During the recent – June 21-27 – Historical Novel Society North America conference, one of the authors spotlighted in the program was Margaret George. Margaret is a well-known and highly regarded author and I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know her over the years. Her novels can be classified as fictional biographies and she’s tackled famous people like Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, Mary Queen of Scots, Emperor Nero, and Mary Magdalene. So, she knows a thing or two about historical fiction.
- The popularity of dual timelines as a window into the past that is still anchored in the present.
- Margaret feels that WWII fiction will be around for a long time, especially given the relative recency of the time period which means that many readers know of parents or grandparents involved in the war.
- Westerns may make a comeback with fresh insights into the settling of America, which American readers consider ‘our story’.
- Medieval stories are in hiatus right now.
On Writing Male Characters
- Margaret’s two novels featuring Emperor Nero are an example of male protagonists. But in general readers look for female characters (not surprising since a huge percentage of novels are purchased by women.)
- At a presentation put on during the conference by the publisher Berkley, no novels about men were mentioned in their spotlight session.
On Writing Historical Fiction
- With non-fiction an author has to give all the facts. With fiction an author can make choices as long as she/he is consistent.
- Historical fiction authors have an obligation to be true to a certain point to the person and his/her voice.
On Shifts Since the 1980s
- Books were ‘big’ in the 1980s.
- The rise of historical romance gave historical fiction a bad name.
- There is now so much cross-pollination between historical fiction and other genres like mystery and thriller, instead of the “more straightforward historical novels’ of Jean Plaidy and others.
- Many versions of historical fiction now compared with the past.
How Does Margaret Choose her Subjects?
- For Margaret, it’s not the time period, it’s the person.
- She looks for people with “operatic lives” and “tragic deaths”. Choosing these people for her fiction allows her to live their lives vicariously. While she writes, she feels like she is that person.
The conference was an amazing experience – I was on the board and hence very directly involved. I’ll be posting more about it over the next while.
Margaret was on the blog about a year ago talking about her career. You can read that post here.
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M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, PARIS IN RUINS, is available on Amazon US, Amazon Canada, Kobo, and Barnes&Noble. An earlier novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, Nook, Kobo, Google Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.