I have been studying the history of the British Army in WWII for about 20 years. I have also been participating in living history for nearly that long; in other words, I spend my weekends dressing in a reproduction uniform and trying to experience life as a British soldier.
Several months ago – perhaps longer – a friend suggested that I write a book based on what I have learned. It sounded like an interesting project, but it also sounded rather daunting.
I looked at a number of challenges that I knew would face me:
- I am not a professional historian. Is my background and experience enough for me to write a history book?
- The market is flooded with books on WWII. Could I find a subject unique enough to attract a publisher’s interest?
- What resources are available for my research?
- How would I go through the process of getting published?
1. Personal Background
I am not a professional historian, but I am an enthusiastic amateur. I want to write about a subject that has fascinated me for 20 years. I have probably read a hundred or more books on the subject.
I do have some training and experience in history and conducting research. My Bachelor’s degree is in Music Humanities, that is, music from a liberal arts perspective rather than fine arts. The degree program required classes, not only in music, but in history and literature. Along the way, I wrote numerous term papers.
Professionally, I work in regulatory compliance. One of my main functions is to conduct regulatory research and write summary memoranda of my findings.
Finally, my reenacting experience may be a help, but it may be a hindrance. I have already discovered that some things I thought I knew were incorrect. As part of researching my book, I also intend to confirm everything I do as a living historian to eliminate any possible assumptions or short cuts I may have picked up over the years.
2. Book Subject
There are a number of general overviews of WWII, as well as studies of specific battles and campaigns. There are also histories of specific units and their activities. Additionally, there are social histories of the war, based on interviews with veterans or civilian participants. A rather recent trend has been examinations of uniforms and equipment.
My plan is to write about the daily life of the British soldier.
- How was enlistment handled?
- What was it like to live in the barracks?
- What did the soldier eat and drink?
- How did he sleep?
- How was he trained?
- How was leave handled?
- What did the soldier do for entertainment?
While there are several books that have included elements of the above, I have not seen any single book that ties it all together and examines the day-to-day existence of the common soldier. This is a subject in which I am very interested, but to my knowledge, would be new and unique in the marketplace.
My personal library contains over 100 books on the British Army in WWII, and is constantly expanding. In addition to my collection of history books, I also own several official publications from the period, such as the King’s Regulations and numerous training pamphlets, which will be extremely helpful for my chosen subject.
While I would like to conduct veteran interviews, that may not be possible. The WWII generation is getting quite old; sadly, we are losing them at a tremendous rate. Additionally, being an American writing about the British Army makes it even more difficult to meet the veterans and talk to them in person.
However, the internet is a tremendous resource. The BBC has an online archive of memoirs and narratives by both veterans and civilians. The Imperial War Museum has thousands of documents and photographs available for review online. Both websites have information on how to obtain commercial licensure for use of the materials.
A resource that I believe to be under-utilized by historians is film. I have a number of DVDs of wartime newsreels and official training films. Even movies made for entertainment have their value, particularly the propaganda films that were made in cooperation with the Army. Film can also provide insight into the attitudes of the period.
If I go to the effort needed to write the book the way I want to do it, I would also like to have it published; however, I have no experience in this matter. Fortunately, again, the internet is a valuable resource. One of my favorite publishers, Pen and Sword Press, specializes in military history. They have an online book proposal and submission process. The IWM also has an online proposal system, although they don’t publish as many books.
If I am unable to go through a traditional publishing house, there are now online resources for obtaining an ISBN number and self-publishing, or even publishing on-demand.
I’m confident I have the ability to conduct the research and write the book that I want to create. My real concern is having the time and energy to put into the project. My job is demanding and often leaves me feeling exhausted. I love attending living history events, but that too takes time and energy away from the book.
I will never have the opportunity to sit down over several months and read and write as much as I want. The only way I will be able to achieve my goal is to take it on in small pieces. I have read (or re-read) several books over the past several months with the intent of gleaning as much useful information as I can find, and have taken careful notes. I have started the process of transcribing those notes into computer files to be more easily referenced in the future.
The main reason I started this blog was to help me with the book. As much as I have been reading, I have done little writing. This blog is intended to remind me to write more frequently, and to help me collect my thoughts and present historical snippets. I have already found it valuable for me; I hope this is also entertaining, or at least somewhat interesting, to the reader.