Saturday, 12 November 2011

The Challenge of Writing Historical Fiction

All the good advice given in books on how to write fiction is applicable to writing historical fiction.

Writers must enjoy writing even when they encounter obstacles. This is particularly true of writing historical fiction. Historical novelists require a profound interest in all things historical.

The historical novels that I read more than once sweep me into the activities and ‘mind sets’ in a way which I enjoy.

When writing historical novels I enjoy recreating times past and presenting plots and themes unique to the country and era that I present to my readers.

Thomas Carlyle 1795-1881 wrote: “No great man lives in vain. The history of the world is but the biography of great men.” (Today, he might have written: Great men and women.) To add veracity to my fictional characters I either mention or allow historical characters to play a part. In my forthcoming release Tangled Love Queen Anne, the Duke of Marlborough and his wife, Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough have their place. All too often, there is not as much information about less important people as a novelist would like. However, imagination is any novelist’s best friend, and a historical novelist can people novels with colourful but imaginary characters.

History, or Herstory, interests me and provides more ideas than I have time to develop; but what is history? One of the definitions in Collins English Dictionary is: “A record or account, often chronological in approach of past events, developments etc.” Thomas Carlyle wrote: “What is all knowledge too but recorded experience and a product of history; of which, therefore, reasoning and belief, no less than action and passion, are essential materials?” Yes, indeed, these are the heady ingredients which historical novelists can incorporate in novels.

For various reasons many people’s knowledge of history is scant. For example, Charles II, the merry monarch, is fairly well known but his niece Queen Anne is not. Yet most people are interested in the past even if history did not interest them at school and they chose to study – for example – computer studies, catering or modern languages. Programmes such as Downton Abbey, the first two parts of which have been shown on television in the U.K., has attracted a vast audience. No doubt they will generate further interest in the era prior to and during the 1st World War. Undoubtedly, this interest will increase the sales of fiction and non fiction relevant to the period.

Last week, in my blog about Writing Historical Fiction, I referred to my dislike of novels in which history is ‘despoiled.’ Fiction must entertain, but it is also the author’s responsibility to reveal past times and interpret history as accurately as possible. There should be much more than dressing characters in costume and allowing them to act as though they are twenty-first century people. For example, when writing about countries in which Christianity predominated, religious conflict can provide a powerful theme but faith and attendance at church is often ignored.

Rosemary Morris
Forthcoming releases from MuseItUp Publishing
Tangled Love 27.01.2012
Sunday’s Child 06.2012

Sunday, 6 November 2011

How I Write Historical Fiction

How I Write Historical Fiction

Although there are books on the subject of How To Write Historical Fiction, which are useful, I am sure that novelists develop their own techniques.

I read history books and sooner or later something triggers my imagination. For example, I read that most of the English nobility disliked James II, his politics and his religion. After James fled to France, first his older daughter, Mary, and her husband and then her younger daughter Anne succeeded to the throne. Some peers refused to swear oaths of allegiance to James’s successors during his lifetime. Their refusal provided the historical trigger for my novel Tangled Love, first published as Tangled Hearts, which will be released on the 27th January, 2012.

After I decide on the period for a novel, I compile a chronological timeline with a narrow column on the left with the heading Date and two wide columns on the right with the headings National and International events.

Two of my dislikes when reading historical fiction about real or imaginary characters are historical inaccuracy, and characters who do not act in accordance with their time. Recently, I began a reader’s report on a historical romance. The first two chapters were so full of flaws that I returned it to the author with the comment that, although the plot is interesting, she needs to concentrate on research before rewriting it. I really don’t enjoy novels by authors who despoil history.

While I am working on a novel, I begin my research for the next one. I read about the economics, politics, social history, religion, clothes and everyday objects as well as reading fiction and poetry pertinent to the era. By the time I have finished a novel I have completed the groundwork for the next one in which I will use only a fraction of the information I have garnered. The advantage of such thorough preparation is showing the reader life as it was through my characters in an interesting way.

The more I research the more I realise how different modern day attitudes are to those of the past. However, even if attitudes and surroundings are different, we share the same emotions, love, ambitions, hope, hatred, envy, grief, hopelessness and misery.

As well as a difference in attitudes, there is also a difference in language which is a trap for the unwary author who should avoid sprinkling a novel with ‘la’, ‘methinks’ and ‘gazooks’ etc. In my novel, Sunday’s child, set in the Regency era, my well-born characters speak formally without contractions. In Tangled Love I use a few words such as oddsbodikins that give the flavour of speech in Queen Anne’s reign, and I avoid anachronisms.

I enjoy researching historical fiction through reading and visiting places of historical interest, including gardens, and also enjoy bringing the past and its people to life in my novels.