Seven sensible steps to success as a writer
Step 4 (Continued). ‘Historical Faction’
In all of my historically-based writing (the ‘biographical novels’ as I call them, though others sometimes use the term 'faction'), I’ve never knowingly altered a fact to suit my story.
For me, the story must change to suit the known facts – although I certainly have to make many (I hope logical) assumptions where the record is silent.
There’s not much refuge to be found for the storyteller – as opposed to the historian – in the phrase ‘we don’t know what happened next.’ Still I always point out the main assumptions in the Endnotes.
This emphasises the significance to me of the initial research which often takes a year or more before beginning to draft the text...
Reading widely on the topic, going through files at the Australian War Memorial, National Library and National Archives; searching the Internet; contacting the families; and visiting the most important locations.
It’s essential for my Muse to know the smell, feel, colour and associations of the physical and social landscape, before placing the subject in it. The travel, indeed, is usually the best part of any book writing, and almost always produces images and metaphors of significance to the final manuscript
With The Story of Billy Young it took me to Singapore and Borneo. Young Digger involved a three-week journey from Cologne in Germany, through Belgium to France, and across the Channel to southern England.
Captain Cook’s Apprentice gave me four hours in the National Library of Australia with Cook’s journal in my (gloved) hands; a ten-day sail on the HMB Endeavour replica; and research trips to Cooktown, New Zealand, Tahiti, and the UK. Bliss, indeed.
Next: Managing the research...