Tuesday, 3 March 2015

The Pitfalls of Genre Switching


I often read how historical authors should choose their genre carefully. That most writers, even established ones, find it hard to change genre, and are advised to use a pen name to do so.

I am not talking about building an audience, or meeting the expectations of a publisher – what I mean is how difficult is to switch your author voice into that of another time in history?


Once, I couldn’t imagine writing about anything but 17th Century England. I immersed myself in the history, how the court went about its daily business, the clothes, habits, manners and sometimes even the speech. How they moved from place to place, what they ate, the subjects they talked about over the dinner table and the place they occupied in society.


Five years ago, the English Civil War was not the most popular era for historical novel readers, so my novels moved into the early 20th Century. My next book due for release this June is set in 1900. I spent as much time reading about that era as I did my 17th Century ones, and the more I researched, the more I grew to love the atmosphere of the ‘Belle Époque’ age. Now I feel I can visualise the environment of that time; its smells, the objects used every day and how people moved around, spoke and the ideas which shaped their lives.


No problem so far then? Maybe not, however, I have now been asked to revert back to my roots and write a story for a 17th Century anthology being published by a group of authors later this year. I imagined it would be easy, all I have to do is switch heads again into that era - after all I know it so well. 


Several times over the last few weeks I have set out my notes on the main characters of that era, and with my fingers poised over the keyboard, arranged my characters within my chosen scene and waited. And waited.

These characters are the darlings of the Carolean Court. Colourful, flamboyant, outrageous, irreverent, immoral and decadent – whose lives were dominated by their wits and their main weapon was the spoken word - but they have nothing to say. Not one of them - Well that’s not quite true, they do, but in 20th Century voices. They don’t even move right! 

I feel as if I am being punished for having betrayed them and their time - but how do I get them to let me in again? 

4 comments:

Francine Howarth: UK said...

Who did you fall in love with in the 17th century? Look to him for inspiration... I write Georgian & Regency romances, and there's a marked difference in authors and readers perspectives of the Regency as some sort of rose-tinted literary wonderland. It was a raw, in reality, as the 17th century. I love all three periods in history, and write about them. ;)

Anita Davison said...

Good advice Francine - it's strange not being able to 'pick up where I left off' I wasn't expecting it.

Petrea Burchard said...

All I know is to start. Just start. Let it be awful for now. Once you get going you'll be fine, and you get to edit!

Anita Davison said...

Thanks Petrea - getting started now!

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