The most important aspect of writing a good historical novel is that you must be passionate about your subject. You might get away without this passion in contemporaries but you won’t in historicals.
Historical accuracy is paramount. Without this, your novel is doomed and so are you.
A friend of mine read a novel from a well known author and found a glaring historical inaccuracy, which should never have been written by the author in the first place. It certainly should have been picked up by the editor, but it wasn’t. My friend has never bought another book from this author because she says, I can’t trust her anymore.
You should always write about an era that you are interested in. I am not into Vikings or Regency, so it would be tedious trying to do the research required for this, and I wouldn’t have the passion about it, and I am sure this would show in my writing.
Research options are many and varied.
The internet (use with caution unless you are certain that the person who posted knows what they are talking about).
Library reference books are a great place to start.
Cemeteries (as long as you aren’t scared of spiders and snakes).
Quizzing elderly relatives (depending, of course, on which era you are writing about). 2nd World War, Vietnam, Great Depression – all o.k. because they would have lived during these times.
Accessing family diaries and/or letters.
Actually visiting places where your story takes place or somewhere similar is a must, if possible.
I visited an old jail (now a tourist attraction) for my novel, Daring Masquerade, because my heroine was jailed for being a spy. I wanted to see what it was like. The walls were solid bluestone and cold, even on a warm day. The cell was small, and I swear there was a spooky aura about the place. I took a notebook with me and jotted down these feeling as they came to me.
Depending on what you are writing, for your settings I think it is imperative to name some towns or cities near to where your stories are going to be played out.
You must know the area, either by having visited it, or careful research. You need to know what grows there, the terrain, climate etc. I always set most of my stories in Australia in North Eastern Victoria, because I know the area well. Mention a few main towns, but I am never too specific, because you can get easily caught out. (I am talking historical romance here, not a text book on history). I always make up a fake town near a main town or city.
In my novel, Wild Oats, set in 1916, I said the heroine lived at Dixon’s Siding (made up name) i.e. They left the farm at Dixon’s Siding, and after riding for an hour (I am talking horseback here,) reached Wangaratta, which is a major town in the area.
I purposely did not say that Dixon’s Siding was (exactly 10 miles west of Wangaratta at the fork of the Smith/Jones Road, because I didn’t know for sure, that there wasn’t a giant lake there or a massive quarry in 1916. I probably could have found out with more research, but it wasn’t really necessary.
A little quiz, to show you what I mean.
WHAT IS WRONG WITH THESE STATEMENTS?
1.30a.m., 25th April 1915. Gallipoli Peninsula, Turkey
Danny shivered in the chilly air as he waited on the deck of the troopship. In the darkness he couldn’t see land, even though someone said it was less than three miles away. When his turn came, he climbed down the rope ladder and found himself in an open boat. Excitement surged through him. He had traveled halfway around the world for this moment and was keen to give a good account of himself.
A. The soldiers landed at 0130 hours, not 1.30a.m. No soldier would say 1.30a.m. The army always uses the 24 hour clock
My work in progress is set in 1854
On arrival at the homestead, Melanie unsaddled the mare and let her loose in the stockyards James had constructed from split logs. Surprising how neglected a house became after being left empty for a few days
Within 5 minutes she had dusted the kitchen and was sitting down having a cup of hot milky tea?
Where did she get the milk? Not from the refrigerator. She would have had to milk the cow first. The water would have to be boiled on a wood stove? She would have had to light the stove, maybe even cut the wood. (No microwaves in those days).
In Daring Masquerade in 1916, the heroine, desperate to find out what has happened to her husband who is missing in action, rings up a family friend who is a Colonel in the army. She punches in the telephone number and anxiously waits for him to pick up the phone.
No, she lives in the country, so she would have contacted the operator, dialled the exchange etc. And she certainly didn’t use a mobile phone. And, on her wedding night, her nightgown was exquisite, a soft, white polyester, lavishly trimmed with lace.
No polyester in those days, it would have been cotton, silk or even satin.
Know the area you are writing about
This is an extreme example, but it does happen.
England - It was December, the sun streamed down from a cloudless blue sky and Amy felt so hot she didn’t know how she would be able to walk back to the railway station.
Of course, in England in December, it would be winter time. Here in Australia it is summer.
You must be aware of modern language and slang, and don’t use it.
A poor, uneducated person wouldn’t speak the same way as a rich, educated person.
There are lots of traps for the unwary, but historical romance writing is very rewarding and if done correctly, can transport your reader back to another time and place full of daring exploits and handsome, swashbuckling heroes.
Like the heroines in my novels, my forebears left their native shores in sailing ships to forge a new life in the untamed frontiers of colonial Australia. They battled bushfires, hardship and the tyranny of distance in an inhospitable and savage land, where only the tough and resilient would survive. They not only survived but prospered in ways that would not have been possible for them had they stayed in Europe.
I would like to think I display the same tenacity. My goals are a little different from those of my forbears. I want to succeed in the publishing world.
I received my baptism of fire on the literary field of battle at an early age. I have known the highs (winning awards and having my books published), but also known the lows of the volatile publishing world. Publishing company closures, an opportunity for one of my novels to be turned into a film, only to be thwarted at the last minute by government funding cuts. I have watched my writing friends drop off because they couldn’t get published and gave up the struggle.
I am a fourth generation Australian. We are a tough, resilient people, and we have fought hard to find our place in the world. We have beautiful scenery, unique wild life, and a bloodied convict history.
I admire heroines who are resourceful, not afraid to fight for her family and the man she loves. I want my readers to be cheering for her, willing her to obtain her goals, to overcome the obstacles put in her way by rugged frontier men who think they only want a wife to beget sons. A chance for revenge. To consolidate their fortunes. That love is for fools. Oh, the victory for the reader when these tough, ruthless men succumb to the heroine’s bravery and beauty, and are prepared to risk all, even their lives to claim her.
Then there are the brave young men who sailed thousands of miles across the sea in World War 1 to fight for mother England, the birth country of their parents and grandparents. I also wanted to write about the wives and sweethearts who often waited in vain for their loved ones to return. Who were there to nurture the returning heroes, heal their broken bodies and tormented souls.
This is why I write historical romance, even if it means trawling through dusty books in the library, haunting every historical site on the internet, badgering elderly relatives, and risking snake-bite by clambering around overgrown cemeteries.
My latest novel, Savage Possession, is published by Books We Love on Amazon Kindle, and epitomizes the struggles that our pioneers endured. Savage Possession
If you want a sugar-coated romance, Savage Possession is not for you. In colonial Australia it took hard men like Martin Mulvaney to tame a harsh land. A sweeping tale of love's triumph over tragedy and treachery in frontier Australia.
A mistaken identity opens the door for Martin Mulvaney to take his revenge on the granddaughter of his mortal enemy.
An old Scottish feud, a love that should never have happened, and a series of extraordinary coincidences traps two lovers in a family vendetta that threatens to destroy their love, if not their lives. http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B008EL0FTI
Margaret Tanner is an award winning multi-published Australian author. She is a member of RWA, MRWG and EPIC.
Margaret’s Website: http://www.margarettanner.com/
A pilgrimage to the battlefields of France and Belgium
Australia was a small country in 1914, with a population of less than 4 million, yet we sent over 300,000 men to the front, Gallipoli in Turkey, Egypt, France and Belgium. More than 60,000 of our soldiers lie on Gallipoli or in the beautiful cemeteries of France and Belgium, 12,000 miles from home.
Our pilgrimage commenced in Amiens where we were met by our guide Colin Gillard who runs Battlefield Tours with his wife Lisa. Colin has a wealth of knowledge regarding the battlefields. Using war time maps, he was able to point to within a hundred yards, where my grandfather’s cousin was seriously wounded near the village of Hermes in 1917. Chills ran down my spine, I felt as if a hand was gripping me from the grave. Unfortunately, this relative died of his wounds, leaving a wife and 2 small children behind. He is buried in the war cemetery at Rouen, and we were elated but sad when we found his grave.
We visited large cemeteries where hundreds of white headstones stood amongst green lawns with pretty flowers nodding their heads between the graves. It was so poignant one could have cried a million tears and it still wouldn’t have been enough.
At Thiepval we saw a monument with thousands of names engraved on it, for English soldiers who fell in the area but have no known grave. One of the most memorable monument wasn’t very big. It was at Fromelles, a bronze statue of an Aussie soldier carrying his wounded mate.
Cobbers statue at Fromelles.
The battle for Fromelles was fought on the 19th and 20th July 1916, Australia had 5,500 casualties the British 1,500. For over 90 years no-one knew the fate of nearly 300 of these soldiers, but there had been rumours for many years of mass graves in the area, and it was only after a tenacious campaign waged for years by an Australian school teacher that the authorities finally acted, and four mass graves were discovered about three years after our visit. 250 soldiers have now been laid to rest in separate graves in a new Commonwealth war cemetery. Of the 250 bodies, over 100 have so far been identified by name using DNA volunteered by relatives, but the authorities are still hoping that more soldiers will eventually be identified.
At the Menin Gate in Belgium, there is a huge monument with thousands of names inscribed on it for soldiers without a grave. Even after all these years, they still play the last post every evening as a mark of respect for the fallen. We visited large war cemeteries here and beautiful and sad as they were, the most touching was a small cemetery near Passchendale with only a handful of white headstones. Night was falling as we passed through this cemetery, and as we stopped to read the inscription on an eighteen year old soldier’s grave, we whispered that someone from home had come to visit him. When we turned and walked away through the misty rain, all we could leave behind for him was our tears and a red poppy.
The wearing of a red poppy on Armistice Day/Remembrance Day, 11th November, honours those who fell in the 1st World War and all subsequent wars. In Australia and New Zealand, we also pause to remember our war dead on ANZAC day, the 25th April. ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) day, commemorates the landing of the ANZACS on the Gallipoli peninsula on the 25th April, 1915
I would like to close with the opening words of the poignant poem, penned on the battlefields by Lieut-Col. John McCrae of the Canadian army. In Flanders fields the poppies blow, between the crosses row on row, that mark our place.
I write historical romance, and my favourite era is the 1st World War.
My novel, Wild Oats, published by The Wild Rose Press, is set against the background of the 1st World War, and for my research I delved into my family history, trawled through dusty old tomes in the library, and combined this with my visit to the Australian battlefields. http://www.margarettanner.com/
By Margaret Tanner
The start of a new year is a great time to de-clutter, figuratively and literally speaking. A time to cast off the old and start afresh with the new.
I am a clutter collector from way back. I figure why throw anything out; you never know when you might need it. I inherited the hoarder gene.
“Waste not, want not” was my mother’s motto and she lived by it the whole of her life. Maybe it was because she lived through the great depression of the 1930’s and World War 2, that she would use and re-use, save and squirrel away stuff. Our house was never untidy, because most of the hoarded items were well out of sight.
I should have learned my lesson after my dear mother died about 20 years ago and my sister and I had to clear out her house. To say it was a nightmare was an understatement. It took weeks. My mother had kept receipts from the 1940’s, even her World War 2 ration book. And speaking of books, she had hundreds of them. Then there were the ornaments, pretty little knick-knacks that reposed on every shelf or level surface in the house. Boxes of china. Well, you get the idea.
Now you would think that after all this trauma and angst, I would have dashed home and gone through my own cupboards. I didn’t, but I did take a lot of my mother’s stuff with me. Well, how could I let it go? All those little treasures.
My mother-in-law passed away, same story, I kept a lot of her things too. I was a hoarder. It came as naturally as breathing or eating.
Well friends, retribution did come. The youngest of our sons finally left home, so hubby and I decided it was time to downsize. We bought a smaller house, and put our larger house on the market. “We’ve got a lot of stuff here, we’ll have to get rid of it,” hubby says.
Over my dead body. “No, we won’t do anything rash,” I said, “there’s plenty of time to work out what we want to keep.”
A week before the auction of our house, my husband had to have heart by-pass surgery, so I had to go on with the sale alone. After the auction and hubby’s successful operation, I had to start packing, because when he came home he couldn’t do anything for eight weeks. I really hit the panic button because we had a short settlement. Forty days to clear out all our stuff, that of my mother and mother-in-law (things I had kept, and shouldn’t have). Well, it was a nightmare. I did most of it on my own. I don’t know how many trips I made to donate all these “treasures” to the second hand thrift shop (we call them Op shops here in Australia. They are run by charities to raise money to help the less fortunate). And I did help the less fortunate - big time. The Op shop manager must have thought I was Mother Teresa re-incarnated.
It was terrible. I cried because I had to give away my treasures, mum’s treasures and my mother in-law’s treasures. Worse still, was the time it took to pack them and deliver them to the Op shop.
With the clock ticking, I had to be ruthless – and I was.
If you are even contemplating moving house, start to get rid of your surplus stuff early. In fact, don’t collect it in the first place. A lady once told me that if she didn’t wear a dress for a year, she was probably never going to wear it again, and she got rid of it. Smart lady. Wish I had such courage. I still cling to my favourite dresses, hey I might lose weight and they will fit me again???
The moral of this story is - don’t hoard. De-clutter as much as possible, because one day you will have to sort it out, or your children will have to sort it out.
The same goes for your writing. Be ruthless. If the manuscript you have expended blood, sweat and tears over isn’t working, discard it. Temporarily cast it into your bottom drawer is what I mean. Don’t destroy it, because you might be able to resurrect it at a later date. Start on something fresh and new. Once you get your writing tastebuds tingling again with a new premise, a feisty heroine and a spunky hero, the words will start flowing until they become a torrent.
Never give up. It is a steep climb to the top of the publishing mountain, but oh what a view once you get there.