I had my story, but was trapped by the truth. How do I tell it, yet be faithful and true to the people who lived during 1948? I needed help but I didn’t know how to go about getting it.
Quite by chance I read an article about an upcoming Emerging Writers Festival in my city. I trawled through the site and worked out what sessions I wanted to attend.
The day arrived; it was cold and lonely walking into the large auditorium. I found a seat and the first session opened with a panel of five writers. The comments of Emily Bitto and Hannah Kent resounded. They had both written and published historical fiction novels; The Strays and Burial Rites. I read them later and urge anyone to read them – they are fantastic!
These are the points that created an impact for me -:
1. Just write!
I went home and gave it a go and discovered that when I wrote I got into a zone. It was almost meditative. I didn’t worry about where it was going or how it sounded. Naivety meant that I had no expectations and no rules to get in my way. It freed me!
Many people tell me that they have an idea but don’t know where to start. Go with the first thing that comes into your head and let it go. I might be wrong, but if you torture yourself about how to go about it, I can’t see how you’ll ever get it done.
2. Read, Read and read!
I have always been a prolific reader for pleasure but now I began dissecting the books I was reading for structure, language, character development – borrowing concepts and ideas to see how they fitted for my writing. One idea quickly led to another. I didn’t have anything to lose but try.
3. Be empathetic
I had to walk in the shoes of my characters and transport myself to 1948. What did my characters know, understand and feel about what was happening around them? How did they speak? I read newspapers of the time. The fear across the globe was of Communism and financial problems. When you read the newspapers today that fear is Islam and financial problems. Some things don’t change much.
4. Draw on your own experience
I pulled out character traits from people I knew, without even realising it. Now I can recognise elements of the people I have known throughout my life, in the characters I’ve built.
5. Don’t get bogged down in research.
I had spent months researching the era, Ocean Island, mining, the murders etc. How was all of this research going to find a place in my story? I suddenly realised that I could use fiction. I drew on my research when I needed it. It released my imagination and freed me up to write. It was exciting and exhilarating.
No wonder it became my obsession.
Feel free to let me know what you’ve learnt.