As part of the Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tour for, The Hypnotist, I'm pleased to welcome author M.J. Rose for a fantastic guest post. In addition, keep reading for your chance to win a copy of The Hypnotist -- giveaway information is provided after the guest post.
I started writing books that went back in time to other eras after having written 8 totally contemporary novels.
I knew I needed to do research – but how much? When do you stop researching and start writing. How much information is enough?
And the more research I did the more overwhelmed I was by the job I’d given myself.
One of the things I did was ask other writers of historical fiction about how they wrote so realistically about the past without turning their novels into history lessons.
How do you delve into a historical past you cannot yourself remember?
Here some of the answers that helped me find my own way.
C.W. Gortner: For me, it's part instinct and part research. I write novels based on people who actually lived, so it's always a challenge because my imagination is constrained by fact. For example, I can't change the ending, even if it ends badly. I'm obsessive about research; I have to find out everything I can, and that means getting in contact with libraries and archives, finding out-of-print books, setting up meetings with experts in certain areas, etc. After the research is done, and the writing begins, something stronger takes over and perhaps that is, in fact, a collective unconscious of the past.
Arthur Phillips: Memory has a huge role in writing historical fiction, but just not the memory of that particular history. I use my own memories from time to time in my books, of course: something I said or did or wished I said or did, or felt, or wished I felt, or whatever. And then I give that memory to a character who is otherwise unlike me, and in the cases of historical fiction, someone who lived at a time and in a place that I did not, and hey presto: a reader might have the illusion of a particular moment of history recreated convincingly, but maybe that is a trick because living memory was transplanted into a historical shell...
David Hewson: While I try to be "accurate" as much as possible (mainly because it would be lazy to be inaccurate when the sources are out there), I don't see veracity as important in itself. What matters is the subjective truth of the historical world to the reader. An unreal world that feels right is much better than a technically accurate one that feels made up.
Steve Berry: Research, research, research. I suppose that means I rely on the recollections of others. How else would we ever know about the past except through the memories of those who experienced it? In my case, that comes from hundreds of primary and secondary sources, which I pore through one by one, searching for those precious few facts that will fit together to make a story. Without those recollections, properly memorialized and preserved, the past would truly be lost.
David Liss: My background is in literary studies, not in history, and so by training I am inclined to pay as much attention to researching historical subjectivity as material historical fact. What people ate and wore and how they got around and the material conditions of their day-to-day lives are all very interesting, but they are also meaningless if we try to impose a contemporary sense of self into a historical setting. When I work on historical characters, I always try to imagine how this person, living at this time, would respond to this problem or obstacle or success or whatever it is they are dealing with.
Sandra Gulland: One realization that was important for me in delving into history — an epiphany, really — came while I was feeding my horse. I realized that what I was doing was timeless. But for his height, my horse was not much different from a horse in the 17th century — or the third century, for that matter. As for myself, I might be taller than a woman in the past, and clothed differently, and my constellation of beliefs and customs somewhat different, but my body and soul were basically the same, and what I was doing — feeding a horse — had been done for centuries before. That was the key that opened the door for me, helped me to make myself at home in a world of the past.
You can learn more about M.J. Rose by visiting her website at: http://www.mjrose.com/content/index.asp
As part of The Hypnotist Virtual Book Tour, I'm pleased to host a giveaway for a copy of The Hypnotist (you can read my review here).
- Contest open to Canada/United States residents ONLY.
- To enter, please leave a comment with your name and email address (only comments with email addresses will be entered into the contest).
- The contest will be open until December 7, 2011.
You can follow the tour on Twitter at #TheHypnotistVirtualTour