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Historical fiction with Catherine Czerkawska – 11 January 2017

Braving the wild blustery gale on Wednesday evening was worthwhile as we were honoured to have Catherine Czerkawska, novelist and playwright, as our guest speaker.  Her novel, The Curiosity Cabinet was shortlisted for the Dundee book prize in 2005.

It was a pleasure to listen to Catherine’s ‘writing journey’ and having studied medieval history and folklore at university, she was the right person to take us a step back in time to advise on historical fiction.

Catherine recommended in-depth research when setting a story in the past.  On-line availability now makes investigation easier and can be done cheaply and quickly.  Only use Wikipedia as a springboard to further research as there is so much information to be found to help enhance your story.  Make notes of useful web addresses you come across in order to find them easily for further reference

If you are writing historical fiction and not academic, you don’t’ have to present a glossary or a bibliography, but some readers may find this useful.  Catherine presents both in her recent book The Jewel to help readers understand the language that was used at the time and to assist with further interest and fact finding.

The main objective is to start writing and not to let research hold you back. Once you start, you will soon become aware of the information that you don’t know.  Write at length, and then in Catherine’s own words, “polish and prune.”

Small details, such as domestic issues which affected people’s daily lives, will help take your reader back to the time and place you are creating.  One example Catherine gave was information she took from letters sent to Jean Armour from Robert Burns in her research for The Jewel.  Be aware of using the correct language and mannerisms belonging to the period you are portraying.

The following questions are helpful when creating our story:

Who?

What?

When?

Where?

Why?

Catherine also suggested forming a time-line which proves useful, helping the writer acknowledge other political, religious, or local occurrences at the time chosen. Decide who is telling the story, if it is written in first or third person.  If using the ‘all seeing’, be careful of character perspectives so that you don’t confuse the reader.

Catherine warned of expenses incurred from vanity publishing.  If self-publishing, it is useful to have someone look over your story beforehand to check spelling and grammar.  Smashwords (https://www.smashwords.com) and Draft2Digital (https://www.draft2digital.com) were recommended. Be confident in promoting your work on Facebook and Twitter.  Pinterest was also mentioned as a fact-finding source (https://uk.pinterest.com/).

As a useful exercise, Catherine said to choose a historical character and write about their life.  How did they cope living in an unheated house?  What was fashion like?  What can we tell by jewellery and trinkets?  Don’t use lines from songs as disregard of copyright can be costly.

We now look forward to Catherine’s coming trilogy, ‘The Posy Ring.’

Susan McVey

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