Writing The Canary Cage

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I took my first creative writing class back in 2001. Using a photograph my grandma had given me as inspiration, I wrote a short story about a girl called Hannah who worked in a factory in World War 1.

As a Mum with a full time job, the process of expanding that short story into a novel has been achingly slow. Mainly short bursts of frantic scribbling, snatched between tube stops – thank you TfL, those delays provided some quality writing time.

I think it was six months into writing ‘The Canary Cage’ when I realised that choosing the historical fiction genre was the equivalent of a novice runner accidentally signing up for the London Marathon instead of the ‘Couch to 5K’.

Everything (and I mean everything) has to be researched: how people spoke, what people ate, what they wore, the rules of football, were all potentially different a hundred years ago. Watching reruns of Blackadder goes Forth wasn’t going to cut it.

As a keen but naïve amateur, I completely underestimated the scale of research required. Only by learning the craft, did I come to understand that truly brilliant authors like Annie Proux spend years immersing themselves in a period before they even start to write.

Now I love a bit of research and my shelves are bursting with books on WW1, but I dread to think what my browser history says about me. No doubt Googling ‘how to make ammunition’ has put me on a MI5 watch list.

Even after years of research, I will have made lots of mistakes. I only discovered last week that pallets weren’t invented until the 1930s – who knew? But I now realise that a writer will never think that their work is really finished. I just hope readers will forgive any historical inaccuracy.

The best part about spending so many years writing a book is that you get to know your beloved characters intimately. As I get closer to publication, I hope that they will get the opportunity to meet some readers. Fingers crossed other people will want to spend time with them too.

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