Guest Post – Paula Berinstein – Writing an Historical Novel

Writing a Historical Novel

Paula Berinstein

Whether their work is called time travel or historical fiction, an author who writes stories set in the past needs to deal with history. From the number of stories published in this genre you’d think it was easy, but to me it’s just about the most daunting thing a non-historian can write, whether the tale is drenched in detail or takes a broad brush approach. If you get it wrong people will scream, and chances are the story won’t work.

Photo Credit: Bernhard Rode, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Clio makes being a historian look easy—and elegant

When I began planning the Indigo series I had zero confidence that I could write an entire historical novel. In my Amanda Lester, Detective series for tweens and teens I do laborious research just to get minor details right, and it’s set in the present! I’m not sure anyone can tell, but I don’t just make up Amanda’s world. There really is such a thing as acoustic levitation (lifting things with sound waves). A person with two DNA identities really can exist: they’re called a chimera. There really is an old sugar manufacturing plant alongside the Thames. But writing an entire novel based in a place and time I know little about? That’s a tall order.

Photo credit: OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

A chimera really does exist! It’s a person with two sets of DNA.

When I decided to try my hand I got hold of a few books about South Carolina in the colonial period and began reading. Yikes, they were so dull and so packed with information my head hurt. I was absolutely sure I would never retain a thing and would have to scuttle the project.

But little by little the facts began to stick, and eventually I understood enough to concoct a basic story. I had to stop constantly and look things up—still do—and that’s not only tedious but sometimes nearly impossible. When you begin writing a scene that takes place in Charles Town in 1751 you need to know how the city was laid out, whether there were sidewalks, whether slaves were allowed to stay in inns with their masters, what kinds of boats the planters used, and a million other details. Of course you can never find them all in one source so you have to go running around looking for needles in haystacks, even when, as I did, you’ve joined the South Carolina Historical Society. (They charge for custom research, so costs can add up quickly, but if you do the work yourself it can take forever. Needless to say I’ve opted for the latter despite its drawbacks.)

Photo credit: gillingsham6 from Pixabay

Good luck finding out how Charles Town, South Carolina was laid out in 1751

As I do this work I wonder about all those writers who publish regency romances, stories set in old Scotland, and World War II adventures. How much research did they do and how long did it take? How much of what they wrote is accurate? Are they just smarter and faster than I am? I have no idea. Surely they’re not all Hilary Mantels, but you don’t have to be, do you? Imagine if that were a requirement to publish a time travel romance. They wouldn’t exist.

Photo Credit: Alina Kuptsova from Pixabay

Writing about knights is easy if it’s fantasy. Not so much if it’s history.

Photo Credit: GregoryButler from Pixabay

How much do you know about battleship engine rooms? I know diddly squat.

Photo Credit: Pete Linforth from Pixabay

The Pyramids are romantic but what do the insides look like? How do they smell? Is it hot or cold in there? Do you need a key to open the door?

If you’re a writer of historical fiction, I’d love to hear from you. Do you worry about every little fact or do you gloss over some details? Do you have a degree in history? Do you read a hundred books before getting started? How long did it take you before you felt you had a good grasp on the time and place? No matter what you say I won’t stop writing, but it would be fun to swap stories. If you’re not an author, I’d still love to hear what you think. We story lovers need to stick together.

Indigo
by Paula Berinstein
Genre: Time Travel Romance, Adventure
What would you do if you suddenly found yourself mistress of an 18th-century plantation?
Esther Rubens is looking forward to getting to know her new community in South Carolina and repairing her troubled marriage. But as soon as she arrives in Charleston her life begins to diverge from the idyllic picture in her mind. Her physicist husband, Melvin, is arrested for driving while black, she inherits a strange English property from a cousin she didn’t know existed, and she learns that her great-grandmother Sophie, a brilliant scientist kidnapped by the Nazis, discovered the secret of time travel of all things.
Intrigued by Sophie’s cryptic journal Melvin begins to experiment with time travel, but his anger at the police makes him careless. The process backfires, killing him and throwing Esther back to 1750. Attacked by an unknown assailant the moment she arrives, she seeks protection at an indigo plantation belonging to a dashing planter with a dangerous secret, negotiating a deal that guarantees her safety. But she soon realizes she’s made a terrible mistake. What she discovers on the plantation is far more horrific than anything she could have imagined.
Overwhelmed, she attempts to flee just as the planter’s mysterious, handsome brother arrives from England seeking refuge-and offering an opportunity that’s too compelling to turn down. But can he be trusted? And are the two of them strong enough to vanquish the evil that’s pervading the lowlands? Only time will tell.
The first title in the Indigo series.
Paula Berinstein (Paula B) is the author of the Amanda Lester, Detective middle-grade/YA series, which features a descendant of the Sherlock Holmes character Inspector Lestrade and is set in the English Lake District.
She is also the author of a new time travel series for adults, Indigo.
From 2005 to 2012, Paula produced and hosted the popular podcast The Writing Show (http://www.writingshow.com). She holds degrees in English literature and librarianship from UCLA.
Follow the tour HERE for special content and a giveaway!
$25 Amazon giftcard– 2 winners!

8 thoughts on “Guest Post – Paula Berinstein – Writing an Historical Novel

  1. I love the cover and synopsis, this sounds like an excellent read. Thank you for sharing your guest post and book details, I have enjoyed reading about you and your work and am looking forward to reading your story.

    Liked by 1 person

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