Researching and writing a historical novel

Date: Friday 2nd August 2013

THE speaker at the Cumbrian Literary Group meeting was Sue Millard, a farmer, computing lecturer and author.

After publishing three books, she formed her own company, Jackdaw E Books.

Speaking on the topic “Researching and writing a historical novel”, Sue said her project began in 1993 when a neighbour asked her to transcribe and decipher a letter which had been written in 1835 by her grandfather, William Chaplin, a London coaching magnate.

As Sue’s own grandfather had been a coachman and she herself drove a single-horse carriage, she was inspired to write a novel about coaching, which she set in the year 1835 a time of great change in transport with the coming of the railways.

In the course of her talk, Sue spoke about the tremendous amount of research needed to give authenticity to such a work of fiction.

She told her audience of the invaluable benefit of the Internet, which led her to discover sites and archives she had not known before. Among these was the Royal Mail archive which gave a complete picture of the history of the mail service.

An additional source of help was the Leicester University Archive. Here she found directories for Carlisle which had information about people living at that time details of shops, occupations, stagecoach services and old maps of the city, as well as street maps of London.

In addition, the speaker said she had benefited from reading Dickens and studying the accounts by Henry Mayhew of London life.

Old dictionaries had supplied authentic vocabulary that would have been used in Victorian England.

What revealed the lengths to which this dedicated writer would go was her account of how she managed to set up for herself a ride, suitably attired, in a modern replica of a four-horse stagecoach.

This really showed her what it felt like to travel in the days of the early Victorian age.