Carole Wilkinson’s latest book, Stargefright, is a bit of a departure for her. She’s known for her historical novels set in ancient china (Dragonkeeper series) and Egypt (Ramose series), but this book is set in a contemporary high school. How different was it to write? Well… Carole has written a guest blog post on just that topic. Take it away, Carole…
Writing the past and the present
By Carole Wilkinson
Stagefright is my latest book and it’s the only book I’ve written that is set in the here and now. It’s about some high-school students putting on a musical version of of Shakespeare’s Richard the Third.
Most of my books are set in historical times. People have asked me if it’s different writing a contemporary story. I get the impression they assume it must be a lot easier. No research, right? Well, not exactly. There is research, but it’s different. Writing modern teenage speech is scary. I had to listen in to conversations on the tram (managed to avoid getting arrested for stalking!). I quizzed teenage children of friends for current ways to insult people (my characters do that a lot).
Writing dialogue for a modern audience involves a balance. I imagine kids reading a modern story are more critical. I wanted it to sound current, but on the other hand I didn’t want it to be outdated before it hit the bookshops. So after writing the dialogue, I went back and modified it, trying not to overdo it.
And there’s always other research that needs to be done. I read Richard the Third about five times so that I could get to know it well enough to adapt the story for my purposes. And then I had to write song lyrics based on it! I also had to find out about current high-school curriculum and create a weekly timetable for my students.
When writing Stagefright, I felt more of a sense of responsibility to readers as far as morals and ethics were concerned. There are quite a few really gruesome scenes in my historical novels, and I didn’t worry about them, and I’ve never had a single complaint. The Ancient China of my Dragonkeeper books is distant in time as well as place. I don’t believe kids think of the events that happen in those books as being all that relevant to themselves. But I wrote a scene for Stagefright that hinted at sexual assault, and I took it out. I wasn’t at all comfortable with it.
People assume I do a lot of research for my historical novels, and most of the time I do. I’m currently writing the fifth book in the Dragonkeeper series, and to be honest this one is not requiring me to do a lot of research. It follows on immediately after Blood Brothers so it’s set in the same time of political chaos known as the Sixteen Kingdoms era. I can rely on the research I did for the previous book, and in any case, there was no central government, in fact little government at all, so it’s a period that has left little trace. It’s also not an era that has attracted a lot of historians to publish glossy books, or even papers for academic journals, so the amount of material to research is minimal.
This means I have more freedom to make “novelistic conjecture”. I love this term. I heard it recently. It basically means making stuff up based on the few known facts, but in a way that’s not going to upset historians. So the historical novel I’m writing now is actually requiring less research than Stagefright did.
George’s bit at the end
Novelistic conjecture! I like that term, too. I’ll have to remember it. Thanks, Carole.
To find out more about Carole and her books, check out her website. It includes a section on research.
And don’t forget to check out my recent interview with Carole.
Catch ya later, George
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