A colour photo. A pile of newspapers has the words Non-Fiction A Story That is Real
Historic Non Fiction | Oral History | Publications | The House Of Mirelle

Writing Historic Non-Fiction: The Difference Between ‘What If’ and ‘What Is.’

June 21, 2017

In a straw poll most people say what they enjoy reading but might stumble over what their favourite genre is.

The House of Mirelle book is non-fiction. That means it’s factual writing…

Since I’ve been working on it, I’ve been asked a lot of questions. Some of them have gone like this:

Will it be published in time for Hull 2017?”

or: “I’m not sure of those dates. I think it’s right but I can’t be certain. Why, is it important to know exactly when?”

And sometimes…

“I’d love to ask more about it but I’ll wait until it’s published.”

The last one is always fun and enthusiastic to hear.

It might be interesting to know a bit more about writing historic non-fiction.

How fiction and non-fiction are different

Fiction is different from non-fiction in many ways.

Fiction does what it says on the tin – it’s made up – a figment of the writer’s imagination.

Imagining and making things up gives the writer freedom from the second difference between the two; the process of writing non-fiction.

Writing non-fiction changes the rules a writer follows

The House of Mirelle book is non-fiction; it tells a story about historical facts and because of that, it has to be accurate.

Not just “I think so” accurate, accurate like a text book except it’s written in a style enjoyable for people to read.

How do you begin to write non-fiction?

You’ve written non-fiction too. When you were in school, college or university and were asked to write a factual essay, you’d go away and research it before you put pen to paper.

You’d take the scribbled notes, decide what goes into it or not, write a list of your references and then work it together in a longer form.

The end result is your essay.

Essays are like writing non-fiction

Well, that’s very similar to the process of writing a non-fiction book.

Many questions…

Research into The House of Mirelle generates question after question.

Each question must be answered properly before striking it off the list and moving on.

The 6 million dollar question…

There’s one question which without a doubt is the most important and here it is:

“Are you sure about that?”

That’s because facts aren’t facts until they are verified.

Research process

The research process has captured all available written, visual and verbal resources which have anything to do with The House of Mirelle.

As no-one has written about The House of Mirelle before now that means starting with a literature review of all potential resources.

Which resources have you used?

For historical facts about Hull I’ve interrogated The Hull City Archives and The Hull History Centre catalogues.

People connected to the story have been added to a large database called The Find List.

Family history resources, as well as electoral rolls, telephone directories, the Museums’ catalogues and street indexes have all been essential.

What about fashion history?

The 40 years Mirelle was open has a ‘context’ or the background the story sits in.

Local history, woman’s history and changes to fashion and fashion retail are all very important to the story.

Changes to the class structure and the way that wealth was distributed is too.

And that’s not all!

Mirelle was a fashion house which sold labels, designs and styles that reflect the era they were sold in.

It’s part of the story to know what fashions were worn at particular times in history from the undergarments up.

That is the background to the designer labels that were sold at Mirelle and the sales cycle throughout the ‘seasons.’

The history of sewing skills, retail, modelling and fashion  

Tied into The House of Mirelle is the history of sewing skills and tailoring, women in business, modelling and fashion retail.

Oral History

When people talk about their experiences of Mirelle commonalities or themes emerge as well as comments, stories and anecdotes that illustrate other aspects to the story.

Sometimes Oral History fills in the gaps that can’t be found using other resources.

The last question comes back to the first question:

“Will it be published in time for Hull 2017?”

The book cannot be finished until all the questions have been answered all the resources have been uncovered and all the people who can tell their story have been spoken to.

So when people ask ‘when’ this is the answer:

“The book will become part of Hull’s historical resource and it has to be spot on, it has to be right. It’ll be finished when no stone has been left unturned and all the questions have been answered.

“I am enjoying the process of discovery and telling the story could not be more thrilling.”

© Carrie Henderson 2016