On Writing Historical Fiction

On Writing Historical Fiction

One day this period that we are living in will be the subject of historical fiction. Our Instagram, electric cars, and smart phones will seem like medieval devices. We will seem backwards in our dress and old-fashioned in our thinking. People will think the 2020s were populated by small-minded simpletons, that the people were afraid of science and new ideas, that the governments were stuffy and the class divide was great.

I write westerns under the name, Elwood Flynn (they will be published next year, but you can find Elwood on Instagram if you are interested in following that journey) and so I spend a lot of time thinking about how people thought back then.

It is easy to write two dimensional flat characters, stereotypical and slightly less intelligent than our far superior future selves. To write engaging real people in historical fiction you have to keep in mind one very important thing: Every person who has ever lived believed that they were living in the most modern times in all of history.

Cowboys photographed in grainy photographs in the late 1800s, in bowler hats and waistcoats; how old-fashioned their minds must have been. But even though these were gunslingers in a lawless land, they were wearing the highest Victorian fashion of the time, dressed like the British upper-class. Even outlaws were trendy, just not to us, not now.

Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch were some well-dressed dudes.

Maybe people will look back at teenagers in DCs and hoodies, and wonder, “Why were the teenagers back then dressed so formally?”

That’s how I dressed when I was a teenager, twenty years ago. When people were afraid of youths wearing hoodies. Front page news: BEWARE THE HOODIE! And now there are photographs of politicians wearing hoodies to make themselves seem more normal. More like the average working class man. Rishi Sunak, the British MP, trying to fool us in his hip garb.

Could you imagine Winston Churchill wearing a hoodie?

We think the ideas we are having now about people being scared of vaccines, or getting angry at cancel culture, are modern problems. And they are, just as they have always been.

This is a classified ad from 1952 –

There are articles from the 1800s about the new smallpox vaccine. One article from the Chamber’s Journal, July 31, 1886, reads, “The newspapers constantly remind us that there are many persons in the kingdom who object to vaccination…”

qrf

Comedian’s from 1903 declaring we can say, “good-bye to comedy” because racial and ethno stereotypes were banned on the stage.

In 1957, comedian George Gobel said, “…a TV comic nowadays needs the soul of a seismograph to know where the rumble of public wrath is coming from. We have to be verbal tightrope walkers.”

It has always been this way, and so it will remain. Nothing changes. Not really. We are not advanced. We have not learned from our ancestors.

We have always been, and will always be, modern.

There is a film from 1971 by Ken Russell called The Devils. It was banned pretty much everywhere for its blasphemous sex scenes (the infamous raping of Christ being the main problem), and has still not been released in full by Warner Bros. But that film did something very interesting. If you watch it, it looks weird to the eye. The sets are all so… modern. The prison scenes have bright white tiles, brand new bars. The town walls and the castle are clean and built with new stone.

The film is set in 17th century France and when the set designer came to build the sets, he went, as one does when making a historical film, to create moulds of crumbling walls. Ken Russell stopped him, reminding him that at one time these old castles were not old castles, but modern architecture. And so they built them as new. When we watch The Devils, we are not watching old fashioned people in the past being barbaric, we are watching modern people in the present raging against new ideas, just as we do now.

People have always had complex thoughts. There has always been extremes in outlook. There have always been people who are racist and bigoted, but there has also been people who are against those things. Not everyone in the 1800s was racist, otherwise the politicians, who sink or swim in an ocean made of popularity, would never have been able to abolish slavery.

This post has gone on longer than I had planned, and it’s all to illustrate one point. One lesson about writing historical literature. We must view them with a modern eye.

The thing is, about those cowboys I write about in my westerns, they have no idea that they are living in the past.

HAPPY HALLOWEEN! (… it’s officially launch day!)

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

In need of a good scare? Read something terrifying this Halloween!

Today is the official launch day of Jack’s Game! – mybook.to/JacksGame

IT meets READY PLAYER ONE

BLOOD WILL FLOW THROUGH THE STREETS OF SHELLEY TOWN

Billy Rain is a fourteen year old kid with two close friends with one thing in common. Their parents created the most successful computer game of the 90s.

Something dark happened in 1992. A secret their parents would rather keep buried.

Now, in 2002, Billy finds a games console on the grounds of the abandoned Matterson House. Playing the game, Billy and his friends realise it’s a map. They go out at night and dig. What they find, under the cold ground, is a decaying human hand.

An evil like no other is released from its grave. Jack Matterson. He’s back from the dead and out to take revenge on the kids of those who wronged him.

GET IT NOW on Amazon in ebook, paperback, and hardcover right here- mybook.to/JacksGame

Flying Towards Reality

When I was a kid, I could fly. I remember this very clearly. It wasn’t how you imagine it, not like Superman, but if I placed my foot just right, I could step onto the air.

Gradually I was able to move forward. The sensation was not like I was zooming down the street but that I was still and the houses were moving past me. I could travel far and wide in this way at speeds that would make an astronaut sick.

This memory is as clear and as real as when I learned to ride a bike, or the first time I fell off a skateboard.

Of course really it was just a recurring dream, I wasn’t actually able to fly, I think, but I’ve always had difficulties keeping the dreaming world out of the real world.

There are two ways to go with this problem. Your can either spiral into madness or become an author. Writing, after all, is nothing more than applied daydreaming.

That harnessed flight of fancy has been tamed over the years, chained to the page by grammar and story structure. it has now been enclosed in a paperback which you can purchase, if you wish.

Jack’s Game is more than a novel. It is the culmination of years of keeping my feet on the ground and my dreams on the page.

Breaking Out Of Your Echo Chamber To Write Believable Characters

Okay, so this is basically an escuse to react to a mad video that I think you will enjoy…

I made a video reacting to Marjorie Taylor Greene’s Republican campaign video.

Here’s a picture of the tags I set for this post. I think they speak for themselves –

I talk about the need to break out of your own echo chamber in order to create believable non-stereotypical characters in your novels, but really I just wanted to share the madness of a the far right conspiracy believing politician.

“WIN THIS 50 CAL GUN!” if only politicians in the UK had incentives like that…

Ignore me. I’m sick.

What is this art form? This theatre of words moving across a page? The trade of building images out of symbols? Carving literary statues with grammatical chisels? Writing is so much and so little. A bad sentence is almost indistinguishable from a good one. It takes a person with a degree to know what is good and what is not. They will tell you Dan Brown paints his words with turds and shake their fists at the pages of The Bookseller magazine which dares to print sales figures that contradict their assessment.

The average reader has no idea. Nor do they care.

You can have a novel, 120,000 words long, and find nothing of meaning within its pages. Heroes running the same course as many before them. A save-the-cat journey of write-by-numbers plots designed to move and thrill. The same story sold bought and read again and again and again.

Another book. Which follows no particular pattern. Does not follow the rules of grammar exactly. And does not dance around a story circle. Filled with depth and aphorisms and wit. Is never read.

If a genre book is considered literary is it no longer genre? If a literary book is blandly written is it still art? Is storytelling itself art, regardless of the prominence or not of adjectives in its prose?

I always wanted to write whatever the British equivalent of The Great American Novel is. In wanting to learn how to do this I have become more and more interested in turning a collection of words on a page into a continuous moving image in the reader’s mind. I write westerns now. The goal of the books is not to blow you away with a skilful display of my vocabulary and the wrangling of obscure and rarefied words, but to put the words out of your mind entirely. I want my stories to grab you by the hair and drag you through the dirt. I want you to read them in one sitting and turn that last page with your heart racing and your eyes raw with fatigue and belly hungry. But instead of eating, or sleeping, I want you to turn right back to the start and read it again. Is that art?

To do that, maybe I have not created art. I have created entertainment.
Will that do? Is that enough?
I still want to write The Great British Novel, but writing pulp is too much fun.

Right now I am sick. I’m sat on the couch amidst a snowstorm of crumpled tissue. My nose is red. I’m sniffling. I have a tickle at the back of my throat that I have been refusing to turn into a cough since I started writing this incoherent nonsense. I should be writing the next chapter in my book but instead I am rambling about, what? Whether or not writing is art? I have no idea. I have lost the thread of my original thought. The cold that has turned my brain into a red hot storm of snot has forced my imagination into some kind of fevered spasm of bollocks.

I have the urge to write but not the clarity to do so usefully. So now I have done this. I started writing with no plan and have ended up here, and you’re right here with me, wondering what the point of any of this is.
We are conjoined in an existential crises of blog gibberish. I will set you free so I can go and sneeze.

Let me leave you then. I am going to drink coffee, cough up some lung-butter (as Rachel so juicily calls it), take some Sudafed, and try again to write what I opened my laptop to write in the first place. Some good old fashioned gun-slinging pulp fiction.

He-Man and the Masters of Deception!

I feel that the promotional material for the New Masters of the Universe show was a little misleading.

I’m all for the direction the show took but purposely getting everyone excited for He-Man and then smashing that excitement to bits in the first episode was a marketing decision that could only lead to disappointment.

They should have had some confidence in the show and at least put the main characters in the poster. You can see them in the ensemble poster if you hold it up to your face and squint, but they should have been front and centre.

I think if you asked people who they thought would be in this show, based on the trailer, all the social media that lead up to it, and Kevin Smith’s promises to stay true to the original, I’m willing to bet they would say, with some confidence, “He-Man.”

They would be wrong. Hoodwinked. You don’t build all your marketing around a cameo.

One of the best books I’ve read this year.

The Swordsman’s Lament by G. M. White is genuinely brilliant. When I had to turn the audiobook off after my commute to work I was looking forward to getting back on the road, and back in the story.

Belasko is a great new hero. This series deserves to blow up. I hope it does. The story is a simple but compelling one. A good man accused of a murder he didn’t commit escapes from the dungeons to clear his name.

The writing is excellent and G. M. White is an exceptional storyteller.

There is an equality to the storytelling too. Strong female characters. Female guards, they/them pronouns, ambiguous sexual orientation. It’s not at the forefront of the story, but it’s there in the subtle world building.

The nobility / underclass devide is tackled with an edge as sharp as Belesko’s rapier.

The Swordsman’s Lament, “the older I get the better I was”, is put to the test and Belasko prevails.

There is nothing to not like about the book. Just read it already, it’s great.

I believe it was the narrator’s first foray into reading audiobooks and I hope he reads more. He sounded very much like Tom Hiddleston. It was like having Loki read you a book, and who wouldn’t want that?