Bestselling indie writer Piers Alexander, author of the award-winning historical novel The Bitter Trade, takes to a whole new level the idea of putting yourself in the shoes of your fictitious characters.
Your Characters' Revenge
We put our characters through it, don’t we? Bereave them, create obstacles for them, blow them up, confuse them with love triangles, and in the case of historical authors we just stick them in the awful clothing of the time. Scratchy calico, shit-smeared hose, itchy wigs, too cold in winter, too hot in the summer…
Characters: your time for revenge is here. Simply persuade your author that, to “connect” with “enthusiastic readers”, they should get involved in historical reenactment. Give them a taste of their own medicine…
It’s a very good theory, by the way:
- I want to find readers who are interested in my era.
- People who are interested in my era often become reenactors.
- I will go find those reenactors, create a community and sell some books. Simple.
No sales, no reviews…
Because my book is set in the 1600s, I very patiently went through the Sealed Knot and English Civil War Society websites, found some friendly-looking names and offered them review copies. A few very kindly wrote back; one VERY kindly asked for 5 copies “so everyone in the regiment can have a look…”
Grinding my teeth, I sent them off. I got a nice review on Amazon, and a nice rating on Goodreads, and thought no more of it until I held my book launch and invited some of my reenactor contacts down.
“Can we come in costume?”
Oh yes you can!
It was brilliant. Pictured here are Steve and Julie Ball of Pickering’s (Roundhead) regiment, in one of London’s trendiest coffeehouses. They came all the way on the Tube like this.
From Happy Puritans to Harry Potter
Then it got even more fun. Beth Bason of Tillier’s (Royalist) regiment invited me to have a go at the Siege of Sherborne one bank holiday weekend. I rented some inappropriate bucket-top boots, collected my VERY unattractive musketeer’s outfit, and went to stand in a field and get shot at by the combined forces of Parliament. And went into a giant cider tent where everyone had changed out of their Civil War gear and into Harry Potter outfits. And togas. And Viking outfits… You get the idea.
I have now begun an international reenactor competition to see who can sport the best costumes at my readings. The guys in Luxembourg were BRILLIANT.
That’s when it hit me. These aren’t readers, they’re people… (Read the full story here.)
“All grown-ups should get dressed up, Daddy”
My friend, the novelist Andrew Clover, used to write a very funny column called Dad Rules in which his three kooky daughters instruct him in what’s really important in life. His middle child, Cassady (who is hilarious), says one day: “Daddy, all grown-ups should get dressed up more…”
How ironic it is that we sit in our social-media-free, research-book-lined, no-entry-for-kids-or-spouses writing zones, working like crazy to be someone else in our minds, whilst other people simply put on a costume and do it with other people?
I used to HATE dressing up. It stems back to an unfortunate incident at a school production of the Teddy Bears’ Picnic. I don’t want to talk about it; suffice it to say that my very creative and fun-loving wife Rebecca used to get rather frustrated with me.
Then one Halloween she forced me into a hillbilly zombie costume. I went zooming off down Poole’s Ashley Road, harassing people in chip shops and pubs, and haven’t looked back since then.
So my thoughts on reenactment go like this:
- It is very funny when people dress up, and even funnier when you join in
- It’s great PR when people dress up at your launch
- I have made some lovely new friends by actually getting to know real reenactors and history geeks
- It’s a lot easier to write a scene if you have lived it. You know, in the real world.
- JUST DRESS UP ALREADY!
OVER TO YOU
Have you ever got involved with historical reenactors to promote your book? Please feel free to share pictures and anecdotes. And f you're staging any fancy dress book events yourself, it sounds as if Piers would love to be invited!
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“An unusual, fun #bookmarketing tactic: fancy dress! By Piers Alexander aka @TheBitterTrade for #AuthorALLi: https://selfpublishingadvice.org/reenactments/ #selfpub”