A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
There’s that moment, writing a novel set in the past, when a character needs to eat and I realise that I have no idea what they would have eaten. I can’t very well have them run out to MacDonald’s to order a burger if they’re living in 1940’s Germany. Or grab a bag of crisps from the cupboard if they’re in 1920’s Russia.
That’s when I think maybe I should have written something with a contemporary setting. Or maybe a futuristic one, where I could make my characters eat dried froop wheat if that’s what took my fancy.
And then there are the clothes to consider, and the culture, and the mindset, the politics, the fears, the hopes and . . . well, you get the idea. There’s a lot to research and, if that isn’t challenging enough, there’s always someone out there who is hoping to find factual inaccuracies. One reader penned a scathing review because I used the word ‘hedgerow’ in a story about 1930’s Ukraine. Apparently that’s a factual impossibility. They don’t have them. Well . . . yeah, but I write fiction. And although I try to get the details right, I don’t mind skewing them, just a little, if it makes for a better story. After all, the story is king.
But one of the great things about writing stories set in the past is that I can give technology a big kick up the backside and send it spinning into the void. Don’t get me wrong; I love technology and have no idea where I’d be without it, but it totally gets in the way of the kinds of stories I like to tell. When help is just a phone call away, and finding information means tapping a few keys on a computer, things can be just too easy for my characters. I often have to either find a way to integrate it, or a way to jettison it. One method is to turn back the clock. Another is to drop my character in the middle of the wilderness with nothing but a bow, a knife and . . . oh, and a President.