On being a writer...

A celebration of the writing process, of being a writer, of all the weird things that pass through a writing brain...

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Historical Fiction

Sometimes I have quite bruising conversations about historical fiction - of the kind I write.  In other words, not the Philippa Gregory, Hilary Mantel type, which take real people like Anne Boleyn, puts words into their mouths, and tries to work out how the past would have been for them - and how their relationships would have evolved, and how, in many cases, they meet their downfall.

My type of historical fiction takes real events, such as The French Revolution, and tells a fictional story about fictional characters, but with an authentic (whatever that means) historical setting.  But do not dismiss.  One type of historical fiction is neither more nor less valuable and fun than the other.  What is fiction set in the present but historical fiction of the type I write? Take Ian McEwan or Alan Hollinghurst - they write fictional characters against an authentic setting - it might be yesterday, it might be last week or a decade or a century ago.  The point is that the reader must be convinced by the world of the character - so if Anne Boleyn speaks convincingly, and moves through her worlds convincingly, the book will work.  And if one of my fictional characters takes part in the Battle of Balaklava, provided the reader is convinced by that character and his or her responses, and by the battle, then I have succeeded.  But I would argue that in some ways this type of historical fiction is in fact more exciting and possibly more historically fascinating, because the characters grow from the historical landscape against which they are written; they are not picked out of the history books..


  1. Katherine, I particularly like your type of historical fiction - more actually than the type using real historical figures putting words into their mouths. I do like that type too - Wolf Hall, for example, but there's always that feeling that you don't actually know this is their speech, or what they thought or did, and I have to remind myself that this is fiction not history, whereas in your type that doesn't apply. Whatever a fictional character says it is just that - it is their speech and thoughts etc.

    I've recently read 'The Crimson Rooms' and think it's excellent, a good example of using historical facts in a fictional way. I have a blog and am planning to write a bit about your books next week - in a post about historical crime fiction.

  2. Margaret - I've just read your comment and your blog. I'm sorry for the delay in responding - I've been off the scene writing and holidaying. So delighted that you liked The Crimson Rooms and that you took the trouble to review it.

    Historical crime fiction. A whole new genre that it had never occurred to me that I belonged to....