Monday, June 06, 2022

Time traveling on paper

 At the moment I am in the 18th century.

I don't mean physically for despite the best efforts of Mr Herbert George Wells - not to mention the various captains of the starship Enterprise - we have not yet perfected time travel. Our memories can go back in time but not our bodies. Sorry, HG. And James T.

Having completed next year's Rebecca Connolly book, at least until the edit lands with a figurative thud in my inbox, I moved immediately on to the next in my historical series. The first, An Honourable Thief, will be published in September.

That means I am immersed in the London of 1716 and it's been a bit of a wrench jumping from 21st century Scotland to a time when there were no mobile phones, no DNA, no CCTV, no organised police force. The famed Metropolitan Police would not come into being for another 113 years - and it was not, as some would have it, the first in Britain. There had been a municipally funded city police force in my home town of Glasgow for almost 30 years before Sir Robert Peel set up the London boys in blue. And York Minster had a private police squad going back to the 13th century while Paris's policing history stretches back to 1667.

I hope you're taking notes, because I may ask questions later.

They did have criminals, for ever since Cain gave Abel that bump on the head there have been people who would kill, maim, steal, con and generally make themselves a nuisance to the lieges. And there was intrigue a-plenty, for these were turbulent times in history, complete with wars, corruption, political self-interest and violence. 

Not much has changed.

I've been fascinated by history since a child. I still have a book given to me as a Christmas present when I was 10, a Picture Book of World Exploration, which introduced me to the exploits of explorers of the past. I devoured Robert Louis Stevenson, CS Forester, the historical works of Dennis Wheatley and other authors whose names I no longer recall. I also took in a lot of westerns, which are - let's face it - also historical.

However, I'm not an historian. A few years ago I wrote a non-fiction account of the exploits of Peter Williamson, a man taken from Aberdeen in 1743 and sold into indentured servitude in the American Colonies who on his eventual return to Scotland waged a legal war against the businessmen behind the abduction trade. It was a tale of high adventure, of courtroom skullduggery, of war, injustice and corruption. Of all my non-fiction books that is one of which I am most proud. 

In that I made it clear that I was a storyteller and not an historian. It's the tale that appeals to me and that has continued with these historical novels. I am making every effort to be as accurate as I can but I am taking liberties. I am moving events around to suit my story. I make no apologies for that.

When I was writing non-fiction I often found that it was a tiny little fact regarding an historical crime that stimulated the storytelling portion of my brain. It was a single line in an account of spies during the Jacobite risings that sparked An Honourable Thief. In this new one it's a real-life escape from The Tower of London that set me off, while the fact that the winter was so harsh that the Thames had frozen has given me some atmosphere.

But that's the way it is with writers. That's the inspiration. After that, it's all application. There's no sitting around awaiting the muse to land on my forehead like an angels' kiss - from here on it's hard work.

And that, dear reader, is this week's writing advice. I know, I took a long road for a short cut but there you have it.

Now, pardon me while I don my periwig and head back to Hanoverian London, where there's about to be a murder.

As I said, nothing much has changed.


No comments: