Thursday 30 May 2019

A Salute To Those Who Do Their Research . . .

I've been reading some Historical Fiction recently - Judith Arnopp to be more specific. Next on my reading list is the 'The Kiss of the Concubine' which is an Anne Boleyn story, but the one I've just finished is the 'Intractable Heart', which is the story of Katheryn Parr (you'll be amazed how many different ways you can spell Katheryn/Kathryn/Catherine. Seems Henry VIII was working his way through them all).

I've read other historical fiction authors - Philippa Gregory comes to mind - but out of everything I've read, I've not come across one that tells the story of the 'wife that survived', and I found it really interesting. When people talk about HenryVIII, the mind automatically moves to the tales of Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn - occasionally Jane Seymour, the mother of Edward VI - as these have always been the more popular stories, but the other three wives are less mentioned, as if the notion of  'yet another new wife' grew tiresome and their stories less worthy. But they're far from that and I do love a bit of history.

One thing I do have to praise these authors for is their dedication to research. All writers need to do their research, regardless of what their working on. If you delved into my recent Google search history, which I don't recommend, you'll randomly find lots of articles on how to slit someone's throat. No, I'm not secretly planning on changing my career to one more gruesome. This occurs in my recent piece, and even through it sounds like a simple enough thing to write about, believe me, it's not when you have to consider the damage involved. And unless you have experience in this kind of thing - which I DON'T - then research is needed.

Writing historical fiction can be a dangerous thing. Everything needs to be spot on and accurate, and you only get a tiny amount of creative licence. Stories told in a modern setting are easier as we already know the mundane stuff needed, but for historical fiction, research is imperative. Having a chambermaid walk into the bathroom to find Henry VIII standing against a porcelain urinal isn't going to work, even if you call it Genuine Tudor Porcelain. It's a nope. Catching a cook stealing some leftover food and heating it in the microwave? Again, nope. I know these are obvious things but you get my point. It's the little details like this that can make or break historical fiction, the details of the Queen's dresses, the specific name for a hat, what they use to ease a headache or treat a wound, and to avoid screaming reviews of inaccuracies from readers, you need to do a copious amount of research.

I write dark fantasy and horror - hence the throat slitting thing. You get a lot more creative leeway with these genres, but you still need to do a lot of research. Many fantasy stories hold a historical element, usually medieval. We get characters riding across the lands on horseback, carrying heavy swords or huge axes that have seen more deaths than the grim reaper. So, travelling characters, what do they eat? How do they cook? What do they use as shelter at night along their way? Their weapons; how were they forged? How do the keep them sharp after slicing numerous heads off? For this we draw on history, and it has to hold some element of realism for the reader to be able to connect, to believe.
I find this historical research interesting, and often do find myself getting carried away, reading much more than is needed. But there is a drawback reading into history, and this is why I say 'History should come with a Spoiler Alert'. You know the end to the book you're reading before you get there. History has told you that. Still, we all enjoy the journey getting there, be it factual or fictional.

So to those who have to do a copious amount of research to keep those annoying inaccuracies away, I salute you. A job well done!

Thursday 2 May 2019

Lore - Rope & Railing . . .

I've recently started listening to a podcast called 'Lore'. It's a series that covers folklore around the world and unexplainable history. Each episode provides a scary story that shows, as they say, the 'dark side of human nature'. Me being me, I quickly become addicted to listening to it and am slowly working my way through past episodes of the entire podcast.

One episode in particular struck me, episode 23 - Rope and Railing. It's one of those tales that doesn't really show the dark side of human nature as much as it does sheer bad luck. It takes place around Smalls Lighthouse on a rocky island off the shores of Prembrokeshire, Wales, UK. The original lighthouse was built between 1775 - 1776, but one grisly episode in 1801 brought about a revision in the whole lighthouse policy.

Thomas Howell and Thomas Griffth made a two-man team who run the lighthouse, ensuring it was lit every night for months at a time. The pair never really got along, and were often seen arguing when they come home to the mainland. The state of their relationship was common knowledge, so it was understandable that when Griffth died in a tragic accident on the island, Howell was concerned it might look like murder. He considered throwing the body in the sea but knew this wouldn't bode well for him, so kept Griffth in their room until the smell of his decompostion got too much. Howell then went about gathering what wood he could, from floorboards to pieces of furniture, and made his colleague a makeshift coffin. He then placed this outside and strung it up to the railing with rope.

He didn't foresee the storm that hit soon after. The waves battered the island, smashing the coffin to pieces, but the body become entangled in the ropes that was supposed to hold it secure, and as the storm abated, Griffth remained hanging from the railings right outside the window. Howell, unable to retrieve the body, had no choice but to spend the next four months alone on the island, watching his colleague decompose outside. When he was finally retrieved from the island, he was a shadow of his former self. He said the way Griffth was hanging from the railing made it look like he was continuously beckoning to him, with his arm swinging in the wind, driving him crazy.

The coastguard said that numerous times within the span of those four months, they rowed out to the island to check the pair were ok, and always saw the figure of one of them standing against the railing, waving to them to let them know all was good, so, satisfied, they turned around and rowed back home. Poor Howell. Talk about bad luck.

After this, the lighthouse policy was changed so that no fewer than three men should be present at all times.

I'm eagerly listening for more interesting tales to come...