JP Robinson and I connected when I saw the cover for his new novel In the Shadow of Your Wings. As most of you know, I love war stories and JP’s cover is enticing. I’m delighted to welcome JP today with his take on creating the past for readers.
Resurrect the past by JP Robinson
One of the best parts about being a historical author, is the power to recreate or, as I like to say, resurrect the past. I have conducted workshops on this topic and have a “how to” book called Write History releasing in January of 2019.
Some think that history is dead. They couldn’t be more wrong. Historical authors have the power to bend time itself to our will. With a few well-chosen words, we can have our readers join a swirling mass of colorful dancers, as I did in my novel Bride Tree. Or we can spark a rush of adrenaline as they charge with our characters across no-man’s land, as I did in the epic first installment of my upcoming trilogy, In the Shadow of Your Wings. No matter what the era, our words should be the time machine that conveys an authentic, convincing picture of the past.
This is not an easy job. It takes effort, focus, time and practice. Imagination is not enough. It must be married to thorough research in order to do justice to those whose lives have shaped history.
Every aspect of what I write has been vetted to the best of my ability. For example, I typically take about two days to research names that were popular in the era I’m writing about before naming my characters. Clothing styles, weapons, even family genealogies all come into play as I seek to recreate a world that once existed.
This is what made Bride Tree—an allegorical novel set during the French Revolution—such a fun piece to write. One of my favorite chapters opened up with a detailed description of the Palace of Versailles during a lavish ball. In order to do the scene justice, I employed Google Maps, pored over historical documents about the importance of dance and watched several YouTube clips on current Versailles galas.
But I didn’t stop there. Tracking down Maximilien Robespierre’s family history, and what his relatives had to say about him as a child, enabled me to get a better perspective of the man that unleashed the Reign of Terror.
Beyond developing a character’s personality, historical authors can better resurrect the past by recreating the atmosphere of the given era. Let me explain. My next novel, In the Shadow of Your Wings, is set in England, France and Germany during World War 1. Getting the social atmosphere is critical because it’s going to determine the outlook of the people (my characters) which will, in turn, affect the twists and turns of my plot.
Before starting our research, and also during the first draft process, we authors need to ask ourselves questions that only research can answer. When penning this novel, some key considerations were things like: how did Zeppelin attacks affect Londoners? What was spy mania like in London? Was there, in fact, a credible threat of German espionage?
My job as a historical author, is to convey the feelings that characterized the English and German people not just the facts. Again, imagination is not enough here. I need to read documents, visit websites and read old newspapers to capture the feelings of a generation that lived 100 years ago. So when my protagonist, Leila Durand, confesses to her British father-in-law that she’s actually a German spy, I know what his reaction is going to be.
Beyond online research, personal travel also helps me convey a real world to my readers. As a French teacher, I’ve been to France, so I can write convincingly about its architecture, language and history. Video footage of the trenches let me throw the reader into the heart of it all.
Another tool I use are the details. I love to transport readers by sprinkling in details—some of which I uncover while researching other things. Instead of saying a “rifle”, I’ll use the type of rifle British soldiers commonly employed during the war (a Lee Enfield).
The names of popular songs, pieces of art that perhaps still are recognizable are tidbits that help me take you, the reader, on an unforgettable ride. Couple that all with a powerful, inspirational plot and the result is an enthralling book that I can be proud of writing.
That’s not to say, however, that historical authors can’t bend some aspects of history, especially when writing historical fiction. But in those instances, it’s best to let the reader know that this is alternative history or key in the facts in the Author’s note.
So as you’re biting your nails, turning page after page of one of my historical fiction novels, I hope you’ll be able to pull yourself away from the dialogue, romance and action to appreciate the subtler elements that make the story a “JP Robinson”.
Keep an eye out for all three books in the Northshire Heritage series: In the Shadow of Your Wings (Fall 2018), In the Midst of the Flames (Spring 2019) and In the Dead of the Night (Fall 2019).
In the Shadow of Your Wings by JP Robinson – When the world goes to war, is there really any safe place?
The shadow of the Great War looms over Europe, affecting everyone in its path.
Leila Durand, an elite German spy charged with infiltrating the home of British icon Thomas Steele, sees the war as a chance to move beyond the pain of her shattered past. But everything changes when she falls in love with Thomas’s son, Malcolm. Is there a way to reconcile her love for Germany and her love for the enemy?
Thomas Steele sees the war as an opportunity for his profligate son, Malcolm, to find a purpose greater than himself. But when Malcolm rebels, it falls to Thomas to make tough decisions.
The war’s reach extends to the heart. Eleanor Thompson finds her faith is pushed to the breaking point when her husband disappears on the battlefront and her daughter is killed in a German air raid. Where is God in the midst of her pain? In the Shadow of Your Wings presents inescapable truth that resonates across the past century. Then as now, the struggle for faith is real. Then as now, there is a refuge for all who will come beneath the shadow of God’s wings.
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M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, Nook, Kobo, Google Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.