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Historical novel help: different sort of project


Missy Charm
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Time machines do not exist.  The only real way 'home', back to the twentieth century anyway, is via the imagination.  Anyway, writing is my hobby; I'm not that good at it, but I am willing.  The historical novel is where I currently find myself, fiction wise.  Readers of such things, apologies if you are such and are being taught to suck eggs, love accuracy.  They are quite right to; anything less than accuracy places one's work in the realms of pastiche or wish fulfilment.  What's the point of that?  Why expend so much time and effort and get things wrong?  

Getting things right is more difficult.  One has many things to consider, but those can be split into the broad topic areas of language and facts.  Language is the interesting bit: one must breathe life into long dead styles of prose and dialogue construction and, once up and running, use them.  Facts are simultaneously easy to get hold of and nigh on impossible to come by; you know how it is.  The best thing to do is ask people.  God only knows how writers of proper historical fiction, Mantel et. al., get on as they can hardly ask a Tudor or a Victorian what he or she thinks about whatever.  To make my life easier, I'm not going that far into the past.  The hope is that you can, if you are able to spare the time, answer some car related questions in order to assist with the writing project.  

To set the scene: it's April 3rd 1981.  Easter is coming up and Hill Street Blues was on Thames last night; The Little World of Don Camillo was on the other side, for those whose parents only watched the BBC.  Manufacturing output is down by about 9%; unemployment is high, especially among the youth; Thatcher isn't greatly popular as monetarist policy doesn't seem to be doing what was claimed; the economy isn't quite in recession; Healey and Benn are vying for deputy leadership of The Labour Party.  Sarah Delaney, our protagonist, lives in a rented room in Romford and works in a small factory in a still industrial Barking.  

The roads are, of course, full of old favourites... 

 

 

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12 minutes ago, Missy Charm said:

Time machines do not exist.  The only real way 'home', back to the twentieth century anyway, is via the imagination.  Anyway, writing is my hobby; I'm not that good at it, but I am willing.  The historical novel is where I currently find myself, fiction wise.  Readers of such things, apologies if you are such and are being taught to suck eggs, love accuracy.  They are quite right to; anything less than accuracy places one's work in the realms of pastiche or wish fulfilment.  What's the point of that?  Why expend so much time and effort and get things wrong?  

Getting things right is more difficult.  One has many things to consider, but those can be split into the broad topic areas of language and facts.  Language is the interesting bit: one must breathe life into long dead styles of prose and dialogue construction and, once up and running, use them.  Facts are simultaneously easy to get hold of and nigh on impossible to come by; you know how it is.  The best thing to do is ask people.  God only knows how writers of proper historical fiction, Mantel et. al., get on as they can hardly ask a Tudor or a Victorian what he or she thinks about whatever.  To make my life easier, I'm not going that far into the past.  The hope is that you can, if you are able to spare the time, answer some car related questions in order to assist with the writing project.  

To set the scene: it's April 3rd 1981.  Easter is coming up and Hill Street Blues was on Thames last night; The Little World of Don Camillo was on the other side, for those whose parents only watched the BBC.  Manufacturing output is down by about 9%; unemployment is high, especially among the youth; Thatcher isn't greatly popular as monetarist policy doesn't seem to be doing what was claimed; the economy isn't quite in recession; Healey and Benn are vying for deputy leadership of The Labour Party.  Sarah Delaney, our protagonist, lives in a rented room in Romford and works in a small factory in a still industrial Barking.  

The roads are, of course, full of old favourites... 

 

 

April 1981? 

3 months later there was this.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1981_Toxteth_riots 

Your novel might look at the reasons leading up to this. 

 

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9 minutes ago, Matty said:

Are you actually writing this? I'd read it 

I've been working on it in one form or another for about ten years, give or take.  I 'taught myself' to write with a complete manuscript for a truly awful science fiction 'novel', then did a degree course and am now back almost where I started!  

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I think location was if anything more influential on the local street scene than it is now. Barking would have been wall to wall Fords of all ages, generations of people buying on the  Employee discount scheme.  Although contrary to what was on TV dramas not with the Met. they were still using Hunters and Avengers for CID , complete with 50’s style bells instead of sirens, Allegros as Panda cars and SD1s , usually  2600s with minilites for the bigger stuff. Ambulances would mostly be Bedford CF autos with the Holden straight six. BT vans were everywhere Dodge (Commer ) Spacevans and Bedford HAs both still just about in production solely for BT and the Post Office. The Evening Standard would be delivered to every street corner by sliding door Sherpas or sometimes Marina Vans.

 

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4 minutes ago, New POD said:

April 1981? 

3 months later there was this.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1981_Toxteth_riots 

Your novel might look at the reasons leading up to this. 

 

Far more relevant to Barking would have been Brixton 3 or 4 months earlier,  as I’m a sad bastard I remember  being excited by the reintroduction of Triumph 2500 and Rover P6  area cars from reserve stock . The reason was either because they lost so many cars or to preserve the shiny new ones , it was never made clear. The sound of a Triumph straight six at full throttle down Bow Street was pretty cool.

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3 minutes ago, mintwth said:

3rd April 1981?

364 days before Argentina invaded the Falklands. Wasn't Charles and Diana's wedding around the middle of 1981? Was the associated royal wedding tat already on sale in April? 

July the 29th for the royal wedding and yes, no doubt!

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14 minutes ago, NorfolkNWeigh said:

I think location was if anything more influential on the local street scene than it is now. Barking would have been wall to wall Fords of all ages, generations of people buying on the  Employee discount scheme.  Although contrary to what was on TV dramas not with the Met. they were still using Hunters and Avengers for CID , complete with 50’s style bells instead of sirens, Allegros as Panda cars and SD1s , usually  2600s with minilites for the bigger stuff. Ambulances would mostly be Bedford CF autos with the Holden straight six. BT vans were everywhere Dodge (Commer ) Spacevans and Bedford HAs both still just about in production solely for BT and the Post Office. The Evening Standard would be delivered to every street corner by sliding door Sherpas or sometimes Marina Vans.

 

Thank you!  There was a lot of loyalty to Ford in those days, and to a degree there still is in parts of Essex.  The story's protagonist owns a 1300 Mk1 Escort, for that reason, and her landlord has a MkIV Zephyr with busted timing gear!  

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Is there a YouTube clip of a news report or documentary around that time?  If you can dig one out and post it up, most people here could watch it and quote the make, model and trim spec of every car on the street.

Where I grew up in South Wales the Ford rear axle factory was close so everyone who worked there got a discount.  Stuff like that probably distorts the national view but might be handy to know.

It seems like you only had to be moderately high up in the local council to get a deal on a new British Leyland car and they just kept employing more of their mates, errr, employing more people.

Basically a Vauxhall was pretty exotic here.  Because I grew up in a poor area, I must have been 10 years old before I saw my first Rolls Royce, whereas now they’re fucking everywhere 

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In 1981 I owned a 1970 Cortina 1600 deluxe  and a 1981 Honda CB250 RS , the Cortina was stolen twice from outside my digs in Wembley , the first time before I’d even passed my test, both times I found it further down the Harrow Rd.  I had lessons in a 1.1 Fiesta and took my test at Southall test centre wher there were 3 orange BSM Triumph Dolomite 1300s, they changed to Metros soon after, I think.

in 1982 I bought an immaculate Mk lV Zodiac Executive for £100, so your landlords knackered Zephyr was worth about a tenner!
I seem lto remember some sort of dodgy temporary flyover on the A13 in Barking that motorbikes were banned from , needless to say I still used it. This was of course on a 250 and L Plates, I took my test just before 5he125 law came in.

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1 hour ago, NorfolkNWeigh said:

I think location was if anything more influential on the local street scene than it is now. Barking would have been wall to wall Fords of all ages, generations of people buying on the  Employee discount scheme.  Although contrary to what was on TV dramas not with the Met. they were still using Hunters and Avengers for CID , complete with 50’s style bells instead of sirens, Allegros as Panda cars and SD1s , usually  2600s with minilites for the bigger stuff. Ambulances would mostly be Bedford CF autos with the Holden straight six. BT vans were everywhere Dodge (Commer ) Spacevans and Bedford HAs both still just about in production solely for BT and the Post Office. The Evening Standard would be delivered to every street corner by sliding door Sherpas or sometimes Marina Vans.

 

Takes me back... 🙂

Didn't know that about the CF ambos - how the hell did they manage to squeeze the Aussie six in there??!

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10 minutes ago, garethj said:

1972 Jaguar XJ6

Looks like an early ‘60s Mini

Dunno what the purple car is

Austin 1100

The car facing us is a VW Polo

Purple car is another Mini.

From the furthest point I recon:

Allegro, Hunter ( or Sceptre ), Polo. not sure what is next, then a chopped up Transit van made into a tow truck.

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Just tonight I was watching "Babylon" on Netflix.  For the first 10 mins I was seriously impressed with the trouble they'd gone to to replicate 1981 London.  Especially the street scenes full of period-accurate crap cars.  It was only when a young Mel Smith appeared as the garage manager (followed by Jacko from Brush Strokes) that I realised I was watching a 1981 movie!   Anyway, I'd have a look at that for 1981-working-class-London inspiration.   https://www.netflix.com/gb/title/81335107   And for the rest of you, it was quite a good watch.  Full of chod.

P.S. What's the plot of your novel?  PPS, Is that you Nicola?

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In 1981 I was working employed at Dagenham and living in Basildon (I am still not over the latter). If there is a new Fiesta (Mk1 as they became known) or a Mk5 Cortina, chances are I was involved in it in some small way. 

One of the reasons I don't do Fords :-) 

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9 hours ago, Missy Charm said:

Time machines do not exist.  The only real way 'home', back to the twentieth century anyway, is via the imagination.  Anyway, writing is my hobby; I'm not that good at it, but I am willing.  The historical novel is where I currently find myself, fiction wise.  Readers of such things, apologies if you are such and are being taught to suck eggs, love accuracy.  They are quite right to; anything less than accuracy places one's work in the realms of pastiche or wish fulfilment.  What's the point of that?  Why expend so much time and effort and get things wrong?  

Getting things right is more difficult.  One has many things to consider, but those can be split into the broad topic areas of language and facts.  Language is the interesting bit: one must breathe life into long dead styles of prose and dialogue construction and, once up and running, use them.  Facts are simultaneously easy to get hold of and nigh on impossible to come by; you know how it is.  The best thing to do is ask people.  God only knows how writers of proper historical fiction, Mantel et. al., get on as they can hardly ask a Tudor or a Victorian what he or she thinks about whatever.  To make my life easier, I'm not going that far into the past.  The hope is that you can, if you are able to spare the time, answer some car related questions in order to assist with the writing project.  

To set the scene: it's April 3rd 1981.  Easter is coming up and Hill Street Blues was on Thames last night; The Little World of Don Camillo was on the other side, for those whose parents only watched the BBC.  Manufacturing output is down by about 9%; unemployment is high, especially among the youth; Thatcher isn't greatly popular as monetarist policy doesn't seem to be doing what was claimed; the economy isn't quite in recession; Healey and Benn are vying for deputy leadership of The Labour Party.  Sarah Delaney, our protagonist, lives in a rented room in Romford and works in a small factory in a still industrial Barking.  

The roads are, of course, full of old favourites... 

This sounds excellent. I work as an archaeologist, so I love the past and love the idea of travelling back in time in order to see what it would be like. 

You make a lot of very good points about the issues faced by writers of historical fiction (I only ever have to write historical fact and that is tricky enough). Trying to accurately represent the attitudes and language of someone in the past is very difficult, especially if people in the past act talk and behave authentically. For example most people 40 years ago, or even 15 years ago were very much more homophobic than they would be today. Casual racism was also a lot more prevalent (although that seems to have crept back in sadly). It depends how gritty you want to go. I really love the BBC comedy series Ghosts, which has a set of ghosts of different eras, early Stone Age, through to early 1990s. Most of the comedy comes from the juxtaposition of people from different times in history and extremely good characterisation. I do like a degree of authenticity about historical fiction, this often gets glossed over these days so as to make the work palatable to modern audiences.

An Irish or anglo Irish person (Delaney) in this period may have also faced restrictions, social stigma or been effectively ghettoised, this being at the height of the Troubles. There was quite a vocal social justice movement in the UK at the time though, which was noticeable in things like alternative comedy (Young Ones) or music (too many to list). The early 80s was more like the late 70s, Thatcher's reforms had yet to really kick in. You still had a lot of urban deprivation, most areas of inner London were largely quite run down. The South East still had a massive manufacturing economy. The early 80s weren't that far from the end of the Second World War, so there was stills lots of baggage there, we'd only just divested most of our former colonial possessions in the late 60s, and become much more economically eurocentric when we joined the EEC in 1973.    

As to cars, I think rates of ownership of a car have remained quite constant in the UK since the 1960s. The big difference is people owning more than one car (some people on here have really skewed the figures). Most people in the period bought British, as the prevailing view was that foreign cars were badly built (Japanese/French), difficult to fix (French), were too French (French). Owning a German car might mean you were a student or a dropout (Beetle or Camper), very few people were buying BMWs or Mercedes which were very expensive although regarded as a status symbol. Audis were a bit quirky and not necessarily as upmarket. My Mum bought an Opel Kadett (Mk2 Astra with different badges) in the mid 80s, she once returned to it to find an old man presumably a former Second World War participant shuddering with rage, and muttering about how he didn't fight in the war just for people to go and buy bloody German cars. I think Ashes to Ashes was set in 1981. Much as I love the Audi Quattro, it was a bit of a stretch to imagine a British copper driving such a car back then, it would be a very quirky choice and hugely expensive to buy.

A good series to watch to get a flavour of the late 70s early 80s is The Professionals. There are loads of interesting vehicles on there, a bit of social commentary, an insight into attitudes of the time and a snapshot of inner London now completely redeveloped. Bear in mind any shit ropey old car on a 70s tv series is usually only there so it can be crashed or inexplicably burst into flames they weren't necessarily representative of the cars of the time.

 

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April 1981?  I was 22, unemployed, driving a rough 1972 Triumph Toledo, and picking up seasonal work where I could.  Luckily, living in a seaside town meant there was a permanent fairground, so for the likes of Easter I could get a couple of weeks work.  This was the year after the incident I referred to in the "Scrapped a Cosworth" thread, so the scars were still a bit raw.

I remember later in the year (June/July) driving to Norwich in the Triumph (from Southport, so 200-odd miles) and driving through a strangely quiet Leicester.  It was only later I found out there had been major rioting in Leicester that night, it just wasn't where I was.

So, there was a lot of unrest going on.  The government, elected in a landslide a mere two years ago, was very unpopular and having to take some awfully hard decisions.  Rabbles were being roused all over the place, a ridiculously easy task at the time.  There were only three TV channels, and people, whole families even, could be loyal to one channel over the others, as they would to their preferred brand of car, of cigarette, of chocolate.

There was nothing unusual in seeing a ten-year-old car with an odd-coloured door or two.  That car could easily be an Escort: they were worthless.  Marque loyalty was mostly for people who could buy new.  Foreign cars were creeping in but fleet buyers exclusively bought British.

Minder and The Professionals were on telly, and both were "events" to be watched by the family as a whole, at the appointed time.  Not many households had video recorders.  Not every household even had a phone!

Good luck :)

You could still see the odd stylistic "punk" out and about.

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You're wondering how Hilary Mantel and so on, get the language and depth of knowledge right, and albeit that you're not going as far back as that, the method is the same: read and research everything you can in 'big' libraries and network with academics, who are always good for an unexpected angle, and often know a publisher or two.

Those are the 'hard yards', the 10,000 hours. It's like ordering enough steel to pave your street, just to cut a repair patch. Only then can you be sure you've got the right bit of steel.

Welcome along, and, once you can get in the open forum, there's a regional dialects thread in there you might find interesting.

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      To mark the genesis of my fleet project thread I here present my new car: a 1997 Nissan Micra Shape-


      It really looks that good. There is a reason for this: its previous owner was an old lady who loved the thing so much so she made every effort to keep it in good shape. It originally came from Fleet in the GU postcode which suggests to me it was bought by the present dealer at auction, hence arriving down here in Kent. Before seeing the car I checked its MOT history and its only fails were thanks to broken stoplights, which shows me that it was very well cared for. I suppose an example of this was that on the last MOT, an advisory was a corroded rear silencer. The silencer on the car when I saw it was new. Methinks the lady wanted to keep it as good as possible. It was kept in a garage and so all the bumpers and black trim are very black and the tyres are in very good condition. Spare never used! Also included a free Dettol first aid kit from 1997.
      This car has 15000 genuine miles on the clock. We clocked over 15000 during the test drive! The lady owner really only trundled around her village in it and the MOT shows that it only did some meagre miles between tests. This, of course, came at a price. We saw a cherry red Micra from 2002 at the same dealer. Paint was shoddy and when they washed it the boot had massive sections of bare metal and it wasn't very happy. This car, however, is in fabulous condition and there was no contest between the two cars- it really is that good, inside and out. Immaculate interior, driver's airbag, cassette player... all there and all functioning (apart from cassette thanks to new battery and failed display). This meant that I bought it for £1600, £100 over what was my uppermost limit, but I knew I wouldn't see another like this that was in as good shape for a fair while. It was priced very ambitiously, at £1990, so I'm content in the fact I managed to slash a few hundred off the price. There wasn't that much paperwork though. All the dealership received was the logbook with 3 service stamps from 1998, 1999 and 2000, the radio key pass, a National Trust sticker, and the original paperwork holder. I suspect the old lady died and had her car auctioned, and the massive file of paperwork is now someone's egg carton, along will everything else she owned.

      As always, this car isn't exactly in showroom condition. While the inside is great and the floor is solid, and the underseal is in great shape, the not undersealed parts need a small looking at. Mainly the rear of the driver's side sill. It's really the only bubbling on the car. I suspect a well aimed stonechip managed to fester over the wintery salted roads, making it rust even more. It's around the size of a 5p piece, and will give me the opportunity to spray the insides of the sill with some chain oil to prevent any further corrosion. Behind the fuel tank there are a few rusty joints- places where the spraygun cannot get paint onto- which some Vactan and Dynax should put to rights. Alternator belt looks original because of the cracking and Nissan badges and will need doing soon as well as the front plate. As much as I like the 90's font and original dealer surround, the dishevelled R and general water ingress is a persistant MOT advisory. It could be the MOT station being strict (and most likely is considering there's a Saxo down the road with far worse blackening), however for the sake of peace of mind and all that, I'll get a new one made. The rear has already been replaced indicating this has happened before.
      All in all, I think this is a nice plucky motor. I'll have it by the end of the week; just got to sort out tax, insurance, and it's going to have an MOT. As part of the deal it's getting the MOT and an oil and filter change which will be something ticked off the list. It has some love scratches and chips here and there, but it drives well, is stiff and controllable, and should make out to be a nice summer project!
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