Christine Hancock is my publishing ‘twin’. Her book, Bright Sword, was published by The Book Guild on the same day as The Promise: January 28th 2018. We write in different genres and have followed each other’s journey over the past six and half months. Christine has kindly agreed to guest on my blog today and explain something about historical fiction and why it’s got something for all writers and readers.
Why Write Historical Fiction?
When I started to write it seemed like the obvious thing to do. All my life I have read historical fiction. I don’t know why. To escape? To learn about the past? Perhaps I just thought the stories were better. I have enjoyed other genres: Science Fiction, Horror, Romance (when I was young.) Horses (when I was very young), but I always returned to Historical Fiction.
So, what actually is Historical Fiction? The Historical Novel Society defines it as:
To be deemed historical (in our sense), a novel must have been written at least fifty years after the events described, or have been written by someone who was not alive at the time of those events (who therefore approaches them only by research).
For example, if you want to write a book set in the 1960s, it is historical if you were born after that period, or if you were alive at the time, living in rural England but are writing about life in the USA. If you want to write what happened to you, if you remember it, it is something else.
After that, anything is allowed, any period and any place. It can be of any genre: romance, detective, adventure, biographical. Psychological thriller? It also includes sub genres such as time slip, alternate history and fantasy.
Some people aren’t interested in the past. They say only the future is important. But if we recognise that what happens today has happened before – in one form or another, we can learn how to deal with it, or live through it. I suppose that applies more to straight history books, but why not learn and enjoy the experience at the same time?
There is so much in the news to worry us nowadays, people want to escape. This is where historical fiction comes in.
Why concern yourself with the details of Brexit, when you can stand beside King Harold and his warriors at Hastings, defending your country against the Normans? Probably not the best example!
Worried about Trump? Imagine trying to survive in the court of Henry VIII or in Rome under Emperor Nero.
Weather too hot? Acclimatise yourself beside the Nile in Ancient Egypt or cool down at a 17th century Frost Fair.
Fed up with queues to see a doctor? Discover the problems of avoiding the Black Death, or any illness or accident, at almost any time before our own.
If you just want good read, why chose historical fiction?
The basic plot of a romance is boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy finds girl. How interesting it can be when the clothing are tight breeches and a beautiful silk gown and when the hero must fight for his lady’s honour with a sword. There is so much space for misunderstanding when your character has to wait for the post instead of texting from his iphone.
People say to me “But don’t you have to do a lot of research?” Yes, but it depends on what you are writing. If it is a novel about the life of someone famous, Ann Boleyn, to take an overused example, you need to know every single fact – get it wrong and someone will notice and tell you!
I’m sure writers of modern fiction have to do a lot of research: What car does my character drive? What clothes does she wear? What is the “in” drink to order? Then in a few years it is all out of date.
I write about the Anglo-Saxons in the mid tenth century. No need to work out which make of car they drove (a horse or they walked) what clothes they wore (tunic, long for women, shorter for men and cloak in cold weather) or which brand of ale or mead they drank. So long as I have the right king on the throne and avoid killing off a real-life character before their time, it’s fine.
Oh, and don’t have them eating roast potatoes with their dinner!
Never tried historical fiction? What do you enjoy reading? There’s sure to be something similar set in the past. You may never return to the present day.
Thank you, Christine. You’ve tempted me to give history a chance!
Christine Hancock lives in Rugby, Warwickshire and is a long term family historian and leader of her local history group. Byrhtnoth, the main protagonist in Bright Sword, is based on a real warrior who died in the 991 Battle of Maldon, made famous by the Anglo-Saxon poem of that name.
Bright Sword is available in bookshops and from all the main online retailers, including Amazon.
Read Christine’s blog or follow her on Twitter.