The Dark Side of Research - A Guest Post by Pamela Kelt



By Pamela Kelt, author of Dark Interlude, out through MuseItUp in June 2013

Many people assume, when you actually get round to writing your first book, that you studied English.

I did to an extent, but quit when I saw 16, concentrating on languages. Spanish was my favourite subject, closely followed by Latin. It was an easy choice to pursue to university, and I became so fascinated by 17th-century satire and comedy, that I managed to get a grant for post-graduate research.

The M.Litt. thesis title was ‘Aspects of comedy in the interludes of Luis QuiƱones de Benavente’.

It sounds all very high-brow, but it was a blast. Carnivalesque humour, subversive characters, wit – and most of it in rhyme.

I often wondered if I could ever recycle the research – and then one day, it came to me. An archivist cataloguing 17th-century Spanish comedies would unearth a dark secret … Duh-duh-duh.

Research for historical stories can often take so long, but I was already halfway there! It would be fun to browse through old notes, books, the thesis and other manuscripts from my student days. I was reminded me how different research was in the 1980s – all hand-written catalogue cards and an ability to decipher any style of handwriting whatsoever.

I fancied setting a story in Scotland, being a great fan. And then I pondered what dark secret might link it all together. A previous book was set in 1885, but I decided to move things along a bit. So, I browsed some Scottish history websites and came upon some startling facts. Apparently, there was a revolution, or more accurately, a series of mini-revolutions and major strikes that began even before the so-called Great War had ended.

I’m fairly comfortable with English Victorian and Edwardian historical landmarks – or I thought I was. This series of ‘mutinies’ are they were described, came as a shock.

We’ve all read and heard so much about the dreadful conditions of WW1, the gallantry and the horror. But not every soldier approved of the chain of command. One story led to another and I ended up spending quite some time on this unfamiliar phenomenon. I often find that I’m rummaging, not sure of what I want until I find it. Then it’s the classic Eureka moment.

I began to dig. At first, it was a few demonstrations but in Etaples in 1917, for instance, things got serious. The camp was infamous for its punitive stance on injured soldiers, many of whom apparently claimed to be relieved to return to the front. The men gathered in protest after a soldier was arrested. Men gathered in their hundreds, refusing to disperse. Military police arrived. There were scuffles. Shots. Two people were killed. Finally, the authorities brought the camp under control, but the story was suppressed.

I found several articles listing other mutinies all over Europe and North America – and then found the Scottish connection. They called it Black Friday, or The Revolution that Never Was. After the war, it wasn’t just the soldiers who were angry, tired and weary of authority. Dissent spread across the workforce. Police, railwaymen, dockworkers, machine workers – most of them went on strike at some time or another.

The authorities feared the Bolsheviks were to blame – after all, the revolutionary fervour must have spread from Russia. But it was everywhere. They even had a general strike in Swizterland in November 1918! No, the problem was much worse. The people had simply had enough.

Of course, one has to read between the lines. Some of the websites were clearly Marxist – and several disappeared while I working on them, which was rather unsettling. Still, as I concentrated on the Scottish situation, I came across established academics writing on the theme, so I was assured it really did happen.

At the time, the authorities, including luminaries such as Winston Churchill, were keen to suppress the workers – and keep as much out of the papers as possible. No wonder it’s hard to find evidence. Some of the best sources were books based on oral history, interviews with people whose relatives remembered the event. These books, such as Maggie Craig’s When the Clyde Ran Red, were fascinating and inspirational.

This must have been true of so many ‘mutinies’ and protests of the time. Much more work will have to be done before the people’s point of view is lost.

DARK INTERLUDE is fiction based against the backdrop of an actual event. Some real-life figures from the dispute make an appearance, but merely as cameos to authenticate the story.

Some critics pooh-pooh historical fiction, but I feel it’s important. Yes, take liberties, but if it brings the past to life and encourages us to avoid such conflicts again, while hailing the real heroes and appreciating hardships of ordinary people, then it must be worthwhile and a valuable contribution in its own right.

Some stories don’t need to be invented. They’ve happened already.

Info:
For more information on Pamela and her books, visit her website - http://pamelakelt.weebly.com/. To find out more about Dark Interlude, visit the blog. http://darkinterlude.blogspot.co.uk/

Brief bio:
Pamela Kelt has a background in journalism and publishing. She is now the author of six books. She lives in leafy Warwickshire with her husband Rob (co-author of the next Muse title, Half Life), where she enjoys watching her windowsill orchids grow, walking her two daft dogs and keeping up with the best YA adventures and murder mysteries around.

Comments

I enjoyed the post, Pam. History is fascinating. There was so much kept from the general population, in so many countries, so it is no wonder there was distrust. Those small insurrections make wonderful stories, although many of the people who could tell us 'their truths' are long gone. Good luck with your writing and digging out the nuggets of what was to add authenticity to a story.
Monya Clayton said…
Deeply interested in anything to do with history, and found your post revealing of the times.
Winston Churchill isn't greatly popular with Australians. He was responsible for the Gallipoli campaign in W.W.1 and the Greece-Crete campaign in W.W.2, which involved our troops and were both failures.
And he had no interest in WW2 in the Pacific. He drew an imaginary line at the level of Brisbane, capital of Queensland, and was prepared to let the area north of it (more than 1000 miles) fall to the Japanese. He also resisted the return of our fighting men from north Africa to Australia to defend the country when the Japanese invaded New Guinea. A great man, sure, but with no thought for any one outside Europe and the main arena of conflict.
Research is fascinating. I didn't have the internet when I wanted to establish the background for my own historical novel. So it was a matter of writing to the places concerned, and looking up a lot of encyclopaedias and other books. As it was I made two or three small mistakes, but most people didn't notice them!
Pamela Kelt said…
Hi, Mary,
Thanks so much for your comments. I'm constantly astonished about how much was hidden from the ordinary folk, as you say, but I take heart from online archives, which are helping the truth to come out. This sort of research is fascinating - but sometimes it's hard to stop and make the book happen! I do find, though, that I tend to read more when I download documents onto my e-reader. They can be a bit daunting otherwise.
Pamela Kelt said…
Hi, Monya,
He was a brilliant man, but not popular. Our nearest city is Coventry, and many there still blame him for allowing the city to be bombed (to preserve the Enigma secret). He was actually booed in Bath when he went to visit after the Bath Blitz. My husband's from Tasmania, so I have an inkling of the Antipodean point of view, too.

The internet is such a useful tool, and I'm probably a bit of an addict. However, I still recall researching the old-fashioned way - and having to decipher some pretty spidery handwriting on dusty old index cards.

I like to think that if you empathise with the story and the era, you might be allowed a few liberties and the occasional wobbly detail. Nobody's perfect!

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