Happy Monday, gang! I’d like to kick off Historical Week with a guest post by Jane Eagland! Jane is the author of Wildthorn, and Whisper My Name, and is here to talk about why she writes historical fiction. I’m also giving away a copy of Wildthorn, so be sure to check out the giveaway details at the bottom of the post.
Please welcome Jane to the blog!
I fell into writing historical novels almost accidentally – it’s not something I would ever have imagined myself doing as I’m dreadfully ignorant about history. I gave it up in my early teens just because the teacher was boring – something I now regret.
The chance that set me writing Wildthorn was reading about a woman in the nineteenth century called Hersilie Rouy who was incarcerated in French asylums for fifteen years even though she was sane. The more she struggled to be released the more the authorities took her protests as symptoms of insanity. Her plight affected me deeply, provoking a sense of protest at the injustice of what had been done to her. I thought, what must that have been like? And I began to write the story that became Wildthorn.
Though the story could have been set in any period – certainly in the twentieth century people were committed to institutions who didn’t need to be there – I decided to set it in the Victorian period. This was partly because of Hersilie but also because I became very interested in the position of women at that time. They were expected to conform to a narrowly defined role, but some women were beginning to fight against these restrictions. Also, setting the story in the past appealed to my imagination and gave me more freedom to invent things.
But I wanted the story to ring true so I realized I needed to do a lot of research – not just into Victorian asylums, but clothes, houses, transport ….everything. And I discovered that I loved it! The information itself was fascinating and it also provided a wonderful excuse – I was getting on with the novel without actually having to struggle to commit words to paper, which for me is always the hardest part. Sometimes by chance I came across things that I then wanted to include in the novel and that was always exciting. In this way I stumbled across the subject of Victorian spiritualism which afterwards led me to write my second novel Whisper My Name.
I got totally carried away – for example I knew so much about Victorian wallpaper! Every time a character went into a different room, I described the wallpaper in loving detail. Of course, in subsequent drafts all that had to go – it was irrelevant but more importantly it was slowing the pace. So that’s something I learned about writing historical novels – the research has to serve the story and not be there for its own sake. But it’s still hard to resist the temptation to find out more and more. So I think it’s true to say that writing the novels has given me a love of history which will always be with me now.
When I think about it, it’s not so surprising that I have been led in this direction. As a child I loved What Katy Did, Little Women (I was Jo, of course) The Secret Garden, Tom Sawyer… I say ‘as a child’ but these are the books I still turn to when I want a comforting read.
And later I came to love the great nineteenth century English classics: Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Bleak House, The Woman in White – long, involved stories, romantic, mysterious – stories that you can immerse yourself in. And I am a great fan of Sarah Waters’ novels set in the Victorian period: Affinity and the wonderful Fingersmith.
To enter the past through reading or writing historical novels is to enter another world – always one of the pleasures of literature. But it is also delightful to discover that we can identify with the characters and share their experiences, for after all they are very like us.
Visit Jane at her website!
They strip her naked, of everything. Undo her whalebone corset, hook by hook. Locked away in Wildthorn Hall—a madhouse—they take her identity. She is now called Lucy Childs. She has no one; she has nothing. But, she is still seventeen—still Louisa Cosgrove, isn’t she? Who has done this unthinkable deed? Louisa must free herself, in more ways than one, and muster up the courage to be her true self, all the while solving her own twisted mystery and falling into an unconventional love . . .