I know it is hard to imagine, but I was born in a time and a place where there were no computers and very little television. Every Sunday afternoon, my father, would read to me from his favourite books (some of which I have to say were probably not really suitable for young children). Dad loved English history so many of the stories he read us were historical novels and the one that stayed with me and fired my imagination for all time was THE KING’S GENERAL by Daphne Du Maurier. If you don’t know this story it is set in the English Civil War and involves the very real life Sir Richard Grenville.
I was in love… not just with history but in particular with the English Civil War. The romance and tragedy of that terrible war between the King and his Parliament, cavaliers and roundheads, captured my imagination. I kept a scrapbook of articles cut from magazines, I devoured any book or movie I could find set in that period and when I ran out of stories to read, I started writing my own. My best friend at school also loved writing and we would spend our lunch hours perched in the willow tree in our school yard, writing away in shorthand notebooks.
Of course I grew up and life and career and family got in the way of writing but I never lost that urge to write. Over the years I continued to accumulate a library of books about the English Civil War and in my spare time I kept writing the story of my heart (which is now a published novel called BY THE SWORD). Then along came computers and the internet and instant access to resources I could only have dreamed about. I have now published eight novels, six of which are set in the English Civil War.
I studied history (and law) at university so I am, technically, a historian by training, but unfortunately living in Australia, my choice of subjects was limited and thus my qualification is in ancient history! That doesn’t matter… I think if I had pursued my love of the English Civil War in an academic sense, I would have lost my passion to write stories! That doesn’t prevent me writing the occasional ‘academic’ type article and for many years I posted regularly to a blog called Hoydens and Firebrands (it is now archived but you can still find my posts, eg this article on War Crimes during the English Civil War, are still being read regularly).
The books I write are often classified as ‘romance’ because I like my characters to have a happy ever after’ but for me historical accuracy is paramount and it is gratifying when readers comment on the colour and accuracy I bring to the story. I have had a lifetime of absorbing every detail of the period of the English Civil War and I find I don’t need to do much research, but I do go to my favourite books which often have little details I can’t find on line that bring a story to life. For example my book THE KING’S MAN came from a single line in Antonia Fraser’s biography of Cromwell which notes that a ‘Miss Granville’ threw a brick bat at the coach bearing Oliver Cromwell to dine with the Lord Mayor of London. Who was Miss Granville and why was she hurling brick bats at the Lord Protector? I still don’t know the true story (don’t tell me!) but I had fun with a fictional explanation!
I am, however, currently writing a series of historical novels set in Australia in the 1870s and that involves a huge amount of research from techniques of gold mining to what sort of lighting they used. The trick I find is not to get bogged in the research while you are writing. My priority is the story and if I get stuck on a piece of research I don’t know, I write a note to myself to go back and fix it when I come to revise the book.
Now for the practicalities… how do I write? I write all my books using a project management system for writers called Scrivener which enables me to store the research (documents, images and websites) so it is easily accessible to the story I am writing. I don’t really plot my stories – they grow organically from an idea, a character or a situation. There is no right or wrong way and trust me I have tried plotting but it killed the story for me before I even began. Every writer is different and whatever works for the individual is the right way for them.
Award-winning Australian author, Alison Stuart learned her passion from history from her father. She has been writing stories since her teenage years but it was not until 2007 that her first full length novel was published. A past president of the Romance Writers of Australia, Alison has now published seven full length historical romances and a collection of her short stories. Many of her stories have been shortlisted for international awards and BY THE SWORD won the 2008 EPIC Award for Best Historical Romance. If you would like to more about her books her website is http://www.alisonstuart.com