Reader Interviews – Carla from Ontario

Woman Reading - Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Woman Reading – Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Tell us a little about yourself.     My name is Carla.  I am a 38 year old female living in Southwestern Ontario. (I call it the armpit between Windsor and London.) I am a Stay at Home mom right now. Previously I was a student. My favourite past times, include reading, writing, gardening (though I’m not very good at it) and I love dog shows. I currently own a CKC Champion Black Russian Terrier.

Please tell us about your reading habits and preferences.     I don’t really keep track of how many books I read in a year. If I really had to guess I’d say between 25 and 30. I read at night, which often results in me falling asleep. If I don’t fall asleep I end up reading way beyond my ‘if you don’t turn out the light you’ll regret it when the alarm goes off’. I like longer books but, if a story catches my interest, I will read a shorter book. I love Historical Fiction, but have been dabbling in some Fantasy and will read Horror if it catches my eye. I bought an e-reader but found I enjoy reading real books far more.

How do you decide which books to buy? What influences your purchases?    I found Michelle Moran on a dare from my husband. He dared me to leave the book store with one book. Her book, Nefertiti, was the one I left with and I was totally hooked. Many of my influences come from the back of books I’m currently reading. A lot also come from author’s own recommendations. Some also come from me going into the book store and saying, ‘gee, that sounds good’, I wonder…  Some of those turn out okay, others, not so much.

What do you like about historical fiction? What don’t you like?    Oh goodness, I like everything about Historical Fiction. I love that it can transport me to a Tudor Court, or an atrium in Greece, or a dais in Egypt or even a feast in Rome.   What don’t I like.. I don’t like that women were often treated badly, or that people were used as a bartering system.

What types of historical fiction do you prefer?    I’ll read about any period in History but I prefer reading about Ancient Greece, Rome, Egypt and other Ancient civilizations. I also love reading about Henry the 8th and that particular time in Tudor History.

Do you have historical fiction books or authors you would recommend to other readers? Can you tell us why?

  • Michelle Moran
  • Kate Quinn
  • C.W. Gortner
  • Stephanie Thornton

Michelle’s writing has taken me to several places in several time periods. Her writing is always well researched, and the story she tells, while providing some neat historical points, is what keeps me coming back.

I was really impressed with the way I was able to see exactly what C.W. Gortner writes about when I read his books.

As for Kate Quinn, I threw a book of hers across the room because one of the characters was a big fat jerk. The book bounced off the wall and hit my sleeping husband … but I really enjoy her novels!!

I just finished one of Stephanie Thorton’s books, she made me cry and the choices her character had to make resonated with me because I’m a parent … she also made me snort a couple of times!

In today’s world, there are so many opportunities to talk and learn about books – blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, book clubs – can you tell us about your experiences, where you go to talk or learn about books, why you enjoy discussions about books?    My main outlet for discussing books is Facebook. I enjoy the discussions because, much to my husband’s chagrin, it helps me to buy other books by authors I may not have heard of.  

What advice do you have for writers of historical fiction?    KEEP WRITING!!!!!!!!!!!  Write about more obscure characters as well. Many readers of Historical Fiction would like to know about ‘bit players’ in the court of King Henry VIII, or lesser known Pharaohs, Kings, concubines and so on. Keep cheesy sex scenes out as much as you can.  While some sex scenes are okay … don’t make them overly descriptive.

Is there anything else about reading historical fiction that you’d like to comment on?    Reading historical fiction, at least for me, gives me an opportunity to be a fly on the wall in the Tudor Court, or enjoy a feast in Rome, or sing with a Bard in Medieval England (pretending to sing is the only way you want me to sing!). I can be a spy, or a fool, or I can visit a Pharaoh on their dais, or in their burial chamber.  It keeps my brain working and it keeps the hope alive that one day I can go back to school and study for that History degree I wanted to get when I was younger.

Many thanks for participating, Carla. Parenting doesn’t leave much time for reading so I’m impressed that you still manage 25 to 30 books a year! I’m like you in wanting my reading to transport me back in time. 

2013 Favourite Historical Fiction Authors

Drum roll … here’s the 2013 list of favourite historical fiction authors.

Favourite HF Authors 1Of 2440 survey participants, 2075 people responded with one, two or three favourite authors. And a total of 1017 different authors were mentioned as favourites.

Trust me, that’s a lot of data to sort through particularly when you think of misspellings, use of initials or not, given name or surname written first! Names like Philippa, Iggulden and McCullough have many spellings – just to mention a few! And then I had to count them – well, actually, Excel counted them for me after my son-in-law showed me how to use the ‘countifs’ feature. Grateful thanks go out to him.

Favourite HF authors 2You will notice that we have 43 authors since five authors all had 21 mentions. A HUGE round of applause for these favourite authors.

Caveats: as I pointed out in the main report, the survey was initially publicized through the Historical Novel Society, a number of book review bloggers and my own efforts on Facebook and Twitter. From those original sources people then passed the survey link along all around the world. After about a week, in an effort to continue spreading the word, I posted on the Facebook pages of the 2012 top ten authors. As you can see from the results, Diana Gabaldon’s fans are incredibly enthusiastic about her writing and they came out in droves to vote!

Comparing to last year: (click here for the 2012 list)

  • The top 6 remain the top 6!
  • 31 authors are on both 2013 and 2012 lists
  • 12 authors are new to the top 40 list
  • 9 authors slipped off the list

Is the methodology statistically accurate?

As I mentioned in the main survey report, I am not a statistician and I’m sure some will argue that the results are skewed based on how those responding heard about it. But don’t forget, 2075 took the time to offer the names of their favourite authors.

In addition, many authors are on both lists (2012 and 2013) and of those authors who slipped off the list, most are not far behind the cutoff point. In addition, some who are new to the 2013 list were not far behind the cutoff for last year’s list.

Let me repeat what I said earlier in this post, a huge round of applause for these terrific authors.

Do men and women have different favourites? Is geography or age a factor in choosing favourite authors? Does it make a difference if you’ve recently released a new novel? I’ll return with some thoughts on these and other aspects when time permits.

Comments welcome as well as any thoughts on further analysis and the popularity of these authors.

P.S. For a look at gender differences in favourite authors, check here.

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her debut novel, UNRAVELLED: Two wars. Two affairs. One marriage. is available in paperback from Amazon (USCanada and elsewhere), and in e-book formats from AmazonNookKoboGoogle Play and on iTunes.

Top Historical Fiction Authors Talk About What Attracts Readers

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!