Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Historical Fiction - Bringing History Alive.


      While historians do an excellent job of relating facts, the wide range of their subject means they cannot cover every aspect of the era they are chronicling for school history books.  Too often the human viewpoint, that of 'the man in the street', is lost. History is all about people. In historical fiction, we can breathe life into, and flesh out, characters we choose to portray at a certain time and in a certain place.   In doing so, we enable our readers to have a more vivid insight into how ordinary people were affected by the particular events which occurred then.

 Alec's War tells the story of a Scottish schoolboy in Clydebank, 1941.  This was in the third year of the Second World War, when London and the major English cities were under nightly attack from the Luftwaffe bombers.  Clydebank was relatively quiet.  People still spoke of the phony war.  Then the Germans decided to bomb John Brown's shipyard, where many of the Clydebank men worked, building and repairing Britain's ships.  

Unfortunately for  the families, the German pilots mistook the Forth and Clyde Canal, which ran parallel to the river, for the River Clyde where John Brown's yards were, and where the ships were docked.  On March 17th, and 18th, 1941 they blitzed Clydebank.  Not a shop had a window left intact, and seventy percent of the homes were destroyed.  Families were devastated, lives destroyed, overnight. Children were evacuated to the 'safer' parts of that small country.  And yet  people retained a sharp sense of humour. 

What prompted me to write this fictitious, but historical, story was the realization my grandchildren know nothing at all of these facts.  I knew only what I could read in newspapers of the day - until my high school friend invited me to stay at her Clydebank home.  This was the mid-fifties, and there were still many pock-marked buildings, and forlorn vacant lots overgrown with weeds.  My friend regaled me with her memories, and tales of people she knew.  The dry print of the newspaper reports came to life.  Their stories need to be told, as do the even less well-known stories of the country people.

I  recall Mother, patiently testing me on the Battle of Thermopylae, the Punic Wars, and other ancient dates, getting quite furious. "I don't know why you have to fill your head with all this, and not one of your books says anything about the Great War (1914-19).  You couldn't tell me the date of Mons, or Paschendale, and my uncles fought in these battles.  I knew people who fought in that war.  It's not just about books."  

 She was right - History is all about people.