My last two novels have been set in early 20th century Ireland so here are some tips about historical fiction, though they can apply to any fiction.
Know What You Write About
“Write what you know” is the adage always given to authors. But for historical fiction, I would stand that on its head and say – know what you are writing about. It seems obvious, but researching your period or your setting really matters. It helps you garner those authentic details that get lost in the passage of time. But don’t get bogged down in the research. It’s important to put it all aside as soon as you can and just write. History is just the entry point. The aim is to soar above the facts and invent your own world to get to the emotional truth of your story.
Spread Your Net Wide
This is a fun bit and is the nearest you can find to a Time Machine. So wade into the primary sources, which include diaries, journals, newspaper reports. But also art, historic buildings, memoirs of the time. It all helps flesh out the past and furnish rooms for your imagination to inhabit.
I have also made documentaries for British Television, and I am very influenced by visual sources. Luckily, the period I write about coincides with the beginning of photography and cinema. I love pouring over old photographs to get the tenor of the time, including the clothing. Looking at photographs also gave me clues as to what children were doing when Dublin became a war zone in Easter week. A lot of the time they were hanging around the streets. There are photographs of children scavenging firewood from shelled buildings, little girls carrying jugs looking for milk.
The next best thing can be watching plays and films of the period. Costume and set designers usually take great pains to get authentic details correct. I remember once filming at the Globe Theatre in London about child actors and the costume designer there had completely reconstructed how Elizabethan clothing was made. It was astonishing to see the pleating of the ruffle the whole length of a room and the use of pins.
Or ask an expert. Many historians have encyclopedic knowledge that they love sharing. Send them an e-mail or arrange a telephone call. They are often only too happy to help.
My study often resembles a low budget Police Incident Room, with post-it notes, photographs, postcards, maps, etc. I often write out a master timeline with the major dates, so I know I have to work the plot around key events. I draw or print out maps of key locations. I also blue-tac postcards of major artworks from the period into a collage.
When I was recreating the fishing village of Ringsend near Dublin city centre, I found a painting by an Irish artist called Harry Kernoff of the shop in Whiskey Row where a lot of the action is set. This shop was owned by my ancestors, so I was able to marry the depictions with memories of my grandmother who worked behind the counter as a child.
Have a First Aid Kit
If you get stuck have some strategies in your back pocket to kick-start your imagination. I write a scene from the point of view of another character. Or pen a letter from one character to another. Both my novels The Easter Rising – 1916, Molly’s Diary and Deadly Shot – Dan’s War of Independence 1920-22 are written in diary form. Sometimes I write an entry that isn’t going to make it in but frees my imagination to let me get a handle on a scene.
This helps tone up rhythm and pace particularly for young readers who are still mastering reading in their heads. Also I know my books are often read aloud in class or by parents. Giving them a run through helps me cut out any slack or unclear sentences or passages.
Writing is a Marathon Not a Sprint
Being an author or doing anything creative is a long-term process. Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers calculated that it takes at least ten thousand hours to achieve mastery. But even acknowledged geniuses admit they are still learning and honing their craft. So don’t feel you have to put everything into one book. Or if a novel keeps getting rejected or an idea refuses to cohere – move on. The main thing is to keep writing. Cross-fertilize with other creative projects that might spark your imagination and make you feel less lonely, such as writing for theatre or making a short documentary. Creativity can take many forms and its all storytelling. Keep the words and ideas flowing and the brain active!
Patricia Murphy is an award-winning children’s author and Producer/Director of documentaries. Her most recent novel is Deadly Shot – Dan’s Diary - the War of Independence 1920-22. Previous works include the critically acclaimed Easter Week 1916 – Molly’s Diary, described as “brilliantly imagined”, “beautifully written and compelling” and “ fantastic at bringing history alive for children”. She is also the author of The Chingles Celtic Fantasy trilogy. She was the winner of the Poolbeg “Write a Bestseller for Children” Competition 2004.
She is also an award-winning Producer/Director of primetime documentaries for BBC and Channel 4. These include Children of Helen House on the Oxford children’s hospice for BBC. She created and filmed the launch programmes of Born to Be Different the Channel 4 flagship series following six children with disabilities through the 21st century. Other films include Behind the Crime about criminals and Raised by the State on growing up in care. She has also made Worst Jobs in History with Tony Robinson for Channel 4.
I never chose a genre to write in. As the author/ghostwriter/collaborator on more than 120 books, the genres were determined by the publishers of many of those books. I have, however, for the past 25 years been writing almost exclusively in the murder mystery/thriller genres, starting with the Margaret Truman Capital Crimes series set in Washington, D.C. (currently writing the 30th in that series), and the "Murder, She Wrote" series (finishing up the 46th novel). I suppose I'm the quintessential journeyman writer--and proud of it.
What advice do you have for other writers?
Too many writers talk about the book they're going to write and never actually write it. I know writers who strive for "perfection" in the first draft and don't seem to ever get around to finishing it. Write it! That first draft may be lacking, but at least you have a blueprint for refining and polishing it. I believe in that saying, "All good writing is re-writing."
What's your favourite quote about writing/for writers?
The above saying is one of my favorites. I also believe in "If I had more time I would have written less." Get rid of the excess verbiage and give the reader credit for understanding what you've written without having to belabor it with unnecessary words. I also understand what Kurt Vonnegut meant when he said, "I hate writing but I love being a writer."
Being a writer means that I can continue what I do well into my dotage, as opposed to having spent a working life digging ditches or collecting tolls on the Jersey Turnpike. Being a writer allows me to share with others (readers) my imagination, as well as expressing my own thoughts, which come out through the mouths of my characters. The problem is that you never stop writing, at least in your mind, never can walk away from a story until you've typed THE END. It's with you day and night, plotting the next scene, coming up with distinctive features for your characters, and wondering whether what you're writing will please both your editors and the reading public. But I love it!
Where can people find out more about you and your writing?
I have a website, www.donaldbain.com. The problem is I fall behind on keeping it up-to-date. I've been interviewed on myriad sites, however, and have been the subject of numerous newspaper and TV interviews. For me, the best and most satisfying way for a potential reader to discover my works is when another reader reads one and is pleased enough to recommend it.
Did you learn anything from writing that was unexpected?
What I learned was that writing is hard work. If you aren't tired after a day of writing the chances are good that what you've written isn't very good and will have to be rewritten the next day. I've also learned that the publishing industry is in turmoil and sometimes doesn't make any sense. But I suppose that's true of most industries. Finally, I've learned that a good agent is a writer's best friend and advocate. I'm blessed with a top-notch agent, Bob Diforio, who's always there to make some sense out of the publishing world.
How do you research your books?
I've built up an extensive research library, which with the Internet provides plenty of sources for whatever research I need while working on a given project. But when it comes to setting a book in a locale away from where I work there's no substitute for actually visiting that place, soaking in the atmosphere, and touching what makes that place unique. With few exceptions, when setting a "Murder, She Wrote" novel in a place other than Jessica Fletcher's beloved Cabot Cove, Renee and I have visited that place, walked its streets with a tape recorder, and wove what we'd learned into the story.
What are your thoughts on self-publishing verses traditional publishing?
Self-publishing is here to stay, for better or for worse. On the one hand many worthwhile books that had been rejected by mainstream publishers have been self-published to great success, which is good for the author and for the reading public. The problem is that self-published authors don't usually have a good editor working with them, nor do they have the corporate backing of a publisher and its marketing muscle.
Who or what inspired you to become a writer?
My cousin Jack Pearl, who wrote more than 100 books including the definitive biography of General Patton, got me started as a writer. He started me writing articles for the men's adventure magazines, and arranged for me to rewrite a book for S&S, THE RACING FLAG, the history of stock car racing. The editor on that book, knowing I was working for American Airlines at the time, called and asked if I'd be interested in collaborating with two Eastern Airlines stewardesses on a lighthearted tell-all about the stewardess life. I got together with them and the result was COFFEE, TEA OR ME? which went on sell more than 5-million copies worldwide, became a made-for-TV movie, and spawned numerous sequels. That book gave me the financial comfort to devote full-time to writing, which I've been doing ever since.
Does your family support you in your writing career? How?
My wife, Renee, certainly supports my writing life. After all, she's a writer, too, and has collaborated with me on the last 20 or so "Murder, She Wrote" novels. If she didn't support what I do we'd be in deep trouble. My two daughters are also supportive, although one of them wonders why her father spends his days "putting little black marks on paper." Actually, Kurt Vonnegut once said the same thing about what he did for a living.
When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time?
I spent many years working as a jazz musician (vibes and drums) and found my ultimate professional happiness and fulfillment when playing with a variety of jazz groups. Today, I always have recorded jazz playing in the background while I write. I enjoy reading, of course, doing crossword puzzles, and eating out in good restaurants.
Title: The Searcher
Author: Simon Toyne
The author of the acclaimed Sanctus trilogy conjures an eerie epic of good and evil, retribution and redemption—the first novel in the mesmerizing Solomon Creed series in which a man with no memory of his past must save a lost soul in a small Arizona town.
On a hilltop in the town of Redemption, Arizona, the townspeople gather at an old cemetery for the first time in decades to bury a local man. The somber occasion is suddenly disrupted by a thunderous explosion in the distant desert. A plane has crashed, and it’s pouring a pillar of black smoke into the air.
As Sheriff Garth Morgan speeds toward the crash, he nearly hits a tall, pale man running down the road, with no shoes on his feet and no memory of who he is or how he got there. The only clues to his identity are a label in his handmade suit jacket and a book that’s been inscribed to him: both giving the name Solomon Creed. When Morgan tells Solomon that he is in Redemption, Arizona, Solomon begins to believe he’s here for a reason—to save a man he has never met . . . the man who was buried that morning.
Miles away, three men scan the skies for an overdue plane carrying an important package. Spotting a black cloud in the distance, they suspect something has gone badly wrong, and that the man who has sent them will demand a heavy price if the package has been lost.
To uncover the secret of his identity, Solomon Creed must uncover Redemption’s secrets too and learn the truth behind the death of the man he is there to save. But there are those who will do anything to stop him, men prepared to call on the darkest forces to prevent Solomon from seeing the light.
Simon Toyne is the author of the Sanctus trilogy (Sanctus, The Key, and The Tower ). A writer, director, and producer in British television for twenty years, he worked on several award-winning shows, one of which won a BAFTA. He lives in England with his wife and family.
Find him online at:
Whenever I read advice for writers similar themes emerge. Write what you know, write a good book, keep writing. We’ve all heard it before. Here’s some other tips. At first it might seen a bit flippant but there’s a kernel of truth in there somewhere.
- Don’t forget your partner’s birthday cause you’re busy finishing the final draft.
- Don’t tell the prospective agent that the book is in the mail, when you only have a rough draft.
- Don’t quit your day job. (You’ll probably need it. Just saying)
- When you get think that what you’ve written is no good and you’re the worst writer out there. Relax, it’s probably not true. It may be true, but probably is not.
- In order to keep writing you need to sell books. Writing is a business. It’s also a craft. It’s also an art. In the end you’ll need to sell books to keep doing what you love.
- My rule of threes. Ask three people about your book. If they all like it, it’s probably good. If they all hate it, you probably need to revise. Two like it, one doesn’t the books probably exactly what you wanted. Two hate it, one likes it. Time to do a second draft.
- After 100 agents reject your book. Don’t despair go Indie. You’re probably a cross genre writer and you didn’t know it.
- Don’t cheap out on the book cover. The saying “Don’t judge a book by its cover’ has it all wrong. People only judge a book by its cover.
- Take all the advice you can get. Don’t take any advice.
R. Arundel is a practising surgeon. This experience brings realism to the story. The novel asks what would happen if a surgeon were to develop the perfect face transplant. This would allow people to have a new face, in essence create a new identity. You can create the perfect double, the perfect Doppelganger.
Contact link: http://www.amazon.com/R-Arundel/e/B00EBCQVEC
FOR A CHANCE TO WIN AN AUTOGRAPHED COPY OF THE BOOK, go here: FILL OUT THE FEEDBACK AND MARK SUBSCRIBE.
Hashtags are an important element in your success on social media, especially on sites like Twitter. They're great for author branding, and book marketing. They can also be a good way to connect with your readers, agents, publishers, and others related to your niche.
This video contains some of my personal favourites:
And here's a nice infographic with them all, because we all like a nice infographic don't we? ;)
What are your favourite hashtags for Writers/Authors? How are you using hashtags in your marketing campaigns?