Looking Back on 2017

With over 900 posts (!!), A Writer of History now contains a lot of topics that have interested readers. During 2017, some posts stood out. The topics varied from WWI Fiction to creating historical characters. I hope you find a few that interest you.

Pictures = Thousands of Words

I’m in edit mode on my newest manuscript called variously Camille and Mariele, Acts of Rebellion, or A Time of Rebellion [MKT: now called Paris in Ruins]. As I go through the pages with the usual angst about whether my writing is any good, whether my publisher will like it, and whether the structure hangs together, I’ve been identifying photos that have provided inspiration …

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

In an earlier post Books Books Books, I included a long list of award-winning historical fiction. This post takes a look at what readers say about Life After Life by Kate Atkinson as an example of successful historical fiction.

Fatal Attraction – Margaret George Talks about Nero

Margaret George spoke about her novel The Confessions of Young Nero. I asked her: What does it take to write such a novel? How does an author feel about her very real character? 

Davide Mana on Successful Historical Fiction

Author Davide Mana generated a lot of interest with his guest post on successful historical fiction – a theme for 2017.

Gift From the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh

This post features a quote from Anne Morrow Lindbergh that struck a chord with me and with readers: “the answer is not in the feverish pursuit of centrifugal activities which only lead in the end to fragmentation. On the contrary, woman must consciously encourage those pursuits which oppose the centrifugal forces of today. Quiet time alone, contemplation, prayer, music, a centering line of thought of reading, of study or work.”

Dynamic Pacing 

A summary of a talk given by agent Irene Goodman and author Selden Edwards on pacing which is the speed and intensity at which events of the plot unfold. This post contains 17 tips which were summarized at the end of the talk.

Mess, Mess, Mess, Mess – Art

Geraldine Brooks was one of two keynote speakers at the Historical Novel Society conference in 2017. She spoke about her writing process.

Weaving the Twin-Stranded Storyline

Dual timeline novels – something Susanna Kearsley excels at – was the subject of her workshop at the Historical Novel Society conference in 2017.

WWI Fiction – Readers Have Their Say

In 2017, I conducted a survey of WWI fiction. This post shows the results.

Historical Perspective – Appealing to Modern Readers

Author Cryssa Bazos talks about creating historical characters: Character is the bridge to the distant past. Exploring the nature of a character from the past, whether fictional or historical, requires embracing what makes them different, even if that means showing how their perspective differs from how we think today. It’s only through balancing this with the commonality of human nature that we can appeal to modern audiences.

The Alice Network with Kate Quinn

After reading The Alice Network – loved it! – I spoke with the author, Kate Quinn

Book Titles – What’s Their Purpose?

What does a book title do for you? Does it entice? Does it hint at the novel’s story? Does it reflect your personal circumstances? Does it confuse? A post about choosing a title for one of my novels.

Characters – You Need to Know What They Look Like

Writing any kind of fiction involves an intense relationship with your characters. I’ve read of other authors creating a bulletin board with photos of their characters so they can easily bring them to mind. In this post, I’ve shared pictures of two characters – the admiral and the wife – in my as-yet-unpublished novel The Admiral’s Wife.

You can also check popular posts from other years: 2012, 20132014, 2015, 2016

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. 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.

“Mess, Mess, Mess, Mess, Art” – Geraldine Brooks on writing

Geraldine Brooks was one of the guests of honour at HNS 2017 and I can’t say enough of how compelling she is as a speaker – clear, great tempo, a wonderful blend of humour and seriousness, and carefully chosen words that reminded me of her novels. She had us spellbound.

I took notes, of course – I’m an inveterate note taker as I find the act helps me concentrate and then I can return for inspiration at a later date.

Geraldine Brooks began by telling us she looks for “the story you can’t make up”, the “implausible truth.” And each of her novels has found one of those moments. She had no idea that novels would be her life’s work. Instead, from a relatively young age she wanted to be a journalist. As it turned out, she was a journalist, hired first for the Sydney Morning Herald in the sports department of all things. Further education led eventually to the Wall Street Journal and reporting from troubled spots – Africa, the Balkans, and the Middle East – “where history was unfolding.”

Brooks’s first example of “implausible truth” was the seed for Year of Wonders. Out walking in England with her husband, she came across a sign for the small village of Eyam – Plague Village, the sign said – and her mind was off conceiving a story set in 1666 with a young woman’s battle to save fellow villagers as well as her own soul when the bubonic plague strikes.

“Novels,” Brooks said, “are about exposing the truth” of who we are and who we have been, particularly women. “Someone rises up from the grave and begins to talk to me.” Often these are lesser people like servants or slaves. And where does she go to “hear their voices?” According to Brooks, “sadly, you go to the courts” – the English Assizes, the Spanish Inquisition and others – where verbatim testimonies were recorded.

Reporting has informed her writing career. Geraldine Brooks said she hopes her novels “make the suffering I have witnessed count for something.”

As for the title of this post, Geraldine spoke of the writing process as “mess, mess, mess, mess, art.” In other words, the process is iteratively messy until art emerges.

On a personal note, I’ve read two of her five novels, People of the Book and The Secret Chord – both kept within reach of my desk as examples of truly wonderful writing. You can find my review of The Secret Chord here.

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. 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.

Successful Historical Fiction with Nicole Evelina

Thanks for your indulgence while I enjoyed a brief hiatus from blogging in the lead up to our son’s wedding. I’m delighted to tell you that all went well!

Today, I have Nicole Evelina on the blog discussing the topic of successful historical fiction. Nicole writes stories of strong women from history and today. She also appeared on A Writer of History in 2016. Many thanks for sharing your thoughts, Nicole.

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What’s your definition of successful historical fiction?

Successful historical fiction transports you to another time and place without you realizing it. It is great fiction in general, according to the rules of writing you’d apply to any genre. And the very best helps you learn something about human nature, the time period, a famous historical personage, and/or yourself.

What attributes are most important to you when designating a novel ‘successful historical fiction’.

Historical accuracy and a good story.

Which authors do you think create the most successful historical fiction?

Patricia Bracewell, Geraldine Brooks, Anne Fortier, MJ Rose, and Susanna Kearsley.

What makes these particular authors stand out?

They all paint rich pictures and tell stories that stay with you long after you are done reading.

In your opinion, what aspects prevent a novel from being designated successful historical fiction?

Anything that takes you out of the time and place, feels forced or anachronistic. Even when words are historically correct, if they feel too modern, it can be jarring. For example, I read a book that takes place in the 1920s that used the term “mixologist” for a bartender. I looked it up and it is technically correct for the period, but that word has become so synonymous with recent years that it tripped me up. Lack of research/lazy research goes along with this. Also, forcing modern viewpoints on historical characters.

Are famous people essential to successful historical fiction?

Not at all. I think the unknowns are even more fun because then you learn something about a  real person at the same time you are entertained. Fictional characters are often a good way to see a different POV of an event/time period.

Does successful historical fiction have to say something relevant to today’s conditions?

Yes. I think every book has to say something relevant to readers. If it doesn’t, we can’t relate to the book, characters, etc. and are not inclined to continue reading. Luckily, the basics of the human condition don’t really change. So even though slavery is illegal in most places now, we can still read stories of the US pre-Civil War south or the Roman Empire and emphasize with struggle of the slave because it’s part of human nature to not want to be in forced servitude. In the same way, we can read about times when women didn’t have any rights because it shows us how far we have come and how far we still have to go.

What role does research play in successful historical fiction?

Aside from the basic skills of any storyteller, research is everything. It’s what makes historical fiction what it is; it’s what enables writers to convincingly time travel to a period they can never actually visit; it’s what makes a book feel authentic, and these things are key to a good reading experience.

In your opinion, how are these elements critical to successful historical fiction? Characters. Setting. Plot. Conflict. Dialogue. World building. Themes.

Characters, world building and setting must be authentic to the period for a reader to take them seriously, hence the role of research. Plot must be well-written and realistic and conflict must make us want to keep reading – just as in any other kind of book. Dialogue must sound like it is right for the period – no modern language, yet also not so historically accurate that a modern reader can’t understand it. Themes are what make the books relevant to modern readers.

Do you judge historical fiction differently from contemporary fiction?

Yes. I hold it to a higher standard because of all the work that goes into creating it. Having written both, I can confidently say there is so much you don’t have to think about when writing contemporary fiction because it is second nature to you and to your readers. Those very same things are part of what makes successful historical fiction shine – the very fact that you don’t notice how different they are from today because the author has done their research and convinced you they are part of the everyday life of the characters you are reading.

Many thanks for adding to the discussion, Nicole.

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. 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.