When you write historical books, like I do, you have to do a lot of research. Lots of historical writers really enjoy this. They get all excited by finding out what sort of underwear people wore in medieval England (knights wore corsets. And stockings. True fact.)
I don’t, much. I like all the facts that you find out on the way, but when I read, I mostly like to read fiction. If I’m reading non-fiction, I like it to have a story, and I get a bit bored reading books that are mostly full of facts.
This is a problem if you’re writing a book that’s set in the past, like I am now.
Fortunately for me, a really good way to research the past is to read books that were written then. Since I write books for young people, that means I have the perfect excuse to read children’s books that are set in the same time period that I’m writing about. (I’m currently reading ‘The Youngest Girl in the School’ by Evelyn Sharp, which was written in 1909. It is quite bonkers. Our heroine, who’s name is Barbara, is having a big fight over whether she gets to unlace the Head Girl’s boots, or whether her friend Jean does. She gets so upset about this that her five brothers arrive in the middle of the night to carry her away with them. Instead of getting annoyed about this, the headmistress feeds them all cake and is so nice that Barbara decides to stay at school after all.) Can you imagine your headteacher doing that? I can’t.
Another book I’m reading for research is called ‘301 Things A Bright Girl Can Do’, and is a bit like a 1914 version of Alfie Deyes’ Pointless book, or a book like this:
Not so different, right? Kids have been getting bored since far before 1914, and then as now, the liked a lot of the same things: craft, sport, (did you know Edwardian girls learnt ju-jitsu in high school? Well, they did.)
There are a few differences between the things recommended to cure boredom in 1914 and 2014, though. Alongside lessons in how to do woodwork, put on plays, make your own photocopier and press flowers, this book contains detailed instructions on how to cremate yourself alive as a fun Christmas entertainment.