I love history. It is fascinating to read about how people lived in the past within the conditions of the time. Social history tells us as much about human nature and fortitude as it does of human progress.
History is often seen in terms of timelines – chronological lists of key people and facts, but this dry recitation was what made me give up on my favourite subject early in my schooling. It was only later when I began my degree that I was taught how to seek primary sources and learn how to interpret their place in the society from which they emerged, bringing history to life.
There is no doubt that innovations are borne of necessity or desire. From the first flint tools to the internet, from pen and quill to word processor and no doubt things to come we can only imagine – I’ll leave those to the sci-fi writers.
However, it is the writers of history who can provide not only an insight into past times, but can use these situations to thrill and inform. The inspiration for my Smugglers’ Town Mysteries was the Shardlake novels of C J Sansom. These medieval mysteries are fast-paced and engaging with snap shots of life at the time of Henry IIIV.
It was in 2008 when I read the latest in the series – ironically called Revelation. I realised that this was what I wanted to do, to write a fast-paced, exciting adventure where scraps of social history can be scattered within the story – only this time for children. Perhaps the young reader would want to know more about the place and time of the books, in this case of 18th Century Hampshire and Christchurch in particular, and engage in the mystery of history.
Writing history involves research and it is very easy to digress when trying to find out a particular thing. In The Face of Sam I needed to research funerals. I found a website and blog by Mike Rendell who has written a fascinating book, Journal of a Georgian Gentleman. The journals belonged to his ancestor, Richard Hall and Rendell had inherited a whole trunkful of primary source material. So the funeral information was joined by details of his belongings, collections, shopping lists, accounts of the weather and charming pictures of Georgian silhouette art and intricate paper cuttings. This for me was a treasure trove of the kind of details that provide authenticity to my stories and an understanding of life at the time I am placing my characters.
Do my readers notice these snippets dropped into the action? A few months after the publication of The Thirteenth Box I was at an event when one person told me that in the grounds of a local property there remained an ice house – something that played a small part the book’s plot!