As you will probably know, the Prime Writers like to get out and about, and Rebecca Mascull (The Song of the Sea Maid) is no exception. Here she tells us about her evening with fellow historical writer and Prime Writer Katherine Clements (The Silvered Heart) at the lovely Lindum Books…
“Those lovely folk at Lindum Books invited Katherine Clements and me to do an event at their wonderful bookshop this month. It’s a super independent bookshop in the beautiful city of Lincoln, somewhere I lived for around five years a while back. So I was thrilled to come and join my writer friend Katherine, who I’ve known since we worked together at an exam board a few years ago.
We discussed before the event what we’d like to talk about and, since we’re both historical novelists – and basically live in the past in our heads! – we thought it’d be a good idea to tell some stories about how we research our novels. From speaking to readers, we’ve found that this aspect of writing seems to be pretty interesting – where does the seed come from for a story? How do we start planning our narratives from there? Where do we begin in our research? And so forth.
So, once we were welcomed by our wonderful hosts – bookshop owner Sascha and her right-hand woman Gill, as well as their book event colleague Deborah – guests started arriving and then, aboard our tall stools and facing rows of readers, we began our talk.
We spoke about how we usually start with reading – books about the period, books written during the period – and what we do with all that information. How we collate it into files and timelines on the wall, and how we collect images and add those to the wall too to build up a picture of our period. We need to escape the everyday world and step into the world of the novel when we sit down to write. All this research builds up over a period of time and reaches a critical mass, at which point we’re ready to write.
Some fascinating questions came from the audience about this process: How do you organise it all and put it into the story? Will you always write historical fiction? How do you aim to produce an authentic voice for the period? We talked about how we have visited specialist libraries to handle historical documents – something which gives us both ‘history shivers’ when we see the actual pen strokes of our characters’ contemporaries; also, how we use some of the inflections of writing from the period in order to give the reader a flavour of the period i.e. use elements of the period’s prose to season our own, so that the reader isn’t beaten over the head with it but instead feels the mood of it, and is willing to suspend their disbelief and be immersed.
Speaking of immersion, we went on to talk about ‘method research’, citing our visits to experience for ourselves key events or places in which our characters are involved. Katherine told an engrossing story of birthing lambs for research into her third novel, an experience which gave her a truly visceral experience, while I shared my recent adventure of going flying in a light aircraft, also for Book 3 research. Both of these experiences lent our writing a truth we wouldn’t have found in reading about them. It’s not always possible to do such extraordinary things, but we both agreed that, as a writer, if you can, you should!
Our event ended with some great conversations where we signed a few books and chatted with our lovely guests. It was particularly delightful to see writer friends there, such as Kerry Drewery, Kendra Leighton and Laura Turner, as well as long-time supportive readers, such as book blogger Anne Cater and even family, Katherine’s mum Jan and her husband Jeremy, who kindly took our photos included in this article. We were so glad to see all of them.
All in all, such a lovely evening and we both felt honoured to be welcomed by Sascha, Gill and Deborah and all of the audience, and to be given the chance to talk about what we love: writing the past.”
Photographs courtesy of Jeremy Prosser.