My route to history wasn't studying, or even reading historical fiction. Mainly, I just read old books. I read so many of them that the past started to feel real to me. I started with Dickens, and then went back to the Brontes, Elizabeth Gaskell, and George Eliot. I went further back to Jane Austen and then, fascinated by her references to The Mysteries of Udolpho, I read Ann Radcliffe, Charlotte Smith, Fanny Burney, Maria Edgeworth and many other now less well-known, out-of-print books by women who thrilled audiences when the novel was in its infancy as a form. I was also enthralled by the Icelandic sagas which pre-date the European novel by quite a few centuries. Stories of such passion, violence and beauty that they take your breath away.
All these books and others are my main connection with the past - my sources and the reason for my fascination. They reveal so many of the details that history books tend to miss out as unimportant. Food, clothes, customs, how people felt and acted and fell in love. The bits that interest me more (to be honest) than Kings and Queens and wars. Yes, I'm one of those women VS Naipaul so despises for their narrow domesticity, and not ashamed of it.
I have one other big connection with the past - something I've had all my life. If I walk into an old building, be it house, castle, church or any other, I immediately start to imagine all the people who have lived and worked there through the ages and to see myself there among them. It's almost as though they are whispering to me of their hopes, dreams, heartbreaks, loves and daily lives down the years between us.
These things are my spur and inspiration to write historical fiction. The hours of careful research are what brings it all to life on the page. That is a job that didn't come easily to me at first as a non-historian. But I find I'm enjoying it more with each book. To refer back to a post earlier this week - there is so much more to recreating history than putting women into long dresses.