About Clare Langley-Hawthorne

Her first novel, Consequences of Sin, featuring the Oxford graduate, heiress, and militant suffragette Ursula Marlow, was published in 2007. This was followed by two more books in the series, The Serpent and The Scorpion (2008) and Unlikely Traitors (2014). Consequences of Sin was a San Francisco Chronicle Bay Area bestseller and a Macavity Award nominee for best historical mystery. http://www.clarelangleyhawthorne.com/

Beta Readers

I’m back from a summer hiatus and would like to say that I used the opportunity to jet set around the world in glamorous style but…well, you know…I did get a chance to visit the mountains a few times but we’ve had so much smoke from the recent wildfires that even that experience felt very much on-brand for 2020…

In the meantime, I have been writing and painting – but I’ve also been broadening my beta-reader opportunities, which got me thinking about the whole notion and value of beta-readers. In the past my beta-reader pool has pretty much been confined to friends and family, and, if I’m lucky, co-bloggers here at TKZ:)

By now most of my friends and family have read (and re-read!) many of my manuscripts, but only recently have I begun to look further afield to see if I can get critical input from potential readers. This interest was sparked by a UK historical fiction editorial group who began offering a beta-reader service – which (serendipitously for me) came just after I finished revisions to an old manuscript of mine. What I liked was that these beta-readers will be complete strangers with a love for historical fiction (so they can be as blunt and honest as they like – something I’m never totally sure friends/family are!) and they also must answer a series of very specific questions to help a writer hone in on issues with the book. I haven’t got feedback as yet so the jury is still out on the benefits of the program but I’m excited to broaden my beta-reader reach nonetheless.

So TKZers how do you focus on the beta reader question…Who do you get to be a beta-reader (?) and at what stage in your process do you get them involved? I usually have much earlier input but I’m thinking fresh eyes in this final, just about to submit stage, will be very helpful. What’s your experience been with beta-readers? Mine’s been as mixed as my experience with writer’s groups, some input has been terrific, some not so much…

Glad to be back and looking forward to your feedback on what has worked/hasn’t worked for you all when it comes to beta-readers!



First Page Critique: Falling Free

Today we have a first page critique for a project entitled Falling Free. My comments follow so see you on the flip side (and enjoy because I think this is a great first page!).
Title: Falling Free

I fell hard to the closet floor.

My head hit the carpet. My arms just kind of flopped where they wanted.

I lay there, wondering what’d happened.

The carpet in this Seattle hotel smelled like it’d been shampooed recently. I used to be a hotel maid, so I know about carpet smells.

I stared at the ceiling for a bit. There was a black spider in the corner, moving its legs slowly, like it was doing yoga or something. I tried to mimic its movement, but couldn’t get my arms to respond.

My head hurt a little. I closed my eyes, I swear, just for a moment.

The next thing I knew, a cop bent over me. He stared for a minute, then put his gloved hand on my shoulder and rolled me up slightly.

I guessed he was looking at the back of my head.

He settled me back down on the floor, then leaned over and brushed my long hair away from my face. He smelled like stale cigarettes and had kind brown eyes.

My wallet appeared in his hand. “Junie. That your name, honey?”

I heard movement beyond him. The room outside the closet suddenly seemed filled with people, snapping pictures, going through drawers, talking on their cell phones. Saying things like “next-of-kin” and “keep the media out”.

Didn’t make much sense to me. Who’d care, anyway?

The cop yelled out the closet door. “Hey, Jimmy! Get the boss on the phone.”

“Okay, Frank.”

Then another cop, Jimmy presumably, entered the closet and handed a cell phone to Frank.

“Why don’t you get yourself a phone, Frank?”

“Why should I when you’ve always got yours?”

Jimmy left the closet in a huff.

“Yeah, hey boss.”

His eyes strayed to where it’d landed when I fell. “Nah. Nothing to do here. Get the crew over.”

Frank snapped Jimmy’s phone shut and stuck it in his shirt pocket.

He stood, looked down at me, shaking his head. “What’s your story, Junie?” He lingered over me a moment longer, then turned and walked out of the closet.

I heard him give orders to those in the room, to get this wrapped up. The scurrying intensified, doors and drawers slamming. Then it was quiet again.

Just Frank, studying me from the closet doorway.

My story? You don’t really wanna know, Frank.

I could’ve changed things. Put that in your report.

I thought this first page was a great example of ‘less is more’ with short, snappy paragraphs that nonetheless evoked the scene, well-paced and believable dialogue, and a POV/voice that was already compelling. Bravo to our contributor!
For once I have very little to say in terms of input or advice…but if I was to make some recommendations (and honestly this piece is fine to stay as is!) they would be:
  • Perhaps consider one more sentence to give a sense of the injury that’s occurred (as it sounds like something far worse than just falling on carpet).
  • Perhaps consider a brief sentence in the closet describing the iron/ironing board or clothes/robe hanging – just something that might reveal whether this is a seedy hotel, a motel 6 or a more up-market hotel…
  • Possibly clarify time period as it sounds like it’s the 90’s (e.g. Frank snapped Jimmy’s phone shut) but I wasn’t totally sure.
  • This could also be important as I didn’t quite believe Frank wouldn’t have a phone these days (definitely would believe it if it was the 90s) – otherwise I was going to recommend changing “why don’t you get yourself a phone, Frank” to “why don’t you ever have your phone with you, Frank”,  if it was contemporary.
  •  I wasn’t quite sure how Junie could see the room outside the closet from the floor (she’d settled back down after the officer had originally rolled her up slightly). Maybe just have some movement (turned her head, or her eyes saw over the officer’s shoulder…something like that…)
  • Finally, I didn’t love the title ‘Falling Free’ – although without knowing more about the book I can’t really give good input, except to say that my initial reaction to this title was ‘meh’:)
All in all I think this is a really strong first page – TKZers, what do you think? What advice or recommendations would you make?

The Ballad of Prequels and Origin Stories

Hope you are all enjoying a safe and healthy Memorial Day Monday.

We actually got some snow in the mountains this long weekend which gave me a great excuse to read (yay!), and I am about halfway through Suzanne Collins’ The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes which is both a prequel to the Hunger Games trilogy and an origin story of sorts for President Snow. Despite being a huge fan of hers (her middle grade Gregor of the Overland series is actually my favorite) I confess to being a bit underwhelmed and I wonder if it is due to what I call ‘prequel fatigue’. It seems like a bit of a thing at the moment where highly successful franchises look to origin stories or prequels as a kind of brand life extension. There’s Philip Pullman’s The Book of Dust (a prequel to His Dark Materials trilogy) which was then followed by The Secret Commonwealth (which is confusingly actually a sequel to the trilogy) – not to mention the Fantastic Beasts films that are essentially prequels to the Harry Potter saga. While in both these circumstances I enjoyed returning to the worlds that both Pullman and Rowling so masterfully created, I did find myself constantly looking for (and finding!) plot and character inconsistencies that diminished my overall enjoyment. With the Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, I started wondering about the whole purpose of these sorts of prequels. Did I really need to read an origin story for President Snow? (not really…) Do I want to feel empathy for him as a future villain? (again…not really…)

The experience has got me wondering about the whole ‘origin story’ issue when it comes to villains. Maybe I just prefer a well-developed albeit enigmatic villain figure, but sometimes getting too much information about a character (particularly a powerful, evil one!) can actually diminish their impact – like peeking behind the Wizard of Oz curtain only to discover the criminal mastermind is actually just a sad-sack with a tragic family history…

In terms of the Hunger Games, I feel that this prequel doesn’t really add much to my understanding of the world Katniss came to inhabit, and I also feel a little cheated that the author didn’t come up with something more intriguing than a story about Coriolanus Snow. Is that mean spirited of me? (probably) but I wanted to be as blown away by this new novel as I did by the original first Hunger Games book (sigh).

So TKZers, what is your feeling about the whole ‘prequel’ thing? Have you read a series that successfully extended the brand by doing this in a way that didn’t feel merely derivative? Do you think origin stories like this for villains can be successful? If so, how??



Saved by the Spelling Bee

Happy Monday after Mother’s Day! I hope all the mums out there got to enjoy their day. Mine descended into horror when I received the dreaded text: ‘I got Queen Bee!!’ from one of my twins…

Let me explain…During our self-imposed exile my boys and I have become obsessed with the NYT online game, Spelling Bee. I credit it (along with the crossword) for saving much on my sanity and (sadly) turning me into one of those Uber-competitive mums who rushes to get to it first so I can get the pangram before my kids do!!

For those of you unfamiliar with Spelling Bee, it’s basically an online, highly addictive version of Boggle, comprising a daily hexagon shaped word game made up of 7 letters (6 of which surround a central letter which must be used).

The goal of the game is to make as many 4+ letter words as possible, urged on by various awards that take you from beginner accolades (‘solid’, ‘nice’) through to ‘genius’ level and then, if you find all the possible words, ‘Queen Bee’. One of the key aims of the game is also to find the pangram or a word that uses all the letters (sometimes there’s more than one pangram just to keep us on our toes!).

I’m not really sure why Spelling Bee is as addictive as it is – but I do know that I’m not alone in loving it, or turning to it for solace during these long 8 weeks under ‘stay at home’ orders. The best part about it all is that it’s become a shared obsession…the worst part, my boys are also so much better at it than me!! We now fight each morning to see how quickly we can get to ‘genius’ (a level we feel compelled to achieve) or, if we’re super lucky, to be crowned ‘Queen Bee’.

So now you can understand my Mother’s Day ‘horror’:)))

I hope that all TKZers are staying safe and healthy during these ongoing, difficult times, and that you have managed to find some distractions to keep up your spirits. Even though Colorado has begun to lift the stay-at-home orders, I am sure our obsession with Spelling Bee will continue.

So TKZers, what has kept you sane during the last 8 weeks? Are any of you Spelling Bee obsessives? What online games or apps have kept you going??



First Page Critique: Manuel’s Revenge

Happy Monday! (even though it’s starting to feel like everyday is like Sunday…)
Today I have a first page critique which illustrates the challenges in grounding a reader right from the start. My comments, and recommendations follow.  I also look forward to getting you input for our brave submitter after this first page submission.
Manuel’s Revenge

They wouldn’t understand, especially the little ones.

“Daddy’s gone to heaven,” she would say. They would cry and grieve and she would find someone else.

When he opened the door, the apartment smelled of greasy chicken and diapers. Earlier in the evening he told her he’d be at Jerry’s Bar and Grill. Julie was furious, of course, so she and the kids had gone to visit her sister for a few days. He and his wife had exchanged harsh words, but Manuel felt relief. She and the kids wouldn’t be home. They wouldn’t see the carnage.

The scotch having fixed his resolve, Manuel made the call.

As his eyes adjusted to the dark, he crossed the frayed carpet, opened the closet door and removed a plank near the back wall. He hadn’t used the weapon in years, a nine millimeter Smith and Wesson that felt strangely familiar. From years on the streets he knew how to use the gun, but only killed when necessary, always in self defense, never for pleasure—unlike the monster who murdered his brother.

After prison, Manuel truly believed he could change, but his mind never stopped playing that endless loop. His brother’s face—the pleading, the tears, the anguish—would never disappear. Graven into his memory like etchings on a gravestone was the leering face of the thug who pulled the trigger.

Tonight that man would die, and Manuel would die with him.

Replacing the plank, Manuel eased along the wall to observe the rendezvous point from his perch three stories up. On the street below, his brother’s killer would step into the alley expecting an easy exchange. Bills for baggies. No problem.

But when Manuel looked down on the scene, his fists tightened around the pistol. Cops were erecting a barrier and a tarp-covered body lay in the middle of the alley.

A crime scene.

Two uniforms conversed under a streetlight. The lights of a patrol vehicle rotated across the dark bricks of nearby tenements.  In the shadows something moved, something barely perceptible. Even from this distance, the thick man in the sideways baseball cap shifted easily from light to darkness, watching.

Then into the shadows the thug disappeared. The meeting would be aborted. The man who killed his brother would flee. Then, as it had so many nights before, Manuel’s cowardice would seize his thoughts and haunt another sleepless night.

Main Comments

This first page had some good things going for it, right from the get go. It was written in clear, direct prose, and was immediately personal. The reader could easily grasp that the stakes, at least for the main protagonist, were going to be high and that this story was going to be about avenging the murder of the protagonist’s brother. That helped create some nice tension right from the start, but for me, this first page suffered from a lack of specificity and grounding, that made the story, even though it was going to be high stakes and personal, feel almost generic.

In terms of lack of specificity, I wanted more detail about the main protagonist to set him apart. I wanted to be able to picture him, get a hint of intrigue (why had he been in prison for example?) and to hear a more realistic internal dialogue that made him feel like a real person – one I immediately felt sympathy for, and whose story created the kind of dramatic tension that could sustain a novel.

In terms of grounding, I wanted more details to be able to picture the apartment and the building – especially as it seemed such an easy vantage point from which he could have killed the ‘thug’ in the past (had he tried before? – this wasn’t clear).

Specific Comments/Feedback

Having mused over the best way to provide constructive feedback regarding this first page, I decided that providing further comments/notes in bullet form as I read the first page was probably the most useful. So here goes:

  • First line – ‘They wouldn’t understand, especially the little ones’ had me intrigued. But then, just as I was thinking about the children (and we never find out how many or their names, or ages), the comment ‘they would cry and grieve and she would find someone else’ suddenly seemed cold and rather flippant. I wanted to know more about his relationship with his children and their mother (who was, I assumed his wife) but was a little put off already.
  • We get a brief description of the apartment but nothing more. I wanted to be able to visualize the place, and feel grounded in the surroundings. Where are we? What is the socio-economic background of this family? (they sound poor but then he drinks scotch in the next paragraph which doesn’t seem consistent with this initial impression). I’m assuming Julie is his wife but why had they exchanged harsh words – was it because he was always at Jerry’s Bar and Grill (and here, the name is specific but seems unnecessary since I have no other information or context regarding all the other surroundings). Also ‘carnage’ is a very strong word and it makes me think of a large scale, mass killing.
  • Now Manuel makes the call – but I’m not sure what this means as we haven’t got the backstory or context yet – but I’m willing to go with it.
  • Then we have a paragraph about him getting his weapon out and again, we get specifics about it (9 millimeter Smith & Weston) but few specifics about his past. He always killed in self-defense? Why? How did he know the monster who murdered his brother killed for pleasure? I need more here to be invested in this story.
  • ‘After prison’ – again, we get a hint of a past/backstory but no details, except about his brother (who, as yet, remains nameless). The line ‘graven into his memory…” would work better if I had more details so I could really visualize the scene.
  • ‘Tonight that man would die, and Manuel would die with him’ – Why, if he’s shooting the man from the vantage point of a window three stories up, would Manuel have to die? This didn’t quite make sense without more context and information on what Manuel was planning. It sounds like he wasn’t going to be the one going to make the exchange below (as he is upstairs) but how is the exchange supposed to work exactly (?) – and how did Manuel know all this (had he set it up? I couldn’t tell by the end if he had, or if these kind of exchanges were just a frequent occurrence in the alley and Manuel had finally got the courage to try and kill the ‘thug’ this time (?) (again, this reveals lack of grounding and specificity to me).
  • Now, when Manuel looks down on the scene he sees cops…but didn’t he hear sirens or see the flashing lights as he walked across the dark room towards the closet in the previous paragraph?
  • So it’s a crime scene, but we have no context for it – and now a man is watching from the shadows but the police are clueless(?) There’s a reference to nearby tenements but again I can’t picture the scene, as I haven’t got any description or point of reference for where we are.
  • The final paragraph has the ‘thug’ disappear (which seems too easy given the police presence), and ‘then, as it had so many nights before, Manuel’s cowardice would seize his thoughts and haunt another sleepless night’. I really liked this last line, but it still confused me as I don’t have context for his previous attempts or the past that links him to the thug and the circumstances surrounding his brother’s murder.

As all these comments reveal, this first page really needs more specific details and a clear description of place, backstory, and characters to come to life for me, and to create the tension needed for me to turn the page and keep reading. That being said, the scene itself is a compelling one – a man risking everything to avenge his brother’s death – and our brave submitter no doubt knows all the details that could easily be added to bring color and tension to this story. Overall, most of my comments/recommendations are a relatively easy fix and I think once we get the specificity and grounding we need as readers, this first page could be the start of a something good.

So, TKZers, what comments or feedback do you have for our brave submitter?



Create Your Own Author Quarantine House

Happy Post-Easter/Post-Passover Monday!

I’m sure you’ve seen the memes circulating around the internet offering up choices of authors for your ideal quarantine house. The first I saw on my Facebook page, gave the following author options (all, sadly, dead):

Apart from the fact that there are some weird juxtapositions on this list, I would be a definite for House #3…if only Ayn Rand wasn’t in it:)…though, to be fair, she would be a pretty interesting person to debate (and who wouldn’t be having some heated debates in an author quarantine house!).

The next quarantine author house choice meme I saw circulated was this:

For this one, I think House #1 is too good an opportunity to pass up (I mean, Stephen King!) and I, for one, would love to see the potential genre mash-up that could result from a collaboration between all the authors in House #1…

Finally, I saw this list, which was based on bestselling authors and which included, yet again, Stephen King (an obviously popular quarantine choice!):

These house options posed the biggest dilemma for me – I mean Neil Gaimon would be awesome, but J.K Rowling would also be an amazing author to hang out with during quarantine, not to mention Philip Pullman…In fact, if I was to create a quarantine house based on this list of bestselling authors I would have all three of these authors plus Margaret Atwood and Kazuo Ishiguru…although given some of their versions of dystopia, things could get pretty depressing in that particular quarantine house!

All these memes are a fun distraction from the uncertainties and challenges of real life in the current lockdown and so I thought, why not create our own challenge here at the TKZ?!

To start things off – and get the ball rolling – I propose the following five authors for my own ‘ideal’ quarantine author house:

  • Jane Austen (who understands, after all, the need for social distancing)
  • Albert Camus (for a dose of existentialist angst)
  • Joseph Conrad (included only because of my obsession with Heart of Darkness)
  • Umberto Eco (for erudite conversations that mess with my mind)
  • Daphne Du Maurier (for some gothic scares)

So TKZers, what about you? Who would you nominate for your author quarantine house??


Comforting Creative Outlets

If you’re like me, every day has started to become a bit of a blur…but happy Monday all the same! After reading Sue’s great blog post last Monday (Why the World Needs Creatives More than Ever) I started to feel less guilty about my complete inability to write last week – I definitely felt my overall anxiety had depleted my creative reserves (not to mention having a household full of boys trying to work/being out of school). Instead of writing, I found myself turning to what I now call my ‘comforting’ creative pursuits – namely sketching and painting (as well as my less comforting, more challenging, creative pursuit – the dreaded knitting!).

I’ve dabbled in painting for years, always enjoying the fun of doing something for the pure pleasure of it. I’m not particularly good but also not particularly bad, so it’s a hobby that can be both satisfying and comforting. Unlike my writing, I don’t feel the pressure to excel or try to make a living out of it and, because I lean towards abstract art, my paintings don’t even have to look like anything in real life (bonus!).

The last couple of weeks I’ve found that getting absorbed in a painting is a great stress reliever. I get to just focus on the stroke of the paintbrush and the subtleties of color. It enables me to get engrossed in something other than compulsively checking news apps or social media – and time does seem to pass in a completely different way when I’m painting (hours seem to float by, calm and serene – it’s lovely!).

Next week my boys start back at school via remote learning and hubby will continue to work from home, so I need to set up a new schedule – one that reintroduces some decent writing time (I feel I really ought to get that back into focus!) and which, I hope, will also include time to paint. In these troubling times, I feel I need my comforting creative pursuits more than ever…

So TKZers what are your ‘comforting’ creative outlets? Are you having trouble focusing on your writing – or are you using this pandemic as a way of channeling your thoughts and feelings at the moment (I feel completely stymied in this regard!). What creative pursuits are you turning to? Books for me are also a comfort – although I had started a post-apocalyptic YA novel that might need to get re-shelved for while for my own mental health…

BTW – here’s a photo of my latest painting  ‘in progress’ – no judgement please:) When it’s finished it will hopefully look a little like the one at the top of this post (which I finished last week:))

Oh, and here’s a photo proving I have actually made some progress knitting!!


Introverts Unite

So this past week has been a surreal one on so many fronts – my husband’s company ordered him to work from home, my kid’s school is now closed for at least two weeks, we cancelled our spring break vacation, the robotics tournament my boys had been working so hard for was postponed, and the shelves at our local Kings Soopers…well they looked like a scene from the movie Contagion… Despite all this (or perhaps because of it) I came to realize just how introverted a writer I really am.

This realization dawned half way though day one of my husband’s ‘work from home’ week. He started on conference calls just after the boys left for school (this was before the school district announced all schools were to close on Friday) and didn’t stop talking pretty much the entire day. I know I should be sympathetic (I mean who wants to be on back to back conference calls!) – but most days it’s just me, my collie Hamish, and the imaginary characters in my head and I desperately missed the peace and quiet. By day 3, my poor husband was going stir crazy because he, as an extrovert, needed (and missed) having work colleagues around him. I, on the other hand, was longing for solitude:) So when the social distancing decree came down, I wasn’t fazed. Give me a computer to write on (or good old-fashioned pen and paper), a book to read, and some art supplies…and I am pretty much good to go. My husband on the other hand was already writing up a long list of chores we could accomplish:)

Now my husband and I have been married a long time (over 25 years!) so none of this comes as a great surprise – except that we’ve never really had to confront our own personality types in quite this way before. Neither of us were prepared for just how different our introverted versus extroverted outlook would be. One of my twins joked that he’d seen a meme on how introverts have been preparing their whole lives for social distancing – and while I laughed at first…it’s actually true. Though I doubt most of my friends would ever describe me as introverted – I enjoy being with people, am usually very chatty, and can be quite..er…theatrical when I want to be…but recent events have made me more aware than ever, just how much my creativity comes from the absence of people, and the quiet spaces of my day. This all means that there will certainly be some interesting times ahead, as for the foreseeable future I will have my husband and twin sons at home. We will all have to carve out our own quiet spaces (or in my husband’s case, some virtual-people filled spaces) and I will have to find ways to satisfy my introverted need for quiet and solitude.

So TKZers how many of you consider yourselves introverted? What has recent events revealed about your own personality or creativity?

In these challenging times we can all benefit from appreciating our common humanity, embracing empathy, and understanding how we can bridge our differences. In the meantime though…any words of wisdom on how two introverts (one twin and me) and two extroverts (my husband and the other twin) can survive in quasi-isolation??


The Political Mystery or Thriller

So in my ‘other life’ (not that I have much of one!) I’ve been working down at the Colorado State Capitol for one of our State Senators during the legislative session – a job I decided to take on, in part, to gain a more active understanding of the American legislative/political process and, in part, as potential research (for a writer, everything is book research after all!). Of course, as soon as my writer’s mind started ticking over, I started wondering how I could use what I’ve learned in a novel someday (although, to be fair, I thought the same thing last year when I participated in the police citizen’s academy and still haven’t done it!).

For a foreigner like myself the learning curve is always steep as I didn’t grow up in America and so my understanding of state politics is limited at best (and mainly based on Australian politics…). On the plus side though, I probably bring a different perspective to it all – one that maybe I can use to my advantage  in a future book (?). Unfortunately, my knowledge of political based thrillers and mysteries, however, is also very limited (mainly to those blockbuster novels you see at airports in which the machinations of DC politics and international intrigue collide and the resulting stakes are super high). But what of local politics where the stakes are much lower and the machinations are far more mundane? Is it possible to create tension and drama? Of course, the answer is yes, as a good writer can create tension and drama out of any conflict. But in terms of selling the concept of a political thriller, I’m not sure state politics is all that juicy!

When I think of these kind of thrillers and mysteries, often it’s the life of the president or his cabinet at risk, or the fate of the nation…so immediately you know that there will be high stakes and (usually) a high concept novel involved. At a state political level, often those stakes center on corruption or injustice, which obviously provides a fair amount of dramatic tension but still, the question of what makes a decent political based thriller or mystery has been nagging me…and this is where TKZers you come in! What elements do you think make a great political mystery or thriller? Have you read any great ones that focus on state or local politics (and I mean as a central part of the novel, most mysteries and thrillers necessarily involve a certain amount of politics when they have law enforcement/judicial system involved)…And then there’s the challenges of writing a political thriller or mystery. I meant no one really wants politics shoved down their throats, nor, in today’s polarized society do you want to risk alienating readers…so how do you think a writer can find the right balance when politics is a central part of the novel? Enquiring minds (well, mine at least) want to know!


Are the 1980s ‘history’ yet?

Thanks to Jordan for posting for me while I had to go unexpectedly to Australia (sadly, it was for a family funeral). I have to admit it feels a little strange to be back on the blog even though it’s only a few weeks…Somehow 2020 seems to have started on a bit of an emotional roller-coaster so I think I might need to re-celebrate the new year sometime in March!

Traveling to Australia can be a surreal experience – not only do you clock in at about 28 hours door to door, but going there you literally lose a day and coming back you often arrive before you left…both of which can play havoc on the body’s internal clock. Luckily, I didn’t suffer too much from jet lag this time – though I did experience what I like to call ‘time lag’. Isn’t it funny how going back to the place you grew up often puts you in a bit of a time warp, especially when (in parts of Australia at least) it’s like nothing’s actually changed in the 25 years since you left!

I’ve never written a book set in Australia but this time round a story which has been swirling around in my sub-conscious began to take form. In fact there are two stories circling in my brain – one of which has a definite historical context, the other that would take place (and least partly) in the mid 1980s. As a historical writer who likes to use a particular time and place to ground my stories I’ve been grappling with the question of whether the 1980s can really be considered ‘history’ yet. My memories of that time period are still clear (I’m not that old yet!) but I think I would still have to do research much like I would do for any historical period. If I was setting my story in the 1960s or 1970s I don’t think I’d even ask the question – but the 1980s…hmmm…I’m not so sure.

When I was in Australia, I was struck by how little it had really changed and how easy it would be to mentally transport myself back to my teenage years. But I was also challenged by the prospect of using the recent past as a historical backdrop – especially given how many recent successful franchises have already started to play on this kind of nostalgia (Stranger Things and The Americans anyone?!)…so I’d have to tread very carefully if I was to ensure authenticity and also avoid the usual 1980s cliches.

In some respects it doesn’t even matter (a good story is a good story no matter how you classify it) but it’s funny how in my own head I identify as a historical fiction writer and (if I’m honest) don’t feel all that confident that I could pull off writing ‘contemporary’ fiction (ah, the joys of the angst-filled writer’s mind!). Approaching the 1980s as a historical era would (perhaps) give me the crutch I need to move forward, but then I wonder, if that’s true…then what really is ‘history’ anymore??

So TKZers, what do you think? How do you classify ‘historical fiction? Do the 1980s even qualify???