Monday, 19 May 2014

Top 10 tips for historical fiction - the time machine

Put your reader in a time machineIf you have found a way to immerse yourself in the period, try to give them the same experience. I found that one of the great joys of writing about the past - London 500 years ago in my case - was that it was an utterly escapist pursuit. I was completely immersed in a kind of fantasy, and yet at the same time I felt I was trying to uncover and re-imagine what life was really like, and how people actually felt. This is an image of the Early Modern London as imagined by the producers of Dr Who in 2007. (You can see the Tardis if you look closely.)

If you are a historian or a biographer, there is a greater responsibility to 'get it right', and although a biographer might speculate about what their subject thought or how they responded to certain events, they are usually pretty restrained. This doesn't apply to everyone - Peter Ackroyd works across both fiction and non fiction, assembling his material to recreate lost worlds or dead writers with verve and audacity. When I wrote my book, once I had the facts that I needed in place to give my story a framework which was accurate, my great challenge was to convince the reader that the story was happening around them. And that is where the time machine comes in. You climb aboard, the controls whir away, and you see where it takes you. Just as Marty McFly does in 'Back to the Future' .

There is a strong element of vulgar showmanship involved in writing like this, and I am not in the least embarrassed about it. It's vital to believe in the world that you have made up, a fantasy based on fact, a magic ground that might, just might, feel like a lost reality.