Wednesday, 29 January 2014

On (Hopefully Not Re-) Writing History

My new, currently underway novel, working title To End All Wars, will be my first serious go at writing historical fiction - and by serious I mean, not set in some vague ye olden days or Lovecraftian times or whatever period the Damasco books were meant to be based on.  No, I'm talking about proper history, with an extra dose of period veracity: the First World War to be exact, and June 1916 onwards to be even more exact.  And I'm trying to get into the habit of being exact, because that obviously is a thing you need to do when you write historical fiction.  In fact, I've spent most of the last week driving myself a little crazy with exactitude.

Everything was going swimmingly until I had to transport my protagonist from the trenches of the Somme to - well, let's just say for reasons of not spoilering a book I haven't even finished yet to an undisclosed location somewhere in England.  I won't go into details of what a horror it was figuring out the logistics of an intercontinental journey that might conceivably have happened a hundred years ago, partly because I'm still suffering from slight research PTSD, but suffice to say that I spent an awfully, disproportionately long time hunting for the most obscure bits of information.  There were a couple of days, in fact, where I felt like I was spending fifteen minutes in research for every minute of writing time.  Seriously, are there really people out there who do this all the time?

Except that on the good days, when the research isn't driving me crazy - and the good days have been by far the majority - I've got to admit that I'm really enjoying it.  It's nice to be a historian again, after too long away, and World War One is a fascinating, if frequently heart-breaking, subject.  Also, struggling through that bad patch has made me think a little more realistically about what I can and should be trying to achieve.  I've consoled myself with the fact that if my protagonist doesn't need to know something then I don't need to know it, that if I can't find something out in a half hour's research then it may well be because no one knows, and with the sad fact that there's almost no one left alive who can speak definitively about events that occurred an entire century ago.

In short, then, while I desperately hope I can get the big stuff right, from now on I'm going to make more of an effort not to sweat the little stuff.
History at its most improbable and awesome.

And in the meantime,
I did at least get dragged off into some interesting historical back alleys.  The whole experience, in fact, was possibly justified just by the discovery of dazzle ships, which may just be the single most gloriously mad thing humanity has ever produced. If you don't believe me, look right, or read this, or just do a quick image search.

Right.  Now I'm going outside to Dazzle Camouflage my house.

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