6 August 2015

Special Guest Post: Writing Historical Fiction, by Pamela Hartshorne, author of The Edge of Dark

Available on Amazon US and Amazon UK

A dark and twisted tale exploring the haunted relationship between past and present, for fans of Kate Mosse and Barbara Erskine

Unlike most authors, I fell into writing by accident.  I’m prone to making sudden life-changing decisions, and having picked up Sharon Penman’s The Sunne in Splendour on a whim in Australia one day, I was blown away by how vividly she brought the 15th century to life.  I closed the book not only convinced of Richard III’s innocence,  but determined to return to the UK and do a PhD in Medieval Studies.  

In order to fund a return to study, I hit on the idea of writing romance.  Easy, I thought.  Wrong!  If I had known just how hard it would be, and how uncertain the chances of success, I would probably never have started writing at all, but fortunately I blundered on without troubling to do any research on the matter at all.  I spent more than 10 years alternating my research on public space in late medieval and early modern York with writing contemporary romances, and the question I was asked most often during that time (obviously after ‘Have you ever thought of writing a real book?’) was whether I was going to use my research to write historical fiction. 

My answer was always a firm ‘no’.  Torn between my instincts as a historian and my experience as a writer, I worried about authenticity.  How could I possibly create characters who would speak and think convincingly, yet still appeal to a modern reader?  But when I had completed my PhD, I found that I missed the contrast between thinking about the past and writing contemporary stories. I was ready for a change, and I started to think, well, maybe I could  try writing a novel based on my research after all.  I was drawn to the idea of a ‘time slip’, a novel set partly in the present and partly in the past, and a story that would highlight the tension between the familiarity and the strangeness of 16th-century England.

My first step was to let go of the ideal of authenticity.  The truth is that no matter how much scholarly research we do, we are still never going to know what it was ‘really like’ in the past.  The only way we could do that would be if we were able to go back and experience life then as someone at time - which is precisely premise of a time slip and what makes them so interesting to write.  

At the same time, there is an unspoken contract between a writer and a reader of historical fiction: while dialogue may be modernised to make it accessible to today’s readers, for instance, the historical setting and details of the story must be accurate.  I use my knowledge of Elizabethan England to give texture to my story and create what I hope will be a vivid picture of everyday life at the time, but I never forget that the story comes first. 

Like my two earlier historical novels, Time’s Echo and The Memory of Midnight, The Edge of Dark is set in the present day and in the sixteenth century.  It follows the intertwined stories of Jane, whose deathbed vow in 1569 sets her on a twisting path that takes her from the dark secrets of Holmwood House in York to the sign of the golden lily in London’s Mincing Lane, and Roz, returning to York over four centuries later with no memory of the fire that killed her family in the 1980s.  A beautiful Tudor necklace found in the newly restored Holmwood House triggers disturbing memories of the past at last – but the past Roz remembers is not her own…

Pamela Hartshorne
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About the Author

Pamela Hartshorne stumbled into writing in order to fund a PhD on the later medieval and early modern street.  While continuing to work on a scholarly edition of the records that formed the basis of her research – (see www.facebook.com/yorkwardmote for more details). Pamela now also writes historical novels that move between the 16th century and the present. Her latest book, The Edge of Dark, published by Pan Macmillan, is set in Elizabethan London and York.  Find Pamela on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @PamHartshorne.

1 comment:

  1. It's always good to hear how people get started in this crazy business. I think your story is unique, though. If somebody wrote to me and said: Hey! I went and got a PhD because your novel -- I'd be (1) terrified, to have steered someone into that choice without even knowing it (I have a PhD, too, so I know what that person would be getting themselves into) and (2) tremendously flattered. Clearly in your case in all worked out. I'm putting your titles on my tbr list.