In 2012, laid up from ankle surgery, I came up with an idea to while away the time: I’d write a book. The book centers around an American actress living in England who has massive stage fright but continues to get jobs due to her extraordinary beauty. As she gets long in the tooth, a patron gives her a Kodak Brownie as a gift to keep her occupied during her downtime and she discovers she’s brilliant with a camera. After I fleshed out my character a bit, more ideas came forward: Edwardian period, magical realism, fairies, Arthur Conan Doyle, motorbikes, and a murder and you have a fantastic world in the making.
(This doesn’t mean I’ll be using all the things or anything else comes up but hey! having too much is better than not having enough.)
The name of the project is “Cabinet Particulier,” which is a term used for enclosed rooms in restaurants where men would meet their mistresses. The working title seems appropriate for a book based on a failed actress with the Edwardian version of a questionable background.
(You can read the beginning of my research notes over at exitpursuedbyabear.net.)
Months march on and in 2014, TEH and I decide I’m taking a gap year to write my book. Anyone who’s been keeping track of me these last few years know shit didn’t end up turning out that way.
(The story I’m spinning when future employers look at my resume is I took a gap year and the book stalled, which is mostly true.)
It’s almost five years (!) since the original idea smacked into my brain and I’ve decided it’s finally time to give my book the time it is due.
Let’s answer some questions:
What is the Edwardian period: Period of time begins around 1900 and ends at the beginning, mostly, of WWI (1914). The dates are a bit fluid, with dates extended on either direction but is considered the gap period between Victorian age and the Roaring ’20s. Some scholars consider it to be the tail end of the Victorian era while others, like myself, see it as a wholly different period. The period is named for the English king, King Edward VII, who comes into power after his mother, Queen Victoria (the name sake of the Victorian era), dies. In the US, the period is loosely referred to as “The Gilded Age” and in France, “Belle Époque.”
Why the Edwardian period: I knew I wanted the book to be historical fiction and I also knew I wanted the period to be close to contemporary times since there would be more research available (hah!). I tend to gravitate to periods pre-Depression era (1930s) but I wanted something different than your usual molls and gangsters of the 1920s. The turn of the 20th century was huge with big changes: Cars were becoming affordable and popular, same with radios, telephones, and electricity. Cameras and bikes were also coming into their own. People were becoming more literate, printing was cheap, and you saw the rise of mass produced books and magazines. The attitudes were more relaxed than the perceived stuffiness of the Victorians and lifestyles was more opulent and extravagant. I also wanted it to be pre-sinking of the Titanic (1912).
In short, it was an era where anything and everything could be possible.
Influences: When I began my research, I found women, more so than men, were commercial and artistic photographers, so giving her a new job was easy. Popular travelogues of the era were written by women. There was a spike in the belief in the supernatural — The Victorians loved their ghost stories, seances, and research into the otherworld carried over to the beginning of the century. It became more socially acceptable for a woman to have jobs that would have been unseemly in the Victorian era, namely actresses and models. Thanks to telephones and postcards (yes, really), communication was easier and faster. This is also the rise of the middle class so you’re seeing a lot money spent on vacations, luxuries, and entertainment.
Research: has been sketchy. Finding material that works specifically with that period has been hard. While there seems to be a zillion blogs/websites/books on Victorians and the Roaring ’20s and forward, the Edwardian period seems to be forgotten. Much of the social commentary on WWI tends to lean towards the Roaring ’20s rather than the time before it. Since many scholars and historians consider the period to be late-Victorian, what I have been finding for resources tend to be footnotes in those works. I thought the popularity of Downton Abbey would see a rush of amateur historians coming to the rescue, but no. I’ve been expanding my search terms to find more information – Art Nouveau is such an example.
Where are we at now: I took a fiction class in the fall of 2015 and workshopped the first chapter and it was well received. I’ve been playing around with characters, theme, and story lines so the basic idea, “failed American actress living in London,” is starting to flesh out. Since I gave away my print books on the topic, I’m starting my research from scratch. There is an accompanying Pinboard, Pinterest, Tumblr sites as well as a RSS feed if you want to follow along. Posts, as always, will be cross-posted over on Facebook. My Scrivener files are still intact.
What’s next: Now that my meds are under control which means my focus is better, I’m going to sketch out a plan of attack. I know I need to do a lot of research and I should also work on note taking of character / plot / scene. I bought a mechanics book on novel writing to help with the basics. (I’ve found celebrated books such as Stephen Kings On Writing are nothing more than expositioned mental masturbation. The first rule of writing is there is no formula for writing. Reading 300 pages of essays from famous authors does nothing for me. That’s great you drank a bottle of gin before you sat down and wrote The Great American Novel™ but not everyone is going to be that type of writer.) I need to read, read, read works of the era and whatever contemporary works on the era I an find.
In short, there is a lot of work to be done.