Saturday, 4 March 2017

Still Life

Well, I've had a lovely month off. Having finished the first edits on Wolfish and Creeper's Cottage in January, I've been enjoying birthday treats and travels since then. I'm not ready to start writing again yet, but I have begun the research for my next novel.

I'm returning to historical fiction with a story split between Victorian Bristol and the modern day. I'll go into more detail about it once I actually start writing, but it's all about photography.

That's all I can say for now. 

It's going to be quite hard going, because - until recently - I didn't think I was particularly interested in the history of photography, or in photographic techniques. Thanks to a very interesting man who has helped with the research, I have since revised my opinion on that. It is actually quite fascinating and oddly spiritual.

Another part that I'm not so enthused about is Victorian England. It's never been a genre that really spoke to me, except perhaps Pullman's Ruby in the Smoke series. Loved those.

Considering how little enthusiasm I have for Victorian England or photography, I must admit, it's a little odd to write a book about photography in Victorian England. This may prove to be an absolute failure, however there is a little something beneath the setting that keeps calling to me. We never start by thinking 'Right, I want to tell a story about this, in this place and time, with these characters, and this is what is going to happen...' Rather, the grain of an idea gets caught in our thoughts and we can't rest until we explore where it goes. There are many possible stories to be told, but a quality to those that won't go away. The ones you think you'll forget but still find yourself thinking about a year later.

I would never have chosen this story, but it seems to have chosen me.

The working title is Still Life. It does need a better one, but not right now.

Now, the important part is the research. Whenever I write historical fiction, I immerse myself in the period for a few days. I read and watch everything I can on the matter, and then I stop. Once I feel I have a good grasp on the period, I switch to thinking about the story - looking up details as and when they are needed. You do need to be accurate when you reference the era, but you don't want to start referencing the era just to get everything you've learnt in there. It's a novel, not a history book. Although dress, food, fashion and customs change throughout the ages, the core of human beings is fairly constant. I think that's why we like historical fiction, because it reminds us of this fact. We can empathise with ourselves throughout the centuries.

The way I begin researching is usually with Wikipedia and a simple Google search for the time period or place. One of my greatest tools is Word's Speak function. I copy/paste text from the sites into Word and have the programme read it back to me. Sometimes the sheer quantity of text can feel overwhelming, so this allows me to make a cuppa, lie on the couch or even brows the next piece whilst listening. I also look for YouTube documentaries and picture archives. I'm very grateful to  Paul Townsend for his Flickr collection of Victorian Brizzle. When I face more specific questions I contact archives and societies, and occasionally professionals, to ask for information. Most are usually extremely helpful.

One thing I really needed was the name of a photography or camera supply shop in Bristol in the 1860s. Et voila! Names and addresses.

So, on with the next project. It usually takes me five to nine months to write a novel once the research is done, but I get the sense this one may take longer. It's not going to be an easy write, but hopefully a rewarding one.

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