The ‘R’ Word
Writing historical novels has one major drawback – the ‘R’ word.
Research. Because however well you think you can write, unless you immerse yourself completely in the period it’s impossible to get characters absolutely right. The way they act. They way they interact. They way they eat; drink; sleep, even. And even though you may decide they will speak in what we might consider ‘modern’, language, how did they talk to one another?
You see, major events are relatively easy to find out about; they may even be generally well known. But it’s the small things that make stories come alive. How do you load a pistol with powder and ball? How long does it take? What covering was used on the floor of a peasant’s house in 1800? What in the house of a Duke? And how would a footfall sound on each, in darkness?
So you have to read. And often you have to read pretty obscure texts. Diaries. Letters. Pamphlets. Books so long out of print your local library will laugh uproariously when you ask for them.
I’ll give you an example. The Napoleonic Wars have probably been written about more than any other conflict in history. But the cavalry of that time suffered a bad press, so books about them are relatively few. But many of the tactics used then are based on 18th century Prussian cavalry manoeuvres, and I was lucky enough to come across a reprint of Major General Emanuel Von Warnery’s 1798 treatise ‘Remarks on Cavalry’: on Ebay, of all places.
There’s just one problem. The reprint uses the original, old-fashioned typeface where ‘s’ is printed as ‘f’. Thus we have ‘Pruffians’, ‘Huffars’ and sentences like ‘A fquadron ought to be often exercifed without faddles…’ Try reading that aloud without it sounding as if you’ve had one too many after closing time!
So that’s what I’ll be doing tonight. The ‘R’ word.
Reading, instead of ’riting.