Twenty signs that you are writing historical fiction…

No book review today as I’ve been slacking off a bit and working on my own books. Normal service will resume next week when I will have not one, but TWO reviews for you! Instead, here’s a list of twenty signs that you are writing historical fiction…

1. You gleefully claim trips to Paris and Rome on your tax return. And also London and Bath too. Oh wait, could I write a book set in Saint Petersburg or New York as well?

2. You start referring to skirts in the plural as in ‘skirts’ instead of a ‘skirt’, thus indicating that the skirt you are writing about is BIGGER than any old plain common garden skirt. Ho yes.

3. You have a framed photograph of Georgette Heyer somewhere in your house. It may even have candles and flowers around it and a burnt offering of a copy of Venetia. No wait, that would mean BURNING a copy of Venetia and that’s SACRILEGE so instead I will name one of my sons after two of her characters. And then presumably never tell him this fact…

4. When people say that the weather is 18C, you immediately think they mean the weather is reminiscent of that in the 18th century and get sympathetic palpitations.

5. Your Google history is full of terms like ‘Rupert Penry Jones Regency Jane Austen hot’, ‘Aidan Turner sexy pout Dante Gabriel Rossetti’ and ‘Tom Hardy Marie Antoinette wig cor I would’. This is all for RESEARCH PURPOSES.

6. You spend a lot of time wondering what ratafia, calf brain fritters and roast peacock tastes like. Too much time in fact. If you are a vegetarian like me you may even find yourself becoming excessively angsty about the vast amounts of roast flesh that your characters are clearly yearning to eat and wishing that they ate more salad in Georgian times. Meanwhile, your family are beginning to live in fear of your culinary experiments.

7. Every time someone insults you, you find yourself wishing that you could challenge them to a duel. You even know whom you would have as your seconds. You may even also have an outfit picked out.

8. Your iTunes account is littered with playlists called things like ‘Dead Victorian Girl’, ’18th Century Snogging Scene’ and, obscurely, ‘Guillotine time’.

9. You start to think that powdered hair is actually quite becoming and also get a bit heavy handed with blusher, which by now you are calling ‘rouge’.

10. You eye your husband with disapproval and wonder what he would look like in a nice white linen shirt, breeches and tall boots rather than a geeky T shirt, jeans and skater trainers combination. You may even badger him into growing his hair a bit and, oh why not, cultivating a bit of stubble. Oh and could you put a pirate hat on and ‘grin fiendishly, your strong white teeth gleaming against your tanned skin’ while you are at it? Thanks.

11. When writing about Victorian London, you may, in sympathy with your characters find yourself using rhyming slang and affecting a Cockney accent to the perturbation of all who know you. I have never done this. Obviously. *ahem*

12. You develop terrible and unseemly crushes on the Dead People that you are writing about such as, oh I don’t know, Charles II maybe? Just pulling that name out of thin air, of course. *ahem* We all know that Hilary Mantel has a serious thing for Thomas Cromwell. This crush leads you to search for loads of pictures of said person and get a bit critical of their mistresses. ‘I don’t know what he saw in that fat floozy Lucy Walters anyway…’

13. You convince yourself that you write all your best work while wearing a long flowing dress. Eventually this leads you onto re-enactment and cosplay sites where you debate for hours about buying replica Marie Antoinette style gowns or Victorian hats, convinced that your writing would become AMAZING if you wore one while sitting staring into space in front of your laptop.

14. You join re-enactment societies in the hope that they will help you experience what life was REALLY like in the period that you are writing about. All it really teaches you is that it’s not a good idea to get in the way of a pike block; cannon fire smells of rotten eggs; you don’t actually like folk music and falling down dead is a great way of sleeping off a hangover.

15. You find yourself envying chick lit writers and the way they can blithely just write away without having to stop every five seconds to check facts in the mountain of history books that wobble precariously around your laptop.

16. When you read a book set in the 20th or 21st centuries you get COMPLETELY BLOWN AWAY by the plot potential of having stuff like um telephones and wow, crikey, CARS rather than letters, pigeons, surly messengers, carriages and horses.

17. If you are traditionally published you may feel a pang of annoyance that you spent ages letting all of your readers know that your heroine is a creamy skinned, hazel eyed redhead only for the cover to cut her head off altogether.

18. You often think that life would be a lot easier for your heroines if they had access to Lush bath bombs, really good chocolate and Vogue magazine.

19. You try not to think about the fact that your characters probably really really REALLY smell but every so often the thought intrudes and you have to go and have a very long shower on their behalf. Also, while writing sex scenes you occasionally become distracted by the fact that your heroine has almost certainly never shaved her legs or armpits and are not quite sure what to do with this information – ‘he stroked her silky pelt’? BRAIN BLEACH.

20. If you are writing a book set during the Ripper murders of 1888 you may find yourself spending rather more time than you would wish hanging about the TRUE CRIME section of the book shop. You may even find yourself looking at books called things like ‘Hard Bastards’ and ‘More Hard Bastards: Harder And More Bastardy Than Ever’.

What would you add to the list? I haven’t touched on things like writing your own ancestors no matter how dull into your plots; having to put up with your husband looking over your shoulder and complaining that ‘You never let ME do that’ when you are writing sex scenes; finding yourself writing more death scenes in one book than Sean Bean has had in his entire career and the dawning realisation that all of your books fall under the category of ‘Posh Doom’…

20 thoughts on “Twenty signs that you are writing historical fiction…

  • Sam

    I may not be a historical fiction author (nanowrimo convinced me of that ha!) BUT I can relate to every single one of those points – ESPECIALLY the bit about fancying Charles II. Oh yes!

  • vivien young

    Have a MSS awaiting revision which has my great grandfather in it. I’ve made him so horrible for plot purposes that his mother emigrates to get away from him. I’m wondering if this is OK (know nothing about great grandfather except time, place of birth and the names of mother,father etc.)

  • applepiewithwensleydale

    Fantastic reading! I want to try slapping someone with a glove. How do you not actually hit them?

    I often wonder what would happen if one of my favourite characters suddenly ‘appeared’ in modern times, and how they’d react to life today. A bit like my own version of Kate & Leopold…

  • hannahkarena

    I cannot stop laughing over #19. Also, I admit that I’ve never actively thought about that while reading historical fiction. [deep sigh] I think certain scenes are ruined for me until I forget about #19. #unlikely

  • telynor

    OMG this is priceless. I know I fit into half of these comments; obviously, I’m doomed.I just loved this post, you’ve caught on all of the reasons why I love really good HF and the folks who write them.

  • Juliet Grey

    I loved this! These are ALL so true! Add to that, $75 candles made by the same manufacturer (Cire Trudon) who made bespoke scents for Marie Antoinette, burning the same candle recipes made for her while you write books about her; buying replicates of fragrances worn at the Bourbon court in the 17th and 18th centuries so you can wear the same perfumes that the royals and their courtiers did as you type away, and — here goes — a Marie Antoinette fashion doll (for additional inspirational purposes). Then there’s my friend Amanda who bought all sorts of Nelson and Emma Hamilton memorabilia when she was writing her historical novel on Emma and had a bust of Nelson made from the copper melted down from his flagship, the Foudroyant (where they probably conceived Horatia), on her desk as she was writing.

  • Kathy

    I mentioned to my sister that the toothbrush was invented AFTER Queen Elizabeth I died, meaning the characters in the “Lymond” series never brushed their teeth! She actually screamed in horror. Then we decided Francis & Phillipa learned about dental hygiene when they were in the East (ottoman empire- Phillipa being in a harem for a while MUST have learned to shave under her arms, etc.)

    Its a bit staggering to think women in the Regency Era carried extra handkerchiefs to serve as toilet paper. I mean- ug!

    • Madame Guillotine Post author

      I always remember that bit in the Lymond series when he goes to visit the young Mary, Queen of Scots in Paris and she’s just had her hair washed and brushed and sits there all stiffly and trying not to move in case it kinks. :)

  • Kriss

    At least one of the signs you are reading the right blog is that you start wondering whether shaved pubic hair was a sign of having had lice, and how you get rid of them without modern insecticides. And you then spend half an hour eagerly googling to satisfy your curiosity :-)

  • Justine Elyot

    Ha ha ha! So many of these (especially the Google search terms *blush*). But I could never go there with the powdered hair. Never.

  • Evangeline Holland


    I’ll add to the list:

    1. Your ratio of research to writing is 10:1
    2. You own more books than shoes
    3. You can watch bad period dramas multiple times to study the scenery
    4. Your movie library consists only of period dramas
    5. (For Americans) You think drinking tea from dainty cups whilst watching said period dramas makes you feel more English


  • janice

    well, you should convince your family that they need to dress in the costumes and pose so that you can write realistically! especially tell your husband that is needed for the bedroom scenes! wouldn’t he want to dress up for you? and pose?

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