Tip From Charlotte Betts
Writing historical fiction is not so very different from contemporary fiction; both need a sizzling plot and strong characters. But there are some aspects to historical fiction which need more thought.
* A sense of place. If possible, I visit the setting of my historical novel and soak up the atmosphere. I mentally block out everything modern and try to see the place as it was. What is the lie of the land? Are there hills or deep valleys? Sniff the air and listen. Can you smell the sea or the river? Hear seagulls or a skylark? Touch the stone walls or the great oak gates and memorise their texture. If there’s an old cobbled street, imagine walking along it in long skirts in the rain. Write it all down in your notebook. You do keep a writer’s notebook with you at all times, don’t you? Later, when you come to write about that particular setting, you’ll be able to take out your notes and instantly transport yourself back to that place. I guarantee this will add authenticity and spark your writing into life.
* Research. Do it! Don’t assume you know something because there will always be an expert out there to shoot you down if you get it wrong. Always go back to original sources if you can. I read most of Pepys diaries whilst writing The Apothecary’s Daughter and this gave me a tremendous insight into how people behaved, their expectations and what they thought about current events.
* Would they have done that? Be careful about your characters’ thoughts and expectations. One difficult aspect of this when writing The Apothecary’s Daughter was the attitude to slavery in Restoration England. Slaves were thought of as little more than animals at that time. How do you make your contemporary readers like your heroine if that is her view? I let Susannah’s mind-set change over a period of months so that she could be true to her time but still not cause offence to today’s reader.
If you would like to find out more about my writer’s journey from unpublished scribbler to soon-to-be-published author at Little Brown, my website is www.charlottebetts.com.
Pre order The Apothecary’s Daughter Published by Little Brown, an extract to the author’s own opening chapters can be viewed below.