The Freedoms & Limitations of Writing Historical Horror…


One of the joys of writing historical fiction with my Victorian horror and adventure series, ‘The Darkwood Mysteries’, is being released from some of the limitations that modern technology can place on crime writing–it’s hard planning crimes when science and DNA can do so much of the detective work! Also, the limitations of modern communication for creating tension is no longer an issue–my characters can’t suddenly pass on information to each other, and can’t call for help so easily. It frees me up from convoluted ways of disconnecting my characters in the increasingly connected world of modern horror fiction.

It can have it’s issues though, one is being mindful of what doesn’t exist yet… And as I have found in my latest project–long distance communication. My story is an origin story of sorts, set in 1851–about 25 years earlier than normal for the series, and sees Darkwood’s parents separated through her father, Edward, being in India steering the family teasing business and her mother, Anne, left to run the Darkwood estates. Communication through letter would take weeks each way, creating a big disconnect between their back and forth–which has been a problem for me as both will experience shared events through Anne coming into possession of the guide stone which is so important to the series.

I have had to get around this by setting the story over a longer period, and Darkwood who is translating her mother’s coded text curating extracts to bridge gaps, and connect elements of story as she narrates it to Hobbs and her cousin one stormy night.

I have had Anne reflect on her husband’s letters in her own journal entries to connect them that way. This has meant I can focus on just one narrative voice and not have to write the preamble of two separate streams of communication as the story builds, and avoids the back and forth between different sets of letters. I have had to be careful this one-sided conversation doesn’t become contrived with Anne repeating too much of her husband’s news herself.

Diaries are pretty much the Victorian equivalent of found footage narration, and I’ve had to be mindful of balancing the tone of a woman writing to her husband and my wanting to write prose horror fiction. I’ve already noted a shift in writing style when I get excited about the sinister events unfolding around her, so I will have to be careful with this so that is not too jarring a step up.

So far it’s all going well with ‘The Darkwood Mysteries: The Gathering of Shadow and Fire’. I’m enjoying exploring the Darkwood past and Victorian Britain’s not so great relationship with India. I’m looking forward to tying this run of the series up. Even though the next step will be *shudder* editing.

What do you think?

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