My current WIP is accidentally historical. And current. And possibly a little bit into the future (but that’s a whole other matter).
I normally avoid writing about the past because I don’t like research. Or, I do, but I get so involved I forget there’s a book to write. But my character is 80, so there’s a good chance she’ll have spotted a few events happening around her over the years, and it would be weird for her not to mention them. So I have to know about them. So I have to research them
Things I know I need to know:
- what were travelling funfairs like in the 1950s and 1960s? And if they travelled in the years straight after the second world war?
- how did women make a living/live after the war when their husbands didn’t return?
- what were common placements and styles for tattoos on women pre-1950? I’ve already discovered that the upper classes sometimes had them, which has resulted in a quick rewrite for a character, but I can’t find much info about where they’d have had them.
Things I don’t know I need to know:
Everything else! Honestly, how do you do it, historical writers? How do you capture the essence of the time without turning it into a lecture on ‘How we used to live?’ How do you discover that the central, most important item in that scene was common in 1968 but not 1967? How do you know what things cost and what things people wanted to buy and what they earnt and how much rent was?
Too many questions? Perhaps. Important questions? Well, actually, I won’t really know that until I start writing it properly.
In the meantime, if you have hints and tips, and answers to my questions about widows and tattoos and funfairs, I’d love to hear them!