The Romance Reviews

The Romance Reviews

A Spell in Provence

A Spell in Provence

Friday, 20 October 2017

October Round Robin: What is your favourite time period and why?


The topic for this month's round robin is:  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?


Since my first published novel in 2015, I have written more historical romance - both novels and short stories - than contemporary romance. There is something about historical romance that draws me back time after time. Perhaps it's because of my inability to cope with modern technology  - iphones, ipads, satnavs, social media platforms and various other gadgets I don't know much about and have absolutely no interest in, yet I know I would feel compelled to include in a contemporary novel since they are so much part of modern life.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay
I may love writing historical romance but the genre poses specific challenges, of course. It can be difficult to make sure the characters, the period and setting, and of course the love story between the protagonists, are plausible. Research is always important whatever period you are setting your story, but it's even more so for historical fiction.

My first challenge is to make sure I get the tone, the language and the thought process of the characters right, and for this I try to take into account the more rigid social order of the times my novel is set. That includes the constraints imposed on women, the importance of religion in everyday life, the relationships between men and women, as well as the broader historical background - such as political struggles and wars.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay
Both my novels ANGEL HEART and DANCING FOR THE DEVIL feature Napoleon's cuirassiers at Quatre-Bras and Waterloo. There is a wealth of material about these battles, Waterloo was a particular useful site for my research. It also has details of many battles fought by the British army around the world, including the Punjab wars where my hero Bruce McGunn fought.

Reading social or political pamphlets or extracts of newspapers of the time helps me find out what was going at the time of my story, and what and who was popular, fashionable, or reviled. By reading fiction of the period I can pick up popular expressions, slang or understand the way people addressed one another at the time. If you fancy taking a look at some Victorian slang, click on Victorian Slang, but be warned, it's not for the faint hearted! For lots of fascinating posts and articles on the Victorian age you must read The Victorianist.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Secondly, I try not to get mixed up with the various items of clothing people wore at the time, and that includes underwear! There are of course lots of material detailing items of clothing for both men and women, but for a quick glance at outfits for writing a particular scene I find Pinterest very useful. This site here has great information about female underwear in different time periods and these have beautiful photos and descriptions: Fashion of the 1850s and Romantic Era Fashion and Hair.

When writing historical fiction, you must also pay attention to distances. Travelling by horse or carriage took a lot longer in the early nineteenth century, especially in bad weather and considering that the state of the roads could be appalling. It's the same for sea crossings.

My latest historical romance - DANCING FOR THE DEVIL - mainly takes place in the Scottish Highlands where I have unfortunately never been. Here are just a few sites I found useful, including this one on the Clearances. For general information about the Highlands, these were very useful: Highland dress and weapons, Scottish Folklore and Songs, and the Scots Tongue.

Of course, I just don't rely on the Internet and the material I find online. I always look out for great books too, all kinds of non-fiction books about fashion, travel and folklore. These featured on the photo below have been invaluable when I was researching DANCING FOR THE DEVIL. Visiting historic houses is always inspiring too, for ideas about design, furniture, everyday items. I always love looking at family portraits and old sepia photos, and make notes of unusual names.

Finally I would say that the biggest challenge for me is to avoid overloading the story with lots and lots of historical details. However frustrating it may be to leave out fascinating or quirky facts I came across during my hours of research, I need to remind myself that I am writing a love story, not a social or historical treatise!

Below is the list of authors taking part in this month's round robin.










18 comments:

  1. Hi Marie, Your passion for the romance of the past as well as for romance in the past shines through. I look forward to more in the future. anne

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  2. I have a suggestion, Marie. Write a contemporary, with your characters sharing your attitude to modern tech junk!
    I fully agree with what you've written about historical material, and thank you for the resources you have mentioned.

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    1. This is exactly what I'm going to do, Bob! Thank you for visiting.

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  3. I have been to the Scottish Highlands. They are beautiful. While there, I learned how they use fences to keep sheep out of their gardens. LOL Also, the legend is that, at one time, trees covered Scotland, but the English landowners brought in sheep which ate everything in sight, including the trees. I haven't done any research to find out if this is true.

    I'm in the process of writing two stories: one set in Tahiti (contemporary) and the other set in China/Tibet/India in the early 1960s. The first is easy to research. The second? Not so much. But that is part of the allure. I learn so much when I write these stories. Some stuff, I wanted to know. Others, not so much. LOL

    It's hard not to data dump because most of the information is fascinating. We want our readers to know everything...except that would make for a very boring story.

    Interesting post.

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    1. Thank you very much, Marci. Tibet and Tahiti? What fascinating settings! Good luck with both projects. It is indeed hard to keep all the information and anecdotes you gathered along the way to yourself. Like you, I have to stop myself from putting everything in the story.

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  4. Enjoyed your post as 19th century romance is one of my favorite reads, and investigated all the links! Thanks.

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    1. Thank you very much Rhobin. There are so many great sites on the Internet, we are lucky to have that resource to research background information. I hope you find the links useful!

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  5. There's a challenge in both historical and contemporary writing, for sure!

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    1. Indeed, Heidi! I am editing a contemporary romance which should be released early next year, and I remember having to research technology (mobile signals etc...) which I find dreadfully boring.

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    2. Wow! I am really impressed by your depth of research. Waterloo, yet! You are so thorough. I agree that after we do a lot of research it is tempting to include it all. The interest thing is that even if you leave much of it out, what you know still somehow informs your writing. This post was so enjoyable. I know what you mean about technology. I am writing about the 50's which had so little. It's refreshing not to have to keep referring to cellphone, Facebook, etc.

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    3. Thank you so much Judy, for your kind comments. What I really love is finding anecdotes and quirky facts. I can never resist putting them in the story! Good luck with your writing.

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  6. Good point about getting the dialog right to not only fit the era, but to immerse the reader in it without them realizing it.

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    1. Thank you very much for visiting and commenting. People had a much more formal way of addressing one another but I think you run the risk of losing the reader if you adopt speech patterns that are too stilted and 'old-fashioned'. I guess you have to find a balance.

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  7. I enjoyed your post and how you get to know the tone, the language and the thought process of the characters right for your era. I think that's important for any ere.

    Beverley

    Beverley

    Beverley Bateman

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    1. Thank you very much, Beverley. I think the thought process is hard to get right, and I am sure I have made assumptions and glaring mistakes linked to my condition as a twentieth-century, professional woman, but I do try!

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  8. What a great post! You are a lady after my own heart when it comes to research. Getting it right is a must for me, but not at the expense of belabouring a detail as I have seen in many books. Have just ordered Angel Heart and look forward to reading it.

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    1. Thank you so much, Victoria, for your kind words. It is true that I find it hard to let go of quirky details and interesting facts that I have accumulated during long hours spent researching, but in the end, it is a love story! I do hope you like Angel Heart.

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