Are you a writer interested in trying your hand at historical fiction? Here are my top 5 tips:

1. Choose an exact time and place for your book. For example Sydney in the colony of New South Wales, Australia, 1837. Then start reading.

2. Read lots of historical fiction on your chosen time and place so that you get an overall feel for the period. Then read one or two non-fiction works. The idea is to read widely before you begin so that you have a good general idea of the period that you are going to write about. Historical fiction requires a lot of research and it is easy to get bogged down in detail particularly if you’re like me and find the research element fascinating. However your aim is not to be a walking encyclopaedia before you begin, rather you’re trying to understand the period that you wish to write about. You’re equipping yourself with general knowledge. Once you start writing remember that you are not writing a history, but rather you’re writing a story set in a specific historical period and you’re asking the reader to enter your imagined world and come on a journey with you.

3. Authenticity is key. You want the reader to trust that you know what you’re writing about. Once you start writing you will find that you have ‘holes’ in your historical knowledge base. That’s when you can go back to the books and sleuth for specific facts, ensuring that what you write is authentic. For example, what did women wear on their heads during this period? What were their clothes like? What were the prevailing attitudes of the period towards women, the lower classes, the military, the Governor? Detail is important. Don’t start WW1 in the wrong month or have your heroine leaving a smudge of lipstick on a glass until you’ve actually checked if women wore lipstick in 1710.

4. Your time period and place will shape your characters. Accordingly they will have different attitudes and beliefs. At the same time, remember that your characters are individuals. A person is more than just the historical moment when she lived. She is a flawed human being, with secrets and desires. When it comes to dialogue it can be difficult to recreate speech so that it sounds accurate however by keeping your character fully in the moment and your chosen time period firmly in your brain, you’ll soon find an authentic voice.

5. Keep reading historical fiction. The more of it you read, the better you’ll understand how creating a narrative works. Check your facts thoroughly and remember you’re writing a story. Make history come alive by using your imagination.