All year I’d been looking forward to Pamela Rushby’s historical fiction workshop, writing ‘faction’. Pam did not disappoint. From the very start she had us captivated by her love of history and her joy in writing about the past. Pam has 20 historical fiction novels published, and more on the way, spanning from Ancient Egypt to the swinging 60s.
Why does Pam write historical fiction?
Because of the ‘wow’ factor!
If she’s reading about an historical event or time period, and comes across something that makes her say ‘wow’, then there’s bound to be a story there. Sometimes she ‘trips over’ an interesting photo or place that triggers a wow moment. A photo of a rat catcher and his dog in the Museum of Brisbane was the trigger for her book, The Ratcatcher’s Daughter. A photograph of a ticket office in a theatre in Cairo, being used as an operating room during WW1, was the catalyst for Flora’s War. Walking through a standing stones replica when visiting Glen Innes inspired the story, Circles of Stone.
Pam’s first course of action when a story is triggered by the wow factor is to research. Doing the research is her favourite part. ‘Research is like going treasure hunting.’ I agree, Pam. You never know what you might dig up.
Then it’s a matter of deciding on the angle to take, the point of view to tell the story from. She thinks up her own character and drops them in the middle of the action from the past. The research often drives the plot as she uncovers nuggets of information she just can’t leave out. Like while researching for her novel, The Horses Didn’t Come Home, which was about the last cavalry charge in history, she discovered Howard Carter, the archaeologist who discovered Tutankhamen’s tomb, was in Beersheba at the same time. Her character simply had to meet him.
According to Pam there are many types of historical fiction but these are the three main ones:
Type A: Only the setting is real. Everything else is fictitious. Eg: a story about a boy or girl living in Victorian London.
Type B: Some events may have occurred and some characters may be real. Eg; in her book The Horses Didn’t Come Home, her fictional character meets real people, Banjo Paterson and Howard Carter.
Type C: Is a lot deeper into fiction. There don’t have to be any real events. The character goes back in time and interacts in the past. Also called time slip novels. Eg; a character from today time slips into a period in the past, as in her book Circles of Stone.
Pam’s research time depends on whether or not she has a deadline. A book not commissioned by an editor can take a couple of years to finish, working on it here and there. I don’t know about anyone else, but that makes me feel a whole lot better!
As well as the important pointers on writing ‘faction’, Pam read a scene from her novel, When the Hipchicks Went to War, that brought tears to my eyes. On the other end of the emotional spectrum, hilarity ensued as she had us writing scenes set in Pompeii during the eruption of Mt Vesuvius. Not such a humorous subject in itself, but when Pam had us select at character at random and have them interact with the character of the person next to us, it made for some very interesting stories. We are likely to see several novels published on that event in the near future.
One other benefit of writing historical fiction; it allows you to hang out in museums, libraries, archives and war memorials, while researching facts for stories that entertain and educate. Who wouldn’t want to do that?
Thank you, Pam, for a most entertaining, engaging, and enlightening workshop.