Writing the short stories was born out of research for a novel – Staymaker which is currently in the editing stage. They are all based on information I found out, using various books, internet sources and the Old Bailey’s trial records which fell outside the dates Staymaker takes place but nonetheless provided material useable as short stories and giving the reader a prequel of sorts to the Novel.
With novels based on historical events and using actual historical characters, it can seem that most of the work is done for you to a large extent – the plots are determined by the actual events you are depicting, the historical characters names and back stories are fixed by their real counterparts, all you are doing is fleshing this into a narrative that presents itself as exciting and readable. Here then, is where the work starts. What was life like in the 18th Century for the common man? What did an 18th Century breakfast consist of? How long would it take to ride from Bristol to Beckenham on a horse? Those kinds of questions may only account for a minor part of the story, but get them wrong, and someone will take you to task. Fictional Characters involved in your plot have to fit the time and their motivations have to be bang on. Again, back stories need to be true to history, for example, an ex soldier needs a regiment, and that regiment will have taken part in actual battles which will affect his motivation etc.
So, the events and people in the short stories are all based on things that happened, and the people they happened to. Gabriel Tomkin really was a bent customs officer, rising high in the service before he was found out (researching more into this at the moment for my next project). Trip Stamford, Arthur Gray and other members of the Hawkhurst Gang really did ambush and kill Thomas Carsewell in 1741 as he fought through mud trying to get a captured cache of smuggled goods to Hastings. Two customs officers were tied up and left for the tide on a beach near Arundel in Sussex, two more were tied to their horses outside a Heathfield pub and those horses whipped on, taking the men who-knows-where. (Richard Mann’s story is pure fiction, but again, this was what they did to other informers.) The battle between the Hawkhurst gang and the Wingham men in the early morning did happen, and did destroy the Wingham smugglers. Equally, Polehil and the other two men mentioned in the final story did take two years to come forward with evidence about Arthur Kingsmill, the reason for them finally coming forward is my own.
To find this out, I have made use of letters between Sir John Collier and others, witness statements recorded during trials as well as later books written by historians with a keen interest in the Subject. I have had to become more than just a writer, but also a historian to interpret the evidence into believable motives for the characters I am portraying. So yes, the basic plots and characters may be in place and set in stone, but it isn’t an easy option, however, it is more interesting!