charlie_cochrane: (Default)
Before I cut and paste the list, just wanted to let you know I may be out of posting range for a few weeks. off on the Cochrane's annual holiday!

Some historical resource:

Contemporary to the time: Pictures, books, plays, poetry, paintings, artefacts, photographs, newspapers, church magazines, films, postcards.

Museums specialising in or stately homes/houses/churches dating from the era, especially those which have a ‘living history’ element.

TV documentaries, well researched historical dramas/docudramas.

The Max Arthur series of books containing soldiers’/sailors’/airmen’s recollections of twentieth century wars. (Or any books of contemporary letters.)

Some of the less obvious links:

http://archive.timesonline.co.uk (Newspaper)

http://www.smallandspecial.org/ (Children’s hospital, Victorian/Edwardian)

http://www.marquise.de/en/1900/index.shtml (Fashions, etc)

http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/ (All sorts of things)

http://www.oldbaileyonline.org/ (Trials)

http://www.societe-jersiaise.org/photographic-archive/ (Photos through the ages)

http://historicromance.wordpress.com/ (The Macaronis - this site contains lots of goodies, including articles on writing historical works and items of vital importance to the writer, such as essays about underwear through the ages, eg: http://historicromance.wordpress.com/2008/11/04/the-history-of-mens-underpants-part-one/)

http://collections.vam.ac.uk/ Victoria and Albert Museum (artefacts, fashion, jewellery, etc)

http://www.etymonline.com (words)

http://www.worldwidewords.org/indexes/search.htm (words)

http://news.bbc.co.uk/ (news archive, some historical articles)

http://anglicanhistory.org/ (church history)

http://www.foodtimeline.org/ (food through the ages)
charlie_cochrane: (Default)
How not to alienate the reader with too much overt history

You’ve done all this fabulous research, you can see the era clearly in your mind and you’re writing like billy-oh. Here I’m putting in a big note of caution. Don’t show off to the readers. They’re here for the romance, the heart of the story, to be thrilled and saddened and get the big happy ending they want. They don’t want to be bored or annoyed en route by you giving paragraphs of exposition about why people in the past did something or other. If they’re that interested they’ll go and find out for themselves. You wouldn’t explain why 21st century characters use an ipod, would you?

So, the sort of thing to avoid is:
Clarence had to hurry over the fields to get home to dress for dinner. Meal times were special occasions in a Victorian household and eating started with making sure that you were properly dressed for the event. While you could dress down slightly for meals at home, any outside dining event that took place after six o’clock was automatically a formal occasion. Ladies would have changed several times during the day and were expected to turn out for dinner wearing low-necked gowns, if such was the fashion, with short sleeves and gloves. Married woman opted for satin or silk while the unattached arrived in muslins or chiffon. Men always wore dark broadcloth and ‘fine linen.’

I’m bored with that already and I wrote the wretched thing. If you think your readers won’t get the whole ‘dressing for dinner tradition’, then you could include something about it, but make it light:
Clarence hurried home over the fields. There would barely be time for him to change, but he didn’t dare risk his mother’s wrath by turning up for dinner in his tweeds; he’d never be allowed to forget bringing such disgrace upon her table.

Another thing to avoid is introducing actual historical characters just for the sake of it, especially when their only function is for your hero to say “I met Oscar Wilde in the street yesterday. He didn’t look well.” And thereby establish himself as a Victorian man about town. There’s an award winning series of books, absolutely brilliant, where a couple of times just such a scene is included and it really creates a jarring, contrived note amongst a beautifully believable and realistic text.

You could get your characters to refer to well known people – all of us talk about celebrities or politicians around the dinner table or over the photocopier. Just make it natural and it’s got a chance of working.

“My wife says this country will never come to anything until we’ve got Winston Churchill out of office,” sounds a bit better than “I see they’ve elected Winston Churchill.”

The other reason you really don’t want too much historical information is that it would put you right off your historical leading man. He wouldn’t have used deodorant or shower gel, chances are he’d have had bad breath and dodgy teeth and what really went on below those lovely tight Edwardian breeches doesn’t perhaps bear thinking about. Can you imagine it?

Portsmouth 1804
Lieutenant Addison cradled his lover’s head, gently stroking his cheeks. “I do love this pock mark, George. It's an absolute beauty…”


So what does the writer do? I’d say just don’t mention it. No gruesome details, but equally no flowery descriptions of how fragrant Lieutenant Addison smells as he steps off the Bellerophon after four months of blockading the French fleet. Maybe a subtle mention of how good he feels when he does get to take a bath ashore will imply the true state of affairs and not put off either his love interest or the reader.

Handy Tip number four: Steer clear of making the language too realistically archaic. (Please avoid too many these and thous and methinks as they’ll put the readers off and sound pretentious.) Subtle sprinklings all the way.
charlie_cochrane: (Hattis)
How to make your historical references subtle

Sprinkling (and I do mean sprinkling, no ramming it down the readers’ throats) some references to customs/etiquette throughout your tale is a great way to make an understated historical background to the story. Having your hero rise from his chair when a lady enters the room, ensuring the ladies withdraw after dinner, men wearing hats who then raise them to ladies in the street – these are the sort of things which immediately set your story in that strange world we call the past. And these touches are not as painfully obvious as getting your hero to discuss the sinking of the Titanic with his friend.
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charlie_cochrane: (tudor garden)
Research sources (including ones you maybe hadn't thought of).

People have commented on how my books feel like they’re anchored in the time they’re set (predominantly the first couple of decades of the twentieth century). “What research do you do for that, Charlie?” Just the thought of the sort of research which means reading lots of books about an era makes me quake. I don’t want to plough through some learned tome about life in Edwardian England – I want this to be fun, then I’ll be motivated to do it properly. (Although I’m not knocking traditional references sources – they’re essential for checking facts, dates, etc.)
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charlie_cochrane: (jamie/jonty)
Last year I ran a workshop about writing historical fiction. I'm reproducing it here over the next few weeks.

1. Why ‘Chariots of Fire’ works and ‘The Vikings’ doesn’t

From the moment we see those young men running along the sands in their old-fashioned costumes, we know that we’re in another time and another place. Subtle details and broad strokes – costumes, dialogue, the sporting jackets and the cut glass accents – all combine to produce an atmosphere which suggests we’re actually looking back in time. We know it can’t be so, we know that outside the studio sets it’s the end of the 1970’s, but our minds have been transported back to just after WWI. ‘Chariots of Fire’ works its magic.
Read more... )

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