Research

Writing a historical is an interesting new variation on an old experience.

My Readers may remember that I mentioned a new project a little while ago. I’m beginning writing a historical novel. This isn’t a genre I have too much experience with, but it is one that interests me greatly. For one thing, it combines two passions, my passion for fiction and my passion for Ancient Egypt. Also, I very much like historical novels, but there’s a real dearth of Egyptian ones. The author’s answer to a quandary like that is of course to go out and write one herself. So, that’s what I’m doing.

At this stage, writing is perhaps a bit of a misnomer. I have not, so far, put very many words on the page. Part of the reason is that I want to write a good historical novel, and the good ones require lots of research as well as a sympathetic imagination. I’m fairly good at research (lots of practice), and as an added bonus I currently have all the resources of a top-rank university at my disposal. I’m supposed to be researching a dissertation, but what they don’t know won’t hurt them. Besides, some of the books I need can totally be used for both projects.

The other reason is my time period. In some ways, I’m very lucky. Egypt’s 20th Dynasty was a time of immense wealth, and also bureaucracy. There are far more, and more detailed, records during this period than most other previous periods (and some subsequent ones) in any part of the world. I can find genealogies and records for even humble work-men. Granted, these are generally of the “family bible” sort, kept by the people themselves, which always brings their veracity into question, and leads to confusion. Just as an example, one of the main characters of my novel is named Kenna (or Qenna). In my research, I’ve found 9 Kennas from Deir El-Medina, some of whom may be related, or even be the same person. Sorting out which occurrences pertained to “my” Kenna took me several hours and several books one afternoon, and I didn’t even have to do the primary research (which is handy, since my hieratic is non-existent and my hieroglyphs are wobbly).

After all that, I was left with a few very bare facts about my male lead’s life; his father and brother’s name, a couple of dates when he was known to be alive (though not his age at those times), and a few details of a dispute he brought before the Oracle of Amenophis. I get to make up the rest, within certain bounds, which is of course both a blessing and a curse. Truly, a great challenge, and a fascinating journey.

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