Sometimes I wonder why I chose to write a book set in the past, when it would have been so much simpler to write something contemporary. The beauty of writing a book set in your own time is that all the cultural references are there – current, and so familiar as to be instinctive. But as soon as you go back into another age, you can’t take anything for granted. Here are some of the things I have had to research and check over the past few days:
- Can you use the term “unshriven” of a baby, to mean the same as “unchristened”? [Probably not: to be shriven or unshriven, you really need to be able to conceive of the concept of sin, so at least talking.]
- When people in Regency times took a hackney coach (their version of a black cab), did they call it a “hackney” or a “coach”? [Hackney.]
- Did well-to-do people drink tea at breakfast time? [Yes.]
- What did you call a man who lived on the immoral earnings of women? [It’s not the start of a joke – and it’s a pimp, same as today.]
I tell you, if anyone ever explores my Internet search history, I’m in for some funny looks.
But of course the reason that I did choose to set my book in the past is exactly this sort of nit-picking: the fun and intellectual challenge of researching another world and then describing it convincingly for my readers. Plus the police uniforms were way better back then: more top hats and canes and fewer hi-vis jackets and stab vests.