Thank to you all for suggesting ideas for me to post about, or asking me questions. They were all great ideas (keep ’em coming if you missed it!).
This week I’m addressing two paragraphs submitted by Jessewave – here’s what she had to say:
I would be interested in the amount of research you have to do to write a book. It seems to me that you must spend most of your time in libraries hunting down obscure information and hope like hell that it’s correct, because some researcher will find the smallest error. I’ve seen all those reviews on Speak Its Name. 😀
Compared to historical writers, contemporary authors have an easy time – all they have to do is try to make everyday occurrences seem interesting and throw in a few murders or other ripped from the headlines events. Do you sometimes wish you specialized in contemps? (But then there would be no breeches to rip open) 😀 What would make you switch?
Regarding research, I know that the idea of doing research puts some writers off, but I think it’s kind of hard wired into some people, it certainly is for me. I’m not a “historian” (although sometimes I wish I had a degree that I could flash on my biography, I get degree envy so often when I read other peoples’) but I am. I want to KNOW random stuff and always have. Pre-internet I would always be asking “when did that happen?” and “what are the lyrics to that?” and “who wrote that?” “Where’s that piece of art?” and so on – and it was bloody difficult to find out – sometimes all you could do would be to write to the BBC and hope they would take pity on you.
For me, the internet is such a boon. It’s a like some kind of huge, rambling library–with L-space–where you can dive in, get lost and never come up for air. I can satisfy those random questions in life instantly–instantly!–and I wonder how I ever managed without it.
As much as love writing, I know for certain that I would never be a writer without the internet. Not of historicals, that is. My mother wrote. She had a 3 volume family-type saga written, starting in the 19th century coming through to the 60’s, and she did it all pre-internet. She spent a lot of time in libraries. I can’t be doing with that. The internet is my pond and I know how to swim in it. I have Google-fu.
I’m not dismissing libraries, of course. I still use them! Out of my six or so books I get from a library each week, at least two are research books. There have been instances where the internet has failed me completely, and I had to go out to find it.. The most recent was with the English Civil War for Transgressions. The English Civil War itself has been documented to the Nth degree. You can find out the causes of it, what the soldiers used as weapons, what the uniforms were like, who the commanders were, what the battles were like – minutely! – what each side was doing at every day throughout the war, how they trained, blah blah blah. But to find out what the people ate, what their houses were like, what they wore – there’s very little online. So that’s where a trip to the Millennium Library in Norwich came in. Thank goodness for it, too!
I know there are writers who immerse themselves in research for ages before they’ll even start a book. I have a friend who spends upwards of a year researching before she writes a word. I’m far too impatient for that, and characters are sitting in my head kicking me in the brain telling me to get on with it so I tend to do my research as I go. This can lead to a rather disjointed writing experience, as I find myself often stopping every two lines to check “did they have stamps in 1820?” “did they have newspapers?” “What’s the distance from Great Yarmouth to Acle by boat?” “What’s the name of the church in Horsey, Norfolk?” but anyone who’s thinking about trying the genre, that’s nothing to be scared of–to us, that’s all part of the fun. You’ve got to LIKE finding out this kind of stuff, and also the bazillion pieces of minutiae that you are never, ever likely to use…Like the History of Pews, how to manhandle a 22 foot pike, or how to make the best lemon posset ever.
The thing is, I research for any piece of writing. I used to write, as I’m sure most people know, Harry Potter fanfiction, and I used to research hard for that. I was rabid about getting the facts and the canon right. Even the contemporary short stories I’ve written have necessitated a lot of research: (what hours is London Zoo open? How is a log cabin constructed? What’s Juvie like in America?) I’m not content with just stabbing in the dark and then having people mock me for getting it wrong. I think the readers deserve it, and I’m sure that most contemp writers research a lot too.
And I do get it wrong. Everyone makes mistakes! But I think that a reader – even one used to reading historicals – can tell if you are trying your best to get it right, and whether you’ve just made it all up as you go along.
Ironically, the only story I’ve done absolutely no research for was “Whatever The Risk” in “Queer Dimensions” which is pure Space Opera. It was such a joy to make up my own universe, my own spaceships, my own worlds. Sci-fi purists would have a hernia but I’m afraid that my boys just drive their ships, there’s no explanation as to how they go faster than light. They treat their ships the same way I treat my car. I get in, I press a button, it takes me to the shop. I have no idea of the history of the internal combustion engine and I don’t want to know, either.
That sort of bleeds over into Wave’s next question, as no, I don’t think there’s anything that would convince me to switch from my beloved historicals to contemporaries. I kind of live in the past, and hermitted away in the lakelands of The Norfolk Broads I have very little contact with the real world. I don’t think I could write convincing contemporaries, and there are far too many people doing a sterling job, you don’t need me blundering around getting it wrong.
The thing about gay historicals is that it hasn’t been done much before. The field is wide, wide open. When you look at all the hetereo historicals that have been written over the last hundred years or so, everything’s been done over and over. I doubt there’s any era or subject that hasn’t been touched at least once. It’s hugely exciting to be here at the birth of a genre, where everything is yet to be explored. There have been gay men since Ig and Ug moved in together and became the first hunter-gatherer same sex couple so who’s going to be first one to write The Gay Clan of the Cave Bear, eh?