Guest post: Writing Historicals by Anne Barwell

Thanks for hosting me today, Jamie.

I write across a range of genres, but I keep returning to historicals. So what is it about the genre that appeals to me?

I enjoy reading, writing, and exploring time periods that aren’t my own. I particularly like stories set in the first half of the 20th century. Either characters are fighting or have fought in WWI, or know or lost someone who had, and if a story is set during the 1940s or 50s, ditto for WWII. There is not much time between the first and second world wars so many who fought in the second felt the impact of the first.

I also love reading about Scotland in the 18th century. I blame the latter on Doctor Who, as one of his companions came from that era. My current WIP—which I’m co-writing with Lou Sylvre— is called The Harp and the Sea, and in set on Skye in 1745 during the second Jacobite uprising. As with the early to mid 20th century, that time in Scottish history fascinates me because it’s an era greatly impacted by war.

Wars bring out the best and worst in people. People often find themselves in situations for which they are ill equipped. Training only goes so far, and sadly a lot of people who were set into battle in those wars were very young. War is full of horror, and I make sure I never forget that when I’m writing something set in or referring to a battlefield as I want to honour the sacrifices of those brave men and women. So many of them rose to the occasion and risked—and often lost—their lives fighting for what they believed in and to protect those they loved.

Writing stories set in those time periods brings with it a set of challenges. Although it’s not always possible to get all off the little day-to-day details right, I always try to be as historically accurate as I can be. Research can be like a trail of breadcrumbs—I’ll begin by looking for information about one thing and find a whole lot of other really interesting facts along the way.

Getting the feel of a time period right is a bit of a juggling act as it’s not just the events, but also the technology, clothing, and language that need to accurate. For example, the first recorded instance of the word “okay” wasn’t until the 1830s so although one could argue it still might have been in use before then, I wouldn’t write one of our Scots lads in the 18th Century using it.

I also saw a movie a couple of years ago set during WWI which had its hero going off to war in 1914 with a few sniffles so the heroine pulls out a handy box of pills and tells him to take some as the influenza bug is a nasty one. *facepalms* Er, no. That particular strain of The Spanish Flu hit in 1918 toward the end of the war and killed more people than the war had done because antibiotics hadn’t been invented yet!

Researching geography can also be a challenge as all the helpful guidebooks show locations in present day. I had a scene I wanted to write in my first WWII book—Shadowboxing—and needed a park in Berlin as a location. I found one that was in the exact place I needed, but further research showed that in 1943, it was actually a railway station. One of the other challenges in writing something set during wartime is to make sure that the buildings your heroes take shelter in was still standing at the time in which the story is set.

It’s also often more of a challenge to get characters out of trouble as they can’t use modern technology like mobile phones etc.

On the flip side, history can work in a writer’s favour too. I needed to get my characters out of a tight spot and, after researching the location and time frame, shifted my story back a month and let an Allied bombing raid solve the problem for me.

So far I have a three book series set in WWII called Echoes Rising, a novella called On Wings of Song set during WWI, and am co-writing our Scots lads in 1745. I’m also looking forward to exploring the 1920s and 50s with future projects, and learning more about those time periods too.

—-

Shadowboxing
Echoes Rising: Book One

Berlin, 1943. An encounter with an old friend leaves German physicist Dr. Kristopher Lehrer with doubts about his work. But when he confronts his superior, everything goes horribly wrong. Suddenly Kristopher and Michel, a member of the Resistance, are on the run, hunted for treason and a murder they did not commit. If they’re caught, Kristopher’s knowledge could be used to build a terrible weapon that could win the war.

For the team sent by the Allies—led by Captain Bryant, Sergeant Lowe, and Dr. Zhou—a simple mission escalates into a deadly game against the Gestapo, with Dr. Lehrer as the ultimate prize. But in enemy territory, surviving and completing their mission will test their strengths and loyalties and prove more complex than they ever imagined.

NB The series continues with Winter Duet, and concludes with Comes a Horseman.

On Wings of Song

Six years after meeting British soldier Aiden Foster during the Christmas Truce of 1914, Jochen Weber still finds himself thinking about Aiden, their shared conversation about literature, and Aiden’s beautiful singing voice. A visit to London gives Jochen the opportunity to search for Aiden, but he’s shocked at what he finds.

The uniform button Jochen gave him is the only thing Aiden has left of the past he’s lost. The war and its aftermath ripped everything away from him, including his family and his music. When Jochen reappears in his life, Aiden enjoys their growing friendship but knows he has nothing to offer. Not anymore.

—-

Anne Barwell lives in Wellington, New Zealand. She shares her home with two cats who are convinced that the house is run to suit them; this is an ongoing “discussion,” and to date it appears as though the cats may be winning.

In 2008 she completed her conjoint BA in English Literature and Music/Bachelor of Teaching. She has worked as a music teacher, a primary school teacher, and now works in a library. She is a member of the Upper Hutt Science Fiction Club and plays violin for Hutt Valley Orchestra.

She is an avid reader across a wide range of genres and a watcher of far too many TV series and movies, although it can be argued that there is no such thing as “too many.” These, of course, are best enjoyed with a decent cup of tea and further the continuing argument that the concept of “spare time” is really just a myth. She also hosts other authors, reviews for the GLBTQ Historical Site “Our Story” and Top2Bottom Reviews, and writes monthly blog posts for Love Bytes. She is the co-founder of the New Zealand Rainbow Romance writers, and a member of RWNZ.

Anne’s books have received honorable mentions five times, reached the finals four times—one of which was for best gay book—and been a runner up in the Rainbow Awards. She has also been nominated twice in the Goodreads M/M Romance Reader’s Choice Awards—once for Best Fantasy and once for Best Historical.

Website & Blog
Facebook
Facebook author page
Google+
Instagram
Twitter
Goodreads
Queeromance Ink Author Page
New Zealand Rainbow Romance Writers
Sign up to Anne’s newsletter

Advertisements

Ninotchka (1939)


Directed by Ernst Lubitsch
Written by Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder and Walter Reisch based on a story by Melchior Lengyel.
(number 264)

So often with these titles I’m not sure if I’m in for a dreary historical drama, a war film full of atrocities or a light hearted romantic comedy. It’s always a pleasure when it turns out to be the last. Ninotchka is a strange, pre world war 2 set movie where a serious Russian woman finds herself entangled with a passionate and emotional French man. It’s very sweet actually and I’m sure this is one of the roles which made Greta Garbo such a huge star. That iciness, the soft purr of her voice.

She’s an amazing character, analysing and shutting things down. Totally nihilistic, especially when speaking of the Polish Lancer she dispatched on the battlefield. She’s brilliant, worth watching the movie just for her.

Leon: Ninotchka, tell me, you’re so expert on things, can it be that I’m falling in love with you?
Ninotchka: Why must you bring in wrong values? Love is a romantic designation for a most ordinary biological or, shall we say, chemical process. A lot of nonsense is talked and written about it.
Leon: Oh, I see. What do you use instead?
Ninotchka: I acknowledge the existence of a natural impulse – common to all.
Leon: What can I possibly do to encourage such an impulse in you?
Ninotchka: You don’t have to do a thing. Chemically, we’re already quite sympathetic.

The movie is partially about Ninotchka being seduced by the luxuries that Leon represents, and partially about her getting to know herself as a woman with emotions and desires. There’s a standard progression from the buttoned down, fully covered outfits she starts with into the shoulder revealing diaphanous gown and jewels. The ugly duckling makeover, but it’s not actually the point of the film. The divide comes from Ninotchka’s need to serve her country, and how it contrasts with her own personal wants.

It’s absolutely heartbreaking when she recieves a letter from Leon in Moscow, and the entire thing has been censored.

Does it make me love the people? Absolutely, I love all the comrades Ninotchka is sent to bring home, I love her, I love her Russian roommates and of course Leon as well. It’s a charmer of a film, sweet and fun and romantic. It also makes me want to visit Paris some.

Bechdel test: Yes, she has a few conversations with the Grand Duchess Swana about how Ninotchka should leave Paris and various jealousies. Then a long extended scene back in Moscow with her roommate Anna about her fancy French underwear and the stir it caused among the local women and what was Paris like? and the fashion? and actually can Anna have the silky negligee because she’s about to be married? It’s a lovely scene actually.

Best line:

Ninotchka: Must you flirt?
Leon: Well, I don’t have to, but I find it natural.
Ninotchka: Suppress it.

State of Mind: Highly recommend this film, it’s a sweet, charming romance. It’s another in the list of ‘romantic comedies are acceptable if they’re old enough’ archives, but hey. It was an enjoyable, fun watch and I’m likely to watch it again at some stage. Plus, now I understand the appeal of Garbo.

Watched movie count

Darling (1965)

Darling
Directed by John Schlesinger
Written by Frederic Raphael
(number 260)

I had no idea what this was going in. In actuality it’s a movie about a woman, a model, who’s absolutely determined to get ahead in her career. She does this in a string of love affairs, being rather ruthless about cheating on her partners, moving around and up and ignoring her own feelings.

Diana: Oh it should be so easy to happy, shouldn’t it? It should be the easiest thing in the world. I wonder why it isn’t?

It’s an amazing time capsule of the sixties. In black and white but utterly sparking with kitten heels, go go dresses, fashionable suits and beehives. Julie Christie is charming as Diana, bored to death of things staying the same for more than five minutes, beautiful and with that gorgeous low voice.

Homosexuals exist in this movie! They’re creepy ! But they’re there! Well. The creepy ones are in Paris. There’s a very nice gay photographer in Italy who’s actually a decent person so that’s good. Apparently no homosexuals in London though.

And the french have whacky parties where everyone strips and puts on other people’s clothing and then they all are horrid to each other. Oh those swinging sixties. I have no context for if this is realistic for the society at the time.

Does it make me love the people? This is a tough one, really. I mean I’m definitely on Diana’s side, but she’s also a bit of a jerk. Like, it’s hard to really worry about her or hope that she finds happiness. I really don’t like Robert, which is I think, a lot of the point of him. He’s an asshat, but his actions do make sense after what she’s done to him. But I don’t like him. The other men (maybe aside from Miles) are barely present much of the time – which I’m sure is an intention of the script.

Bechdel test: Yes, a couple of times. Although mostly what we see is Diane talking to men, there are a couple of scenes. When she’s in the baby shop with her friend and she speaks to other named women at a dinner party.
Best line:

Diane: Do you have parents? I can’t imagine you with parents.
Miles: I do, two of them.
D: Imagine if.. it took three
M: it took three?
D: sexes. To make a child.

State of Mind: I did get bored part way through. I feel like there’s an edited version one could make, cutting out 30 or 45 mins and it’d be tight and entertaining. As it is I like as a time capsule, and it’s so refreshing to have a movie off this list which is entirely about a woman and her story. I’m not sure about if I’d watch it again, the ending is not exactly a happy one and it’s a little too long, but overall an interesting film.

Watched movie count

Guest post: Ideas – The Beauty, Carnage, and Mayhem by Leigh Hunt

When Jamie asked me to write a wee guest post, I jumped at the chance. Why? Because that particular day I was brainstorming. The ideas were flowing like I was a unicorn farting magical glitter, and I just couldn’t stop them coming. It was glorious. I was on a creative high.

You see, I’m one of those people who have these huge, enormous ideas. I have zero problems generating the carnage, I just have a problem finding the time to write them. And when new shiny ideas hit me, there is nothing I like more than to immediately start exploring them. So I do. Even if I’m in the middle of something else – because if I leave them, I might lose them.

So the other day, while I was painting my loo room, I was listening to music. The lyrics starting fuelling my mind with creative strands, and the next thing I knew, I was standing there with a paintbrush drying in my hands, looking vacantly at my loo. Dreaming of a world not yet created. (Don’t judge me – at least I wasn’t USING the loo!)

I finished painting as quickly as I could, jotted some of the key themes down in my trusty notebook, and promptly forgot about it. The next day I was driving to work and the same song came on, and there I was again – thrown right back into this imaginary world. I don’t even remember the drive to work, because my mind was so busy living in this shiny unwritten place. It’s damn dangerous when I go into this mode while driving. (I’m pretty sure whatever excuse I gave to law enforcement would result in a straight jacket and padded room.)

I arrived at work, and boom. Out the trusty notebook, along with some post-it notes, and I started writing the ideas down. It was like throwing a deck of cards down, and picking them up in some semblance of order.

Meanwhile, a little voice inside of me was saying, ‘FFS woman, you’re in the midst of writing one of the greatest damn dystopian series you’ve ever come up with, and now you have ANOTHER one?’

Yep. My inner bitch was trying to tamp me down – squish the idea into nothingness so that I can focus on my current series. She’s quite ghastly once she gets her rant on. But then I started talking to my editor. And she was encouraging this shiny new idea, which forced me to manage that inner bitch, and get this sorted.

So, the idea of the world is now written. It’s just notes at this stage, and I’m letting it percolate for the next twelve months. I know the key characters. I know the world. I know what darkness resides in it. I know the situation. I know that I want to write this four book series.

But I also know that it still needs time.

Over the years of writing, I’ve discovered that I should not just jump at the new ideas. In order for me to find their depth, I need to let them rest, and develop like a photo in a dark room. Those ideas need love and nurture and thought. They need threads woven in, personalities introduced, and the story arc extrapolated.

Also, if I give in to my inner magpie and always write the shiny new things, I know that I will never finish writing anything of beautiful consequence… and isn’t that every writer’s goal?

It’s easy to chase ideas down rabbit holes in the midst of the creative chaos, but those ideas need time. If we let ideas percolate, it means that they get the space and attention they deserve, and will therefore be better for the reader. Hopefully.

Leigh K. Hunt is a reader, writer, mother, and designer from New Zealand. She has a weird obsession with books like Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Pride & Prejudice, and adores Thrillers and Dystopian novels. To say that she lives in her own dreamy wonderland is an understatement.

Leigh has written a number of thrillers surrounding an assassination team, but has now turned her focus on producing a new thrilling dystopian trilogy. When she’s supposedly adulting, Leigh works full time, is a mother to a gorgeous but very lively five-year-old, and thinks she’s a DIY queen – with dreams of turning her cookie cutter 80s house into something that resembles French farmhouse.

Twitter