Friday, May 23, 2014

Writing Historical Fiction at 68!

Sometimes I wake up in the morning and ask myself what made me decide to write historical fiction. It’s a tough slog.

I keep searching for ways to describe what the process is like, and the closest I can come is that it is somewhat like setting up a loom and weaving fabric. 

First the weaver  has to string up the warp, the “background” of threads that runs longitudinally up and down .  Only then can the weft be threaded horizontally through the warp to make the cloth. I think of the historical research,  the “real “ story, as being the warp.  The weft is the fictional story I weave into the historical background.

It’s very tricky work, as I don’t want to have large, indigestible chunks of “history” cropping up: I want to keep it as the smooth, knot-free foundation of the fictional bits.

Anyway, the last time I started writing a historical fiction novel for kids, I was 38. (The Riddle of Penncroft Farm was actually published when I was  43.) 

Now I am 68 and I’m finding quite a difference in the way my brain is working these days. The fictional part of this task is still quite easy for me (“as the sow pisses”, as Mozart used to say of his creative process - not that I consider myself in his league, but the principle is the same). I notice however, that the historical background is much harder for me to keep in mind as I write. This means I spend a great deal of time checking and re-checking the historical facts as I go along.  Annoying, but there is it.

One way I am coping with this problem is by dividing my story into sections, attempting to keep the historical bits relevant to each section available in my head while I tackle each one. This seems to work pretty well. In a way, this feels more like quilting: doing separate pieces and them stitching ‘em together.

Hmmm.  Now I'm not sure if I'm weaving or quilting.  Or both. Oh, well, enough with the metaphors.

Back to work.