Real people

I am informed by the Writer’s Almanac that today (January 9) is the birthday of Simone de Beauvoir.


Which is a thin excuse to talk about putting real people into my novels, because de Beauvoir is only tangentially mentioned in Time Goes By, and not even by her full name (Olivia thinks “What was her name, the French feminist? Simone something,” which is a sideways nod to the other Simone who’s effectively dominating George in his own POV thread). But I read her memoirs as general background for the book, for an account of life in Paris at the time and to illuminate the undercurrents of proto-feminism that would have buoyed Génie’s intention to have a career in chemistry, as well as her mother Vivi’s freedom to hold different political opinions than her husband and to act without regard for his feelings and needs.

So I didn’t put her in the book, but she’s there anyway. I haven’t been big on inserting real historical figures into my books – maybe I’d feel differently if I were writing straight historical fiction rather than time travel, or maybe I’m just chicken. I have brought a few real people in for actual dialogue and plot purposes, such as Samuel Spring, chaplain of Benedict Arnold’s Canadian expedition, who in the first chapter of Time and Fevers also mentions offstage actors such as Aaron Burr and Isaac Senter (Abner Stocking was a real person, too, and so was the Captain McCobb George speaks to at the fort, though I knew nothing about him but his name at time of writing). Later in TAF a more substantial visit by (or rather to) Adriaen Pauw (variable spelling) contributes significantly to the story.

Time Goes By mentions many real people – among other connections, we learn that Génie and Max see Édith Piaf sing, and that Génie has been taught by Irène Joliot-Curie. Varian Fry never actually appears onstage in the book, but he’s important to the plot, and his associate Jean Gemähling does appear. (Isn’t he adorable? I became very fond of him through reading Fry’s work.) But nearly all of my characters are created by me, to fit into spaces shaped by history – the British Navy recruiter, the old merchant sailor, the Dunkirk rescuees, the World War One veteran, the reluctant French soldier, the Luftwaffe pilot, the Resistance fighters and collaborators and Communists, the many refugees. There are nearly always room for more people in history, and a lot of freedom in making them up yourself rather than following someone’s biography.

Not Time’s Fool has, that I recall, absolutely no real people in it, though contract-related reference is made to Benedict Arnold, John André, Sir Henry Clinton, Joseph McCarthy and Lillian Hellman, and Alfred Russel Wallace is represented by one of his books. I suspect The Seed Time, which takes us back to revolutionary America, will contain several historical figures (but so far I’ve only written virtual computer-based representations of them). If nothing else, they will provide authentic color to the story – I suspect nothing else, but I could be wrong, and George could be hobnobbing with his namesake General Washington in a surprise twist. But it’s unlikely I’ll dive into writing with that in mind.

Formatting is proceeding well for NTF, and I’ll get introductory chapters up here soon!


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