One of the dangers – well, the joys – of writing historical fiction is that you can noodle around all over the internet and indeed in real libraries, reading whatever you like, and as long as it was written more than, say, fifty years ago, you can call it research and kid yourself that it just about counts as writing. It doesn’t. But as it’s nearly Christmas I am not being so hard on myself, and I have particularly enjoyed reading other writers’ blogs. This festive one caught my eye, as it’s talking about how they celebrated – or, it seems, ignored – Christmas in Georgian times.
Now I know that Sam is not Georgian: he was born in the Georgian era (on 4th January 1780, if you’re minded to mark it), but by the time we meet him, he’s very definitely a Regency chap. But even then, Christmas was not the spectacle that it became once Victoria – or more accurately, Albert – got hold of it and draped it with enough baubles and tartan to choke a reindeer. I realise as I write this that I have never set a Plank book at Christmas, but that has not been deliberate.
As you may know, the Plank books are set in consecutive years: “Fatal Forgery” in 1824, “The Man in the Canary Waistcoat” in 1825 and so on. But when I write my first draft of a new book, I rarely have any idea of precisely when in the year it will be set, and I leave out any references to weather or temperature until later in the process. During my research for the year in question – I’m immersed in 1828 at the moment – I note down any events that might appear in the story, including meteorological ones. So in 1828 I know that London Zoo opened on 27th April, and they had a wet summer followed by gales on the night of 9th August in London and the south-east. If something really sounds fun – like the Bartholomew Fair that takes place in August 1825 – I’ll use it to “anchor” the plot, and so the 1825 book (“Canary”) was set in the summer. “Plank 5” is still undecided, but I’ll have to make up my mind soon: at the moment poor Martha doesn’t know whether she’s airing the house or stoking the fire.