By Guest Blogger Erastes
"Without historical accuracy, my books would be fantasy. With only historical accuracy, they would be textbooks. For historical fiction, there must be a story, accurate in detail but brought to life through imagination and creativity"
Author Karen Cushman
First off - writing historical romance is FUN. It can be very sexy to play with a period not one's own.
The clothes are nicer. There are buttons, and OH how sexy it is to have buttons undone, or spats gently removed, stays unlaced, hooks and eyes undone with a kiss between every – single – one.
There are plenty of opportunities for getting your heroine (or in my case heroes) into scrapes and sexual situations. There are lots of phallic innuendoes, outrageous codpieces, biting thumbs, swaggering bravos with swords on their hips. There are fans, and the language of fans. For the Mollies, a handkerchief could say many things it was death to say out loud.
Conversations can become duels, hell - they can become real duels, and you can cover subjects such as slavery and piracy that would not really be acceptable in the modern romance novel.
But I'm strongly of the belief that you should attempt to get it as right as you can. There is nothing that makes me want to throw a book across the room than anachronisms, both in fact and in the characters' thought processes.
Let me say up front that there are mistakes in Standish, and they've been pointed out to me, and I'm grateful for it. Some were deliberate; I had the Carnival in Venice take place in the book, when in actuality it was banned at that period in time but I needed masques; some were typos, some were just careless assumption of facts I thought I knew. Lesson learned. I'm terrified of Transgressions going live, because whilst the Regency was a period I knew well, I knew (note past tense) next to nothing of the English Civil War period. And I know a LOT of English Civil War Re-enactors, and they are the most unforgiving when it comes to errors.
There are responsibilities that a historical fiction writer takes on. The main reason I like to see historical accuracy, particularly for the main events, is that some people will read a book and think that the facts are true.
For some reason there is a faction of romance writers - and readers - who seem to think that it's all about the escapism, and that accuracy doesn't matter. "It's only Romance" they say, as if it deserves lesser attention than any other genre. If the readers and writers are denigrating their own genre, is it any wonder that others don't take it seriously? Historical romance is probably the only genre that gets away with this inattention to details.
If you are writing a contemporary romance do you (unless it's a fantasy/sci-fi) twist the laws or physics? Doesn't it drive you bonkers if you are reading a story based in 1999 and your heroine is listening to a song that you know damn well wasn't released until 2005? Personally I wouldn't actually notice stuff like that, as I'm not really a creature of this age, but if I'm reading a historical novel and the hero in 1600 is using a sabre when it wasn't called that until many years later it just drives me mad.
"Aren't you being a bit anal?" I can hear you say. And no - I don't think so. I was talking to my friend and fellow writer T. J. Pennington the other day, and she put it far more succinctly than I had managed:
"Taking the time to get it right means that you respect the reader. And far too often in romance, the attitude is, "Well, it's JUST romance. It doesn't HAVE to be accurate.
Try saying that in any other genre. I dare you. Tell a mystery writer he doesn't have to get things like ballistics or forensics right. Tell a hard science fiction writer he can slough off on the math and the science because the audience won't notice. Newsflash, people - the audience notices. And they trust the writer to get it right. When the writer doesn't give a shit - or slavishly imitates what other writers do without checking to see if it's accurate (Georgette Heyer imitators, I'm looking at you!) - it brings the genre down."
Then of course, there's the sex. The fine line between getting it completely right and grossing out the reader.
You've spent several thousand words having your fiery heroine fall for her lusty Elizabethan hero. You've worked up a passable plot including a roguish ship's captain, a daughter of a landowner, an evil but devastatingly handsome English Lord. The heroine has escaped the unwanted attentions of her English suitor and is grabbing a little slap and tickle with the handsome rogue. Are you going to tell your reader that her bits are going to smell like ripe fish? Do you dwell on the likelihood that said rogue has suffered from scurvy and has rotten teeth and pitted limbs?
Of course not. That would spoil the mood, wouldn't it? For a start, the health and stench of individuals were only relative. If one person reeked, everyone reeked and therefore no-one noticed very much, so there's no great need to emphasise that.
There ARE ways of making your couplings clean, if you want to be fastidious (essential, really, for gay sex at any time…) Make your characters "faddy" about cleanliness, or have them in the swimming hole a lot. If they are on a ship, they can use the sea.
But as I said, neither of them are going to notice the other is smelly if they stink themselves.
I had to write a section in Newgate, and although I introduced the prison,-upon the characters' first entrance into it-as being so foul smelling that it made the visitor retch and the eyes water (which it did) such things become "normal" in time. I used to keep a horse on a pig farm, and after a week I couldn't smell them. So it would have been for the inmates of Newgate. To facilitate sex scenes within the prison, I made Ambrose be fussy about keeping clean – Lye and soap were available – for a price.
And I think anyway, if you are scrupulous as you can be about getting the rest of the details right, your reader will trust you enough to offer them this little deceit, and your selected pairing can boink away without giving any thought for the fleas and lice…
Did you spot all those anachronisms in the pictures:
1. The new BBC Robin Hood - So much wrong with this. The make-up. The halter neck top, the hairstyles ... the hoodie.
2. Kiera Knightley as Guinevere, very practical. Not.
3. Walking the plank. Invention of books and hollywood. Pirates didn't bother, they just chucked their victims over the side.
4. "Braveheart" - William Wallace in Woad and Tartan. Both of which weren't around in his day.
5. "Pathfinder" - Viking helmets didn't have horns!
Check out my website for some great historical resources.