In the next part of our series, author Sophia Tobin talks about the appeal of historical fiction and why she loves writing it.
The first is escapism. The Silversmith’s Wife has themes – murder, love, secrets, redemption – that could equally have been explored in modern-day London. But setting it in 1792 – a time when revolution could easily have been on the cards for England – gave it a frisson of excitement, and allowed me to escape completely into another world: a London that is both familiar, but very different from now. When I read a book, I want to be completely absorbed and wrapped up in the world the writer is creating for me. My goal was to create the same feeling in my readers, and setting it in the past gave me that distance and sense of escape.
The second reason might seem to conflict with the first. It's because I love facts. I used to sit in Berkeley Square on my lunch break and wonder what it looked like in the eighteenth century – when were the huge plane trees planted? (1789, by the way); was the nearby pub, The Running Footman, open then? (yes, the first reference I’ve found to it is from 1782). I love those little details.
The people are trickier. I wanted to know their stories, too – but when researching people, there are often so many frustrating gaps and silences, particularly if you want to know about the lives of ordinary people – the servants, shopkeepers and night-watchmen. So, hand-in-hand with the research, I discovered I could make my characters up. I could imagine what it was like to be a lady’s maid in eighteenth century London, and the bonus with fiction is that I can know everything about her: who she loves, who she hates, how she feels when she gets up in the morning. I can pretend, just for a moment, that I'm hearing the voices of the dead. And they want to tell me everything.
So, maybe there's a third reason – it’s just that I'm nosy.
If you're a fan of historical fiction too, I’d love to hear why.