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Being A Disciplined Author, by Julian Stockwin

Gone are the days of tapping away on a typewriter in a garret! Not only do modern writers have to produce around 100,000 words of very polished text each year but they have to fit in all the various other activities demanded of them.

Money matters 

As soon as you start working on your book you need to put in place a system for keeping tabs of any expenses incurred in the production of your work. Once you’ve sold the rights to your manuscript I recommend you find an accountant who is familiar with publishing. Try not to just throw all the receipts into a box without sorting them first. It makes life much easier if you set aside a certain amount of time each month to annotate receipts, etc. You’ll thank yourself when your accountant starts reminding you that you are close to the deadline for getting for his paperwork to him.

A big question you’ll have to face is whether to give up your day job. Publishers pay an advance for a manuscript but this will be delivered in instalments – on signing, on delivery and on publication. If you have an agent, they will take 15-20% of that, then more will have to be set aside for the tax man. You need to calculate very carefully whether you can afford to live on your writerly earnings alone. If you do give up the day job make sure that you discipline yourself to dip into the money carefully, not blow a large amount all at once. If your book is a hit you might be anticipating big cheques through the post, but royalties are set against any advances and may not come for some time.

Budgeting time 

Once your book comes out it is important to keep your work and yourself in the public eye as much as possible, but this must be balanced against actual writing time.

If you are working at home full-time, it is tempting to think you’ll just attend to a few domestic tasks before you start work. DON’T. Devise a schedule of working hours and stick to it. If you were in the workplace you wouldn’t get up and tell your boss you are going shopping for two hours, would you?

I love classical music and I thought it would be nice to have it in the background as I write but I found it too much of a distraction. You need to focus completely on the world you are creating.

I aim to be at my desk at 8:30 am. Around 11:00 Kathy and I usually take a short break for coffee and then resume work until lunch at 1:00 pm. Following my practice in the Navy I often take a forty minute nap after lunch, and then we may take a stroll into Ivybridge. (We live just a couple of minutes’ walk from the centre of the village). I find I am at my most creative in terms of writing in the morning so afternoons are mostly reserved for research and answering emails. Reading my growing library of resource material is a necessary but most enjoyable part of the job!

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Julian Stockwin’s author website: www.julianstockwin.com

Julian Stockwin’s bio page

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United States (and beyond)

    

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BetrayalVictoryQuarterdeck     Blood of the ReichThe Leopard Sword (Empire)A Christmas Homecoming

Writing Historical Novels
www.writinghistoricalnovels.com

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How I Became A Bestselling Historical Novelist, by Ben Kane

I worked as a veterinarian for sixteen years, from 1992-2008. Like many people who dream of such a career, I started off with a childhood love of animals. Dogs, cats, rabbits, cows – as a boy, it didn’t matter to me. I loved them all. Discovering the gentle, life-affirming James Herriot books helped build up a mental image of being a ‘doctor for animals’, as did the fact that my dad was already in the profession. Alongside my love of all creatures great and small ran a deeply rooted love of history. Don’t ask me where it came from, but I devoured any book I could find about the Romans, the Vikings, the Crusades, the Napoleonic wars, World Wars One and Two – in fact any conflict at all! I still ended up putting veterinary medicine number one on my university application form though. The main reason, from what I can remember, is that although I loved history, I couldn’t see myself as a teacher. There was certainly no concept in my mind of being a writer.

As with most people starting out on a career, my job as a veterinarian took over my life. Straight out of college, I worked in ‘mixed’ practice for nearly three years, which meant dealing with cattle, sheep, horses, dogs and cats. Stints in purely ‘small animal’ and ‘exotic’ (snakes, birds, fish) practice followed in the UK, before the need to travel struck home.

In 1997, I went on a solo trip to the Middle East, following part of the ancient Silk Road. During this trip, I visited many of the ‘stans’, countries which were formerly part of the USSR. In Turkmenistan, I walked the ruins of Merv, an enormous walled city which was attacked and demolished by the Mongols in the 13th Century. As I wandered through the vast site, nearly a mile square, in temperatures of more than 110F, what became evident was that the city’s history was far more ancient. Merv had originally been founded as Antiochia – by Alexander the Great – in the 4th Century BC. Furthermore, Roman prisoners of the battle of Carrhae had been taken there by their captors, the Parthians. Fascinated by this, I did some research upon my return. This confirmed what I had read in Merv, and the seeds of The Forgotten Legion were sown in my mind, and I had my first thoughts of writing a military fiction novel.

After a prolonged (nearly three years) trip around the world, including a period working in Sydney, I returned to the UK in early 2001. The devastating outbreak of Foot & Mouth Disease had just started, and believing it was my duty to help, I volunteered soon afterwards. The job took me to Northumberland, where much of Hadrian’s Wall is situated. During the terrible months of slaughtering animals that followed, I was able to visit many amazing Roman sites on the wall. The stunning locations and little museums fired up my imagination as never before, and I decided to write a novel about the Romans at last.

Over the next six years, I went back into normal veterinary practice, bought a house and settled down somewhat. Crucially though, I also started writing, a process which I quickly grew to love. Despite the long hours – 60+ per week – and ‘on-call’ nights and weekends of my veterinary job, it became an obsession. I wasn’t happy unless I could write every day. During my lunch break, I’d use my laptop in the staff room, my car or a cafe. Several days a week, I’d get up at 5am to do a couple of hours before going to work. For years, most weekends were non-existent except for 12 hours a day of writing.

In early 2006, I was fortunate enough to get signed by my literary agent, whose input and help with my writing skills was enormous. Discarding what I had written up till then – until another day – The Forgotten Legion emerged into the light. In Summer 2007, I signed a 3 book deal with Random House in the UK. By the time of the book’s release in May 2008, I had gone part-time as a veterinarian. By the beginning of 2009, I had given it up altogether. The pressures of family life, writing and a high-octane job were too much to continue forever without the risk of burnout. Now, I find myself ever busier, but as my own boss, doing a job that I utterly love, it’s a much easier thing to manage.

***Write with Ben Kane near Hobart, Australia with Novel Writing Retreats Australia in February 2014

Ben Kane’s author website: www.benkane.net

Ben Kane’s bio page

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United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

Australia (and beyond)

The Forgotten Legion (Forgotten Legion Chronicles)Hannibal: Enemy of RomeSpartacus: The Gladiator     Fortress of Spears (Empire)Auslander

Writing Historical Novels
www.writinghistoricalnovels.com

Using Language Specific To The Setting Of Your Novel, by Anne Perry

I agree with Alice from Alice in Wonderland: I don’t like a story that has no conversation.  But in what sort of language will your characters speak?  Will it be correct to the time and place of your story?  Well we can completely forget those set in ancient Egypt for a start, and countries where people speak a language other than our own.

The question really is, how about those who spoke our language (in my case only English, I’m afraid) but in a different period of time?  Vocabulary, references, even grammar change over a few years, never mind centuries.  And dialect changes from one area to another, over a very short distance in older countries.  And what do you do if your characters travel?

The choice is between being accurate and being understandable.  My belief is that if the reader doesn’t understand, if not exactly then at least approximately, then you will lose them.  Writing is, above all, an art of communication.  Some meanings can be guessed at.  In other places meaning doesn’t matter, it only adds colour, and if not understood will not spoil the story.  This might be the case with dialect words, and they can add a great deal of individuality to a setting or a character.  The same can be true of accent.  I suggest just a few altered sounds as enough to indicate difference.  You don’t want a reader stopping every few lines to try to work out what the word is.  Never break the spell, if you can help it.

Actually that just about sums it up.  If you confuse the reader or make them leave the story to look up a word, then it isn’t going to work.  You are trying to involve them, make them think and make them care.  You are not trying to confuse them and impress them with your scholarship.  If you want to do that, write a text book.

You need variation in vocabulary from one character to another.  Sometimes it takes a few re-writes to secure that – at least it does for me.  Some people use few words, some many.  People have favourite expressions, and so on.  (For heaven’s sake, don’t pepper it with ‘Gadzooks!’  or such phrases.  Did anybody ever say that?  With a straight face?)

The difficulty is to avoid neologisms, i.e. modern phrases we now use naturally, reference to events that have not yet happened, and the language that will come from them, inventions and discoveries not yet made, dishes not yet invented, music not yet written, countries not discovered (or re-named) fabrics and materials not invented – you get the drift.

I remember having someone’s heels click on linoleum – then wondering if it was even invented at the time, or, if it was, that it would be too new and expensive to be in the income level of the house I was referring to.  I looked it up and it was fine – but it might not have been.

My agent draws a little skull and crossbones sign on my manuscript where I have used a modern turn of phrase.  It happens now and then.  They are in my thoughts.  There is also the issue of modern grammar.  (There is no such word in English English (as opposed to American English and other forms of English) as ‘gotten’.  (Well-bred Victorians would say ‘I have’ rather than ‘I’ve got’.)

They are small things, a word here and there, but then an extra teaspoon of salt in your food is a small thing – but it ruins the flavour.  It is the sort of error you take care of when you re-write.  Polishing, tidying up can be fun.  Make it the best it can be.

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Anne Perry’s author website: www.anneperry.co.uk

Anne Perry’s bio page

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A Christmas HomecomingAcceptable LossSlaves of ObsessionThe William Monk Mysteries: The First Three Novels     Wounds of Honour: v. 1 (Empire)Quest

Writing Historical Novels
www.writinghistoricalnovels.com

Random Thoughts About Writing Historical Novels, by Stephanie Cowell

This is my twelfth and last blog post for Writing Historical Novels. I have been so very happy to contribute to it and hope that my journeys in writing have added something to yours. So I’d like to conclude with a few random thoughts about technique, inner purpose and this profession of ours. I am writing to myself as much as to you.

ONE: THOUGHTS ON WHERE AND HOW YOU SET YOUR SCENES. As much as possible, set your scenes in a different place or, if in the same place, in a different time of day. Somewhere in my drafts I make a list of all the places a character could go so that as the plot is going forward and the characters deepening, we are also touring their world a little.  In my novel Claude & Camille I have at least 20-30 settings in Paris or its suburbs alone: his studio, her parent’s expensive flat in Paris Ile St. Louis, the Pont Neuf bridge, a crowded restaurant, a café, his bedroom, a bookshop, art galleries, museums, the art studio, the streets, etc.  In this way I show their whole world. You could also change something in the room: make it emptier, or more crowded, or make something missing.

TWO: CHARACTER BUILDING. I find this thought on building a character invaluable. It is by Donald Maass from his book Writing the Breakout Novel. “Every protagonist needs a tortuous need, a consuming fear, an aching regret, a visible dream, a passionate longing, an exquisite lust, an inner lack, a fatal weakness, an irresistible plan, a noble idea and an underlying hope.” Since I found this a few novels ago, I ask these questions for every protagonist I create. It helps to make them real. I make lists and fill in the answers.

THREE: BUILD MYSTERY INTO YOUR NOVEL. Even if it is not a mystery, withhold certain information for suspense. End every single scene with the reader wondering what will happen next. I especially used this technique in my novel Marrying Mozart, which is written from six points of view, with the central question of which of the four sisters will marry Mozart.

FOUR:  MY OWN PERSONAL CREED ABOUT WRITING HISTORICAL NOVELS. A great deal of writing a novel is slowly discovering its innumerable parts and depths and colors and place and people and moving them around with joy and deep fascination to lay them out in the most compelling way it can be told. Then you slowly reveal it in drafts, paragraph by paragraph, deepening and moving order and revelation until it finally falls together in a perfect form for the reader to enter the story and live there. You discover novels more than write them.

FIVE: GIVE YOURSELF A ROUND OF APPLAUSE. I notice that we novelists never give ourselves enough credit for what we are doing. I have met hundreds of people who sigh and say, “If only I could write a novel!” Then they say, “Oh, but I have no time,” or something like this. Most of you have probably written novels or great parts of one. That is hard to do and takes a lot of discipline.

SIX: ON WRITING CAREERS. There are enormous writing careers and tiny ones. There are books which sell hugely and are lost in time. There are great writers who saw little of their work sell and then are discovered. Nobody can write just as you do. Dig deep into your heart. Most of us want bigger, grander careers. Some of us get them. Most of us have more modest ones. No one can write your novel as you can. The work of writers with both kinds of careers gives enormous pleasure to readers.

SEVEN: MY THREE FAVORITE WRITING BOOKS. Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass, The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron and On Becoming a Novelist by John Gardner.

EIGHT: BRING THE PAST TO LIFE. Put a map of London 1800 on your wall or whatever time or place you wish. Live there and come back to our time bringing us your novel of the people you knew and the things you came to love so we can love them too.

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Stephanie Cowell’s author website: www.stephaniecowell.com

Stephanie Cowell’s bio page

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United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

Australia (and beyond)

Claude & Camille: A Novel of Monet     Fortress of Spears (Empire)Hannibal: Enemy of Rome

Writing Historical Novels
www.writinghistoricalnovels.com

Building Family Anecdotes Into A Historical Novel, by Mary Nichols

If you are writing historical fiction about a time within living memory, talk to people and ask questions. What can our parents and grandparents tell us about life as it was? I think it is a pity we don’t do this more often, even if we aren’t writing a book about it. My husband is very elderly and his short term memory is patchy but he remembers his childhood and war years very clearly.

Over the sixty-three years of our marriage, I have heard his wartime stories many times, but though they might vary in detail as he remembers something new, they are consistent in the story they tell. Two things stand out: his adventures on D-Day and being wounded after he was parachuted into Germany later on in the war. Crossing a ditch he jumped on a mine and was blown sky high, according to witnesses; he doesn’t remember it. He woke up in hospital in England with traumatic loss of memory. Luckily for him it came back after a few days. Stories like that are tucked away in my mind until suddenly they resurface when something triggers them off. It was only recently I began to think of loss of memory as a theme for a book and what better background than the Second World War?

I tried to imagine what it would be like not to remember your own name, where you come from, even whether you are married or not. It must surely affect everything you do and say and think and you would be forever niggling at it, trying to bring it back  I did some research about loss of memory which was mostly medical based and way over my head, but I did learn that it is a myth that loss of memory caused by a blow on the head would be cured by another blow. It is more likely to make it worse. The most likely scenario for the return of memory would be if the person concerned was put in a similar situation to the one that caused the loss in the first place.

When war breaks out, Julie Walker, not long married, is left to cope with wartime London and bring up her baby without Harry, her husband, who has joined the RAF. She is caught out in an air raid and directed to a shelter which receives a direct hit. Pulled out alive but injured, she is taken to hospital, but she has lost her memory. She cannot tell them who she is, where she lives or even if she has a family. (I had her pawn her wedding ring to buy black market food for her baby, so it would be assumed she was single.)  She is given a new name and must make a life for herself as Eve Seaton. Harry, who believes his wife and child have been killed, must put his grief behind him and get on with his part in the war as a radio operator in a bomber crew. Julie is disturbed by flashes of memory, little things that confuse her more than enlighten her and she wonders what dreadful secret her loss of memory is hiding. When it eventually comes back she is left with a dilemma. Is she Julie Walker, married to Harry, or is she Eve Seaton, a sergeant in the WAAF, engaged to Alec Kilby? And who is buried in the grave alongside her son?

Alec is in the parachute regiment and I called on the experiences of my husband for Alec’s training and his D-Day experiences. I still had lots of research to do: WAAF training and the jobs they were likely to be called on to do, RAF bomber command and wartime factory work. Then I had to get the timeline of real events and fictional events to bond. The result was The Girl on the Beach, published by Allison and Busby in 2012.

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Mary Nichols’s author website: www.marynichols.co.uk

Mary Nichols’s bio page

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United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

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The Girl on the BeachEscape by MoonlightThe Summer HouseThe Kirilov Star     AuslanderThe Tenth Gift

Writing Historical Novels
www.writinghistoricalnovels.com

Using A Drama Degree As Preparation To Write Historical Novels, by Emma Darwin

So many of my fellow historical fiction writers spent their student years reading Defoe, Joyce and Greene. Some of them read Clarendon, Elton and Schama, at least when the pubs were closed. I’ve dipped into both myself, but I got my degree by pretending to be a tree.

The theatre, like any performing art, is devoted to tradition in a way that written arts don’t have to be, so in the Department of Drama at the University of Birmingham our trees were rooted in the soil of this classic Stanislavskian exercise. The more I write, teach and blog about fiction, the more I realise just what a good grounding a Drama degree is for a historical novelist.

I wouldn’t dream of suggesting that just because we set our novels in the past, they’re all about heaving bosoms. When you’ve had to wear full, period costume for anything from Hamlet to Strindberg’s Easter, you discover that the only way to breathe is indeed for your bosom to heave. Corsets work better than a Wonderbra for showing off your assets, but at the cost of 90% of your lung capacity. Running into the arms of your stage lover shows you exactly why all those heroines keep fainting: sheer lack of oxygen. Except when it was because they trod on their hem. Directors need to know this stuff, but so do novelists.

Then there was Wardrobe. I not only know how to wear a corset, I’ve made one – and a straitjacket (Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty). I’ve realised how much sewing and how much cloth it takes to make a skirt and the petticoats beneath, and just how much mending that trodden-on hem takes (A Doll’s House). Even a twentieth century show should have not just clothes but underwear actually from the period, for both genders: fabrics have changed and so have tastes in breasts, bottoms, waists, shoulders and makeup. Have you tried getting out of a too-low sofa wearing high heels, a 1950s roll-on, and not much else? I have, because in Albee’s The American Dream they switched sofas between the last dress rehearsal and the first night. Now, which of my characters shall I do that to?

Stage Management? I know how to research period weapons (Peer Gynt) and nurses’ uniforms (Testament of Youth). I know that hiring real scaffolding for a Constructivist set (Meyerhold) brings in more dust than you’d have thought existed in the whole of the West Midlands. I also learnt that if you fling a bloody heart to the ground it bounces, and reduces the entire cast of The Duchess of Malfi to giggles.

I haven’t yet used that heart in a story – do help yourself if you’d like to. My drama degree wasn’t just a source of good material. It put me right at the heart of what we’re trying to do in writing historical fiction: take an empty space in the present and within it evoke past worlds and the people who lived in them – and the trees, of course.

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Emma Darwin’s author website: www.emmadarwin.com

Emma Darwin’s bio page

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United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

Australia (and beyond)

The Mathematics of Love (P.S. (Paperback))A Secret Alchemy     EquinoxThe Tenth GiftThe Kirilov Star

Writing Historical Novels
www.writinghistoricalnovels.com

Creating Scene-By-Scene Outlines For Historical Novels, by Michael White

My brother once told me that he sometimes imagines me writing, and he sees me in a smoking jacket and cravat, thinking great thoughts and putting a few well chosen words on the page. He is of course wrong in every respect. For those writing historical fiction, their labours are often skewed towards research. So, before any well chosen words are written I would spend a lot of time in libraries and reading about the era I’m writing about.

Next I have to work out the plot. In some ways this is the most stressful and demanding stage. I am a plot-driven writer. I place it on an equal footing to character. The creating of a watertight plot that moves forward at the right pace and keeps focused and cohesive is perhaps the most difficult aspect of writing fiction.

Once I have the plot worked out and it flows, makes sense and hangs together, I feel a great weight lift from my shoulders. With historical fiction there is also the imperative that the story must work in the period in which it is set. This can be a challenge in itself, especially if you are coming to a historical thriller, say, having just completed a novel set in the present day. There is a certain mental recalibration needed simply to avoid anachronisms.

With the plot written out in note form I then start to create what I call a ‘scene collection’. I buy a ring binder and a sheath of 200 pages of lined, margined paper and I write a scene on each page in what I think will be the correct order for the story. At this stage I simply write a few lines to describe the scene. It might be something like: “Dante wakes up, gets dressed and goes out into the pre-dawn.”

Sometimes a scene constitutes a chapter. Just as often there will be two or three scenes in a chapter. It depends on the way I want to pace and structure the story. Having more chapters with just one scene each creates a faster pace.

Once I have a collection of one-line scene descriptions I can see if the structure works. At this point I might do a little light shuffling of the scene order. In the next stage I thicken the instructions in each scene, add more detail, more explanation.

At this point it is essential to ensure that each scene is a microcosm of the novel. Each scene has a beginning, a middle and an end. Just as importantly, if you are going to go into a scene, you have to know how you will come out of it. Connected with this is the irrevocable fact that the scene has to achieve something. It has to move the story forward. If it does not do this, rip it out and bin it.

Now, with each page in the ring binder covered with details and instructions, pointers, cross references and a few character memos, it is time to start writing. Grab the quill, girdle your loins and put ink to paper.

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Michael White’s author website: www.michaelwhite.com.au

Michael White’s bio page

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United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

Australia (and beyond)

EquinoxThe Medici SecretThe Art of MurderThe Kennedy Conspiracy     Escape by MoonlightPowder Monkey: Adventures of a Young Sailor

Writing Historical Novels
www.writinghistoricalnovels.com

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