I’ve been back from America for two weeks now.
Every year I go across the pond for a month. This time I went via Dublin, and I was away from home for six weeks. Coming home is always nice (tea!) but it does help me to get out of my rut, to experience a different way of life.
So how does that help me write my historical romances?
It’s the getting-out-of-the-mindset thing. Living in the States, especially when I visit friends, watching American TV (like ours, some good, some bad), forces me to look again at the way I live and the things I take for granted. My expectations, in short.
So what would it be like to live in a time when transport was so much more difficult, relatively expensive and time-consuming? When it could take a week to travel from London to your home in Yorkshire? And how about no light at the flick of a switch? Not being able to switch on the TV and find out what is going on in the world?
True, these things were available to me in the US, but other things weren’t. Even something as simple as a meat pie (they have something called a pot pie, but meat pies and pasties are nowhere to be found).
The shift I have to make helps me to understand the practicalities of living in the past. The way my assumptions are shaken encourages me to think again.
When I sit down to write, there are too many things I take for granted. I try to learn the way people acted and thought every day, and sometimes I’ll write an ordinary diary entry for my main characters, before they get caught up in the story. I do my best to make my heroes and heroines people of their time, and not 21st century people, with the same attitudes and thoughts. And yet, we still have a lot in common. Emotions haven’t changed, although the causes might have done. People still feel love, hate, jealousy and anger. I can contact my characters through that, and try to connect them to the readers.
The people of the past didn’t think of themselves as “quaint,” they just lived their lives the best they could. They were different, only because they had different assumptions and expectations, but underneath, they were just the same as us.