A while back Aliya commented on her admiration for writers of historical fiction. My reading in the genre is not very broad or deep, although I have read a fair amount of popular history books, mainly layman’s books about general notable events, or specific to periods or themes I’m interested in, pre- and Roman-Britain and the Dark Ages and the controversy surrounding the Roman and Saxon ‘invasions’ (See the works of Francis Pryor et al in books like Britain BC and Britain AD, The Year Zero) and pre-history and the mystery of ancient civilisations (the fanciful work of authors like Graham Hancock’s Fingerprints of the Gods and related titles such as The Ashes of Angels). But history books differ from fiction, in that they fail to give details of the everyday.
My only dabblings with the genre include a Victoriana horror I adapted slightly for a steampunk anthology that now looks unlikely to be published, and a tale written in response to Aliya’s challenge to write something out of character: a Victorian romance. I’ve visited enough National Trust properties, seen enough period dramas and knew enough about
What I would really love to be able to do however, is write a novel on my fairly new pet project, The Peasant’s Revolt. It appears Alis Hawkin’s Testament may be a good place to start in looking for current fiction dealing with roughly the right time period, but near-contemporary works, barring Chaucer, are a little hard to come by.
An obvious key scene for the novel, were I to choose to work with the most famous peasant of them all, John ‘Wat’ Tyler, would be the alleged catalyst for the revolt, where a poll tax collector, following Tyler’s wife’s assurance that her daughter was under the fourteen years at which age a person would be taxed, ‘offered to convince her she was old enough in a very rude manner’ according to John Harris’ History of Kent (1719).
So let’s try the start of that scene. First we need a name for the wife. Lisa? Was Lisa in use in fourteenth century
Okay. Let’s go with that:
Lizzie was in the kitchen.
Hm. Kitchen. Would a fourteenth century serf’s home have a kitchen? I don’t know. People didn’t still live in roundhouses then, but was the house separated into rooms? Have to look that one up. Will tag that as needing some research.
Lizzie was in the kitchen [check] preparing the family’s meal of… of what?
Mutton? Sounds about right to my twenty-first century ear, but would poor serfs crippled by the poll tax have money for meat or feed for their own livestock? Perhaps they were more likely to be eating cabbage or porridge. No potatoes either of course. No chips. Possibly there could have been very small fish or eels from the river if they were living at
Lizzie was at home preparing the family’s meal.
I can’t go wrong with that right? But would she have been preparing the family’s meal when the tax collector was working? Did they get to eat at such regular intervals? Would
I guess what I’m trying to say is I agree with Aliya. Accurate historical novelists deserve our respect, admiration and envy. If any can enlighten me on how they would go about writing this scene, I’d be interested to know. Is several years of research required before embarking on such a project, or is a very sketchy draft produced and the innumerable cracks and gaping chasms of information filled during the re-write?