Writing historical fiction is time consuming to say the least. Each scene that surrounds a character must be true for the reader, and the easiest way to make this scene true, is research and more research. You cannot afford to be wrong, unless of course you do it deliberately, because you are writing an ‘alternate history’ novel.
A few years ago I wrote an historical novel, which took me at least two years to research. I’d write a scene and then study it to make sure that a character could do what I wanted. For example, I had the main character board a coach in London to travel to Liverpool in 1804. The first thing that comes to mind, was from where in London would he leave – research.
How big was the coach, how many horses, how many passengers, did they all sit inside or did some sit on top and if so was it cheaper to travel ‘up top’ than inside? Research, research and more research.
My wife considers that I more interested in the research side of writing than I am in producing the finished novel. There may be some truth in her comment . . .
Small details can pop up that you consider and then either use or discard. Too many details will slow the story and you are trying to entertain, not educate, but you do inadvertently educate, so accuracy matters.
One small detail that I didn’t use was that the cost for sitting inside was 5d (five pence) per mile and if you sat up top it was 2 1/2d (twopence h’penny). If I play trivia pursuit on NYE I wonder if I’ll get this question?
How fast did the coach travel, – the average speed being about eight to ten miles an hour until the roads were improved by Mr. McAdam allowing the speed average to increase to fourteen miles an hour.
How long was it before the horses were changed?
The route was cut in to ‘stages ‘ hence the coach was a ‘stagecoach’- and they would change the horses every ten to fifteen miles.
Some stage stops would allow the passengers to have a meal, but if a coach carried mail many stage stops would be to just change horses, and the post office would only allow five minutes for this procedure, but a crack team could do it in three minutes. To warn the inn and to save time the guard at the rear of the coach would sound his horn in a way to warn the coaching inn that they were approaching, and to have the horses ready for the change.The tone of the sound informed the inn keeper that the coach only wanted fresh horses or that it was a meal stop.
Was there anything special about the coach; – a Royal Mail coach would have the origin city’s name and the destination city’s name blazoned on the side along with the Royal coat of arms. Royal Mail coaches used numbers whereas commercial coaches gave their service names ‘The Flyer’, ‘The Union’, ‘The Courier, and ’Umpire’ was a Liverpool bound coach and so on.
One would think that a novelist could make up the answers to many of the questions, but if he was wrong then this would taint the overall story and if a reader thought that the author had ‘cheated’ then the reader might not finish the book or the they might post a negative review, which would be worse.
In my novel I had the London to Liverpool coach stop at an inn at Stony Stratford, which was well known as a stopping place for stagecoaches on their way north to Liverpool, Manchester etc, Stony Straford being a day’s ride from London.
The picture illustrates the inside of a coaching inn (not Cock Inn).
The inn I used was the Cock Inn, which is just up the road from the Bull Inn, which was also a coaching inn. It is known the both inns would exaggerate their services and after a time a story teller would be told that his story was a load of Cock and Bull.
Jon Cok was the original landlord in 1480, which is how the inn got its name not from the bird. Although the pub sign shows the bird.
Stony Stratford has been around since 1194, and the word ‘Stratford’ in Anglo-Saxon means a ford on a Roman road – the ford being across the River Ouse. The ‘stony’ bit is referring to the stones on the bed of the river.
A friend of mine from my Conway days, who lives near Stony Stratford and had read my book, sent me photographs of the same street today.
The Cock Inn is now a hotel.
As is the Bull Inn, which is to the right of the Cock Inn.
The Bull Inn can be seen on the right of the picture with its Bull Inn sign and further along the road, near the flower baskets close to the lady in red, is the Cock Inn.
Cock Inn late 1800’s – I doubt that this coach & four was on its way to Liverpool.
All this research for a small part of one chapter – if nothing else I learned a lot.
If you wish to know the connection between the slave picture and my book, read the blurb on the book’s cover. If it is unclear or too small, try this link