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Historical novel help: different sort of project


Missy Charm
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4 hours ago, warch said:

, this being at the height of the Troubles .

 

Language is interesting, I remember seeing an episode of Drop The Dead Donkey on channel 4 where they said that government had advised newsrooms to now refer to the Northern Ireland war as “the troubles”. 
 

The old newsreader said “The troubles?  What do they think 2000 people died of there - stress?”

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15 minutes ago, garethj said:

Language is interesting, I remember seeing an episode of Drop The Dead Donkey on channel 4 where they said that government had advised newsrooms to now refer to the Northern Ireland war as “the troubles”. 
 

The old newsreader said “The troubles?  What do they think 2000 people died of there - stress?”

I was thinking of Drop the Dead Donkey as I was typing that, it's such a quintessentially British understatement. 

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IMO too much concentration on historical detail can detract from the story.  I have in mind the Falco stories set in ancient Rome, where sometimes the page seems to be a catalogue of ancient Roman domestic stuff.   All very accurate and well researched no doubt, but it's padding unless it actually advances the story.

In  London in 1981 we do not need to know that the protagonist's car is a 1300 4 door Escort GL in Cordoba Beige with houndstooth cloth seats with the optional wheel trims,  etc.   Most readers won't care.  We need to know whether it is cheap car or an expensive one, whether it is smart or scruffy, whether it is reliable, is it easy to park, does it attract the wrong sort of attention, that sort of thing.

Likewise how much detail do you go into about interior decoration, fashions and furniture of the period?  I think you only say what is relevant.  Your job as an author is to create an impression and let the reader's mind do the work. 

Of course you should avoid anachronisms, but this is more of a problem with a movie than a printed work.       

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If you want to include motorbikes Honda C90's (C50's for learners) where absolutely everywhere mainly used for commuting to and from the factory. Fishing tackle and pigeon hampers being carried at weekends. They were not called Cubs by their owners, this is a modern affectation. Mopeds in general (not plastic scooters) were popular means of transport.

The vast majority of bigger bikes would be Japanese, mainly Honda's, mainly Super Dreams, Italian and (West) German bikes were unimaginably exotic but MZ from East Germany was quietly making in-roads into 125 and 250cc sales. There would have been some Brit bikes about but they would be almost universally knackered by the early '80's.

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I was 15 in 1981 and couldn't wait until I was 16 to get my sports moped on the road. Most of the kids around here had a moped, back then the bus service was awful so to go anywhere you needed a 'ped. There were still a few punks around but alot more skinheads. There were  those from the ska revival era (nicely dressed) and also those who followed the "Oi" bands with their bleached jeans and Doc Martens up to their knees.

To get a feel for the youth of that time watch Tuckers Luck on youtube. I think the first series was filmed in 1983 but will give you an idea of the cars, fashion , unemployment and attidudes of the time.

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I write a bit. I'm not very good at it, so tell me to naff off if you like. 

When you are living an ordinary existence it's hard to see the bigger picture of the times you are living in. What level of intelligence and interest in the wider world does your protagonist have? For example; I grew up near Leicester in the 70s and 80s and had no idea there had been a riot until @eddyramrod just mentioned it. My life was too narrowly focused then; no internet, no daily paper, too busy living to listen to political strife down the road. Now it seems shocking, noteworthy, yet at the time it was probably just a thing. The Falklands seemed far away, Charles and Di may as well have been aliens, what mattered was far more tedious little details - getting a Raleigh Chopper, snogging that blond girl who I sat next to in maths, getting my head kicked in after school, nicking sweets, picking on the fat kid. Horrible, parochial, ugly little things that I'm not proud of but seemed important from my perspective at the time. Does your protagonist have a similar view? The strikes at Dagenham (for example) fascinate most of us here, today, but at the time it was just life and hardly noteworthy for most. 

I'll also echo an earlier comment - don't get bogged down in detail at the expense of a strong plot and painting just enough of a picture to engage your reader. 

Good luck!

PS - Blondie, Call Me, that song filled my head in 1980. We didn't have a phone, mind. 

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Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (1979) & Smiley's People (1982) have a lot of good London street scenes from around this period.

I can remember my Dad mentioning about someone abandoning a Citroen DS in a car park local to us, as mentioned above most were practically worthless in the early 1980s as most would cost too much perform a major repair on & not really DIY friendly.

While my Dad had a job with a company car at this time, my Mum was driving a K reg Renault 12 until 1984, and my Uncle had a Mk2 Ford Cortina until 1983, so even people living fairly comfortably would often keep an older car going if it was worth doing.  Later on in the 1980s credit deals for new cars seemed to be easier to obtain.

My parents rented a TV until late 1984, as sets were expensive to buy new & often needed to be repaired, which was provided for when renting.

Again thanks to credit being easier to obtain my parents bought a set, & technology improved so that most TVs hardly needed repairing.  I can only remember the set my parents bought needed professional attention & was still mostly working when my parents threw away all their analogue sets after the digital switchover.

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i was 16 just left school on yts scheme goverment slave scheme,i was on a scheme were i painted central oil tanks in schools got say i had fun and seen all lake district for nothing. me and my m8s all we did was get p***ed all the time and chaseing women and listening to music off the time,i was in to scare and 2 tone music and bought my 1st form off transport a 1965 honda 90 not step through one with chrome tank proper motor bike for £20 .rember being skint liveing on council estate haveing time off my life,boys from black stuff sumed it all up.rember sitting in pub with my grandad my mum and my 2 uncles 3 genrations lol,every body just mixed and got on with it,yes nothing changed we all hated the goverment and maggie rember my grandad saying there special place in hell for her.

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12 hours ago, motorpunk said:

I write a bit. I'm not very good at it, so tell me to naff off if you like. 

When you are living an ordinary existence it's hard to see the bigger picture of the times you are living in. What level of intelligence and interest in the wider world does your protagonist have? For example; I grew up near Leicester in the 70s and 80s and had no idea there had been a riot until @eddyramrod just mentioned it. My life was too narrowly focused then; no internet, no daily paper, too busy living to listen to political strife down the road. Now it seems shocking, noteworthy, yet at the time it was probably just a thing. The Falklands seemed far away, Charles and Di may as well have been aliens, what mattered was far more tedious little details - getting a Raleigh Chopper, snogging that blond girl who I sat next to in maths, getting my head kicked in after school, nicking sweets, picking on the fat kid. Horrible, parochial, ugly little things that I'm not proud of but seemed important from my perspective at the time. Does your protagonist have a similar view? The strikes at Dagenham (for example) fascinate most of us here, today, but at the time it was just life and hardly noteworthy for most. 

I'll also echo an earlier comment - don't get bogged down in detail at the expense of a strong plot and painting just enough of a picture to engage your reader. 

Good luck!

PS - Blondie, Call Me, that song filled my head in 1980. We didn't have a phone, mind. 

Thank you, I won't tell anyone to 'naff off'!  All fiction is artifice and one of its roles is to give information.  One has to provide a degree of background in order to set the scene and provide context for the events of the plot and character actions.  On the other hand you are quite right: the majority of people aren't really that interested in what's going on in the world, life gets in the way and most of us have more pressing concerns than the political or economic landscape.  That was truer in 1981, of course, as back then there was no social media driven urge to have an opinion on absolutely everything; I well remember the days when it was cool, almost, to laugh and say 'I don't care'.  In an attempt to solve that problem I have made the protagonist someone with a rather narrow existence, at least initially, with fewer of the usual concerns.  Owing to that she does spend a lot of time listening to the radio, reading the papers and so on; that causes her to view others' quite real problems as parochial and silly, and others to view her as somewhat aloof.  Having the character care about such things, even if others don't, is something of a way in for the information necessary to contextualise what is going on.  

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13 hours ago, motorpunk said:

I write a bit.

@Missy Charm you'll find in time that there are a few writers on here!  Many are writing, or have written, for specific magazines (no not that type, I mean car mags!); I am now working on a sitcom with three writer friends, none of whom are on here.  I, as I'm sure several others can say, have dabbled in "modern history" before and may well again, so please, post freely, we ARE interested!

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120170260_CorgiPolytronic.jpg.56688d0ed9e8f18b1a7096009abee4b9.jpg

First car related question applies to this thing (in a manner of speaking), rather than a full sized vehicle.  The car itself takes four UM2 batteries, plus a separate 9 volt on a snap on terminal connector.  My assumption, given that seventies electronics were relatively primitive, is that the 9 volt radio battery provides a permanent 'live' feed to the radio receiver and steering actuator.  The receiver, in turn, then electronically switches the motor drive circuit between forward, reverse and off.  The main battery array, the UM2s, are only live when the motor is running.  Does that sound about right?

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15 hours ago, somewhatfoolish said:

The Boys From the Blackstuff would be another to watch for social attitudes, dress, streetscenes etc from the early 80s. 

Interesting is the title sequence which follows an old transit down past the Liverbuilding, past the Albert Dock and Towards the Dingle.  It was pretty much a wasteland. Now its a tourist destination. 

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4 hours ago, Missy Charm said:

120170260_CorgiPolytronic.jpg.56688d0ed9e8f18b1a7096009abee4b9.jpg

First car related question applies to this thing (in a manner of speaking), rather than a full sized vehicle.  The car itself takes four UM2 batteries, plus a separate 9 volt on a snap on terminal connector.  My assumption, given that seventies electronics were relatively primitive, is that the 9 volt radio battery provides a permanent 'live' feed to the radio receiver and steering actuator.  The receiver, in turn, then electronically switches the motor drive circuit between forward, reverse and off.  The main battery array, the UM2s, are only live when the motor is running.  Does that sound about right?

I'd try posting on Shite in Miniature with that, or even Ask a Shiter.

 

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On 20/12/2021 at 12:53, martc said:

If you want to include motorbikes Honda C90's (C50's for learners) where absolutely everywhere mainly used for commuting to and from the factory. Fishing tackle and pigeon hampers being carried at weekends. They were not called Cubs by their owners, this is a modern affectation. Mopeds in general (not plastic scooters) were popular means of transport.

The vast majority of bigger bikes would be Japanese, mainly Honda's, mainly Super Dreams, Italian and (West) German bikes were unimaginably exotic but MZ from East Germany was quietly making in-roads into 125 and 250cc sales. There would have been some Brit bikes about but they would be almost universally knackered by the early '80's.

Funnily enough one character, the production supervisor, rides a Honda Super Dream.  I'd forgotten that but have been reviewing some stuff written a while ago.  

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If its a book, I wouldn't get too hung up on much motoring detail. Probably enough to say"........... arrived in his rusty brown Ford Zephyr ", or somesuch. However, if it makes the television or film screens, then detail is much more critical. It annoys me when a vehicle isn't of the period. An example was the otherwise excellent A Very English Scandal  first aired a few years ago. The opening scenes showed Jeremy Thorpe played by Hugh Grant, driving a Rover 3.5 V8 P5B. The screen caption stated April 1967.Now we all know the P5B didn't appear until much later in the year for the Motor Show.Another was the Cortina Mk3 in Life on Mars which was a mish mash of 2000GXL and later 2000E.Surprising how often errors can be found. Anyway, if you run any period motoring queries past the the guys on here, you won't go far wrong. GLWTB. 

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One thing I do remember about 1981, was that the Charles and Diana wedding was an absolutely MASSIVE event, in a way it’s hard to explain in these more cynical times. The royal family was a lot more more popular then, and the Silver Jubilee had only been 4 years previously.

The nation had had a crap couple of years and wanted an excuse to have street parties etc. The sheer amount of associated commemorative tat produced was incredible  - it’s still clogging up charity shops 40 years later!  There were those on the Left and Republicans moaning about the cost, as always, but generally the working classes loved it. The lower middle classes even more so. 

To the average person not living in an inner city, this was far more memorable than riots or political events. There were still strikes and the like going on but nothing like on the scale of the disruption of the 1970s. 

For London street scenes and general attitudes of the time, you can’t go far wrong with episodes of ‘Minder’ which should be available via ITV’s catch-up on Freeview. There is also the Bob Hoskins film ‘The Long Good Friday’ which, although on the face of it is a very hard-edged and violent crime movie, was also very prescient in terms of the development of the Docklands and the gentrification of London in the 1980s. 

One additional thing: the early 1980s recession was overwhelmingly one that affected manufacturing and heavy industry. After the two worst years of 80/81 areas of the country that weren’t dependent on that sort of industry recovered fairly quickly.

Someone in London, even a comparatively grotty bit of it, wouldn’t have necessarily related to some of the stories/cultural things mentioned here e.g. Boys from the Black Stuff.

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10 hours ago, AnthonyG said:

Someone in London, even a comparatively grotty bit of it, wouldn’t have necessarily related to some of the stories/cultural things mentioned here e.g. Boys from the Black Stuff.

London and the south east did have a lot of manufacturing and engineering firms though many of which went to the wall or were in dire financial straits during the early 80s. As did the Midlands, which was full of foundries and factories prior to the mid-80s. I think there was quite a lot of social deprivation at the time, high unemployment etc just as there was elsewhere. 
 

Prior to the 80s lots of manufacturing and engineering firms had their head offices and even storage yards in urban London because it was central, quite cheap and close to the docks. 

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10 hours ago, Dobloseven said:

If its a book, I wouldn't get too hung up on much motoring detail. Probably enough to say"........... arrived in his rusty brown Ford Zephyr ", or somesuch. However, if it makes the television or film screens, then detail is much more critical. It annoys me when a vehicle isn't of the period. An example was the otherwise excellent A Very English Scandal  first aired a few years ago. The opening scenes showed Jeremy Thorpe played by Hugh Grant, driving a Rover 3.5 V8 P5B. The screen caption stated April 1967.Now we all know the P5B didn't appear until much later in the year for the Motor Show.Another was the Cortina Mk3 in Life on Mars which was a mish mash of 2000GXL and later 2000E.Surprising how often errors can be found. Anyway, if you run any period motoring queries past the the guys on here, you won't go far wrong. GLWTB. 

It's a difficult balance to strike.  One's initial instinct is to be hesitant when it comes to detail; less of it has the dual benefits of trimming fat from the prose and reducing the chance of things going wrong.  Simply saying 'winter coat', for instance, is safer than saying 'Puffa jacket', which may or may not have been in fashion in that particular crowd at that time.  

On the other hand, readers of this stuff like detail.  They even use historical fiction as a means of research, as a more interesting way of finding things out about the Roman Empire or whatever.   Hilary Mantel has certainly helped me understand Henry VIII, for example.  A certain degree is expected, therefore.  The trick, as always, is not to be boring but that leaves the writer of something in a more modern timeframe in something of a quandary.  Nobody alive today has lived through the Tudor period; material about the Tudors is, therefore, likely to be somewhat new and interesting to readers of any age.  There are plenty of people alive today who lived through the early eighties, for whom material about the decade is neither new nor greatly interesting; they might like less of it as a result.  They can, too, bring the time period to mind in a way that a 20 year old cannot, or cannot without help in the form of more descriptive prose.  Younger readers might want more, and what of nostalgia?  

My method is to put lots of information in, solid bedrock if you like, and then to take it out again when editing.  That cuts down on extraneous stuff, keeps little bits in and, hopefully, ensures what's left is 'right'.  

Oddly, too, fiction of the period, which is all I've read for several years, does talk about cars at reasonable length; more so than modern fiction, perhaps.  I suspect it's because cars were more important, in a cultural sense, in the early eighties.  

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From what I remember the Harrington was a very popular jacket, young men around here wore the black Harrington with red tarten lining and the young ladies favoured a red Harrington. Winter coat was the snorkel parker, teenagers wore the dark blue one with the hood up and zipped up making it look like a snorkel (like Kenny on Southpark) so much so one of my friends was nicknamed Snork.

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Short extract with motorbike stuff, just to give an indication of levels of detail.  Clifford Hook 'the man' is a factory production supervisor, Sarah is the protagonist and the others are fellow workers.    

 

‘Don’t worry’, the man said ‘all this fuss over a toy car. Who wants a car anyway, when you can ride a motorbike? You might think they break down a lot. Maybe once but now we’ve got the Japanese ones. Pearls of things, that’s what Hondas are, from big to small.’

‘How’s Eric finding the 125?’, asked Sarah, pouncing on the chance to change the subject ‘Does he still like it?’

‘He’s my son, of course he still likes it! You know we’re thinking about a run out to the seaside this weekend.’

‘Go down to Crimpton-on-Sea and see Sarah’s folks’, suggested Julie

‘They’re in Clacton, not Dovercourt’, Sarah said.

‘Is there a difference?’, asked Angela

‘Clacton’s got razzmatazz, and a pier with real live sealions in a tank, I took my mother to see them.’

‘What did she think?’, asked Hook

‘Doesn’t really think about anything, my mum’, said Sarah.

‘You go to Clacton on the train, don’t you’, said the supervisor ‘Never my favourite, that line; electric multiple units. I prefer a locomotive hauled service.’

‘That’s super, Mr Hook’, said Mrs Gomersall. ‘Oughtn’t you be telling them to get on, though? It’s starting to seem like nobody ever does any work in this factory.’

 

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