BackStory: Four Questions with Hannah Hoare

Black and white image of a transparent piano.

BackStory: Four Questions with Hannah Hoare
Author of The Sort-of-True Story of Princess Alexandra of Bavaria

What inspired you to write ‘The Sort-of-True Story of Princess Alexandra of Bavaria’?

I first heard about Princess Alexandra of Bavaria in an episode of The Unbelievable Truth on BBC Radio 4. She biffed about in my head for a while without me paying much attention. Some time later (and I mean a couple of years I think), I found a flash fiction prompt on the subject of glass, and the Princess came rattling to the front of my brain. I like using prompts for writing flash fiction. They help me take a sideways look at something and often trigger an idea or crystallise a random thought into a story.

How much research did you do while writing and editing this piece? Did you discover anything that surprised you?

I didn’t delve too deeply for this piece because I had a quite a strong sense of the voice I wanted to give the Princess when I started writing and I didn’t want it too coloured by other people’s representations of her. But even a little online research into the Princess’s story was enough to confirm that she really did believe she’d swallowed a glass piano when she was a child, and to discover that Glass Delusion is a real psychiatric phenomenon. It was actually pretty common in the Middle Ages but records of cases persisted into the mid twentieth century. That was surprising. It’s a really fascinating subject, and something I’m sure I will revisit.

How important is historical accuracy to you in your own writing?

I like to have a framework of accuracy, of reality, to hang a story on. So Princess Alexandra was a real person who really did experience this glass delusion. She had a brother called Adalbert and she died when she was forty-nine (on the same day as her brother, curiously). But the rest is imagined, and I like being able to do that. Fiction is the key word. I’m not a writer of biography or history text books. In fiction your characters can go where-, think what- and be who- ever you want them to. I avoid really obvious anachronisms so I wouldn’t, for example, have a solider in the WWII trenches making a call on an iphone. Well, unless that was a whole time-warping plot MacGuffin…

What do you think is the most challenging aspect of writing historical flash? What about the most rewarding?

It’s hard enough getting a story arc and character development into any short flash piece so adding the element of setting it in a specific historical period creates an extra challenge. One more layer to weave into the whole without the space for much descriptive exposition. But I find setting a story in a different time quite freeing. Distance in time gives me distance from the familiar and I sometimes find it easier to inhabit a character who is completely removed from my norm than to conjure someone closer to my own time and reality. And it’s good fun to time-travel.

Hannah Hoare is a writer and natural history television producer based in south west England. Her flash fiction has been short-listed in Retreat West competitions and published online by Molotov Cocktail and The Cabinet of Heed. She tweets as @hannahvisiontv.

Black and white image of a transparent piano by Judi Walsh, based on a public domain photograph of a Grand Piano made in 1827 by John Broadwood & Sons, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (1972.109).