It was Christmas Day in 1860 and Lincoln, newly elected president but yet to be inaugurated, was at home in his reception room in Springfield, Illinois. The town was busy. Christmas was not a public holiday. He was trying to cope with a mountain of mail and a constant flow of visitors who were mostly there for their own interests rather than his. South Carolina had seceded five days ago. Civil War loomed, although the first shot wouldn’t be fired until the spring. Amongst the gifts he...
History is an escape, historical fiction arguably more so. Today, let’s stick to the factual and I’ll whisk you away from the culminating frenzy that is the US Presidential Election, away from voter suppression and a partisan press, to 1864, a time of honour and common decency in the conduct of a fratricidal civil war; a time of extreme crisis. Thousands of enlisted Americans were dying on the battlefields and in the army hospitals every week but, what do you know, it was an election year.
I’ve been away. For the last two weeks or so I’ve been sightseeing in Nashville…in 1864. It’s been great. I visited the Tennessee State Capitol, completed just five years back. I took in a show, The Married Rake at the New Nashville Theatre and downed a few drinks afterwards. I tried some of the street food: buttered corncob, apple cake and deep-fried pickle. It’s a cold November though, and there are more soldiers on the streets than civilians. The barricades are guarded. The forts...
It’s an odd experience, launching a novel. Maybe more so in a time where you can’t collect like-minded people in a church hall and spend an hour or two putting your new book, and yourself, in the glow of a small spotlight - real or imagined. Most of our crowds have become virtual. How strange it would be to try and make my nineteenth century characters understand that in today’s world we can gather and yet not be together.
How does writing a second book compare to writing the first? I’m beginning to build awareness of my second novel, The Copper Road, in advance of its release on July 26th, and one Goodreads follower has already posed this question. It’s got me thinking. Has it been easier or harder? Did I approach it differently? Do I like my second novel more than my first?
The truth is though, people do. In the same way we judge a plate of food before we taste it, a house by a front door, a company by a logo. Heck, when out walking my impeccably well-behaved Golden Doodle, Duffy (see The Dog Days of April) I’ll judge a dog from 80 yards by the tilt of its owner’s hat and reroute accordingly.
I never met Colonel Samuel Emerson Opdycke, but I’d like to say he’s a friend of mine. Earlier this month I wrote a piece for Georgia based Historical-Fiction.com about a writer’s dilemma when it comes to representing history within fiction. It prompted me to think a little deeper about the particular ‘relationship’ I form with historical figures. To be frank, it’s all a little one-sided.
As I see it, there are two principal reasons to study the past: for the safe, godlike pleasure derived from immersing yourself in another time, and to learn lessons that might inform us in the present. Particularly in respect of the latter, any representation of the past therefore needs to be approached with care.