Friday, July 31, 2009

This is a little article I wrote to aid members of my writers' group who were just breaking into historical writing, particularly the Victorian era. I offered a few suggestions on reading and research, and some ideas for reading on and of the period. I hope you find it interesting. I am going on holiday within a couple of days, and will be back in the middle of August. There will still be blogs for you to read--I hope you enjoy them, and I'll talk to you soon…


Firstly about wording or language -- to get a solid idea of how people spoke you need to read books written at the time. If you are interested in 19th C Britain -- you should read any or all Jane Austen, 'Vanity Fair' by Thackery, 'Barchester Towers' and others by Anthony Trollope, 'Jane Eyre' and 'Wuthering Heights' by the Brontes, anything by George Eliot, 'The Moonstone' or 'Woman in White' by Wilkie Collins, anything by Thomas Hardy, and of course, Charles Dickens. Some of these are heavy going -- the writing style is alien to us, but even if you just browse them to look at the language, you will be learning. (I've never been able to read Dickens ) Someone else very useful and much easier to read is Flora Thompson. She only wrote a couple of books-- I think the library has them. One title is 'Lark Rise to Candleford'. And then there are people like Georgette Heyer who have impeccable period language although she was writing in the 20th century.

Also diaries can be very useful -- Francis Kilvert and John Woodforde were both parsons who wrote diaires, one at the end of the 19th century, one at the beginning. And finally if you want to get technical about words and language you can try "Nineteenth Century English" by Richard W. Bailey from the University of Michigan Press. It's pretty scholarly but very interesting.

Something you should know is that research, if you're writing historicals, is a life-long process. There is no quick and easy way to learn it all. Most of us writing historicals find the research way more fun than the writing :) You will need to know your British history really well, and if you're writing emigration type stories, you need to know all you can about that process of emigration as well as 19th century Canadian history. Those will be your basics.

After that -- whenever you have time! -- you need to research particular subjects. For example, google or library search 'horse drawn carriages' or '19th century costume' or 'Victorian trades'. And you just learn and learn and learn; but there's no quick way.

And remember don't put off writing until you have all the research done. Because you'll never be done researching, and you need to start writing as well as researching.

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