I promised myself that after a suitable break to admire “Heir Apparent” I would crack on with “Greg 1” – the first book in my new series, to be set in Cambridge and narrated this time by a university constable. Sunday was the day and I began by setting up the blank templates in the research/writing package I use (Scrivener) as this is always the symbolic start to a book. Once the templates were there, of course I couldn’t resist starting my research, and I’ve been knee-deep ever since in the history of Cambridge. I did consider setting this series a decade earlier (I’m never really happy too far from the 1820s…) but then I remembered that the University of Cambridge Constabulary was not created until 1825, so I’m back in my favourite decade – hurrah!
And once again I am amazed at how helpful people are when you say that you’re writing historical fiction and need their help with their area of expertise. I have already been in touch with the current head of the university constables and she has invited me in to meet her and talk about their work – past and present.
And I know that I want Gregory Hardiman to have an army background, so I read up about possible regiments in the area, and who did what in the Peninsular Wars (he’s going to be a wounded ex-soldier), and found a combination that would work. But I am treading with extreme caution: I come from an entirely un-military family and don’t know my adjutant from my ensign. And although all historians are (quite rightly) nit-picking, I believe that military historians are the pickiest of the lot, so I daren’t get it wrong, but military history books are complicated to the uninitiated. What to do, what to do – and then I thought of contacting the present-day descendent regiment of the one I had chosen for Gregory. I put together some questions, which I daresay appear extremely naïve and basic to anyone military, and sent them to the “contact us” person on their website. Less than 24 hours later, I have had a full reply to every question from the curator of the regiment’s museum. How very, very kind – and it’s all really interesting too. I now know that Greg lied about his age to sign up, because there were too many mouths to feed at home and he fancied guaranteed grub every day. If you’re writing historical fiction, never feel shy about asking for help: I have never once been turned down.