Mary Hooper writes for children and young adults. Her historical novels including At the House of the Magician and The Remarkable Life and Times of Eliza Rose have a huge fan base, as do her contemporary novels for teenagers.
In my last post, A writer with nothing to write about, I explained how, after writing 20 or so books for young adults, I’d run out of ideas.
Eventually (I already had a book commission to fulfill) my editor suggested a historical book, but I had absolutely no background in history and only a vague idea of what had happened when. I took myself along to the London Library in Guildhall, however, and while browsing, found a copy of the document which was to start me writing again: The Bills of Mortality.
This gorgeously gothic leaflet was published weekly during the year of the Great Plague, 1665, and not only listed those who had died from plague, but also gave details of other causes of death that year: fascinating things such as “Rising of the Lights”, “Teeth and Worms” and – my own particular favourite, “Distracted”.
Reading and marvelling at these, I started to think about the people behind the statistics. I’d written a lot about modern teenagers, but what would it have been like to be a 15-year-old in 1665 and to have people dropping down dead all around you?
Why, Samuel Pepys said that the Plague struck so quickly that when you woke up in the morning you weren’t quite sure that you’d be going to bed at night. Imagine living with that.
Staring at the bills I longed to get behind the statistics, to know more about 17th-century people and how they lived.
What sort of things did they have in those little wooden houses? What did they do to earn money? What food did they eat? What did they wear, how did they speak, how did they amuse themselves?
I started investigating these things and it was a perfect pleasure to do so, for writers are terribly curious, and research is just an excuse to be nosy. During this time I became hooked on the fascinating lives of those who lived before us, so much so that I never intend to go back to modern times and to texting and Tweeting.
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