One can’t help but look back, at this time of the year, not just over the past twelve months but to re-assess where one stands in the world at this very moment.
For most of us in the West, it is not a scary place. We can peep out from our safe havens and wonder where we will go next, and most of us won’t worry too much about it.
Certainly for most of this year I have spent hiding inside my computer screen. It’s like disappearing into Alice’s looking glass, with the added advantage that, with a click of the mouse the curser brings me post-haste back to the chaos of the room I laughingly call my office.
I have been seriously working on my novel for almost two years now. Without the Web, it would be impossible to get a decent degree of authenticity, and I have found it has become important for me to be as accurate as possible. I am dreading some descendant of one of my characters coming along and giving me a dressing-down because I have misrepresented an ancestor.
Who can tell what the protagonist was feeling at that very moment? No one, of course, but for me it is important to get the details right. The thrilling side of writing, however, is that you can weave this together with your own magic. Imagine how the woman, whose husband has been thrown into goal, would have felt when she had to say “goodbye” to her son at the gates of the “Poor House”, because women and men were kept separate.
It is no wonder they didn’t hug and kiss very much, considering there was no such thing as deodorant, and they bathed once in a blue moon. These conditions are difficult for us to imagine. I do remember, as a child, quite liking the smell of most people. Perhaps there has been a change in our eating habits.
Can you imagine a life without fridges, freezers and running hot water? That was my world up until I was about nine years old; before we had very basic electricity. Mum used to plug the iron into the light fitting. Many a time it would go off with a flash and a bang, and she would have to stretch a new piece of fuse wire across the board. I was fifteen years old before we had a fridge, and twenty before a freezer was installed. I was still using a pan-lavatory until I was fifteen! Heaven forbid! It’s not so much sitting there which is a problem, but who has to clean it out!
I pointed out to one of my neighbours, around the time of the last election, that if the country ever did go bankrupt, had she thought how it would be, waking up one morning to no gas, no electricity and no food in the co-op? It is quite a thought. I wonder if we would see a fall in panic attacks and other stress related conditions, or would they increase?
So, that’s where I am at the moment, half way between two worlds, and on the whole loving them both. With a little tweaking I think we can get it right (both the novel and the world)!
One of the reasons for writing this book is to give my grandchildren some idea of what it was really like for those living in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. I was brought up in a small village in Leicestershire and the earlier years were not so much different from those enjoyed by the Victorians, the mandate being the same, as I remember.
It does give food for thought, unearthing the old debate about the “Good Old Days”. Any ideas on that will be welcomed.
Meanwhile, I’ll continue to have my gas boiler serviced, and my fridge and freezer stocked, whilst disappearing into the WWWdot, for my daily fix, whilst keeping my eyes open for a sighting of daffodils and tulips.
Stay warm and keep that pen going!
How do you ensure when you’re writing about the past that the modern world doesn’t infringe on your writing? I would be interested to see your comments.