Author of The Seven Letters
The Three Essentials
There are three absolute essentials to writing historical fiction.
‘Research, research and even more research.’
Attention to Detail
A novel drawing on any aspect of history will fail if even the smallest details are incorrect. Authors in this genre must never forget that they are writing for a savvy audience who know their social history.
Include Actual Historial Events
My debut novel, ‘The Seven Letters’ is set in World War 2 Paris at the time of the Liberation. I had to include real historical events and these needed to be weaved carefully into the book at the correct time and place but without interrupting the flow. This is very hard and needs a ‘less is more’ approach.
Visit The Settings in Person
I made trips to Paris searching for information in museums and archives and took in various sites around the city that would be included in my book. Some were hard to find and needed a fair bit of detective work but, in the end, it was very worthwhile because it brought the novel to life.
Make Copious Notes
My pile of notebooks grew and grew as I made notes, sketches and collected memorabilia on my trips. Not knowing something as insignificant as the colour of a war-time Metro ticket can really let a book down so I wrote down anything and everything.
Use All The Resources
Libraries and Museums are wonderful and I spent a lot of time in the Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum, Woodstock where I could touch a lot of the exhibits. However, there comes a point when you need to use other resources such as google, youtube and films on television. I would often freeze frame scenes and make notes about the clothes and interiors.
Ask Someone Who Was There.
The best research for me were first hand accounts from people who were actually there. This is when writing about wartime is an advantage over earlier history. Talking to nonagenarians was a humbling experience as they shared their personal memories with me. I used these in the book to add a touch of real, every day life.
Check each chapter
All authors are different but once I finish writing a section of a book I read it back and check the punctuation, spelling and the historical details. If you make a mistake with any historical aspect it will only make matters worse later on. You find yourself going further and further down a blind alley.
I think most authors of historical fiction choose a subject they enjoy. For me it is the French Resistance. It came from my love of old black and white movies as a child. Expand on a subject you love and research becomes a joy.
Use Your Knowledge Sparingly.
The reward for me has been the many superb reviews The Seven Letters has received. Many compliment me on my research and also thank me for not lecturing them on what I know! That is the ironic thing, if the research in a historical novel is good it will slot quietly into the background, but if it’s bad it will scream out from the page. There is only one solution, research, research and even more research, but it does pay dividends in the end.
Jan Harvey’s debut novel is published on 28 February, 2017. It is currently available on kindle, ibooks and Kobo and from www.janharveyauthor.com where you can request a signed copy.