Today is my slot on The God of All Small Boys blog tour where I’ll be sharing a guest post from the author and my review.
Guest Post by Joseph Lamb: Researching an historical children’s book
I know that some people hate researching for their books – but after 30-odd years of writing historical dramatic pieces it came to be a bit second nature. I have two ways of researching historical pieces: Focused and Scattershot!
It’s all well and good focusing on something specific (and for The God of All Small Boys there were many little things which I felt had to be ‘just so’) but I have always found that doing a more random search (looking more at the period you are researching instead of something ‘from’ that period) you can find little bits and pieces which can actually lead to more side material for the story you are telling.
In the case of The God of All Small Boys, the whole section with James in the outside WC and the thoughts of his father, and the dream sequence later on) all stemmed from seeing an advertisement for Sunlight Soap. Similarly, the whole “Reckitts Special” segment grew from finding out about something called a “blue bag” (or Bag Blue) and finding out what it was used for, and one of the ‘side effects’ of its mis-use, led to one of my favourite parts of the book.
I currently have a few different manuscripts close to completion, and of those, three are historically based. And, in the same way, a lot of things in the stories themselves have come directly from ideas arising during the research process.
I do admit, that this can often read to massive over-writing, which makes the editing process that much harder. But it’s really very important that when you are writing historical fiction that you get the details right. With the internet being everywhere, it wouldn’t take a lot for lazy research to be shown up.
However, it is just as important not to take one single source as gospel. All the way through The God of All Small Boys I had a particular item which was quite important to the plot, it was so important it had its own illustration—created by Charlotte McIntosh (my daughter and illustrator)—but, when the book was coming closer to publication, I decided to have one last look through my sources, and discovered, sadly, that this item did not exist until around 1930.
Luckily, I was able to find a replacement which, for the book, was fine, but unfortunately didn’t give an illustration which was quite as historically interesting.
James’s mother is dead, and his father is about to go to war. He is sent to stay with his aunt, uncle and cousins. Their way of life is very difficult and it takes some adjusting to. His cousin Billy doesn’t like him at first, but things settle down and James finds that life there isn’t as bad as he expected. This is a well-told story, written in Scottish dialect, giving a fresh perspective on life as a child during the war. It focuses more on James and his building friendships, but the war is always there in the background; the terror of the telegram man particularly touched me. There are some brutal and incredibly sad moments, but this is a brilliant story and one I really recommend to anyone who loves a good book about friendship.