Today on the blog, I’m delighted to welcome fellow Swanwicker Elizabeth M. Hurst to talk about historical setting, and in particular, her Lost Souls series. I bought a copy of Siren Spirit directly from Liz herself at Swanwick, and it’s a cracking read!
Here, she tells us about choosing a setting for your novel, and making it believable…
As historical writers, one question we get asked more than any other is this: which is your preferred historical period?
For me it’s a very difficult question to answer. Quite simply, I don’t have a favourite historical period. I never even enjoyed learning history at school. In fact I dropped the topic as soon as I could. How curious, therefore, that I have found myself writing stories that take place at least partly in a different time period. My mother thinks it’s hilarious!
When I started writing Siren Spirit, the first in the Lost Souls series, I didn’t have in mind much of the historical nature of the book at all (in fact, it started out life as an erotic short story), but there was something about the character of Grace that was nagging at me. I want to explore her back story, a reason for haunting in the contemporary timeline.
And that meant I had to create a believable setting.
I had been researching my family tree some years previously and discovered that I hail from a family of blacksmiths. As a result of this genealogy work I learned a little about the birth of the Industrial Revolution and the building of the canal network, particularly in the Midlands. It seemed natural to make Grace a blacksmith’s daughter.
Her sexuality had already been determined due to the original erotic content, so I chose not to change that; if anything, it gave me her story. Many girls have been married off against their will in the past when they would have preferred the company of another woman, but society’s conventions would not permit it.
At the time I was living in the village of Ettington, outside Stratford-upon-Avon, and so I chose to make the village a blueprint for Fossbury, the fictional village Emma moves to at the beginning of the book. In fact, Ettington has plenty of its own history, some of which provided a ready-made setting for the second book in the series: A Friend in Need.
Writing Siren Spirit was an enormous learning curve, both in writing and publishing, and in learning how to create a setting.
When I moved onto book two, I created the setting before writing a single word of the book. Inspired by the Friends’ Meeting House in Ettington, built in 1684 and still in use today, I researched the period leading up to the Toleration Act of 1689, which finally granted some religious freedom to Quakers and other non-conformist religions.
My current work is a stand alone novel based on the life of a 14th century nun in what is now called Umbria, in central Italy. A whole new period of history, and in a different country to boot. The goal of my writing, however, remains the same: to highlight the plight of women during these times, to tell their stories of struggle in a male-dominated world.
Elizabeth has always been a voracious reader since her preschool years, so perhaps it’s not surprising that when she hit middle age, the urge for a career change brought her into the world of writing.
The Lost Souls series brings together her love of the supernatural together with romance and historical settings to create provocative stories around her central female characters.
She has recently left the world of automotive engineering to concentrate full-time on writing and her freelance editing business, and is making plans to move to the south of France, fulfilling a lifelong dream. She is keeping her fingers crossed that her two cats will forgive her at some point in the future.