I’ve written four historical fiction novels over the past dozen years. I have worked alone, with only occasional comments from one or two friends. And at various stages I have sought the advise from professionals – skilled readers and editors. I’ve learned that writing is a very lonely occupation. The fourth book is autobiographical and too long, so I still have a lot of work to get it down to my target length and quality. And I’ve even started my research for a fifth book. For twelve years, I have delved deep into the history of the 20th Century to determine how the heroes of my books lived, and the turmoil their period subjected them to. The research involved a lot of work and reading, but it was fun. In some ways, it was the primary purpose of writing. The writing was fun too. I don’t worry about my style when I’m writing. I just let it all come out–all 1,500 A4 pages of it so far. I have written many technical and business reports in my working years, but I didn’t have any training as a novelist. What I was to discover is that there is a vast difference between these two styles of writing.
Okay, so I need to get technical. I learned active voice means a sentence has a subject that acts upon its verb. Passive voice means a subject is a recipient of a verb’s action. We often write technical and business reports in the passive voice since one shouldn’t come across too directly or pushy, and business reports beat around the bush a lot. But sentences written in the active voice have a strong, direct, and clear tone. One uses fewer words, making the writing more concise and efficient. It creates a faster-moving narrative, which makes for more comfortable writing and more engaging reading, and helps prevent grammatical mistakes. Active voice is just what we need when writing novels.
So I had to rewrite a lot of my work in the active voice. I spent many hours rewriting and editing my stories to get them into an acceptable form. And that wasn’t as much fun as writing them. I discovered I wasn’t the natural writer I thought I was, and as I already mentioned, I lacked formal training. I also learned I couldn’t rely on friends to read my books and provide me with feedback either. It was too much of a burden to impose on them. I was on my own in my lonely pursuit for perfection. So I turned to the professionals for critique and suggestions. That was useful and valuable but often led to much more editing work, since I was learning from them. So, after twelve years of labour in my spare time, I have finally self-published my series. Why you may well ask?
The joy of discovery
I have always been a curious person. I could never accept what I was told or have read at face value without delving into the detail. As mentioned in my first post, I became obsessed with finding out the details of my grandfather’s escapades in the South African War, India and World War One. I also needed to know more about what my father had experienced during World War Two. But they had both passed on, and I had lost the most important sources about their experiences. So I started by researching their movements, as described in earlier posts. And what I discovered merited writing about. So, I started writing my stories down as notes at first. But these were only the historical facts as I uncovered them. They lacked the human experience, the intercourse between the heroes and their family and friends and their feelings, their loves and hates. They had documented none of this in diaries or letters that I could find. So I had to switch on my imagination and create the fiction.
Creating the fiction
That was fun! It took me back to my childhood when I spent many hours, often with my friends, creating fictional stories and situations during our play. And of course, it required more research. Whereas my primary research was about military movements and battles, I had to find out how my characters lived, what they ate, how they dressed and what their primary interests in life were. I followed the changes in socio-political norms and customs, new laws that affected them in their work and private lives throughout the first half of the 20th Century. In the beginning, I had far too much historical information. I got carried away by my passion for history. From one of my professional critics, I learned a crucial principle of writing historical fiction novels: that of achieving a balance between background (history, environment, critical events, etc.), narrative (the story) and dialogue. I learned the importance of showing rather than telling. I may not have entirely succeeded with these principles, but I tried hard to meet them wherever possible. I don’t know whether my grandfather and father and their families had experienced everything I described through the narrative, or whether they had spoken as I had them talking. But my imagination thought they might, and that’s how I developed the story and dialogue through the wars and other crises they would have experienced during their lifetimes. My readers will pass judgement on whether I have succeeded or not. I certainly hope I have provided exciting stories and realistic dialogues within their historical context.
Throughout my life, I have tended to throw my whole body and soul into my passions. Some examples include:
My childhood passion for imagining war situations in play with my friends.
- My interest in the Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts and my need to earn the badges of rank and interests.
- My passion for the sea, the Sea Cadets and the Navy, despite living 1,000 miles inland.
- My passion for learning and reading in university.
- My many collections, for example, of match covers, baseball and ice hockey cards and tin soldiers as a child, or minerals, fossils, antique furniture, artworks and classical music as an adult.
- My passion for travel, history, geography, and a strong desire to write novels since I was a young man in university.
Many turn to sports as a diversion from the drudgeries of life. Others turn to painting or sculpting or composing music as diversions or occupations. And some may write to satisfy their curiosity and need to travel and explore, or to vent a need to create, or voice opinions on aspects of human existence. I belong to that last group. It’s my passion, but it has been a very lonely occupation up to now.
So, as I release the facts and fantasies of my historical fiction novels on the world, will anybody read them? Who knows? I hope so, of course. Why else would I have spent so much of my life writing them? And having this blog will hopefully invite some feedback or questions from my readers and other aspiring writers.