On Hist Fic Saturday I am thrilled to welcome Historical Fiction writer
Nicola Pryce to talk about why she writes historical fiction.
Thank you so much Jo, I’m delighted to join your Saturday Author Blog.
Why I write Historical Fiction.
I can’t pin the place, but I can pin my age: I was ten, standing in front of a portrait in a National Trust house. I was in the junior department of a boarding school in Kent. My father’s job had taken us from the US, to Baghdad, and now to Rome and my parents wanted me to have British schooling.
The lady next to me is my aunt, Miss Dorothy Johnstone-Hogg, a scary lady who petrified me. Later, I realised how lucky I was to have such a formidable aunt. I completely adored her. She had a first class degree in history from Bedford College, worked in Bletchley Park as a code breaker, and taught in Egypt. She was head of history at the school, had permed hair, thick glasses, wore bright red tights, and carried a red cushion wherever she went. Like all good teachers, she had a passion for her subject and communicated this love to all her students.
I spent half terms with her, and once over the embarrassment of having people join us, thinking she was the guide, I loved our visits to National Trust houses. She would stand under carefully chosen portraits and tell me, not only who the person was, but their political leanings, who they had married, who their off-spring had married. She would tell me who was on the throne, who was the first minister, all of which went happily over my head. But then we got to the good part when we pretended to be the people in the portraits…Imagine the feel of that silk dress…being pinched in so tight… those dainty shoes, and so would start a happy discussion on what the lady was thinking, what she was hiding in her hand, which young man awaited her in the shrubbery, and for the rest of the day I would be that lady – or the child with the dog, or the seamstress sewing by candlelight.
Aunt Dodo, as I called her, introduced me to her favourite novels and if my love of historical fiction was not actually in my DNA, I was to be hard-wired for life. I devoured books. We had no television and strictly regulated viewing at school, so books became my escape. I read everything I could lay my hands on, historical novels my favourite, with Jane Austen topping the list.
I did English for A level but chose nursing as my career. Biology fascinated me – running through the shrubbery in long petticoats and satin slippers was all very well, but my black lace-up shoes were planted firmly on the ground. Forty years later, with an Open University degree in Humanities behind me, I was to heed the advice of one of my patients – it’s not what you do that you regret, but what you don’t do. I had long wanted to write a novel and knew I must seize the opportunity. Even as I flirted with other genres, I knew I must write from my heart – about what I loved, for whom I loved.
I had no thought my book would be published. I wrote it for my children, now in their thirties. I wanted to slip the finished manuscript into their Christmas stockings so they could catch a glimpse of my childhood, of Aunt Dodo, and the books I had devoured; a sense of going full circle – the child I had been, reflected in the adult I had become. I would base the story in Cornwall where we sailed, and set it in the late eighteenth century, my favourite period of history.
So, in a way, I didn’t choose to write historical fiction, it chose me. But once started, I realized how much I loved the research. I might send my characters off on crazy, hair brained adventures, but it has to be authentic and accurate, everything based on what was there – that lane, that inn, that shipyard. I need to hold primary sources in my hands, read the letters, see the accounts the shipwrights actually wrote.
I think that’s the draw. The fear of getting it wrong, the absolute delight of finding the exact document or letter needed to drive my story forward. My characters are born from these primary sources, from the books I’ve read, and from the portraits I study. I’m still that ten year old child, gazing at the beautiful woman, wondering what it was like to wear expensive jewels, a turban with such fine feathers. Thank goodness, I’m not practical anymore – far from it. I’ve come full circle; I’m back to the romantic dreamer always in trouble for reading in lessons, to the girl crying her eyes out, expelled from orchestra for reading the last few pages of Gone with the Wind.
Nicola Pryce trained as a nurse at St Bartholomew’s Hospital in London. She studied for a degree in Humanities with the Open University and lives in the Blackdown Hills in Somerset. She is a qualified adult literary volunteer and when she isn’t writing, she’s probably scrubbing decks on a boat somewhere on the south coast of Cornwall where her books are set.
Out now in paperback
Published by Corvus
|Expected publication 2018|
Warmest thanks to Nicola for sharing her love of historical fiction with us today.
My hist fic author next month is ....John R. McKay
My hist fic author next month is ....John R. McKay