One of the questions that was asked on Monday, at the Stoke Newington Bookshop, was why I don't stick to writing the same period as so many historical writers do. I've been asked, 'What period do you write?' before, and been surprised at my inquirer's surprise when I say, 'Whatever takes my fancy next.' But this time, maybe because I'd been talking about my work and had some really insightful questions, or maybe because the inquirer was Charles Palliser, the question has made me think.
Why don't I write the same period? But why would I write the same period? Historical period in fiction isn't just wallpaper, set dressing, an excuse for nice frocks and fancy words. At least, it may be all those things, but in the historical fiction I read and want to write, it's so much more as well. We don't need the physicists to tell us that time is the same as space: every place in history has its own nature, just as Rebus' Edinburgh or Pratchett's Discworld do. For me Edward IV's England or Suffolk in the 1970s are environments but also, like Edinburgh and Discworld, characters - or at least entities - in their own right. Not just a certain set of hills and rivers and road names, but part of what people are: these places in time/space have formed what they fear, hope, believe, how they fight and love, how they live and die.
I certainly don't pick a period to write for any of the reasons you might think - not ease of research or easy marketing. It's not even entirely a matter of my choosing - or not choosing - when/where to write about next. It arrives as characters sometimes arrive and sometimes before any of them do: hazy but recognisable, demanding to be written. It's like a cloud in my head which, like some child's fantasy, bears inside it a whole world in all its exact and individual detail, which I must write my way into. And when I have, I've done with it. I've often been asked if I'd write a sequel to The Mathematics of Love, and I can't imagine doing so, just as I can't imagine setting a new novel in a old world. I've told the story that wanted to be told, said what I want to say, and unless those same characters - or that same world - somehow began to insist again, with some absolutely new story to tell, I don't think I'll be back.