Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Making it real

How do you write about the past in an interesting way, full of rich historical detail without sounding didactic? Dorothy Dunnett managed it, Georgette Heyer managed it, Kate Grenville manages it, Jean Auel didn’t really. Lili Wilkinson did it brilliantly for young adult readers.

Scholastic has a fantastic range of historical books for children written as “contemporaneous” diaries. I’ve read several of them and found them fascinating and well written.

I have to find my own voice. Mr Blithe was concerned that the early part of the book that he read tended a bit to the didactic. It was only towards the end of the book that I found a more comfortable style and really got to know my characters so that I could make them speak in realistic ways.

I have a few loose narrative ends to tie up then the first draft is finished. My next task is to go back over the whole book and smooth out the rough bits. Make it more real and less teacherly. I’ve been looking at historical pictures of ships and Brisbane in the 1870s so that I can build up a mental picture that I can in turn transform into words and show through the eyes of the Jaeckels. This wonderful picture of the Lammershagen reminded me how relatively small and dangerous were these ships that crossed the world. Something about the picture simply engenders a feeling of excitement and adventure. I want to bottle that somehow and sprinkle it throughout my book.

Image courtesy of the Queensland State Library

I’ve even had an excuse for playing with Google Earth, sending myself flying around Cape Moreton, through the Bay Islands and up the Brisbane River. I’m telling myself that it’s all only in the interests of research.

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