I recently came across a book published by the wonderful Persephone Books, a novel, published in 1911. The title is No Surrender by Constance Maud, and about the suffragettes. The author played a significant part in the Votes for Women movement and states that although the characters are fictitious, every event and detailed description is absolutely true. By the end of the novel I had recognised who some of the women really were. It’s a book which made me angry, sad, and had me in tears by the end – and I rarely cry over films and books.
By the end of the novel the leading characters see a glimmer of light that women are on the brink of getting the vote, but as we now know, they were still many years away.
My debut book, Annie’s Story (out on 20 April!) begins in 1913. Annie does sometimes muse on the unfairness of women not having any say in law-making, but as this debate was not really crucial to my story, I only mentioned it in passing. Annie would have been aware of it, but because she’s a housemaid, she isn’t able to go to any of the daytime suffragist meetings. And then she goes to Australia, where women have had the vote for twenty years.
However, it shows that when writing fiction, particularly historical, it’s really important to be aware of what is going on in the world around your characters. They can’t live in a vacuum you’ve created. Events happen. They don’t have to be major calamities but it does help if your reader would have heard of them. It’s bound to have some kind of effect on your characters’ attitudes, beliefs, dreams etc. and to the reader it will seem far more natural if these are underpinned by something more tangible.
This is where archived newspapers come into their own, and with the internet you don’t even have to trawl into London. Just tap in British Newspaper Archive (it’s in partnership with the British Library) to tell you what was happening in the period you’re writing in. Obviously, there’s a limit to how far back you can go!
Annie’s Story by Fenella Forster will be published 20 April 2015
Available for pre-order on Amazon (ebook and paperback)