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Some time ago, Larissa MacFarquhar wrote about Hilary Mantel in The New Yorker. What struck me at the time is the notion that Mantel doesn’t “believe in inventing greatness where none exists” and “feels she can write about greatness only in historical moments that have already proved ripe for its flourishing. She believes that there are no great characters without a great time; ordinary times breed ordinary people”. Mantel implies that our present times are ordinary not great.

Does the favourite authors list from my survey imply that readers like to read about great times? Let’s have a look.

Sharon Kay Penman – Richard III, King John, Henry III, Edward I, Henry II and others

Philippa Gregory – War of the Roses, Katharine of Aragon, Tudor England, 18th C slave trade

Elizabeth Chadwick – knights and crusades, King John, Henry I, Eleanor of Aquitaine

Diana Gabaldon – mid to late 18th C time travel

Bernard Cornwell – Napoleonic Wars, Arthurian times, Alfred the Great, Hundred Years War

Ken Follett – WWI, WWII, Henry I and King Stephen plus contemporary times

Anya Seton – mid 19th C, Aaron Burr, John of Gaunt & Katherine Swynford, 17th C US, Anglo Saxon England

CW Gortner – Elizabeth I, Catherine de Medici, Spanish Queens Isabella and Juana

Alison Weir – Eleanor of Aquitaine, Elizabeth I, Tudor times, Lady Jane Grey, many non-fiction books

Margaret George – Mary Magdalene, Cleopatra, Mary Queen of Scots, Helen of Troy, Elizabeth I

Georgette Heyer – Regency romance, contemporary and historical thrillers, William the Conqueror

Michelle Moran – Napoleonic times, Madame Tussaud, Nerfertiti, Nefertari, Cleopatra’s daughter

Jean Plaidy - Norman times, Plantagenet, Tudor, Stuart, Charles II, Queen Victoria

CJ Sansom – series set in time of Henry VIII

Jane Austen – wrote about her own times so not technically historical fiction

Dorothy Dunnett – 15th and 16th centuries, William the Conqueror

Ellis Peters – 12th century Cadfael series, English murder mysteries

Susan Higginbotham – Edward II, Edward III, Henry VI, Henry VIII, War of the Roses

Tracy Chevalier – eclectic mix of periods and subject matter

Jacqueline Winspear – aftermath of WWI

Patrick O’Brian – Napoleonic Wars

Deanna Raybourn – mysteries set in Victorian times

My conclusion is that readers enjoy reading about greatness and great times. What do you think?