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Writing Historical Novels With A Sense Of Time And Place, by Emma Darwin

While the article is talking specifics about a particular book, it’s a great reminder to me to remember to focus on the every day details of my chararacters’s lives that will be the meat of any story I write.

Writing Historical Novels

Margaret Atwood’s definition of historical fiction is one which is useful for thinking about writing it (as opposed to selling it): ‘fiction set in a time before the writer came to consciousness.’

It’s useful because it’s centred on the writer’s relationship to what they’re writing: a time, a place, voices, manners, mores, and innumerable practical details that you can’t know directly. So the first challenge is to learn to imagine – to inhabit – places you’ve never been, whether it’s Victorian London or pre-Colombian Chile, the hanging gardens of Babylon or a privy in Jarrow.

Mind you, even that privy will need evoking differently, depending on whether it’s being used by the Venerable Bede in 731 BCE or by Ellen Wilkinson MP, as she got ready to join the Jarrow March in 1936. But what kind of different? Research helps but historians focus on the overall picture and how it…

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