I’d like to welcome, Angela Elliot to Layered Pages today to talk with me about her writing in the Historical Fiction genre and why it is important to her. Angela was born in Derby, but grew up in Reading and Stratford on Avon. She studied Fine Art at Trent Polytechnic. Her first job was as a layout and paste-up artist on journals and magazines. Her first piece of writing was for the BBC World Service programme Global Concerns.
Actor Stewart Bevan taught Angela how to write scripts and introduced her to Stanley Kubrick’s assistant, Producer Norrie Maclaren. She went on to write with Hollywood Producer Bernie Williams, Director Lewis Gilbert’s son, John Gilbert, and with maritime historian, Stephen Walters, who had worked with David Lean.
The novel Some Strange Scent of Death was published by Whittles Publishing in 2005. It tells the story of the disappearance of the Flannan lighthouse keepers in 1900.
In May 2014 Angela was interviewed for a Discovery Channel documentary on the Flannan Isles mystery. It was first aired in the States on 19th August and in the UK on 16th September 2014.
The Finish, the progress of a murder uncovered, is book one in the Venus Squared series. Published by Crux Publishing Ltd, it tells the story of 18th century Covent Garden prostitute Kitty Ives, who is must solve a murder or face death on the gallows.
What are the periods of history focused on for your writing?
I focus on the 18th century because I have long written for this period on screen and I know it pretty much inside out. However, I’m not limited to this period. For instance, I’m presently researching something set in the Elizabethan era.
Why Historical Fiction?
A few years ago I had to make a decision as to which way my writing was going. Did I want to continue to work on ideas as they came up, or did I want to ‘brand’ myself and stand a better chance at keeping my fanbase? When I looked back over everything I’d written it was predominately historical fiction. I chose to jettison those ideas that were not historical in nature and focus on my big project, which is the Venus Squared series of novels, set in the 1760s/1770s.
When did you know you wanted be a HF writer?
I didn’t ‘know’ as such. It just transpired that my focus was on history.
How much time do you spend on research? What sources do you use?
Because I’ve written about the period for film and TV for a long time now, I have kind of internalised the period. I try where possible to do only first source research. It feels pointless going to books that are a mishmash of the facts, when you can read the actual documents. I visit museums, and will frequently find an ‘expert’, either at a museum or collection, or at a university and ask them what I need to know. For instance, I needed to know which weapons were carried on the street in the 1760s. The Curator of the armoury at the Wallace Collection (which has an enviable collection of arms and armour) let me go behind the scenes and handle the actual weapons that would have been used.
What do you feel is the importance of historical fiction?
I explore the way people survive in difficult circumstances or when faced with trauma. The theme that runs through my work is survival. Historical fiction enables people to connect with the past.
Who are your influences?
I try not to be influenced by other authors. I don’t think it’s helpful to compare or emulate. I will read anything and everything, although time constraints prevent me from reading for pleasure as much as I would like. I am more influenced by film because I am a scriptwriter, first and foremost, and because film (and theatre) is the natural successor to the oral storytelling tradition. Writing it all down came later. At the moment, I’m rereading Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones.
How much fiction (in your opinion) is best to blend with historical facts?
You must have your facts correct if you are going to tell any story with an historical setting. After that, the plot is everything. You cannot tell a story that takes liberties with the period and the facts and call it history. That said, if you over burden your story with facts you risk losing your reader.
What are the important steps in writing HF?
Research, research, and then more research. Really, you can’t do enough. Then work your plot out and don’t play hard and fast with the facts.
What must you not do writing in this genre?
The balance between writing for the modern reader and writing in keeping with the time, so that it doesn’t feel fake, is a difficult one. Personally, I abhor modern language in an historical story. I think you have to make some attempt to make it feel real. However, that doesn’t mean you have to start mimicking Anglo Saxon speech patterns, or writing like Chaucer or Shakespeare. For me though, don’t have women fainting all over the place or being overcome because some Darcy or other has walked past. Don’t write cheese.
Twitter – @anjgi
Links to books
The Finish – Amazon US
The Finish – Amazon UK
Some Strange Scent of Death – Amazon US
Some Strange Scent of Death – Amazon UK
The Remaining Voice – Amazon US
The Remaining Voice – Amazon UK