Can These Bones Live?

Tags

, , , ,

Some time ago, I found a transcript of a BBC Radio lecture featuring author Hilary Mantel. Mantel is a celebrated author whose novels about Thomas Cromwell have won all sorts of praise and prizes. Mantel seeks to bring the past to life through her writing. In the lecture she speaks of the practical job of resurrecting the past, and the process that gets historical fiction on to the page.

Bits that stood out for me:

The task of historical fiction is to take the past out of the archive and relocate it in a body.”

The historical novel requires an extra set of choices from contemporary novel writing: “what sources to consult, what shape to cut from the big picture, what to do when the evidence is missing or ambiguous or plain contradictory. Most of these choices are invisible to the read.”

In the early stages of conducting research for a historical novel: “Your job at this stage is to stare hard at the pattern already picked out [by historians and biographers], and see if it shifts under your scrutiny.”

“But your real job as a novelist, is not to be an inferior sort of historian, but to create the texture of lived experience: to activate the senses, and to deepen the reader’s engagement through feeling.”

Mantel states that “exposition is the trickiest bit of the trade.” She continues: “Authors are always advised, ‘Show don’t tell,’ but sometimes dialogue just won’t stretch to cover your points, and you must lay down the facts in a passage of narrative – quick as you can, tailored and succinct – remembering to privilege what matters to your characters, not just what has proven in hindsight to be important.”

You may “have to decide, at some point, between competing evils – too much or too little information – the reader spoon-fed, or the reader needing more. I’d prefer to leave the reader hungry. Your book can’t do it all. If the reader is puzzled, there are other sources he can consult. But if you underestimate your reader’s intelligence, he will put your novel down. You cannot give a complete account … you are looking for the one detail that lights up the page.”

Authors must choose which scenes to include or exclude from history. “An event you choose to tell may not be dramatic in itself .. But when two people are talking in a room, they have a hinterland, and you must suggest it. To that one moment, you bring a sense of every moment that led us there, everything that has brought your woman to this hour, this room, this desk. The multitude of life choices. The motives, conscious or unconscious. The wishes, dreams, and desires, all held invisibly within the body whose actions you describe. They hover over the text like guardian angels.”

“It’s the novelist’s job to put the reader in the moment, even if the moment is 500 years ago.”

“When I talk about humanizing the past, I’m not talking about making them better than they were or softening the truth. There are harsh, cruel realities that we have to face when we write about the past, but I have to say that when I’m writing, I’m not there to pass judgment on my characters.”

A few years ago, I was able to interview Hilary Mantel for the blog. You can find that interview here.

Have you read Wolf Hall or Bring Up the Bodies? Mantel’s third novel about Thomas Cromwell – The Mirror and the Light – won’t be out until 2020. She describes it as “the greatest challenge of my writing life.”

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION  FOLLOW A WRITER OF HISTORY

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

10 Books to Recommend

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

A Writer of History is NOT a book blog – however, I have written reviews from time to time on books I’ve chosen to read or books selected by one of my book clubs. Below are ten to recommend with links to each more detailed review.

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate – I powered through this novel in two and a half very satisfying days. The story is “based on one of America’s most notorious real-life scandals—in which Georgia Tann, director of a Memphis-based adoption organization, kidnapped and sold poor children to wealthy families all over the country.”

Educated by Tara Westover – Book club unanimously endorsed Tara Westover’s well-received novel of growing up in a survivalist Mormon home in the hills of Idaho.The words used to describe it included: compelling, horrifying, unbelievable, shocking, inspiring, and head shaking.

Becoming Mrs. Lewis by Patti Callahan – author Patti Callahan has written a poignant and clear-eyed story about these two well-known writers and I had the pleasure of reading the novel for an article published by the Historical Novel Society.

The Girls in the Picture by Melanie Benjamin – This compelling look at two famous women – actor Mary Pickford and screenwriter Frances Marion – entertains and informs while transporting readers to the magical kingdom of the movie industry. Highly recommended.

The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng – the verdict at book club was resoundingly in favour of this powerful novel of memory and forgetting, war and peace, love and hate, which was nominated for the Man Booker prize.

The Splendor Before the Dark by Margaret George On every dimension – superb writing, feeling immersed in time and place, characters both heroic and human, authenticity, and compelling plot – The Splendor Before the Dark is a winner.

My Dear Hamilton by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie Beginning in 1777 with a victory against the British at Saratoga, My Dear Hamilton tells the story of Alexander Hamilton through the eyes of his wife Eliza. Superb historical fiction.

Mary – Tudor Princess by Tony Riches – I thoroughly enjoyed reading about Mary Tudor, sister to Henry VIII. The history is fascinating and Tony’s superb writing brings Mary’s character to life with a strong and sympathetic voice.

The Perfect Summer by Juliet Nicolson – This work of non-fiction “chronicles a glorious English summer a century ago when the world was on the cusp of irrevocable change … That summer of 1911 a new king was crowned and the aristocracy was at play, bounding from one house party to the next. But perfection was not for all. Cracks in the social fabric were showing.”

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn – In the two years since reading The Alice Network, I’ve recommended it to dozens of people. Why? Because it grabbed me from the very start and wouldn’t let go. And what special ingredients does it have? Flawed, heroic, and intriguing characters – check. Tension that builds and builds – check. A superb sense of history and setting – check. Strong writing – check. An immersive experience – check. A flawless weaving of two timelines – check. What more could you ask for?

I hope some of these add to your reading piles! If you have feedback on any of them, please add your voice to the comments.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION  FOLLOW A WRITER OF HISTORY

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

Popular Posts from 2015

Tags

, , , , , , , , , ,

2015 was a banner year for articles on historical fiction that struck a chord with followers of A Writer of History. I hope you enjoy reading or rereading some of these.

In 2015 Inside Historical Fiction became a new focus for A Writer of History. With this topic I and others looked under the covers of historical fiction to illuminate those attributes that make it different from contemporary fiction. If you’d like to explore this topic, use the search term ‘inside historical fiction’.

Author T.K. Thorne offered an analogy between painting and writing with some excellent words of advice that appealed to many readers.

7 Elements of Historical Fiction is a perennial favourite. It explores how character, dialogue, setting, theme, plot, conflict, and world building – the basic elements of any story – are challenged for historical fiction.

During 2015, I also explored social reading beginning with 10 thoughts on the subject. Social reading refers to the conversations readers have with one another, with writers and with bloggers in the changing dynamic of reading.

Are you an author? If so, have you considered the concept of market segments for your novels? This post illustrates the concept based on market segments I created for one of my novels.

Beyond entertainment, what is the purpose of historical fiction?

I asked readers whether they prefer their historical fiction centred on famous figures or fictional characters? Two subsequent articles explore this topic further: Historical fiction Without the Famous and Historical Fiction Without the Famous part 2.

In 2015, I conducted my third reader survey. The results were a popular read.

In 2015, I asked readers to list their favourite historical fiction titles for the first time. Lots of great novels in this list.

Noah Lukeman is the author of The First Five Pages: A Writer’s Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile. Noah knows a thing of two about finding top-notch manuscripts to represent. And he presents his advice simply and succinctly, using lots of examples to illustrate his points.

Favourite historical fiction authors from three different surveys are presented in this post.

Two articles on historical research written by Leah Klocek attracted a lot of interest from authors .. part one and part two

Happy reading. I hope you find many of these interesting.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION  FOLLOW A WRITER OF HISTORY

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.