Monday, April 29, 2013

Writing Historically

Writing fiction in general is about making stuff up, but still. There are realities that someone will always catch you on.  Even in fantasy you can't make everything up--just the fantasy parts. Historical fantasy is even more likely to be dismissed because a) you can make up the history as well as b) making up the fantasy parts.

Well gosh, should be no big deal, then, right? Let me show you something. Earlier this month I started keeping a list of things I had to look up to be sure of getting the details right for  the work in progress, Mermaid Stair. Basically, spot research for which Wikipedia is often sufficient--but not always. Here's what I got in the first week alone:

  • Folk songs with boats/ships in them
  • Coracles (continued from the week before)
  • Wind in the Willows, especially any dialog between Mole and Rat
  • Dartmoor rivers
  • The River Dart in particular
  • The Latin name for toads (bufo)
  • A musical term (threnody wasn’t right, but it was stuck in my head, so I looked it up to find out what I really did mean)
  • Beekeeping and sources of honey in Devon
  • The mechanics of going over a waterfall, with and without a barrel
  • English folk songs that begin with “As I was a-walking...”
  • White water rafting terminology

In the last few days I have been re-reading parts of Peter Ackroyd's London: The Biography to decide where to put the new villain's lodgings. Where I had it situated in that first NaNo draft was more or less impossible. 

I know this because I looked up the actual point of the confluence of the Thames and the Fleet on the Braun Hogenberg map of the 1570s, (right around #7). Then I checked the Agas map from the 1590s, the exact time of the story. Same result. What I need to be there is not only not there, it's somebody's garden. Not the kind of neighborhood I need. There are several choices: Drury Lane when it was still marshy and damp, Holborn Bridge with its suburban splendors and the upper end of Fleet Ditch, or Fleet Bridge itself. Or possibly someplace in the East End, but it has to be on the Fleet, the Walbrook, or Thames itself, or I have to radically alter two rather nicely written pages of character development. I'll sort it out.

Oh, and yesterday I gave entirely too much time to Old London Bridge, by Patricia Pierce--a history of London Bridge--for the sake of a few tiny details in one chapter. But I got 'em!

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