Whence illyrium? – and other historical matters

When writing historical fiction, it is important to write for the modern reader and yet equally important to remember that language, environment and culture were very different in the past. Anachronisms both deliberate and accidental are likely to distract the reader. (‘Hey, Lancelot,’ said Guinevere, fluttering her eyelashes seductively. ‘Arthur’s away. Fancy a quickie?’ The gallant knight grinned and, pausing only to slip a condom onto his lance, assaulted her at once.)

To avoid this headache, I decided to write Suzie and the Monsters as a present day narrative, with historical interludes presented conversationally for the most part. But that’s a vampire story. Most characters don’t have the luxury of a life spanning centuries. In writing Victorian steampunk, for example, which blends historical fiction with alternative universe fantasy, a present day narrative would be difficult.

But people talked funny back then…


It was my grandfather who decided the name illyrium. He went to Elba in pursuit of a vision, from an account in his father’s journal of a shipwreck off the coast of that fateful isle:

Like a drowned rat I was washed ashore, and witnessed there a terrific sight! I was sure that, like Viola, and Cadmus before her, I was come to Illyria, for though the night was black, the beach was alive with ghostly spectres. I hastened quickly from that accursed place.

Though in truth Elba is far from shores of Illyria, what other name could do such justice to that mysterious substance.


Mad Aunty Ellie was openly contemptuous of convention, and of marriage especially. ‘Social institutions, like marriage,’ she liked to say, ‘are those that best know how to denature woman, to take her absolute existence from her in order to give her a relative one and transport her into common drudgery.’ (Or, as she whispered to me once at the dinner table, having recently pressed on me her treasured copy of Pride and Prejudice, ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged, that every single man is terrified of a woman who misquotes Rousseau.’)

About Frank

A Sci-Fi & Fantasy author and lyrical poet with a mild obsession for vampires, succubi, goddesses and Supergirl.
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