Today’s guest, Roger Hudson, has written a fascinating historical novel set in classical Athens. DEATH COMES BY AMPHORA brings the period vividly to life through the eyes of the young Lysanias, whom Roger describes as “an innocent admidst the deceit and corruption of the big city. . . he discovers that his uncle has died in suspicious circumstances, that he is the heir, and that his obligations now include marrying his uncle’s teenage widow.”
Roger’s own background is as intriguing as his book; you can read about him at the end of this post.
IN PURSUIT OF PLAUSIBILITY
I thought I might chat about plausibility and accuracy today. There have been discussions on networking sites like Crime Thru Time about whether an author can or should ignore the known behaviour and conventions of a period in the cause of a good story. Is it OK for a leading character nun, for example, to undertake journeys on her own during the ultra-macho, very violent middle ages when no female of any social status would have done so without at least one armed male to protect her. Would they put themselves in danger in this way, would the head of the convent permit it, and would the implausibility put off knowledgeable readers from finishing the book? The answer to the last was obviously ‘Yes’ judging from the correspondence one such novel provoked.
OK. Lesson: as an author, try to research your period enough to avoid such implausibilities. But, if you’re writing in a period when it was acceptable and even expected for a husband to beat his wife for the least misdemeanour or even for answering back (as long as the stick wasn’t thicker than his little finger – Victorian times), do you allow your hero to do so and risk losing reader sympathy for him? Or do you make him the exception, a considerate (or even egalitarian) husband in an age when that was implausible? Do you allow the wife accept this subordination, which she has been brought up to, and accept it without question, or turn her into a feisty rebel as more acceptable to a modern reader and likely to provide a more exciting story? Or some medium in between? Not at all straightforward.
My time period is early classical Athens when it was normal for families of all social classes to leave unwanted female children on the mountainside to die, for wealthy wives to be confined to the house except for participation in religious festivals, and male slaves to be hired out to be worked to death in the silver mines. However, I am fortunate that it was also a period when thinkers were questioning the nature of the world, society and even the gods, even if at risk to themselves sometimes, a time when some (if only a few) women did stand out and some slaves achieved freedom and did well. So these issues can at least be articulated with some plausibility and my characters can have doubts and develop their own rules of behaviour.
Even so, I am finding, in writing the sequel to my first Lysanias and Sindron mystery DEATH COMES BY AMPHORA, that this is a delicate path to tread. Some of my characters are showing strong inclinations to say and do more than there is any record of anyone doing and others are reacting to the more liberal thinkers in quite reactionary ways. Should I allow it at risk of seeming anachronistic? Or go with the flow? I guess such decisions come with the territory of historical fiction.
ABOUT ROGER HUDSON
Roger Hudson’s career has encompassed most forms of writing and editing from journalism to technical editing, from publicity to careers books. He has also scripted and directed corporate videos and TV documentaries. The wide knowledge gained of how our society works has fed into his historical mystery novel Death Comes by Amphora, set in Ancient Athens, and its sequel-in-progress Fraud Under the Akropolis. He sees its creation as a detective work in itself – piecing together clues from scraps of historical information to deduce a plausible living society and chain of events. Roger is director of a small film and TV production and distribution company in Dublin. His collection of poems Lifescapes was published in 2005 in the dual volume Side-Angles (Pagan Publications). His photomontages have been exhibited in London, Dublin and Drogheda (Ireland) where he now lives.
Visit Roger’s website at www.rogerhudson.me.uk.