I just love writing – and indeed reading – in the past. For me, one of the main pleasures of reading is escape, and by delving into the past, you add a whole extra dimension to that escape – you can now experience a different character, situation and time. Plus, writing a historical novel demands a certain level of discipline and (one of my favourite words – and a top, rather unglamorous skill of mine) organisation. (Yes, I’d rather be able to sing like a nightingale or paint like Turner, but when skills were being doled out I got organisation and knitting, so I make the best of it.)
For writing about a different time is not just getting the details right – making sure that Plank has a fob watch (and a fairly basic one at that) rather than a wristwatch, and not describing a building that has yet to be built – but also about recognising that time itself was used differently in the past. In the period I visit – late Regency, specifically 1825 in “Plank 2” – certain things happened more quickly than nowadays, while other things were slower. Obviously travel was slower – and much rarer, in that most people never left the place where they were born, and indeed Sam and Martha do not “go on holiday” or “go to the country for the day”. But you could get messages to people in your own town fairly quickly (using runners – this pre-dates the famous über-efficient Victorian postal system). And justice moved swiftly: most people accused of a crime and pleading not guilty could expect their trial within a month, and those trials were short – the average murder trial took eleven minutes (yes, minutes). I am sure I will make some booboos, but I do try to take each event and ask myself how long it would take in London in 1825 – not in Switzerland in 2014.
And I am still looking for more opinions on a possible title for “Plank 2”, as people seem to suggest that “Plank 2” is actually not terribly suitable. I wrote a blog post about the current options a few days ago – please do vote.