The 'Alternate Reality' Blog Tour: The Devil's in the [Period] Detail by Mark A. Latham

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Risingshadow has the honour of publishing a guest post by Mark A. Latham. This guest post is part of the The 'Alternate Reality' Blog Tour.

Mark A. Latham is a writer, editor, history nerd, frustrated grunge singer and amateur baker from Staffordshire, UK. A recent immigrant to rural Nottinghamshire, he lives in a very old house (sadly not haunted), and is still regarded in the village as a foreigner.

He is the author of The Apollonian Casefiles series: The Lazarus Gate (Titan Books, 2015) and The Iscariot Junction (Titan Books, 2016).

Click here to visit his official website.

The 'Alternate Reality' Blog Tour: The Devil’s in the [Period] Detail by Mark A Latham

One of the words that’s been very gratifying to hear people saying about The Lazarus Gate has been ‘authenticity’. I’ve been ever-so-slightly obsessed with the Victorian era for many years, and I like to think that I bring a level of realism and detail to the table that’s unusual in a science-fiction adventure of the type that I write. If anything, the challenge I often face is how to relate period detail to the reader without showing too much of that painstaking research and slowing the pace of the story. The way I see it, when tackling any piece of historical fiction – even quasi-historical – part of my job is to read hundreds of books and visit dozens of locations so that you, the reader, don’t have to...

Just a selection of favourites from my 200-ish books on Victorian history, topography and science.

When it came to the Lazarus Gate, which was set in our world (1890), and used the first-person narrative, it was really important to get the language right. There’s a bit of a glossary over on my blog if you’d like to check it out.

For the Iscariot Sanction, however, I was doing something rather different. This is a world some steps removed from our own. The year may be 1879, but the course of history has run differently. The rise of ‘Intuitionists’ – scientists granted astonishing insight into their chosen fields by forces unknown – has led to technological advances far in advance of what we had in the historical Victorian period, whilst ghosts, demons and vampires walk the streets. So is it still important to keep that feeling of Victorian authenticity?

In a word, yes. For me, the fantastical only feels so when it’s contrasted by the real, the mundane. By setting up some solid rules of how the world, society, technology and language works, I’m better able to contrast it with the weird science aspects. This isn’t a full-on steampunk novel where all bets are off – this is a glimpse into a world that could have been our own, but took a very wrong turn somewhere along the line. There may be horseless carriages, but they aren’t commonplace – the practicality of fuelling a steam-powered vehicle cross-country limit their use, I imagined. And so it’s still important to know one’s hansom from one’s growler, even in a more fantastical setting.

As the Iscariot Sanction deals heavily with bloodshed and surgery, I did a lot of research into Victorian medical practises for the book (paying a visit to the Surgeon’s Hall Museums in Edinburgh in the process). For instance, while I posited that the Intuitionists might have invented hypodermic needles early, it would still be an expensive advancement, and so the subcutaneous injection would be the more commonplace treatment. Likewise, the book includes some slightly kooky opinions on transfusions and diseases of the blood – this isn’t me getting it wrong, it’s simply explaining medicine from the point-of-view of a Victorian physician, using ‘cutting edge’ science straight out of the pages of Dracula.

My editing process very much reflects my love of period detail. It goes like this:

1. Insert Victorianisms (i.e. use my antiquarian slang dictionaries to replace generic dialogue and description with period slang terms, appropriate for the part of the country a character is from).

2. Purge Americanisms (any Americanism that wasn’t in common use in the late Victorian period has to go. This amazing 1848 book in the public domain contains a plethora that are, however, safe to use.)

3. Purge Anachromisms (There are a surprising number of words and phrases that weren’t in use in Victorian England. The word ‘Okay’, for instance, wasn’t recorded until 1908. There was no such thing as ‘room service’... thankfully I also have a Victorian nerd for an editor to help me with this bit).

And with that, the book is done. Sounds simple! Sadly, it involves countless hours of reading, countless miles of footslogging, and more redrafts than you can shake a stick at. But hopefully my obsession with ‘getting it right’ pays off. Remember, the critics only notice the details when you get them wrong.