by Kathy Fischer-Brown
For the past four years, fellow BWL historical author, Juliet Waldron, and I have taken a few days together to step back in time to an era we both love and love to write about. As many of you read in her post yesterday, this year we ventured into the past to relive the 1778 Battle of Monmouth. I won’t recap the events, as Juliet (as always) did a great job. Instead I will meander a bit…
|Lean-to for three|
As a writer of historical-set novels, I strive to make each book an immersive experience, and, if I haven’t lived in the time—at least on some basic level—my readers will be deprived of the sights, smells, sounds, flavors, and tactile sensations that make the past come alive. Living in the 21st century we tend to take many of our comforts for granted. Such things as plumbing and electricity, not to mention the internet, satellite weather forecasts, and streaming video. Even for the re-enactors themselves, going “home” to a hot shower and a real bed is always on the other side of a long weekend camping out without benefit of modern gear. It takes a bit of imagination to put oneself in the position of an actual denizen of the 18th century, stuck there for life…and all that that entailed. (And except for Jamie Fraser, I can’t imagine what kept Claire of “Outlander” so long in 1740s Scotland.)
|Hanging the Laundry|
I don’t for a moment wax nostalgic over a past in which our ancestors lived and died (most likely too young and from conditions and afflictions that in this modern world might be considered no more than nuisances or inconveniences, or in worst cases could be treated so much more effectively today). In this sense, I strive to create a realistic picture of the mid-to-late1700s, warts and all, taking into consideration some of the ugly facts of these days of yore, some of which today seem barbaric, even stupid, especially when the 18th century is known as “The Age of Enlightenment.” Women’s rights were barely the glimmer of a glimmer of a dream; sanitation and personal hygiene were practically nonexistent; and Draconian laws were often imposed for the slightest offenses. In cities, the poorest people often lived in squalid conditions without benefit of social services. Not to mention the existence of and dependence on slavery.
Consideration of these facts often make me wonder why I love the period the way I do and choose to set stories in this time. That’s probably why a day or two at a re-enactment event can be so inspiring.
|Doing the Wash|
While the battles are fun to experience with all the senses and are well-orchestrated, I find the most interesting aspects of these events to be the daily lives and struggles of the people behind the scenes: the common soldiers hanging their wash to dry from makeshift lines and poles; women weaving baskets, cooking meals, mending clothes, and doing laundry; children being children (albeit without ipads and video games). The smells and the sounds, and the details of the clothing. The reminders that, despite the strangeness of the details, human nature remains unchanged.
Over the last few years I’ve developed a deep respect for the re-enactors of these events. They are passionate about what they do and are highly knowledgeable of the minutiae that governed the lives of the simple people they portray and are more than happy to share.
And when the weekend ends, I look forward to returning to 2016, to my home in the suburbs of Central Connecticut, to my computer and cable TV, even if there’s an hour-and-a-half delay over the George Washington Bridge.
Kathy Fischer Brown is a BWL author of historical novels, Winter Fire, Lord Esterleigh's Daughter, Courting the Devil, The Partisan's Wife, and The Return of Tachlanad, her latest release, an epic fantasy adventure for young adult and adult readers. Check out her The Books WeLove Author page or visit her website. All of Kathy’s books are available in e-book and in paperback from Amazon and other online retailers.