Over the next few weeks things are going to be quite hectic as we get everything ready for our new adventure (in case you missed it, this is where we are heading). There’s an enormous list of things to get done before we leave and only 6 weeks to get it all done! So I apologise in advance if my weekly posts become a little shorter of if I miss a post. I promise to make it all up to you know once we are settled in Hungary and the WiFi is up and running.
However I do have a little something I wanted to share with you all today and this post is inspired by a comment on last week’s post from my grandmother. Last week, I was discussing my plan to become “purposely sidetracked” from writing Lonely Hearts in order to write the story of one of the secondary characters from the planned series, the Hungarian adopted father of Rosie. You see, my reasoning for this is that it would be wonderful to write this character’s story whilst in Hungary, being surrounded by the history and culture of this character’s origin. As a comment on this post, my grandmother reminded me of the words of advice that were given to Josephine March by her friend Professor Bhaer. Professor Bhaer told Jo, an aspiring writer, that she should write what she knows, the result of Jo writing what she knows is her novel My Beth.
Now this got be thinking, what we know can change from one day to the next, as we learn and experience new things. You see, what we know when we are at age five, is very different to what we know at age 25. With regards to writing historical fiction, we will never really “know” the time we are writing about as we never really physically experienced it, however through research “what we know” begins to include knowledge of the past, it may not be 100% accurate (we can never know for sure), but it still eventually forms part of our knowledge base. History leaves behind clues, which historians piece together to try and form a clear picture of the past. For some eras there are many clues which can be pieced together to form quite a clear picture and understanding of the past, for other eras there’s not so many and the picture not as clear.
Now, what I am trying to say is this, whilst Professor Bhaer’s advice to Jo is sound advice, particularly for beginning writers, writing what you know does not have to be limited to your own experiences or perceptions. The “database” of what we know is constantly changing and growing. If you want to write about sixteenth century England for example, don’t be put off by sticking only to writing what you know, change what you know, do the research and make it so life in sixteenth century England is part of what YOU know.When I first started writing Lonely Hearts, I admit I didn’t know an awful lot about 1930s Sydney, so I spent many hours researching everything from clothing, to speech, to everyday living. I admit there is still a lot to learn but life in 1930s Sydney, Australia is most definitely becoming part of what I know. I have always had a passion for history, no matter what the era, I still can explain in detail the family tree of the boy Pharaoh Tutankhamen from my Year 12 Ancient History class, perhaps this is why one of my favourite genres to read is historical fiction.
I am a little familiar with the history of Hungary and also the treatment of the Jewish people in WWI as I began researching this as part of József’s backstory in order to familiarise myself with the character. During the first world war, Hungarian Jews were forced to fight or be labelled as deserters and be put to death, often along with the members of their family as well, this being the driving force of József’s story, his escape from Hungary and his migration to Australia. Whilst I admit that Hungary in the early twentieth century is not a big part of what I know, I fully intend to remedy that through further research, so that when I am writing József’s story I will be able to confidently state that I am writing what I know.
So my advice to fellow aspiring writers is this:
Write what you know and if you want to write something you don’t know then do lots of research!
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