2015 Favourite Historical Fiction Authors

No doubt you were anxiously waiting for the 2015 favourite historical fiction authors list. First, an apology. Since publishing 2015’s favourite fiction list, I’ve been heads down finishing Time & Regret and only surfaced a few weeks ago. Fortunately, compiling the numbers was not as arduous this time.

2015 Favourite historical fiction authorsA few observations:

  • the top 5 remain the top 5 three years in a row. Kudos to Diana Gabaldon, Sharon Kay Penman, Philippa Gregory, Elizabeth Chadwick and Bernard Cornwell.
  • Men and women differ in their top choices. Tabulating male responses exclusively, the top 8 are: Bernard Cornwell, Patrick O’Brian, Conn Iggulden, Sharon Kay Penman, Ken Follett, C.J. Sansom, Hilary Mantel and James Michener.
  • Country choices also vary. For example, the top 5 choices in the UK are: Elizabeth Chadwick, Bernard Cornwell, Philippa Gregory, Sharon Kay Penman, and Hilary Mantel. Interesting to see Sharon Kay Penman remain in the top groups across gender and country.
  • Authors tend to receive a higher portion of their support from their own country participants. For example, 75% of Diana Gabaldon’s popularity rests in the US.
  • Not surprisingly, deceased authors receive more mentions from older participants.
  • Every author in these two groups received more than 20 mentions.

2015 favourite historical fiction authors 2I hope to cross-tabulate favourite authors against a few other factors and to look at age breakdowns in more detail. I will also publish a list of authors with 10 to 20 mentions.

One further statistic of interest: over 900 authors were mentioned as favourites. Wow.

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.

7 Elements of Historical Fiction

Inside HFAll writers of fiction have to consider seven critical elements: character, dialogue, setting, theme, plot, conflict, and world building. While every story succeeds or disappoints on the basis of these elements, historical fiction has the added challenge of bringing the past to life.

Since I work best by example, I’m developing an explanation of the seven elements in the context of historical fiction.

Character – whether real or imagined, characters behave in keeping with the era they inhabit, even if they push the boundaries. And that means discovering the norms, attitudes, beliefs and expectations of their time and station in life. A Roman slave differs from a Roman centurion, as does an innkeeper from an aristocrat in the 18th century. Your mission as writer is to reveal the people of the past.

Dialogue – dialogue that is cumbersome and difficult to understand detracts from readers’ enjoyment of historical fiction. Dip occasionally into the vocabulary and grammatical structures of the past by inserting select words and phrases so that a reader knows s/he is in another time period. Don’t weigh the manuscript down or slow the reader’s pace with too many such instances. And be careful. Many words have changed their meanings over time and could be misinterpreted.

Setting – setting is time and place. More than 75% of participants in a 2013 reader survey selected ‘to bring the past to life’ as the primary reason for reading historical fiction. Your job as a writer is to do just that. Even more critically, you need to transport your readers into the past in the first few paragraphs. Consider these opening sentences.

“I could hear a roll of muffled drums. But I could see nothing but the lacing on the bodice of the lady standing in front of me, blocking my view of the scaffold.” Philippa Gregory The Other Boleyn Girl

“Alienor woke at dawn. The tall candle that had been left to burn all night was almost a stub, and even through the closed shutters she could hear the cockerels on roosts, walls and dung heaps, crowing the city of Poitiers awake.” Elizabeth Chadwick The Summer Queen

“Cambridge in the fourth winter of the war. A ceaseless Siberian wind with nothing to blunt its edge whipped off the North Sea and swept low across the Fens. It rattled the signs to the air-raid shelters in Trinity New Court and battered on the boarded up windows of King’s College Chapel.” Robert Harris Enigma

Straightaway you’re in the past. Of course, many more details of setting are revealed throughout the novel in costume, food, furniture, housing, toiletries, entertainment, landscape, architecture, conveyances, sounds, smells, tastes, and a hundred other aspects.

Theme – most themes transcend history. And yet, theme must still be interpreted within the context of a novel’s time period. Myfanwy Cook’s book Historical Fiction Writing: A Practical Guide and Toolkit contains a long list of potential themes: “ambition, madness, loyalty, deception, revenge, all is not what it appears to be, love, temptation, guilt, power, fate/destiny, heroism, hope, coming of age, death, loss, friendship, patriotism.” What is loyalty in 5th century China? How does coming of age change from the perspective of ancient Egypt to that of the early twentieth century? What constitutes madness when supposed witches were burned at the stake.

Plot – the plot has to make sense for the time period. And plot will often be shaped around or by the historical events taking place at that time. This is particularly true when writing about famous historical figures. When considering those historical events, remember that you are telling a story not writing history.

Conflict – the problems faced by the characters in your story. As with theme and plot, conflict must be realistic for the chosen time and place. Readers will want to understand the reasons for the conflicts you present. An unmarried woman in the 15th century might be forced into marriage with a difficult man or the taking of religious vows. Both choices lead to conflict.

World Building – you are building a world for your readers, hence the customs, social arrangements, family environment, governments, religious structures, international alliances, military actions, physical geography, layouts of towns and cities, and politics of the time are relevant. As Harry Sidebottom, author of Warrior of Rome series said: “The past is another country, they not only do things differently there, they think about things differently.”

As you research, here’s a list of topics to consider: attitudes, language and idiom, household matters, material culture, everyday life, historical timelines, occupations, diversions, regulations, vehicles, travel, food, clothing and fashion, manners and mannerisms, beliefs, morality, the mindset of the time, politics, social attitudes, wars, revolutions, prominent people, major events, news of the day, neighbourhoods, gossip, scandals, international trade, travel, how much things cost, worries and cares, highways and byways, conveyances, landscape, sounds, tastes, smells, class divisions, architecture, social preoccupations, religious norms, cataclysmic events, legal system, laws, regulations, weather, military organization, cooking, sex, death, disease. I’m sure you can – and hopefully will — add more.

Ultimately you are seeking to immerse yourself in a past world then judiciously select the best ways to bring that world to life as you tell your story.

A closing thought from well-known historical fiction author Bernard Cornwell: “The most important thing, the all important thing, is to get the story right. Write, rewrite, rewrite again, and do not worry about anything except story. It is story, story, story. That is your business. Your job is not to educate readers on the finer points of Elizabethan diplomacy or Napoleonic warfare, your job is to divert and amuse people who have had a hard day at work. What will get you published? Not style, not research, but story. Once the story is right, everything else will follow.”

You might also enjoy:

10 Thoughts on the Purpose of Historical Fiction

Historical Fiction – Readers Have Their Say

Author Tips on Writing Historical Fiction

FOR MORE ON WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION, SUBSCRIBE TO A WRITER OF HISTORY (check the left hand margin for details).

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.

WARWICK – The Man Behind the Wars of the Roses

I’m delighted to have Tony Riches guest post on the blog today. Tony and I became friends after I stumbled on his blog quite some time ago. Tony has recently released a novel about Richard Neville and in today’s post he gives us some background on this most powerful English nobleman. Take it away, Tony!WARWICK - The Man Behind the Wars of the Roses

WARWICK: The Man Behind the Wars of the Roses – Guest Post by Tony Riches

I was watching the BBC adaptation of Philippa Gregory’s The White Queen and realised how little I really knew about the man behind the Wars of the Roses – Sir Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, also known of as the ‘Kingmaker’. Historical fiction authors are always thinking about their next book, so it was good to discover no one had ever tackled the story of his amazing life as a novel.

Writers from William Shakespeare to best-selling modern authors have of course tried to show what sort of man Richard Neville must have been, with quite different results. Sometimes he is portrayed as the skilled political manipulator behind the throne, shaping events for his own advantage. Others describe him as the ‘last of the barons’, ruling his fiefdom like an uncrowned king.

There are three biographies of Warwick, yet none really explain why the wealthiest noble in England chose to became a warrior knight, protecting the north against invasion by the Scots. I was also intrigued at how Warwick became such a key figure in what have become known as ‘the Wars of the Roses.’ he fought in most of the important battles. As Captain of Calais, he turned privateer, daring to take on the might of the Spanish fleet and becoming Admiral of England. The friend of kings, he was the sworn enemy of Queen Margaret of Anjou. Then, in an amazing change of heart, why does he risk everything to fight for her cause?

I enjoyed immersing myself in the social and political attitudes and culture of the time. Little is known about Warwick’s early life, although we have many references to him in records of the time. People who observed events during his lifetime probably embellished their accounts, according to their political perspective. These stories eventually found their way into popular ballads and poetry, so it is hard to sort out the ‘facts’ from the many myths and legends which developed about him.

Richard Neville’s importance also meant others learned of his exploits through newsletters and handbills, pinned on church doors, used as source material by later chroniclers, who in turn will have been writing from a particular point of view. Even accounts of his life by modern historians and biographers fail to agree on key issues.

What is clear is that Richard Neville was one of the most important men in fifteenth century England. He owned extensive lands in Wales and was responsible for many years for controlling the border with Scotland. His story is one of adventure, power and influence at the heart of one of the most dangerous times in the history of England.

 

WARWICK: The Man Behind The Wars of the Roses is available now in paperback and ebook from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords

WARWICK Video Trailer on YouTube

Tony Riches is a full time author living by the sea in rural Pembrokeshire, West Wales, UK. To find out more about his books, visit http://tonyrichesauthor.wordpress.com/ and his writing blog at www.tonyriches.co.uk. You can also find Tony on Goodreads, Facebook and on Twitter @tonyriches