Sunday, October 17, 2010


As a writer of historical fiction I spend a lot of time in the past - whether it's reading novels, reference books, surfing the net, or watching movies and documentaries. I love the old-fashioned lifestyle, or the idea of it. At this stage I should point out that I can't live without a car, dishwasher or hairdryer.

Whether it is my novel, or short stories, I seem to always end up in the late 1800s, with a particular attachment to the decade of 1880. I have set my short stories in New Zealand, but as you may already know, my novel is set in Wyoming with a few excursions to San Francisco. What has surprised me in my research, is how similar life was for Americans and New Zealanders at this time. Although New Zealand did lag behind a little in industry and technology. (I'll keep their differences for another post.)

In rural areas life was simple but hard. Heating and cooking came from wood stoves or coal ranges. Food came from the garden or the end of a rifle, supplemented by very basic supplies from the store. No five minute noodles for these cooks.

Clothes were made from natural fibres, wool, cotton and linen. They needed a good deal of ironing and took much longer to dry. My skin crawls at the thought of wearing woollen long johns (or union suits) all through the year. The luxurious softness of Merino was untapped at that stage.

Entertainment came from family members with an ability to play the fiddle or the piano, or from sing alongs. Books took pride of place and families might sit around the fire at night to listen to the latest serial edition of a Charles Dickens novel.

And they worked hard. For the women there were cows to milk, butter to churn, meals to cook from scratch and endless sewing and mending. For men there was hunting, ploughing, haymaking and the endless chopping of wood.

In the cities, during this period, the industrial revolution was well under way. Telephones and electric light were common place in the bigger cities. Some of the poshest hotels even had elevators. There were cable cars, steam ships and of course the train was well established. Refrigerated ships transported meat around the world and many homes sported treadle sewing machines.

The same people who lived through the gold strikes and the cattle drives, experienced the first motor cars. Some may have lived long enough to witness the first airplanes. The technology race we are entrenched in now, had its beginnings in the 19th Century. It truly was an exciting time to live in.


  1. Imagine in a hundred years from now; whether writers will be as interested in us - people of the late 1990s, say. We might've blown up by then just by the push of a button on someone's iphone.

    Your book gets more interesting every time you post about it. Is it a historical romance?

  2. I hope we're not all blown up by then! But I hate to think where technology will have taken us.

    Is it historical romance? Well, there is romance in it, (love makes the world go around) but there is a lot of adventure/action too. Historical/Western probably covers it. I'll give you a hint: there's the odd outlaw or two!