. And that it’s only no I’m actually trying it that I’m able to appreciate how much of a hard slog writing a historical novel actually is.
And yes, I know, writing novels, especially if you’re actually delusional enough and serious about wanting to publish them, is hard, full stop. When you factor in full-time work, travel, family and social life, plus all those daily things you need to do such as shower, eat, exercise, and sleep, most average wannabe authors can tell you, it is hard to sit down and write.
The reason it’s turning out to be so hard is because this is the most research I have ever had to do for any story I have ever written.
In fact, I haven’t done this much research, note-taking, planning and thinking around a subject since I finished my Masters. It is exactly like being back at Uni, only now nobody is marking what I write, I don’t see my lovely friends as often, I have to get up at 6:30am every week day, and I don’t have all these sweet and naïve ideas about how rosy, exciting, memorable and adventure-filled my 20s will be. (Oh the woe, oh the feels).
But yeah, aside from all the above, very much like Uni. I’ve been going to the library to see what I can find in the fact section, and I’ve spent ages online scanning blogs, university and Goodreads recommended lists, on-line e-books and sites like BBC history and the National Archives.
And yes I know how sad I actually now sound by admitting to that. I know. Honestly, I do have a life and family and friends. Really, really.
And I know for other writers none of what I’m saying is news. There are a lot of genres which require a lot of research and planning in advance. As nice a notion as it seems to just open a blank book or Word page and start writing/ typing, the fact is most of us can’t write spontaneously like that. We need an idea, a plan, something to go on first.
And I also know it doesn’t seem like it, but I’m not OCD for accuracy either. I mean, I think historical stories should be fairly accurate- see previous misgivings about The Other Boleyn Girl. I don’t think it’s OK for authors to just do away with significant or important historical facts, but I think it’s totally fine to use a bit of artistic licence too.
All the same, you definitely need to learn your chosen period of history, that’s for sure.
Which is why I’ve been having a break from it.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that I feel a little… stuck. I don’t want to give up on this story. I am excited about it. I’m passionate about the plot and the themes and the period of history it’s about. I want to write it. But I don’t really know how to go about doing that right now. Because, surprisingly, despite being a single and childless twenty-something with aparently plenty of time to waste on social media, I don’t have an inexhaustible amount of time on my hands to dedicate to this story.
Right now, I’ve saved my files and decided to leave it a while. My other current project, my, ‘I’m not doing a Lena Denham but I am trying to write a book all about the ISSUES of being a millennial 20 something woman’ novel, just is proving that much easier to finish.
The only thing I can safely say, is that, unless you’re an already established writer, or you have a PhD in your chosen time-period/ work as a museum curator/ can afford not to work, writing historical fiction is definitely a labour of love.
Either that or you need this,
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