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.

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One thought on “Guest post: Writing Historicals by Anne Barwell

  1. Pingback: Guest Blogging at Jamie Sands…. Writing Historicals | Drops of Ink

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