…there’s plenty of history and everyone has some.
The first thing to do when writing a historical novel is to very seriously ask yourself if you want to. Actually, scrub that, the first thing you do is write a blog about your intention to write a historical novel. After all, staring down the barrel of imminent venture demands idling around the subject rather than cracking on, which basically defines blogging. It also defines writing a historical novel. I know a writer who planned to finish his novel on the Crimean war by the end of the year, 1998. He’s still researching it. He got bedded in at the Pattern 1796 Light Calvary Sabre, a sword used primarily by British Light Dragoons, and hasn’t been seen since he determined to find relatives of the swordsmiths who manufactured it.
There’s a healthy market for historical novels, although that’s poor justification for writing one. I guess there’s plenty of history and everyone has some. Before even writing a word sci-fi is looking appealing; you can ditch research and simply make it up, but it’s too late; my story already has shape. The novel starts in 1930s Poland (that’s Poland, not Poundland), which means clever popular culture/contemporary metaphors ‘as cutting edge as Steve Wright in the afternoon’ will be replaced by era-pertinent analogies such as ‘cutting edge as an electric razor, (which was invented in 1931 before purists squeal). You can spend weeks deliberating nothing more than whether book-keepers in the 1950s used an HB pencil or a 6B.
The sequel to the Life Assistance Agency is completed, bar a few sweeps behind its sofas and plumping the cushions, so what an ideal time to kick back and enjoy some sense of achievement. But of course that isn’t how writers approach the world. If there isn’t a novel to wrestle with we fight other things, like people or shop loyalty card help lines. We pace about and look for problems that aren’t there. It’s better these remain on pages. I already have seven internet windows open with various searches of interest that I’m loath to minimise in case one holds the rosetta stone to my story.
Writing a novel is hard enough without depriving yourself of a familiar world in which to set it. It also means I need to visit Poland, hire a car, and investigate clues to the old border with Germany in September 1939, which doesn’t really define family holiday – it’s not exactly what children have in mind when then get excited about holidays. Mildewed concrete gun emplacements are poor substitute for Centre Parks even during peak season.
It is significant departure from the light-hearted PG Wodehouse influenced Life Assistance novels, which is unsettling. It’s rather typical that a humorous writer wishes to write a serious novel, and is even already (mentally) accepting prizes for the first post-Brexit novel. I’m confident my fans will cope, particularly as I’ve rung then to warn them. Once I got my Mum off the phone and promised to visit more frequently, I spent the rest of the break deciding upon my protagonist’s name. You have to like the name of someone you intend to spend the next two years with, particularly when you are able to choose it.
So, it’s Aleksander, and not just because it was the first name I reached in the A-Z of Polish names, but because it can be abbreviated from the Polish to the anglicised Alex. OK, it was the first name I found in the A-Z.
Alex spends a lot of time in the countryside, which helpfully avoids need for exhaustive knowledge of technical or social aspects of 1930s Europe. The countryside doesn’t change much. It’s something of its appeal. The trees Alex sleeps beneath are the same as those which the crusaders tethered their horses to.
The new novel feels like a considerable challenge, but one of the best things about historical fiction is that you can sit around reading. It might appear lazy, but is actually research, just so long as I avoid the 1796 Light Calvary Sabre. Someone has that covered.
My novel, The Life Assistance Agency – selected by WHSmith Fresh Talent 2017 – is available here – http://myBook.to/lifeassistance
and on ebook here –