I love to lose myself in a good historical fiction novel (must be why I’ve read every Phillipa Gregory book!) but writing one is even better.
Any excuse to watch Downton Abbey and re-read Gone with the Wind, Of Mice and Men and many others — right? Getting in the mindset of my 1930s detective requires immersion in the media of the time, and a lot of research into what was happening in Europe and the rest of the world.
Thorough research is the 4th of The 7 Reasonable Rules of Writing. Details will differ, according to exactly what our Muse has tasked us with writing: be it historical fiction, fictionalized history, contemporary life, or even fantasy world-building, which must achieve consistency and continuity between its wholly imaginary historical and contemporary aspects. But in general, this is the kind of research that writers should expect to conduct:
Verify vocabulary. Outside of misspellings (including homophones and apostrophe errors), there’s nothing quite so jarring to a reader who’s in the know, than encountering anachronistic or culturally uncharacteristic bits of verbiage. Pay attention to the etymology your dictionary provides, and in particular, the dates. (My 1941 Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary also supplies a helpful “new word” list.)
Sometimes readers quibble over local semantics. Writers who are accustomed to the U. S. cultural and linguistic melting-pot should know that there’s no such thing…
AM: Question 1: Tell us about the character Dillon Carroll – who is he and where did he come from in your imagination?
CP: Oh, gee! I don’t know where Dillon came from. One day I had the inside of my head to myself, and the next day, there he was, unpacking his kit. Dillon is a celebrity journalist and political pundit who is in the latter part of a lengthy career, and whose routine becomes a rout after he encounters an American baby-boomer genealogist, camping at his ancestral farm in one of the Gaeilge-speaking areas of Ireland.
I’m what’s called a “pantser” writer, meaning that I don’t outline or “plot,” so everything that happened to Dillon was a complete surprise to me. He’s one of several characters in Irish Firebrands who carry some serious psychological baggage into relationships that can only get worse before they get better.
AM: Question 2: Your background is so varied and interesting – can you share an anecdote from your years in military intelligence?
CP: Yikes! Ask me an easy one. My last duty station was at the National Security Agency. Contrary to popular belief, NSA really isn’t very interested in little people like you and me. I worked in a large room with no windows, many desks, and a huge world map mounted on one long wall, which was covered with black draperies when anyone whose security clearance was inadequate needed to enter the room. My job had to do with drawing charts and graphs about submarine activity, using
colored pencils. The men who worked that desk would throw away the pencils when they were only half ground down, and when I would come on watch, I’d fish the pencils out of the burn bag in the waste basket, and take them home. By the time I got out of the service and started my family, I had a coffee can full of colored pencils that were just the right size for little kids to use: Spy pencils that got a new lease on life, decorating coloring books.
AM: I love that visual of the pencils getting a whole new life!
AM: Question 3: The Passions of Patriots sounds incredible – what can you tell us about that story you are developing? When can we expect in print?
CP: Oh, wow. Another hard one. The idea for The Passions of Patriots came from a scene in Chapter 30 of Irish Firebrands, when Dillon Carroll learns that his grandfather was in the British Army. The story is partly about Dillon’s paternal grandparents, and their struggles to survive the tumultuous years of the early 20th century, in Ireland and
in Europe. The other main character is a young Bavarian whom Dillon’s grandfather meets on the Western Front. I have most of the interpersonal stuff and about half of the First World War stuff roughed out, but I still have all of the Irish history part to do, so
I’m afraid it’s going to be a while yet, before it sees the light of day. (I write epic-length books.) But I’m almost ready to start a dedicated blog for The Passions of Patriots. Right now it’s piggybacking on the Irish Firebrands blog.
AM: Well I can speak for myself at least – can’t wait till you finish your latest epic venture. Thanks for stopping by Christine!
How about the Delta Aquarid meteor shower instead?
The Southern Delta Aquariids are a meteor shower visible from mid July to mid August each year with peak activity on July 28 or 29 July. The shower originated from the breakup of what are now the Marsden and Kracht Sungrazing comets.
The meteor shower was first recorded by G. L. Tupman in 1870, and was further studied well into 1933. A journalist and astronomer named Ronald A. McIntosh studied the meteor shower in the 1920s, and I think I can therefore extrapolate that Portia Adams, an avid reader, might have come across his articles on the phenomenon.
The viewer/victim would have to be ‘facing South East’ to see the shower (according to this article I found on SpaceDex.com) and would have to be watching before dawn on the 28 or 29th of July.
additional info on lighting
Prompted by the comments below, I’m doing some research today on light pollution and whether it would be possible to see a meteor shower from downtown London in 1931. Here is some helpful data from UK Roads:
“The gradual spread of street lighting across the UK led to the first set of national standards being established during 1927. Due to efficiency and economic constraints, the standards required lighting accompanied by reflectors which would direct all light into a narrow channel in the roadway. This resulted in no uniform illumination of the roadway, causing pavements and large parts of the carriageway to remain unlit. And a large amount of glare where the road was lit!”