Thursday, 9 April 2015

H for History

The opening of the story, When Skies Are Grey, begins in 1957. It spans two decades and I went on a voyage of discovery of my old neighbourhood to get to grips with the history of each era.

Although I've set the novel in the part of London I grew up in, the story does begin years before I was born. That called for a lot of research which involved:
  • asking people older than me what they remembered about the times
  • Googling like crazy
  • Buying books and taking visits to the library
  • Searching the Local Studies section of the main library
  • getting completely sidetracked on more than one occasion
Pictures, maps and stories I found helped a great deal in trying to bring authenticity to the story. I was sidetracked, in particular, by my research into the Notting Hill Race Riots of 1958. The location of my story is slap bang in the middle of the Riots so it was essential I mention them and the impact they had on my characters.

Finding yourself wading through tons of information makes it hard to know how much to add into the story itself. Too much and the novel stops being fiction and sounds like a text book.

When Skies Are Grey ends in the late seventies so there was a lot to research in terms of clothes, hairstyles, music, television, film, even down to brands of cigarettes that were smoked at the time. My characters went from wearing wide skirts with stockings and stilettos to mini skirts and then on to platform shoes.

And yet again, though I'd done tons of research, I still couldn't get all I'd learned into the book. Maybe I can use some of it another time. But getting into the history side of things was as exciting as writing the novel itself.

Writers how far do you go to make your story authentic?

4 comments:

  1. A writer after my own heart. I love learning about history through novels. My favorite research is reading vintage magazines and diaries.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by Shonna. Never tried vintage magazines so I'll bear that in mind.

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  2. Research! I get so sidetracked because history, people, life, it is all so fascinating. But as a consumer of fiction more than a writer, research isn't obvious in great fiction, it is subtle, pervasive, and essential. I love archive.org for finding enlightening tidbits.

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  3. Thanks for that Nancy I'll keep that link in mind.

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