First you should know: I love owls. When I was at college, I lived for a time in a cottage opposite a field. We had a visiting Little Owl. I first encountered it when I came home at dusk to find Something sitting on the stone wall that surrounded our garden. I thought a child had dropped a stuffed toy and I reached to retrieve it. Until it OPENED ITS EYES.
It was a Little Owl. And they are really small, as you see. 1.5 bricks tall, max. But the message was direct, unmistakeable and compelling: DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT.
It was Samuel Taylor Coleridge, he of Ancient Mariner fame, who coined the phrase “suspension of disbelief” in 1817 in his Biographia Literaria or biographical sketches of my literary life and opinions. He did so referring to his contribution, more than twenty years earlier, to the Lyrical Ballads. Published in 1798, these are generally taken to mark the start of the romantic movement in English literature. William Wordsworth wrote most of them, of course.
How do you do fantasy research?
Do you actually have to?
Surely it’s all just make-believe?
Intriguing questions, aren’t they?
And we at Libertà didn’t have the answers, so we tagged fantasy and alternate-history author Kate Johnson to tell us how she does it. Being Kate, she gave us explanations with a side-order of slightly weird.
Enjoy the fun!
Kate Johnson’s take on fantasy research, and more
How on earth do you research things that don’t exist?
Well, here’s the thing: you might be writing about vampires or spaceships or magic paperclips, if that’s what your heart desires, but you’ve got to make them believable.
You’ve got to make the reader trust you, and if you get the details wrong, they won’t.
Re-reading some of my favourite Georgette Heyer novels recently — Dame Isadora snagged me as the minion to do the research for her blogs because she, being a Very Important Personage, had Better Things To Do — I was struck by how often Heyer brings her lovers together at the very end of her novels, sometimes on the very last page.
Heyer might give us a chaste embrace. She might even give us a fierce kiss or two. And she often adds a shared joke.
But that’s about it.
What we don’t get in Heyer is a lovers’ wallow.
What’s a wallow?
I’d describe the wallow as a shortish section at the end of a love story where the reader sees the lovers together and passionately in love — both of them trusting and relaxed and happy. Sometimes the lovers are married, sometimes they have had children, sometimes they are simply enjoying each other.
It’s the Happy Ever After ending shown right there on the page for the reader to savour.
Some readers love a wallow. Some readers even feel shortchanged if a novel doesn’t have one at the end. But readers still love all those Heyer novels that don’t have the merest hint of a wallow. So…
How many of us owe a lifelong love of a particular author to serendipity?
The kind of happy accident — in a bookshop, or a book sale, or perhaps even a hotel bedroom — when we pick up an author we haven’t heard of and start to read.
And ten minutes, or ten pages, later, we have the key to a whole new world and we are well and truly hooked.
New Love Letter to a Favourite Novel
Today’s new Love Letter is from a male reader (small fanfare of trumpet here for sex equality in reading!). David describes the effect of just such an unexpected discovery — a hitherto unknown writer who has since become a must-buy for him and an essential part of his reading landscape.
Just the thing to warm the cockles of every writer’s heart.