Research, Write, Repeat: Historical Fiction

I love historical fiction.

Especially novels that take place around the Victorian or Regency era.

I realize I’m romanticizing a period of inequality, poor hygiene, and convoluted social rules, but dammit if they didn’t look good in those waistcoats.

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What I don’t love (well, besides everything I listed above) is all of the research that goes into writing historical fiction.

Right now, in between projects, I am writing a story that involves an alien in Victorian England. As such, I’ve taken it upon myself to familiarize myself with the time period. However, it turns out this is far more intricate than I anticipated. You see, the Victorian era had quite a few social rules.

By quite a few I mean there are enough to make War and Peace look like a bit of light reading.

Not to mention I have to know the titles of The Help as well as what they did, how much they were payed, where and what they ate, when their day started, how it ended, etc.

Doesn’t sound too difficult, only there isn’t too much literature when it comes to servitude in the Victorian age Most of the information regarding servants doesn’t start until around the early 1900s, a.k.a Downton Abbey era. Most likely because that’s when a lot of societal shifts took place.

I’ve read quite a few Victorian novels but not a lot of them are told from the staff’s perspective. Most likely because no one gave a $h*t about them. With my story, I was hoping to break that mold. In fact, one of the more pivotal characters is a lady’s maid.

Then come the gentry….oh….oh God. The titles.

The titles.

Of course, there’s also the business of what they ate, what they read, what they did recreationally, what happened at their parties, the dances they danced, their courting rituals, spousal relationships, clothes they wore, their morning rituals, their evening activities–

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That’s not to say it’s all bad. Actually, most of it is really interesting. There’s just sooo much to remember. I could write notes for days and not even scratch the surface. It was a very complicated society with each person working as a cog in the machine.

It was also a revolutionary time that paved the way for modern transportation and business practices, one of the many reasons I wanted my story to take place in this period. I will do my best to portray the societal customs accurately.

Nonetheless, I hope my readers won’t mind too much if one of my characters accidentally introduces themselves first to a higher member of society, or refers to the second child as Miss Soandso instead of Miss Jane or Miss Jane Soandso.

We can’t all be Jane Austen.

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Bookish Culture On the London Underground

We spent a day in London, which basically means we spent a day in the London Underground.

Our professors told us to dress in layers since it was predicted to rain quite a bit that day….

So there we were, wearing long-sleeve shirts and rain coats in 75 degree weather  (23 degrees celsius) and thick humidity, cramped into glorified tissue boxes that threw us around like loose change in a tin can.

Much to our dismay, the Tube is not equipped with air conditioning. In fact, most places in London aren’t (at least from what I experienced). Consequently, we were made to sweat buckets in the company of strangers who all looked as if they were a Sarah McLachlan song away from shooting themselves in the face.

But it wasn’t all bad. At least from my book-nerd point of view. Because while trapped in the Devil’s Lipstick, I saw something I haven’t seen in quite a while in my neck of the woods: people reading paperback books in public.

I’d seen people with novels on the airplane ride over, but I’m not used to seeing people with anything other than their phones in their hand while frequenting public places.

The reason for this change is likely because there is no cell service underground. Or at least I couldn’t find any with my international plan.

Another thing I noticed as we scuttled about frantically, trying not to lose each other, is that they had advertisements for books everywhere.

They weren’t just self-help books about how to get thin that were written by celebrities either. Many of them were fiction and the effort that went in to each of them was inspiring. They looked like movie trailers, some featuring the image of their respective authors.

I wish I could have taken a few photos, but unfortunately I was trying to save memory on my phone and there wasn’t enough time to get out my other camera to take them.

It was just so uplifting to see books being given the recognition they deserve outside of a bookstore. There seems to be more emphasis on reading over there.

I could get used to that.

London, I don’t miss your Tube all that much. But I do miss seeing an appreciation for the written word in such a public way.

 

The Big Ben Conspiracy

WARNING: POST CONTAINS TRACE AMOUNTS OF TONGUE-AND-CHEEK HUMOR. 

Author’s Note: Big Ben actually refers to the bell inside of the tower and not the tower itself. However, since everyone calls it Big Ben regardless, I will refer to Big Ben as the tower, clock, and bell for coherency’s sake.

As part of the British Isle study tour class I am taking this summer, I’m doing a presentation on the most obvious site I could possibly think of: Big Ben.

I chose this mostly out of laziness because all of my other ideas for a project such as Baker Street and Buckingham Palace were shut down. I thought this lovely clock would be the easiest touristy area to squeeze information out of.

However, I discovered some disappointing information in my digging.

Apparently only UK citizens are allowed to tour the clock tower. 

Not only is this tour excluded from people outside of the UK, but these tours must be sponsored by a Member of Parliament or a Member of the House of Lords. 

Um…what?

I looked through several sources just to make sure this wasn’t a lie, but, yes, people outside of the UK are not allowed to go inside Big Ben.

Well, there go my dreams of reenacting the fight scene from The Great Mouse Detective.

Come on, British People.

I know we don’t always see eye to eye and we’re not always as witty or fit as you lot, but how could you deny us our cliché tourist attractions?

Is it because we pronounce “Thames” incorrectly?

Or we have extreme difficulty remembering which countries are actually British?

Or because we call your favorite sport “soccer” even though literally everyone else in the entire world calls it “football”?

Is it because we sew Canadian flags onto our possessions to trick you into thinking we’re Canadian for some stupid reason?

If so, I suppose I understand.

I am a bit disappointed though as I’ve seen a few tours of it online and the view is beautiful.

At least, if I’m able to journey to London while I’m abroad, I’ll be able to see Big Ben from afar and hear the chimes before they silence them for the next three years for repairs.

As for the rest of the non-British world, we’ll just have to build our own touristy attraction and not invite the British.

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