Friday, May 9, 2014

THE CHALLENGES OF WRITING IN ANOTHER SUB-GENRE

We welcome Henriette Gyland who tells about her move from contemporary fiction to historical and back...


Nobody decides to write a historical novel without having a love of history, and it was that love which prompted me to write The Highwayman’s Daughter, after having previously published two contemporary novels. Despite my enthusiasm, the shift from contemporary suspense to historical adventure was not without its fair share of challenges, mainly due to the amount of research involved. The things we take for granted in our contemporary society just… weren’t there.
There was no central heating, no supermarkets, no NHS, no flushing loos. You could’t pop out for a Starbucks, watch the game on TV, or travel from London to Bath in under two hours, and neither can your characters. Yet they still need warmth, food, sanitation, health care, entertainment etc. because people are essentially the same whatever world they inhabit.
 
First, the setting. Hounslow Heath, a dark and desolate place with the occasional gibbet displaying the decaying remains of some unfortunate person hanged at Tyburn, and notorious for the number of hold-ups taking place there. Yet this pot-holed track was the only road from London to fashionable Bath. Today very little is left of the Heath, with a large part of it buried underneath one of the Heathrow runways (hence the name).
The action takes place in 1768 in the town of Hounslow and surrounding area. Today Hounslow is a part of London, but in 1768 it was a village several miles out and the first coaching stop on the journey to Bath. I found myself poring over old maps, researching into road (and weather) conditions, finding out more about coaching inns and coach travel in general, as well as the town itself which at the height of the coaching era sometimes had more horses in it than people!
Then there were the buildings mentioned in the novel, one of which was Newgate Prison in London. The prison appears in a number of novels by Charles Dickens, but that was no real help because this was a rebuild of an older prison that burned down in 1780 during the Gordon Riots. I turned to Peter Ackroyd’s Biography of London for information on the earlier one.
For the clothes people wore, and how they lived, a trip to the Victoria & Albert Museum proved incredibly useful, and ditto several visits to John Soane’s house on Lincoln’s Inn Fields, and the Museum of London. The food people ate was another real challenge, but I managed to track down some Georgian recipes and even try out one or two!
As for sanitation and the health of the population, one doesn’t have to travel very far back in time to discover how, more often than not, people died from complaints and illnesses which are curable today, at least in the western world. My son was astounded when I explained that the Spanish flu in 1918 claimed more lives than the whole of WW1 put together. (“You can die from flu?!”)
These were just some of the challenges involved.
Finally, regarding my career as an author, there is always a risk when switching from one genre to another that you may lose some of your readers, but I hope there’s enough mystery and suspense in The Highwayman’s Daughter to keep the fans interested. Sometimes you just have to go where the story takes you, and perhaps it will reassure those readers that I intend to continue to write both types of books!

The Highwayman's Daughter:

Is it a crime to steal a heart?
Hounslow, 1768. Jack Blythe, heir to the Earl of Lampton, is a man with great expectations. So when his carriage is held up by a masked woman, brandishing a pistol and dressed as a gentleman of the road, he wholly expects to have his purse stolen. And when he senses something strangely familiar about the lovely little bandit, Jack also expects to win his cousin’s wager by tracking her down first.
But as Jack and the highwaywoman enter into a swashbuckling game of cat and mouse, uncovering an intricate web of fiercely guarded family secrets, the last thing Jack expects to have stolen is his heart.


Henriette grew up in Denmark but moved to England after graduating from university. She has worked as a translator for 22 years and spent 3 of those translating novels for Mills & Boon.
 She started writing 15 years ago, just for fun, and her third novel, “The Highwayman’s Daughter”, a historical adventure, will be published by Choc Lit on the 7th May 2014.


Twitter: @henrigyland

Thank you, Henriette, 


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9 comments:

Rosemary Gemmell said...

This novel sounds as exciting as your others, Henri! I also enjoy writing in the present and the past so it's good to find other writers who do this.

Henriette said...

Glad to know it isn't just me switching back and forth in time, and I know I'm very lucky to have a publisher who doesn't mind :-)

angela britnell said...

Interesting to hear how you went about writing the new book. I'll think of it when I fly into Heathrow next week - I'd never given a thought as to where it got its name!

Beverley Eikli aka Beverley Oakley said...

I'll be really interested to watch you continue this 'dual' writing life. It's exactly what keeps me interested in my writing. I think that as long as the writer loves what they're writing, then it shows on the page and their readers will continue to love ALL their stories.

Margaret Kaine said...

Really interesting to read this Henri, especially about the painstaking research you did. I look forward to reading The Highwayman's Daughter, as I love historical romantic novels. I think I've learned as much about history from reading fiction as I ever did in the classroom!

Henriette said...

Angela - I didn't know that's where the airport got its name from either, but I suppose when one thinks about, it seems obvious, as with so many other place names.

Beverley - I like the idea of living a "dual life". Think you might have set me onto another subgenre now... ;-)

Margaret - I'm a little worried I might be talking to the converted here, but I hope you enjoy the book!

Cara Cooper said...

Looking forward to reading it Henri, writing historicals is fascinating but it's so easy to get sidetracked by the research, it's so time consuming and so interesting. The trick I guess is not to loose sight of the story in the process. Congratulations on finishing your book, I'm sure it won't be your only historical.

LizB said...

It is fun doing the research, isn't it? Sounds like you really enjoyed it. I love immersing myself in the past in research, and too often forget about the book! Welcome to the historical club, and I write contemporaries too. Highwayman's daughter sounds terrific and you've sold me.

Henriette said...

Cara and Liz - Yes, I really did enjoy immersing myself in the research, but I also really enjoyed writing the book, and it definitely won't be the last historical from me. I'm hoping for THD to be the first in a trilogy, and have already planned the 2nd in the series. But in the meantime I'm working on another contemporary.