Today I am so pleased to welcome Megan Reddaway to Joyfully Jay. Megan has come to talk to us about her latest release, A Position In Paris. She has also brought along a great giveaway. Please join me in giving her a big welcome!
Writing Historical Fiction: Paris in 1919
“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there,” as L.P. Hartley famously wrote in the first line to a novel. However, it’s a foreign country that we can’t visit. So if we’re not remembering our own childhood, as Hartley’s character was, how do we know what different things they did?
When you think about it, almost all of our ideas about the past come from stories. I don’t mean just fiction and movies, but histories written either immediately after the events or much later, diaries, people telling us things they remember—all of these are stories in one way or another.
The other thing we have is physical evidence: photographs, paintings, the buildings that are still standing, archeological finds. But even with these we tend to build a story. We wonder what Mona Lisa was smiling about, or imagine people going about their daily lives as we walk around the ruins of an old castle. Well, I do, anyway. I think most writers would, and a lot of readers, too.
So when we write historical fiction, of course we want to check the facts, but we’re limited in how we can do that. There are some things we can easily verify: for example, buildings. I remember reading about a Paris-based historical novel set, I think, in the early 19th century, which had the characters climb the Eiffel Tower. A lot of people assume the Eiffel Tower is very old, but it wasn’t built until the 1880s, in fact. So that was something the author could easily have checked.
For my new book A Position in Paris, set in 1919, I used a map of Paris in 1920 which I found online, to make sure I didn’t refer to any streets that weren’t built or were differently named at the time. I trusted there wouldn’t have been many changes in one year, and I trusted that the map was genuine … and I only just thought of that last issue, so I hope I was right!
I read about the history of telephones, automobiles, and elevators (was it likely or possible that my wealthy World War One veteran, James, would have an elevator in his apartment building?—answer, yes), the Paris theatres, the Anglican church in Paris (which has a chaplain, not a rector or a vicar as I first assumed), the Ritz hotel, the theatres that existed and how big they were, and a ton of other facts.
But way more important was having a feel for the atmosphere of Paris in and after World War One, and that came from stories I’d read. The situation of the disabled army officer and his secretary was in a story by Elinor Glyn which was published in 1922, although the secretary in her story is a woman, and mine is a man. Her book was set a year earlier, in the spring of 1918, before the Spanish flu epidemic, when the war was still being fought and Paris was under bombardment–nothing like the bombings of World War Two, but still frightening to the population of the time.
I also read Marcel Proust a few years ago. His massive novel is set over a bigger time frame, but the last volume describes Paris during the war, and the whole novel is about the social attitudes of that time. That was more of an unconscious influence—to the extent that in the first draft, James’s close French friend was called Marcel. I changed it as soon as I realized, and he’s now Claude!
We can’t be sure how things might have been done in the past, but I think when we’re writing historical fiction we have a responsibility to show they were different, and give readers the best window on that “foreign country” that we can.
Megan Reddaway’s novel A Position in Paris was published on August 20th.
Paris, 1919. World War One is over, and wounded hero James Clarynton is struggling to face life without one leg, one eye, and the devilish good looks he had before the conflict. Now he must pay for affection, and it leaves him bitter. He’s filling the time by writing a book—but it’s the young man who comes to type it who really intrigues him.
Edmund Vaughan can’t turn down the chance to be secretary to the wealthy James Clarynton. He’s been out of work since the armistice, and his mother and brother depend on him. But he has secrets to hide, and the last thing he wants is an employer who keeps asking questions.
As they work together, their respect for each other grows, along with something deeper. But tragedy threatens, and shadows from the past confront them at every turn. They must open their hearts and trust each other if they are to break down the barriers that separate them.
A heartwarming romance with some dark moments along the way.
MEGAN REDDAWAY lives in England and has been entertained by fictional characters acting out their stories in her head for as long as she can remember. She began writing them down as soon as she could.
Since she grew up, she has worked as a secretary, driver, barperson, and article writer, among other things. Whatever she is doing, she always has a story bubbling away at the same time.
For news of Megan’s gay romance releases and two free stories, visit her website: http://meganreddaway.com
Megan has brought a great tour wide giveaway. Just follow the Rafflecopter below to enter.
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