The Process of Writing a Historical Book by Robbie Cheadle

The Process of Writing a Historical Book by Robbie Cheadle

I am happy to welcome author Robbie Cheadle back to my blog. She’s here to talk about her foray into historical fiction writing. Spoiler alert: it wasn’t as ‘easy’ as she’d expected! Take a moment to read about Robbie’s fascinating process of turning her mother’s earliest memories into a captivating memoir.

The process of writing a historical book

Robbie CheadleWhen I embarked on the journey of turning my mom’s early years into a book, I didn’t have a plan. She had told my siblings and me all sorts of tales about her early life while we were growing up and it seemed a simple thing to get her to jot down her memories and for me to turn them into a continuous story about her childhood. My mother grew up during WWII but that didn’t faze me at all. Even though I knew she was only seven years old when the war ended, it didn’t occur to me how much research would be required to get her story to hang together in a believable and factually accurate way.

We started off with her writing down her memories of various events during her life and I typed them up into a fictionalized account of her reality. Already, research was required. I had to learn an awful lot about everyday events during the period 1939 to 1945 such as what kind of swimming costumes were available during the war, what food could be grown and bought, how did the rationing of food work in practice, how did a dairy farmer sterilize the milk bottles and how was milk delivered. My mom could remember all sorts of oddments of information about her life and family, but this sort of detail was not available from her memories. Another issue I encountered early on during our writing process was the fact that my mom did not necessarily have her memories in order or in the correct timeframes.

I did a lot of research and a fair amount of writing but I still didn’t have a plan other than a vague idea that my mom’s story would be a bit like the stories presented in the Little House series written by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I did not plan on including a strong story line as this book was more of a fictionalized autobiography than a fictional story.

When I was finished writing our book, however, I was not entirely happy with it. I particularly didn’t know how to pull the ending together. I decided that some assistance was required, after all I had not studied creative writing. I asked my good friend and mentor, Charli Mills, if she would developmentally edit my book for me.

Charli agreed to do this and in due course I received a bundle of brilliant notes and pieces of advice from her. One of the most important recommendations she made was for me to prepare a timeline of WWII and overlay my mother’s life onto it. Adding more historical facts into the story in a natural way would make it a more interesting tale but, she emphasised, the historical facts needed to make sense and be accurate in terms of the timeline of my mother’s early childhood. The other important fact Charli pointed out was that my book had no storyline. Little house in the big woods does have a storyline, she said. It is subtle but it is there. What is the storyline in your book?

I took a week off work and commenced the re-write of While the Bombs Fell. I drew the historical timeline as suggested and wrote the events of my mom’s life into it. This had the effect that I had to reverse every chapter in my book and start off with a summer setting rather than a winter one. I did a mountain of research. Fortunately, WWII is well documented and I found numerous sites with lots of interesting information about life during the war. I checked the facts I used to at least four or five sites, if possible, before incorporating them into my book. It was a lot of work but I needed to be sure the information was correct. Some of the information that is specific to Bungay town could only be found in a few sites but I did the best I could and even bought a couple of books on the subject of Bungay to help my research. Research is something I find fascinating and it is easy for me to become so engrossed in it that I end up reading a lot of information that is not relevant to the task at hand and hours pass. I had to get myself in check and focus on obtaining the information I needed. I was amazed at how detailed the research need to be: how did a copper for washing and a mangle work, what was a radio called during the war, how was the blacking out of windows achieved by common households, where did the American bombers flying from Bungay bomb during the war. Writing an autobiography, even if it is fictionalized, is not easy. It takes a lot of effort. The fictionalization was to fill in the bits my mom couldn’t remember but they had to be correct.

At the end of the process, I was happy with the book we produced and its theme of hope and good overcoming bad. I read a lot of posts about authors disliking the editing process but I a must admit that it is my favourite part. I learn so much during that process and improve both my book and my writing going forward.

 

While the Bombs Fell by Robbie Cheadle and Elsie Hancy Eaton

While the Bombs Fell by Robbie CheadleWhat was it like for children growing up in rural Suffolk during World War II?

Elsie and her family live in a small double story cottage in Bungay, Suffolk. Every night she lies awake listening anxiously for the sound of the German bomber planes. Often they come and the air raid siren sounds signaling that the family must leave their beds and venture out to the air raid shelter in the garden.

Despite, the war raging across the English channel, daily life must continue with its highlights, such as Christmas and the traditional Boxing Day fox hunt, and its scary moments when Elsie learns the stories of Jack Frost and the ghostly and terrifying Black Shuck that haunts the coastline and countryside of East Anglia.

Includes some authentic WWII recipes.

Buy While the Bombs Fell now on Amazon.

 

About the Author

Robbie, short for Roberta, is an author with five published children’s picture books in the Sir Chocolate books series for children aged 2 to 9 years old (co-authored with her son, Michael Cheadle), one published middle grade book in the Silly Willy series and one published preteen/young adult fictionalised biography about her mother’s life as a young girl growing up in an English town in Suffolk during World War II called While the Bombs Fell (co-authored with her mother, Elsie Hancy Eaton). All of Robbie’s children’s book are written under Robbie Cheadle and are published by TSL Publications.

Robbie has recently branched into adult horror and supernatural writing and, in order to clearly differential her children’s books from her adult writing, these will be published under Roberta Eaton Cheadle. Robbie has two short stories in the horror/supernatural genre included in Dark Visions, a collection of 34 short stories by 27 different authors and edited by award winning author, Dan Alatorre. These short stories are published under Robbie Cheadle.

Robbie has also recently published a poetry collection, Open a new door, together with fellow South African poet, Kim Blades.

Connect with Robbie Cheadle via her blog, GoodreadsFacebook or Twitter.

 

44 thoughts on “The Process of Writing a Historical Book by Robbie Cheadle

  1. I enjoyed finding out about your process in writing this book, Robbie. I have enjoyed reading your book and understand the issues that you had to deal with. It’s a wonderful heirloom for your family, and also for others whose families may not have had the same opportunity to recall or record. Many of us who have not experienced life at war can gain an extra appreciation for the sacrifices that were made.
    I wish you success with your book.

    1. Thank you, Norah, for reading and commenting on this post and for reading my book. It is more difficult to write with another person as you don’t control the writing or the output in the same way as when you write alone.

  2. I became a big fan of Colin Garrow s The Watson Letters through his blog of the same name. I found this book to be an extremely funny take off of the solving of interesting cases by Holmes and Watson. This particular book makes references to other famous historical and literary characters like Jack the Ripper, Jane Eyre and John Wyndham s The Midwich Cookoos. While you don t have to have read these literary works or be knowledgable of these characters to enjoy this book, it certainly added to my entertainment that I did know them. I was able to appreciate the full spectrum of Garrow s clever wit.

  3. A fascinating process. I guess having the real events makes it even more complicated than writing pure fiction, but it gives it so much more authenticity as well. Thanks to Robbie for the insight into the process.

    1. Thanks Olga, I think it does make it harder as it is more limiting and it must make sense and be believable. Lots of fun though.

    1. Thank you, Teri. I love research, it is the best part for me. I do love writing up my ideas too and I really enjoyed doing this research. I had to do a fair amount of research for Through the Nethergate too which was equally interesting.

  4. I really enjoyed this book . I like the way Roberta calls it “fictionalized autobiography.” Once I read the book I felt like I “knew” Roberta’s mom from the stories in here, and I certainly learned a lot of the era.

  5. Hi, Robbie! Thanks for sharing your writing process with us. Research is hard work but definitely worth it in the end. Although I write fantasy fiction I do a great deal of research for each of my books in order to ground them in reality. The reader must believe it’s all real at least while reading. 😉 xo

  6. Well done for all the research you did and how you persevered and got to the end of the process. I admit that research is one of my favourite things to do.

  7. Hi Robbie. Thank you for this informative article. It resonates for me in two completely separate ways. Firstly, I was born just a couple of years after your mother and my own mother, a Londoner, moved to the countryside whilst pregnant with me so growing up in the country during those years is a shared experience and why I am going to purchase your book. Secondly, I have just finished my own historical novel, a fictionalised account of events in County Clare, Ireland, during the famine years at the end of the 1940s. There is a lot of information available from reports and accounts written contemporaneously but, like you, I found that there is much less to be discovered about everyday routines and the lives of people not directly involved. Like you, I enjoyed the research involved, although I suspect I have been far less thorough than you.

    1. Hi Frank, I am very interested in the fact that you are also a war baby. My mom is slightly older than you as she was 1 year old when the war broke out. I am very interested in your book about the Irish famine. I look forward to reading it when it is published.

  8. What an interesting post and Book you are writing Robbie, and thank you Jennifer for sharing Robbies account of her researching into WWII daily living.
    Robbie what meticulous detail and depth you go into to researching your book material of a time that I know from my own parents accounts of a time that was etched deeply into many children’s minds of that era .. 🙂
    Excellent.. 🙂

    1. Thank you, Sue. I am always concerned that the facts might not be 100% accurate which is why I check and double check. There are often conflicting facts available and you have to work out which ones are correct. The children of parents who lived through the war are definitely influenced by their views and thrifty and hard working outlook on life. Thanks for visiting me here, Sue.

  9. Jennifer, it’s lovely to see Robbie here on your blog!

    Robbie, you’ve given us a fascinating insight into the writing of this book! I laughed at first when you thought it would be simple … you’d think so! A huge amount of research and good Charlie came to help with the timeline idea. It’s a gem of book with lovely personal details woven into the backdrop of the war.

    1. Thank you, Annika. It was a lot of fun to write and I learned a lot about my mother’s life and my family. Charlie’s idea was very good and I have actually used it in my WIP too just to make sure the timeline hangs together properly.

  10. This is on my reading list, I can’t wait to start it! My grandmother was born in 1925 and my mom in 1945 so I feel a real connection with what you’ve talked about, Robbie. It certainly wasn’t an easy time.

    1. Hi Jacquie, no it wasn’t an easy time at all. The children often went to bed hungry and that is not nice at all. I hope you enjoy it when you get to it. I had a lot of fun writing it.

    1. Thanks for visiting me here, Tandy. Do you do research on local history or international? It is very fascinating and I have to be disciplined or I don’t get any writing done.

  11. A wonderfully informative post, Robbie and Jennifer. Fascinating to watch your process and your relationship with your editor. Your book blurb is outstanding and I love the cover as well. While the Bombs Fell is on my kindle and I look forward to a fascinating read!

    1. Thank you, Bette. I must say that Anne is great with historical novels. She is a historian so it is good to have her double check facts and question me if she thinks I might be wrong. To date, I have been right because I am thorough. I hope you enjoy it when you get to it.

    1. I hope you enjoy it when you get to it, Ritu. I really enjoy history, particularly English history, so it was lots of fun for me to write this. Charli was an absolute blessing with her advice too.

    1. Thank you, Darlene, and for your lovely review. I was pretty happy with how this book turned out in the end. It is my first longer book so was something quite new and challenging at the time.

  12. Thank you, Robbie Cheadle, for your detailed blog post. As an author-to-be, I understand the hard work of getting all the details right. I also relate to your comments about editing. There can be joy in writing, but there is perhaps a different satisfaction in editing a piece until it is right.

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