Thursday, May 25, 2017

How visiting another country helps me write historical romance

I’ve been back from America for two weeks now.
Every year I go across the pond for a month. This time I went via Dublin, and I was away from home for six weeks. Coming home is always nice (tea!) but it does help me to get out of my rut, to experience a different way of life.
So how does that help me write my historical romances?
It’s the getting-out-of-the-mindset thing. Living in the States, especially when I visit friends, watching American TV (like ours, some good, some bad), forces me to look again at the way I live and the things I take for granted. My expectations, in short.
So what would it be like to live in a time when transport was so much more difficult, relatively expensive and time-consuming? When it could take a week to travel from London to your home in Yorkshire? And how about no light at the flick of a switch? Not being able to switch on the TV and find out what is going on in the world?
True, these things were available to me in the US, but other things weren’t. Even something as simple as a meat pie (they have something called a pot pie, but meat pies and pasties are nowhere to be found).
The shift I have to make helps me to understand the practicalities of living in the past. The way my assumptions are shaken encourages me to think again.
When I sit down to write, there are too many things I take for granted. I try to learn the way people acted and thought every day, and sometimes I’ll write an ordinary diary entry for my main characters, before they get caught up in the story. I do my best to make my heroes and heroines people of their time, and not 21st century people, with the same attitudes and thoughts. And yet, we still have a lot in common. Emotions haven’t changed, although the causes might have done. People still feel love, hate, jealousy and anger. I can contact my characters through that, and try to connect them to the readers.
The people of the past didn’t think of themselves as “quaint,” they just lived their lives the best they could. They were different, only because they had different assumptions and expectations, but underneath, they were just the same as us.


Elizabeth Hawksley said...

What an interesting post, Lynne. You are so right about how going to another country can make you reassess, not only one's own life, but also how we do things over here. I remember going to Canada about 12 years ago and seeing those signs at traffic lights which count down how many seconds you've got to cross the road and thinking 'What a brilliant idea!' And now those signs are here in the UK.

And, like you, I really missed a decent cup of tea!

I think one thing we'd think if we were transported back a couple of hundred years would be how long it took to do anything: travel anywhere, cook a meal, even get dressed - all those shifts, corsets, and layers of petticoats!

Victoria Hanlen said...

Great article, Lynne, and so true.

I find going to a different country, even going to a different part of the U.S. where the culture is different from ours here on the East Coast, is a great way to clear out the cobwebs. It often takes me out of the corner I've written myself into and gently opens up another avenue of thought--a sort of reboot for the brain.

I also find that history is sometimes told differently from one country to the next and sometimes from one part of the U.S. to another.

What was it that little scoundrel, Napoleon, said? "History is a set of lies agreed upon."
:) Victoria