Pamela Freeman – Corsets and Coaches: getting the historical details right

Pamela is a highly respected teacher of creative writing at the Australian Writers Centre. She is the author of over 40 books, she has written the well-known Poppy McGowan series and many a historical novel, set in a variety of times, the Regency period, the Roaring Twenties and in World War Two, writing under the name of Pamela Hart. She has also written a number of award-winning children’s books.

Pamela’s talk was both informative and entertaining, giving us a great insight into the depth of research required to ensure the accuracy of a historical novel.  Pamela explained it is the duty of a writer to provide authentic historical information that the reader can trust and rely upon as without it the reader will simply stop reading.

Having chosen a period in which she will set her novel, Pamela begins her research by reading novels set in the time, dialogue is one of the aspects she observes, looking for the subtle shades of cultural distinctions and language. She also reads newspapers from the period, noting such details as the weather on a particular date, researching advertising which indicates the state of the world by looking at what the public is interested in buying. To illustrate this, she showed us a series of advertisements relating to corsets through a short period of time. These advertisements showed how undergarments developed and how they were targeted at different classes in society – advertising as social history. Researching underwear took Pamela to the Wax Museum in Amsterdam.

Sometimes many hours of research will end up as a feature in a single sentence. Pamela illustrated this by explaining the various coaches in pre-World War One times. She described who rode in which type of coach and how, e.g. women always rode facing forwards to minimise the risk of travel sickness, whilst men faced backwards. She read a sentence from one of her novels in which the protagonist was travelling in the type of coach appropriate to her class, accompanied by her maid, since women could not travel alone. It had taken a trip to the London Transport Museum for the research for that one sentence.

As Pamela said “It is the work of a historical writer not to teach you but to let you, the historical reader, feel the period”. It was our privilege to find out how she does that.

Our thanks to Pamela for a most enjoyable evening and to the Hill of Content who came along to support us by selling copies of Pamela’s books.


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