Reader Interview Series – Sue from East Anglia

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

Sue from East Anglia is the 9th interview in this reader series. I, for one, am enjoying hearing from readers about their personal preferences and backgrounds. Definitely an eclectic mix of viewpoints!

Tell us a little about yourself.   I am female, and 51 years of age.  My education has included studying for two history degrees and a postgraduate course in library and information studies. Now living in East Anglia, in England, I am a historical researcher and librarian (I do wear the spectacles, but don’t have the bun of the stereotype!).  Pastimes include walking in the countryside, visiting art galleries and museums, and making pasta.

Please tell us about your reading habits and preferences.    I’ve never actually counted the number of books I read per year, maybe I ought to start… It is usual for me to have several books on the go at once, a mixture of fiction and non-fiction and also a mix of print and e-book.  Although initially skeptical, I do enjoy reading my Kindle (which is especially convenient when travelling).

How do you decide which books to buy? What influences your purchases?    The cover of the book has to appeal to me and reading the publisher’s blurb will help with the decision when buying. Nowadays a tagline on an author’s website can also grab my attention, such as ‘two people who should never have met – not when she was born three hundred years after him’ (Anna Belfrage),  and ‘JF Penn – Thrillers on the edge’ . If I’ve read a book on the Kindle which I’ve particularly enjoyed, I will buy the print version.

What do you like about historical fiction? What don’t you like?    I enjoy being immersed in another world – set in time and place, believable characters, and a strong story. I’m not keen on the ‘alternate history’ subgenre of historical fiction.

What types of historical fiction do you prefer?    I thought I tended to gravitate towards the seventeenth century in historical fiction, though a quick analysis of a few favourite books shows a wider range (see below). From the examples below it also seems that I have predilection for novels set in the present and the past, which is quite a surprise. I prefer books which are set in a real place.

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

  • The Children’s Crusade by Henry Treece, which I loved as a child (13th century)
  • The Marsh King’s Daughter by Elizabeth Chadwick (13th century)
  • Possession by A.S. Byatt (Present/Victorian)
  • Earthly Joys by Philippa Gregory (17th century)
  • Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin (12th century)
  • A Secret Alchemy by Emma Darwin (Present/15th century)
  • Ghostwalk by Rebecca Stott (Present/17th century)
  • Time’s Echo by Pamela Hartshorne (Present/16th century)

All the authors are great writers and storytellers.

In today’s world, there are so many opportunities to talk and learn about books – blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, book clubscan you tell us about your experiences, where you go to talk or learn about books, why you enjoy discussions about books?    I haven’t ventured into the world of social media as yet, nor onto Goodreads. Though as a Historical Novel Society member, I rely on the society website, newsletter and quarterly magazine to learn about new historical fiction. Individual author blogs and websites, and other blogs such as http://englishhistoryauthors.blogspot.co.uk/http://the-history-girls.blogspot.co.uk/ and http://writinghistoricalnovels.com/ now also feature in my reading habits.

What advice do you have for writers of historical fiction?    Not really advice – but I relish knowing what inspired the author to write about a particular subject.  I like to know which characters are based on real people and which are purely fictional. The inclusion of author’s notes, genealogies, maps, sources, timelines and even bibliographies are a definite bonus for me in a work of historical fiction. (I note that the majority of the books mentioned above do include author’s notes)

Is there anything else about reading historical fiction that you’d like to comment on?    Historical fiction (from both traditional and indie publishers) seems to be in a healthy position at the moment, long may it continue.

I agree, Sue. Long may it continue! And many thanks for adding your perspective to the mix. 

Top Historical Fiction Sites – The History Girls

Running the data from the historical fiction survey resulted in four top digital sites however, restricting the data to UK participants resulted in two additional favourites and today I am pleased to welcome The History Girls to the blog.

They describe themselves as “a group of best-selling, award-winning writers of historical fiction. Some of us write for young adults, some for fully fledged adults, some for younger readers.” Mary Hoffman the originator of the blog tells us about their philosophy, how they came together, and other interesting insights about historical fiction. Mary has written over ninety books for children and teenagers – a very impressive body of work.

Why did you start blogging? Did your group come together to create the blog or did you add folks as time progressed?

To be brutally frank, I had the idea for The History Girls blog as part of a campaign to raise awareness about my own historical novel, DAVID – the story of the young man who posed for Michelangelo’s famous statue. (published by Bloomsbury in July 2011) But it soon became so much more.

We did start with 28 bloggers but several have left and been replaced as the year progressed.

What is your philosophy for the blog?

My personal philosophy is to raise awareness of the richness of historical fiction for adults and for younger readers. Each History Girl probably has her own philosophy and this is reflected in the richness and variety of the blogposts.

We have contributors who write historical fantasy, those who write about battles and war. Some who cover the ancient world, Dark Ages, Medieval and Renaissance history, others who write about World War One or Queen Victoria. French Revolution, American Wild West – it’s pretty much all there.

What trends have you seen in historical fiction in the past? What new trends are emerging?

It seems to have suddenly become more respectable with the emergence of more “literary” writers such as Hilary Mantel. (She was our guest blogger on 10th May, publication day of BRING UP THE BODIES – something of which I am extremely proud!). An unwelcome trend, not just in Historical fiction, is for “adult” authors to start writing for a YA audience, such as Philippa Gregory. I can assure you it doesn’t work the other way round, at least not in the UK.

Is historical fiction growing in popularity? If so, why?

It certainly seems to be and there are a lot of fine historical novels for teenagers too though not all British publishers will take them. (And I have been told that the only periods American readers are interested in are Tudor, Elizabethan and World War 2!)

I don’t really know. Perhaps because readers find it a good way in to historical fact. Or perhaps because there are such good stories there.

Who are your readers? What do you know about them? Do you collect specific data about them?

Yes, we have a Statistics page that Admins like myself can see. We have almost as many readers in the US as in the UK but 79 in Russia and 77 in India! Our aim is to conquer the world.

What features does your blog include? What features are most popular? Your blog has pages for Reviews and Interviews – do you plan to activate these in the future?

We do plan to put links to our Reviews and Interviews (already carried) in the future. It just requires a bit more time (even more time) from me or one of the other Admins. We do interviews and reviews, run competitions and give away prizes at the end of each month and have occasional series like The Historical Character I Just Don’t Get.

Sometimes a month’s posts might have a loose theme. This July it was our favourite historical characters but we have also featured Cross-dressing and Ghosts.

Do you think of the blog as having a brand? If so, what is it?

Female (though not necessarily feminist) writers of historical fiction explaining their work or exploring a fascinating aspect of History. I have not thought of us as having a brand until answering this question, though.

What are your marketing strategies for the blog?

We have a Twitter account: @history_girls and a Facebook page. Each time a new post goes up they are flagged in those two places. I sent out a Press Release to British magazines and organisations when we began but have not done much since. I wanted to see how the blog bedded down after its first year.

Why do you think so many people blog about historical fiction or participate in blogs about historical fiction? What are the implications for writers, agents and publishers?

I don’t think I realised they did!  Your site and Historical Tapestry’s has opened my eyes. I must look some up. For us, and I can only talk about writers, I think it has given us a sense of community in a world where you can often feel isolated. We email each other regularly and arrange meetings several times in the year – although not everyone can attend, since some HGs live in Devon, others in Scotland. For your American readers, that means a long distance to travel to London.

What do you see writers doing differently to market their books and build their platforms? What about publishers?

I’m sure that people in publishers’ Marketing Departments work very hard in order to get “their” books noticed in a crowded marketplace. But after publication day they are marketing the next book and then it is very much up to writers to keep public interest in their work alive. Blogs can help with that as can Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest etc.

What advice do you have for writers?

We don’t have joint advice and I can’t speak for the other HGs. My own writing advice can be found on www.maryhoffman.co.uk (Writing Tips) but that is very personal. On the About Us Page of the HGs there are  links to all our websites and I’m sure that is something most of us have addressed.

Is there a question I should have asked?

I can’t think of one. We are very happy that you have decided to feature us on your blog and hope we will acquire more North American followers as a result.

Many thanks from one Mary to another! The History Girls is on my RSS feed. I dip into it frequently for inspiration or sometimes just for a change of pace from the era of WWI and WWII.