Sunday, December 04, 2011

More Sources for Writers.

Continuing the repost of a Workshop I gave at the Muse Online Writers’ Conference this year I will post the rest of the first day’s workshop 1. Being There: Living in the History. (The first part is the next post below.)

Now to a somewhat later history. In my Iskander series story The Wildcat’s Victory I wanted Gisel to command a scouting force that has to slow down the advance of a much larger formation. The historical time in the alternate world is around 1700 but Gisel’s people are from a modern age and they could equip her with a few newer weapons to even the odds. I decided to have her demand a battery of 1900 vintage field guns to increase her striking power (the Iskanders had been improving on the local weaponry for a few years). Seen any early field guns lately? Luckily, I have a nearby example outside a Canadian Legion branch at Lethbridge—a WWI Krupp 77mm weapon, developed from the Erhardt fifteen pounder (that I had picked as Gisel’s model; the British Army bought some to even the odds in the Boer War). I already knew how to crew a field gun and calculate the aiming, from my basic training in the Royal Artillery, on WWII twenty-five pounders back in 1959, so I was able to ‘teach’ Gisel how to act as her own forward observer (FO) and enable her guns to use their seven kilometre range to defeat the enemy cannons and a whole brigade of cavalry in her final desperate action.

Now, is that writing what you know or knowing what you want to write? Probably a bit of both. My writing sometimes ventures into deserts (as in my fantasy Rast) and I spent more than four years working in the Libyan Desert; if I need to write a scene in the Arctic I can use my two years’ experience surveying in the Arctic Islands. If Gisel needs to fly in their spaceplane freighter I put her in my memory of the Hercs we used to haul our equipment and fuel to our prospects in the Arctic so I can describe riding in the aircraft hold or on the bunk behind the pilots in the cockpit.

What about ships? The feel of my galleons and ships of the line are all modelled on HMS Victory that I’ve visited several times. If I need a more modern battlewagon I recall my impressions of the USS Texas of 1913, waiting to welcome visitors beside the San Jacinto monument outside Houston; or the battleships and carriers the Royal Navy used to put on display at Navy Days when I was a kid. Aircraft I can remember in their hundreds, I studied some aeronautical engineering at Farnborough. Steam engines, that figure in both Rast and some of the Iskander novels are easy—I’m familiar with stationary steam plant and operated boilers and both turbine and reciprocating engines.

I’d like to hear about your experiences of visiting places that have featured later in your writing—what did touching the bones add to your writing of the scenes? I have more examples to show you—if you want to see them I have three scenes from my Iskander series novels where I use my background info for the scenes using castle, dungeon, and artillery handling. The file is in the Presenters forum on the Conference Forum page. I you can’t find it, I have to admit that neither can I, but we’ll sort that out Monday morning.

Well, I suspect you’re getting the point of the sermon, but what if you’ve not managed to do all that preparation? The rest of this presentation had better cover some of that. Next time I will tell you what useful texts I’ve found in used bookstores as well as some well chosen book clubs.


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