People are clearly more important to him than circumstantial detail. Some novels are so deeply researched they seem like non-fiction in disguise. In a romance they can kill the story dead by boring the reader. Even so, we must do our research and set the scene as accurately as we can. We can take some liberties, for the sake of the story, but if we veer too far from the facts as we know them, the reader may feel cheated and lose faith in the work. If a mistake crops up, an anachronism, this will jar the reader, and jerk them out of the story back to the present.
It’s also best also to avoid controversy or anything doubtful which has a hint of being anachronistic. It hasn’t so much to be correct as to feel correct. E.g: Soldiers did play baseball in the American Civil War. I believe they also played in a Jane Austen novel too, but the reader may find that hard to accept.
Societies traditions, moral mores and customs help to build the picture, but this is where even the most fanatical historian can come unstuck. Many time periods, such as the Regency, have become so stylised that you may actually be considered to have written a historically inaccurate book if you do not follow the “popular perceptions” of the period. Presenting a realistic, complex view of Society during a specific era can be the thing that makes the difference between a passable yarn and a gripping story.
Wine and Roses available from Regency Reads
It’s surely about striking the right balance. The story is the most important thing, but it must be firmly rooted in its world. It must not simply be a costume drama. The past must be made as relevant as the present. The problems are the same, human emotion, conflict and behaviour. Falling in love and losing that love are just as painful.
Bernard Cornwell said: ‘Essentially the background has to be right because it’s the detail of the background that pins down the fiction in the foreground.’
When I can’t draw on personal experience or memories I use interviews, explore diaries, memoirs, biographies, newspapers, etc. I select with care and don’t put material in just to show off how much I’ve learnt. It is the attention to small detail which builds the atmosphere, and a strong sense of time and place which creates that feeling of reality and verisimilitude which is vital for the reader to sit back and enjoy the ride.