Topic: In what time period do you prefer to set your stories – past, present, or future? What are the problems and advantages of that choice? Would you like to change?
Unequivocally, I like to set my stories in the past. I do write short stories in the present, but I don’t remember ever having a go at the future.
THE PROBLEMS of writing in the past are two sides of the same coin, On the face of it is the problem created by not having been there. On the reverse is the problem created by having been there.
Scottish Regency I wasn’t around in the latter years of George the Third’s reign and his son’s extended regency, but there is ample research material. Books, papers, art, furniture, the laws made, the laws enforced and, the real glory, the Georgian buildings still standing in many British cities. Edinburgh has its magnificent New Town and outriders like George Square where Bella’s Betrothal is set. I can look up the street directories and find out who lived in which house and what their occupation was. You can’t do that today!
One problem that creates difficulties for me in trying to woo some readers is the sheer cliff-face of the shift in attitudes since 1819. Some readers might be turned away by the strictures of life for a woman in that period. They may not wish or aren’t able to get into the mind-set. As a writer I love the challenge of working out how a woman would have made the best of it and, in the case of one’s heroine, bested the hero, her papa, the local lothario…
I was there and many, many of the thousands of folk who read my debut serial in The People’s Friend last year, A Traveller’s Life, were also there. Memory is a tricksy business. The facts may well be indisputable, but their interpretation most certainly is not. I have two friends from my early schooling who grew up in the village I did and the neighbouring one. Consulting them helped enormously because the sister of one not only remembered the nature of the District Nurse’s uniform and the blue lamp at her gate, but also her name. Another friend had worked as a District Nurse and provided me with the wonderful insight: “And you kept your hat on – no matter the procedure being undertaken.” A little thing, but annoying to the many wonderful ladies (I think that’s right, only women) who undertook such essential work, if you get it wrong.
For me, the principle advantage of writing in the past is perspective. As a writer of fiction I do have a ViewPoint character and the story will be skewed to show that person’s perspective. Writing years after the type of event in the story allows me to have read and thought about what might have happened in those circumstances and what might have provoked it or even resolved it. I may have to give a particular VP, but I can at least allow the others to break the surface of memory’s pool.
WOULD I LIKE TO CHANGE
Maybe. I do have one or two stories I want to tell in the present rather than through the lens of the past. It is, however, very difficult when living amidst the glories of Edinburgh’s New Town and visiting on a fairly frequent basis the wonderful sweeps of London’s great Georgian streets and their magnificent parks, to drag myself into our world of ‘normal’.
WORK IN PROGRESS
It’s a mixture. I’ve got a Scottish Regency on the go having been primed by writing a short story for Capital Writers (more on another occasion). I have a scatty heroine and a set of loveable rogues poised on the threshold of adult responsibility. I’m also, the Fiction Editor mentioned it in her blog two weeks ago, writing a contemporary serial for People’s Friend.
If you want to read others’ views on this month’s topic, here’s the list of great participants:
Marie Laval http://marielaval.blogspot.co.uk/
Anne de Gruchy https://annedegruchy.co.uk/category/blog/
Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
Dr. Bob Rich http://wp.me/p3Xihq-14G
Anne Stenhouse https://annestenhousenovelist.wordpress.com/
A.J. Maguire http://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/
Judith Copek http://lynx-sis.blogspot.com/
Victoria Chatham http://www.victoriachatham.com
Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
Heidi M. Thomas http://heidiwriter.wordpress.com/
Marci Baun http://www.marcibaun.com/blog/
Helena Fairfax http://www.helenafairfax.com/blog
Diane Bator http://dbator.blogspot.ca/
Rhobin L Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com
I write contemporary fiction for adults. I’ve not really analysed why the present day has particular appeal for me. I suppose it’s partly to do with the ‘issues’ that form the tales I want to tell but then some of them are timeless. Hmm…
In my novel for children the 3 main characters are contemporary kids who time travel to 1746 and save Bonnie Prince Charlie. I liked hopping around in time for that.
I’ve never considered setting a story in the future. So far …
Hi Anne, I enjoyed your Price Charlie story. The future issue is an interesting one. I suspect it’s because, in my case, I would see it as dystopian and I do shy away from that. Anne
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Yes, it is a challenge to enable a young modern reader to enter the reality of a person from a bygone era. I had to laugh about the cell phone!
Hi Bob, thanks for dropping by, Anne
How wonderful to live in a place full of such glorious history. I would probably be more inclined to write historical fiction, too, if I did. Then, again, my muse picks obscure places and times, so…maybe not. LOL
The older I get, the more I realize how little I know.
Hi Marci, Yes, I do think age brings wisdom, but also humility. Edinburgh is a beautiful city. However, for the last several years we’ve been dug-up while a tram was installed and the gas main replaced. Patience, I tell myself, it will return. Anne
Hi Anne. I’ve been to Edinburgh, Scotland, once and loved it. I was talking with my sister, and the shop owner said she was enchanted just listening to our accents. And here I thought the charming accents were the ones all around me.
I read somewhere where every contemporary writer who writes a historical novel is really writing from the perspective of their own time. I don’t know if this is always true, but I have noticed it sometimes. I think your goal of enlightening past heroines with ways to escape their restrictions speaks to modern readers about their own restrictions and how to escape them, similar to the ‘Me Too’ media reaction taking place now in the U.S., and probably just as valuable.
Hi Rhobin, I do hope to speak to the modern woman and remind her how easily it can all be lost. There are some very lovely American accents – you shouldn’t be surprised. Annw
You wrote “love the challenge of working out how a woman would have made the best of it”–I agree! That’s what makes it fun.
Hi Heidi, thanks for dropping by. I’m glad you think so too. Loved your post about the school. I expect that kind of schooling fostered independent thinking. Anne
I very much enjoyed your Regency novels, Anne. When writing my historical romances, like you I found it hard to remember the constraints women had to endure in the past, and that their way of thinking, of speaking, of behaving would have been so remote from my own. Thank you for a great post.
Hi Marie, thanks for dropping by. yes, it is the big ask in writing historicals: getting the mind-set and not feeling guilty about it. anne
Great subject, Anne! I love writing in different periods and genres and go with whatever my heart and story dictates. I love writing about women’s constraints in the past.
Hi Rosemary, Thanks for dropping by. I think all the participants have enjoyed the subject. Anne
Oh my! A Scottish Regency – can’t wait.
Hullo Skye, It is now underway after an event – full year. A friend id planning a guided walk around parts of Edinburgh for Christmas time and she’s going to refer to my Bella’s Betrothal for some references. I am so chuffed! anne
Next time I visit the UK, Anne, I’d love to come to Scotland and meet you!
Hi Victoria, just picked this up as I’ve been south for a few days. Hope you will visit Scotland, Anne