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Those who are frequent readers will know of the interviews I’ve conducted with top historical fiction authors. Collectively these interviews generated lots of interest and discussion. But … what can we learn by looking across nine favourite authors?

One question I asked was what do you think attracts readers to your books. Let’s have a look.

Sharon Kay Penman: readers appreciate “that I am writing of people who actually lived and events that really happened” and “my efforts to be as historically accurate as humanly possible.”

C. W. Gortner: “readers have told me … I write about human beings, not cliches: that I show flaws and weaknesses as well as strengths” and “find the connections between us … that shared emotional experience”

Hilary Mantel: tries to bring the “best writing she can” to her readers … “finds the dramatic shape in real events” … and regards each novel as a “joint effort between writer and reader”

Susan Higginbotham: tells stories “through fresh viewpoints” and “treats the historical figures … with respect” and “tries to avoid black-or-white characters or cliched characters”

Helen Hollick: ” I think the passion I feel for my characters comes across in my writing”

Michelle Moran: “I hope it’s the historical accuracy and the ability to be transported back in time”

Elizabeth Chadwick: readers tell me “they love the feeling as if they are there in the moment … appreciate that the characters are of their time, believable and not anachronistic … they enjoy the vividness, the colour and also the emotional and historical integrity”.

Margaret George: “people do say they feel like they are really there”

Deanna Raybourn: “I try to tell a good story with characters my readers will care about. I am rabid on the subject of historical accuracy”

Common threads – historical accuracy, characters we can understand and care about, the drama of history, vividness of the time.

Connecting back to the survey – the top three reasons for reading historical fiction are (1) to bring the past to life appreciating how people lived and coped in very different times, (2) because it’s a great story, and (3) to understand and learn about historical periods without reading non-fiction. And the number one response to the question of what detracts from your enjoyment of historical fiction – historical inaccuracies.

No wonder these authors are favourites!