Open Request Revisited – Part 2

History+FictionFurther to last week’s post on the ‘magic ingredients” of historical fiction, let’s hear from a few more write-in comments. Several of these are from readers who put their thoughts in an email.

Olga Walker: “I think they [the best historical fiction authors] weave the ‘facts of the time’ in with the story so that it is a wonderfully merged creation and you are not aware of when this is happening.”

Nicole Evelina: “You have to make the reader feel like the slang is on the tip of their tongue, too, the stench of the streets is something they can actually smell, and the political or cultural views are their own. You have to take them back in time in as many ways as possible.”

Sorayabxl: “reading a historical novel adds the extra satisfaction of quenching your thirst of knowledge and curiosity for a certain time period. When I pick a historical novel, I want to enjoy myself and live another life but I also want to find out at the same time “How was it really like to live back then?”

Ellie Stevenson: “Evoke a sense of place and time that’s so authentic you can almost touch it and smell it.”

Tam May: I try to use a variety of resources, including resources published at the time (like newspapers, conduct books, pictures, etc.) and those that are analyzing what happened in the past. I think having both sources that were “in the moment” as well as those that have a perspective on the past give a good variety of sources.

Brendan Hodge: I like to read novels set in other times and places (whether conscious “historicals” or novels actually written near the time and place they portray) because they allow you to see how the universal aspects of the human experience play out in a very different setting.

Historical fiction is certainly a powerful genre.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION follow A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her latest novel, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE is set in WWI France and is available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. Her debut novel, UNRAVELLED: Two wars. Two affairs. One marriage. is also available from these retailers.

Mary can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.

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8 Responses

  1. I wanted to take people back with me to search out forgotten things. But only a number of people are prepared to actually do that, I think. I think a lot of people desire some version of history that does not entirely rip their links to the present away. As some of the links above suggest, nominally it is great to touch and smell history … but the stench was actually appalling!

    https://certainmeasureofperfection.wordpress.com/matthews-introduction/

  2. I love Nicole Evelina’s words here: “You have to make the reader feel like the slang is on the tip of their tongue, too, the stench of the streets is something they can actually smell, and the political or cultural views are their own. You have to take them back in time in as many ways as possible.”

  3. I totally agree Yecheilyah. But it can be so difficult. Think how much people’s attitudes have changed over just a couple of generations. You are right that you do have to abandon the Self and move into someone else’s persona. But this can be a disconcerting thing. Don’t think for one minute that, say – just for the hell of it, Anne Boleyn had lovely ideas about everything; she won’t have done. And the things we see on TV historical reproductions are totally sanitised. So many people had had smallpox for example and that would have completely changed their appearance.

    1. Hi Simon .. I’m just reading a novel that begins in 1603. The author has an interesting technique for explaining things from long ago – she uses a young woman being introduced to London for the first time. Hopefully she doesn’t overuse the technique but for the moment it’s working well.

  4. The other really hard thing is what you leave out. Your narrator etc walking down a street in 1500 will be used to some things. We might go ‘Oh my god, look at that!’ but for he / she to pay any attention it is going to have to be outside their everyday experience. Of course, telling a story, we don’t want that; we want to know what the everyday scene looks like…

  5. I’m just back from holiday and it was a lovely surprise to read this blog and the interesting comments. Thank you Mary for all of the work you are doing in this space:) Olga

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