Saturday, 9 July 2011
History - Sally Nicholls
One of the things I love about being a children's author is the freedom. While adult authors moan about how they're stuck writing science fiction, or chick lit, or historical fiction, even though they've had this great idea for a book about Napoleon's aunt, I have – to date – written a realistic novel, a fantasy novel and a historical novel, and am in the middle of something completely different again.
One of the things I hate about being a children's author is the freedom. I get carried away with all these brilliant ideas - “Let's write a book about the green man!” “Let's write a book about the Black Death!”, my brilliantly accommodating editor gets all excited, and it's not until I'm about 10,000 words in that I realise I don't know anything about how to write fantasy novels. Or medieval England.
Writing a historical novel is hard. It's hard because I don't really read non-fiction (or didn't – I've read a lot of it now). It's hard because the things you want to know – like, if the pig lives in the corner of your room, and you have to take him out to the swineherd in the morning, how do you get him out of the door? - aren't generally covered in textbooks on medieval English life.
It's hard because much as I would like my characters to be talking medieval English, I've read Chaucer and I can't see it catching on for ten-year-olds. But then, if I'm translating their words, how modern should the translation be? Somewhere between, “Yeah, cool,” and “I'faith, I would it were so,” probably. I hate faux-historical writing, but I can't help worrying that my main character sounds like a modern teenager dumped in 1349.
I'm working through edits at the moment, and they're full of comments from my editor - “The pigs wandering around York are unlikely to be wild.” “Why don't they just drink the river water?” My instinct is to write a shirty note back. “Actually, wild pigs were a huge problem in medieval cities,” but this would be missing the point. If an educated adult is starting to disbelieve my book, it doesn't matter how historically accurate it is. It has to be historically accurate and believable. And get all those pesky bits of important information across. Without info-dumping.
Sigh. I think I'll go and make another cup of tea …
Sally Nicholls is the multi-award-winning author of Ways to Live Forever and Season of Secrets. He latest novel – All Fall Down – is out in March.