I had never imagined that I would write historical fiction, yet I had loved reading Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre when I was first introduced to them in my teens. The former was on the school curriculum and the latter I had received as a gift, and though I read a lot of different genres in those years, they were the two books that stuck in my memory. (Mind you Nancy Drew Mysteries were up there too!)
Historical fiction stories appealed to my romantic side, but also to my mindfulness side. What I mean by that is, that everything was done at a slower pace back in the 1880’s. As a reader, placing myself in a scene where sisters sat in the evening and read or sewed, or just conversed by the fire, I feel, immediately calms the spirit and helps me escape from the rushing and racing of present life. I hope to give that to my readers.
A lot that happens now is done and over before we can savour it. For example we can dash off an email in an instant – how many of us have had occasion to regret the impulsiveness of that! In the 1880’s thought went into each word and sentence, and you still had time to change your mind either about what you had written, or whether you would send it at all, as you reached for an envelope and then perhaps strolled to the village to post it. And of course, a reply could take days or weeks, which, when it comes to writing historical fiction, can lend itself beautifully to suspense.
It can also be loaded with mystery because information was not available at the touch of a button – people’s characters can be slowly and deliciously revealed. The hero or heroine couldn’t be Googled or checked out on Facebook, which as we all know in Pride and Prejudice led to a lot of tension and misunderstandings! In 2016 it’s easy to find out who is who. The plot of my second novel only works because information wasn’t readily available!
Also distances were less easily traversed which led to heartbreak and angst when lovers were separated.
Dialogue can be powerful also. It can be used to show the distinction in classes, but also can create an atmosphere of a slower, more genteel time back then. It can also be used to show the difference in a time line within a novel. For example, my first novel, For the Love of Martha, goes back and forth between the 1880’s and the present and I used dialogue to help the reader to be in each era. I deliberately used ‘proper’ English for the scenes set in 1888, using ‘would not’ or ‘could not’ to show the refined and genteel manners of the family. The abbreviations like ‘wouldn’t’ or ‘couldn’t’, I used in the scenes set in the present along with all the modern technology and email jargon, etc. Of course you learn as you go along! In my first novel I had the lady of the house, Helena, saying “I will go…” but my editor wasn’t long pointing out that the word ‘will’ was incorrect and that Helena would have said “I shall go…” (When writing historical fiction, you can learn something new every day!)
Because we are so used to certain turns of phrases nowadays, we can forget that they weren’t always in existence. We can mistakenly write a character back in the 1880’s saying ‘okay’, which is an Americanism we now use all the time, but totally inappropriate for the era. And also the word ‘Jesus’ nowadays is often written as a swear word, but, as in my second novel Rescued, when something dramatic happened and someone said, ‘Jesus, Mary and Joseph’, it was a said as a heart-felt prayer.
However, when it comes to researching for historical fiction, I’m certainly glad to be living in the 21st century with all the tools we have at our disposal, because a lot of research needs to be done. Luckily information and photographs on everything from transport to clothes, to architecture is all available to us on the internet. It’s possible to find whether there was a railway station in a certain village or how long it would take to get from A to B on foot. We have no excuse for getting it wrong except maybe because we are hurtling along with the plot and don’t want to be distracted by researching the detail! But unfortunately that can result in rewrites, as I learned to my cost when I guessed how long it would take to get from Durrus to Skibbereen on a horse and cart, and of course got it completely wrong! Google maps very quickly got added to my list of writing tools. It’s possible to accumulate a wealth of information but it’s important that only what is essential to the story should go into the novel itself.
For me there is something magical and mysterious about the past and those who have gone before us.
(c) Maria Murphy
In 1889, on the beautiful Mizen peninsula lives a young woman called Ellen. Although the daughter of a simple fisherman, she is no ordinary woman. Ellen is a healer, with a heart and spirit as wild and free as the Atlantic Ocean she lives beside. She devotes her life to helping others, often in secret.
But when a stranger, in the fine clothes of the landed gentry, is washed up on the sand in front of her remote cottage, she is fearful of helping him because of the trouble he could bring to her and those she loves.
Trying to stay faithful to a warning her grandmother passed on to her, Ellen has to do all she can to protect herself and her home from this stranger.
But perhaps it’s the stranger and his heart that needs protection from her?
Rescued is in bookshops now or pick up your copy online here!