Wednesday, May 15, 2013

History and me, Part II

by Carola Dunn

Continued from

...The world was changing...
Dick Turpin was a highwayman of credit and renown

... Again around 1800, roads were improving, highwaymen and footpads were much reduced in numbers, and someone invented springs for carriages (Before that, the body was hung on leather straps). Travel was so much easier that gentlemen going up to London for Parliament and the court took their wives and daughters along, and the London Season was born.
 Later came the railways, but still a respectable young lady would not travel without a male or older female relative for chaperon. World War I and the automobile age put an end to that. By the 1920s, a young woman who had driven generals about during the war--or even an ambulance at the front--was not about to be satisfied with sitting meekly behind the chauffeur. They owned and drove their own motor cars, or at least had a bicycle.

Daisy's Gwynne Eight
 By 1919, women over 30 could even vote in national elections and graduate from Oxford University (though not from Cambridge for another 30+ years!).

The shadows of the First World War still hung heavily over Britain. About a million young men went to their deaths on the battlefields or later from wounds and the effects of poison gas. Many of those who returned alive suffered from shell-shock, the equivalent of what we call PTSD. A large number of young women lost their husbands while others would never have an opportunity to marry. 

UK edition

On the other hand, many young women, having experienced the comparative freedom and good wages of factory work, were unwilling to return to domestic service. And a lack of men to take up the professions gradually allowed increasing numbers of women to become lawyers, accountants, doctors, and engineers.

For Daisy Dalrymple, the protagonist of my 1920s series, finding her way in a swiftly changing world is as much of a challenge as solving any of the crimes she just happens to stumble upon.

From failing history, I have come to the point of being obsessive about historical detail. I spend hours looking up words and phrases to make sure they're appropriate for the period about which I'm writing. I revel in old newspapers, as much or more for the advertisements as for the news. I note the names of police officers in Berwick upon Tweed in 1923--and use them (Murder on the Flying Scotsman), and email dental museums to enquire how nitrous oxide was administered by dentists in 1924 (Die Laughing). I pore over the Day Book of the Governor of the Tower of London for April 1925, when Daisy falls over the body of a Beefeater/Yeoman of the Guard (The Bloody Tower). I know more about the rumrunners of the Prohibition than most Americans. And then there's the treatments--water and electric--available at a Derbyshire hydro/spa in 1926 (Gone West).

Now I'm also writing a series (the Cornish Mysteries) set around 1970. Yes, I lived through the '60s and '70s. It's hard to grasp that they're now history. As I say in an author's note at the beginning of the three books, I haven't tied myself down to a specific year in the series, as I did for years in the Regencies and Daisy's adventures.  But I'm still doing obsessive research on subjects such as the equipment of ambulances and lifeboats at the time and the position of women in the police force...

And I really enjoy it!


Jean Henry Mead said...

Fascinating history, Carola. I look forward to reading more.

Marie Laval said...

You are right, Carola, research is important when writing historical novels. I also find it incredibly enjoyable!

Linda said...

Both your posts here were fascinating and I have your Cornish series in my TBR mountain; I'd feel odd writing about a period in which I have lived and backing away from it enough to consider it history--I greatly admire you for being able to do that!

Carola Dunn said...

Linda, I left England in 1968, so I didn't actually experience the late '60s/early '70s in the UK. Bits of the Cornish series are memories, but an awful lot of it takes just as much research as the 1810s or 1920s!