Last month I was asked to speak on Re-Imagining the Past at the LSELitFest on a panel with Philip Womack and Monica Vaughan. For me, it is untold stories which inspires me to write historical fiction.
In HIDDEN, I write about a journey to Dunkirk to rescue British soldiers trapped on the beach. I discovered that five little ships left Hayling for Dunkirk. I actually found one and was invited to go over it and take photos.
The boat above is the Count Dracula, a little ship which went from Hayling Island to Dunkirk and rescued over 200 men in May 1940. It was originally the Admiral's barge for a German battle ship sunk at the battle of Jutland in 1916. The barge was raised and restored between the wars.
One of the questions I was asked on the LSE Panel was how I could imagine the ending to a novel based on true events from the past.
The Emergency Zoo (Alma Books, May 2016) is based on the untold story of the killing of the pets at the outbreak of WW2. It asks the question,When the war breaks out, who will save the animals?
My answer to the question is that no matter how much research I do, when I come to write the book, it is all about the characters. You can't have a plot on an empty stage. Before I start a novel I do quite a lot of work on my cast list. For each character I do the usual age, name, physique, etc but then I break into free writing, letting my imagination wander and it is this writing which leads me into plot lines and the heartbeat of the novel. If I know my characters well - and I always do - then they will lead me through their journey and I will know the ending. In fact, I usually write the final chapter around Chapter 3 and it doesn't change very much.
I love doing research and have piles of notebooks, artefacts, photos, etc. But at the end of the day, if we are going to re-write the past, then our imaginations must be filled with inspiration, our characters must stand up and stand out on the page and our notes put firmly away, so that we enter the fictional dream and make sure we don't end up writing an essay or lecture about the past. The journey of our characters is the heart of story no matter whether set in the past, present or future.
What inspires you to Re-Write the Past?