Those that know me know that I am a member of a writers group, a smashing group of people at NewwritersUK. Last year at Newwriters I met a fellow historical novelist, Alan Dance. I thought it would be interesting to do an on-line interview with him to see how he approaches his own writing.
Here it is - see what you think.
Q1. Historical fiction - why did you choose this genre and not some other?
I chose historical fiction primarily because I have always had an interest in history, particularly the history of Nottingham, where I live. I believe that one should stick to writing what one knows about. I could not, for example, write horror or fantasy, although I wouldn’t mind trying crime at some stage. My first book was actually a non-fiction local history book, published in 1998. Following the success of this, I thought I would like to try my hand at writing fiction, and there is just so much of Nottingham’s past that is crying out to be used as the basis for a novel that I decided to give it a go. Both Narrow Marsh and Leen Times, whilst having totally fictitious plots, also include many real events of the time woven into the story.
Q2. What period in history do you prefer? Are there any others you would like to move on to?
Roughly the period of the industrial revolution; about 1750 – 1850. This period saw the massive transformation of Britain from an agricultural to an industrial nation, when there were so many changes taking place, especially in the early 19th century, which affected the lives of everybody. This must have been a fascinating time to have been alive, but not a particularly pleasant one if you were poor, as most of the population was. There are other periods of history that also interest me (the English Civil War period, for example) but for now I shall stick to the late 18th / early 19th centuries.
Q3. Research. Where do you do this? What sources do you use?
I already had quite a reasonable knowledge of the events that form a background to my books, but I am always careful to check things out where necessary. I use a combination of the traditional sources (books and historical documents), along with the internet. However, don’t believe everything you read, especially on the internet!
My first novel was Narrow Marsh. I knew I wanted to write about life in Nottingham in the early 19th century, centered on the framework knitters. I knew exactly how the first chapter would pan out, but beyond that really had no idea of exactly how the plot would develop, other than that the story had to reflect the struggle for survival amongst the poor of Nottingham, amid the massive social changes then taking place. But once I started writing, the ideas began to flow and the plot soon took shape.
However, with Leen Times, the sequel to Narrow Marsh, it was different. After Narrow Marsh was finished, but before it had been published, I had already formulated the plot in some detail, to be used if Narrow Marsh was a success. It actually came to me one day and took no more than about 15 minutes to jot down. Once I started to write Leen Times, I stuck to the basic plot, but did adapt it a little as I wrote, adding to it and, I hope, improving it.
Q5. What do find the most difficult the most challenging part of writing?
Getting going! That is, actually starting the book, and then, on a daily basis whilst writing it. I think one has to be in the mood to write, and it is no good wasting time if one is not. I find that provided I feel keen to write, far more gets done than trying, for example, to set a target of so many words each day and sticking rigidly to that target. Other writers, of course, might work totally differently.
Q6. What are you working on at the moment?
I am currently writing another historical novel, not a sequel to the first two. This one is set in both Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire during the mid-nineteenth century, and is loosely based (with suitable embellishments, of course) on some real events in my own family history. It’s quite an intriguing story, related to me by older relatives. Surprisingly, much of what I was told has turned out to be true, unlike so many family legends one hears.