Reader Interview – from the US west coast

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

It’s been awhile since I posted any reader interviews and . . . here’s a reader from the west coast of North America sharing her thoughts about historical fiction. She’s a voracious reader as you will see.

Tell us a little about yourself.  I am 62, live in the West Coast of US but grew up back east.  Both sides of my family came from little towns and I spent every summer, Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter holiday there.

My whole life direction changed when I got married after college.  I had planned to be a teacher but I ended up working for my husband. I love reading, needlework, volunteer work, gardening and genealogy.

Please tell us about your reading habits and preferences.

I have always been a voracious reader as were my mom and dad.  I read almost a book a day but have tried to slow that down because I actually run out of books.  When a weekend or holiday comes up, I “stockpile” a bunch of books so I won’t run out.  I would estimate I read around 300/310 books per year.  I only read one book at a time, and since we now have to watch our money, I get all of my books from 2 neighboring library systems.  Due to money issues I do not have an e-reader or mobile device to be able to read my books but I have given thought to investigating them.

For a long time, my two best friends were also avid readers and we would quietly drop books off at each other’s houses like abandoned babies waiting for a new home.  Sadly one has moved away and the other has passed away so now I have no one with whom to share books.  I adore long books and dislike short stories and for that matter poetry and science fiction.  I also enjoy biographies, and self-help books.  Lately due to some family medical situations I have been reading books on nutrition, health, and psychological disorders.  My very favorite fiction though has always been historical fiction.

How do you decide which books to buy? What influences your purchases?    Author, where geographically the novel takes place, time period.

What do you like about historical fiction? What don’t you like?    I love learning about other places, in other times.  I love getting lost in a book and being able to forget my troubles or my pain.

My family has always done genealogy and when I started tracing lines, I had a blast.  I researched the female lines and discovered numerous Revolutionary War soldiers and one Mayflower ancestor.  I think researching genealogy, wondering about what ordinary people did or had to do to live is the biggest reason for my enjoyment of historical fiction.  I find those questions so fascinating.

For example, I read Paris by Edward Rutherfurd a few months ago.  In the middle of my exclusively Protestant English and few Scottish family lines, I have one French line.  Turns out they too were Protestant because they were French Huguenots.  This was the first novel since Tracey Chevalier’s Virgin Blue that I had read that told of French history and why and how the Huguenots were treated.  It was a fascinating learning experience.

I don’t like historical fiction that is incorrect or just unbelievable.

What types of historical fiction do you prefer?    I enjoy fiction about the various time periods in the United States and Great Britain the most. I am enjoying novels about India and Australia and have enjoyed books about Japan. I just finished The Midnight Rose by Lucinda Riley and it was just wonderful. I don’t seem to like books about the Middle East or South America or Africa so far.

The last few years I seemed to find everything about the Tudors fascinating (Hilary Mantel, Nancy Bilyeau), years ago medieval times (Sharon Kay Penman) then I went through a WWII period. Once I find one book about a time or an area, then I search for others.

Do you have historical fiction books or authors you would recommend to other readers? Can you tell us why?    All of these authors write well-written, intriguing, original stories. I love books most when I can’t predict what will happen and would not even think of skimming. The best books have something in them for me to learn.

Favorite historical authors (I am a boomer so I am fascinated by anything before I was born) these are not in any order:

  • Nancy Bilyeau – The Chalice, The Crown
  • Lucinda Riley – The Midnight Rose, The Orchid House
  • Sharon Kay Penman – Sunne in Splendour, etc.
  • James Bassett – In Harm’s Way
  • James Clavell – Shogun, Tai Pan, King Rat
  • Tatiana de Rosnay – Sarah’s Key
  • C.S. Harris – Sebastian St. Cyr novels
  • William C Harris Jr. – Delirium of the Brave
  • William Martin – Back Bay, Cape Cod, The Lincoln Letter,
  • Edward Rutherford – New York, London, etc.
  • Hilary Mantel – Wolf Hall
  • Colleen McCullough -The Thorn Birds
  • John Galsworthy – The Forsyte Saga
  • James Michener – Hawaii, Centennial
  • Leon Uris – QB VII
  • Herman Wouk – The Winds of War, War and Remembrance
  • Deborah Swift – The Lady’s Slipper
  • Fiona Mountain – Lady of the Butterfies
  • David Liss – The Whiskey Rebels
  • Anne Perry
  • Kate Morton
  • Charles Todd

Current general fiction writers I love

  • JA Jance -Joana Brady, JP Beaumont series
  • Diane Chamberlain, “The Midwife’s Confession”
  • Kellie Coates Gilbert, “Mother of Pearl”
  • Kevin A. Milne, “The One Good Thing”

Romantic fiction writers I really enjoy

  • Mary Balough
  • Jane Feather

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?    I used to share books and had great discussions when my mother and cousin were alive. But they passed away. Then my two dear friends are no longer around, so I have no one who shares my specific reading interests. I have tried a few book clubs but found that the general level of interest was for an Oprah type of book. Very few of them appeal to me.

To find new books, I have looked on Goodreads and have had success picking from compiled lists of certain historical era books.

What advice do you have for writers of historical fiction?    I love historical books because I want to learn about the era and also the location. Young women in particular had little actual freedom in the past or worked so hard. For an author, keep it real. Don’t have a character doing something that would not have been practical for them to do in that time period. Geographical and historical descriptions make stories come alive. I often have a world atlas close by so I can track where a character travels.

Is there anything else about reading historical fiction that you’d like to comment on?    There are many more average or poor working people in the world than society or wealthy traveled ones. Books with normal characters are more intriguing.

That’s an amazing list of favourite authors! Enough suggestions to keep most of us reading happily for a year or two 🙂 Many thanks for sharing your thoughts about historical fiction.

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.