At the marina the other day, in the little coastal village of Triabunna, looked up and saw rigging that seemed so anachronistic.
Being drawn to all things medieval, had to blink twice thinking mind was slipping as I write Gisborne: Book of Knights.
Historical fiction is incredibly demanding to write. There are rules, there are undeniable facts and there is respect for antecedents. There are also different styles of writing the genre. In a recent post on English History Authors Blogspot the difference in those styles was examined. In fact it seems there are what one might call sub-genres: ‘history light’, ‘history interwoven’, ‘history imagined’ and ‘history based on a true story’.
As a reader, I love descriptive narrative. I welcome the chance to create an image in my mind with the author’s words.
Rosamunde Pilcher springs to mind:
‘As usual, Elfrida was the first downstairs. At the turn of the stair she threw back the curtains (a marvellously grand threadbare pair she had bought in the market in Buckly) and gazed out at the day. Actually it was night because it was still dark, but it had stopped snowing and by the light of the street lamp she could see the garden, all shape and form obliterated. Bushes and trees dropped under the weight of the snow and shrubs, pillowed, had lost all identity. It was still and quiet.’ Winter Solstice. The description is so plain, so perfectly understated, so very comforting. It is why Pilcher will always be a number one favourite.
Writing a novel in a historical timeframe that is acceptable to readers is perhaps one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. But even harder, both in my fantasy writing and in my hist.fict/hist romance writing, is the narrating of a credible love scene.
I’m a fiction writer. Till this point in my life, I have written fantasy based on myth and legend. Two years ago however, I decided to write a historical fiction based around the legendary Sir Guy of Gisborne from the Robin Hood saga. Those who know of the book and who are followers of this blog will know it derived in part from watching the BBC’s Robin Hood series.
Gisborne deserves to be placed in its timeframe. What began as a bit of fun has now moved from fan-fiction to historical fiction, historical romance and historical fantasy. Despite the fact that the legend is just that, a myth, Gisborne -the- man- of -folktale lived during the reign of Richard Lionheart and so must be placed within that period.
As the writer, I was beholden to research the period in detail: clothes, time, religious practice, food, habits, entertainment, sex, medicine, politics, trade. More and more detail to get a sense of where my protagonists lived and how they might feel in that environment at any one moment.
The more I read, the more I found to read until I felt myself drowning in books and in PDF’S from online research.
So how does one sort the stuff out, how much does one use? Is too much enough, or is a mere snifter required?
To be honest, I am not sure I know. I ‘ve read the doyen of historical fiction, Dorothy Dunnett with relish and literally gorged on every glorious fact she included in every line of all of the books she ever wrote. And at the other end of the scale I’ve read authors like Posie Graeme Evans and YA writer Felicity Pulman who write with a deft and sparing hand, never drowning the writer in fact; delivering just enough to give an authentic sense of time and place.
So again I ask, how much is enough? I’ve been involved in a lively discussion on Goodreads with the Historical Fictionistas about just this and personally as a reader I know I’ll accept an average amount of researched fact that any writer might want to give. Not too much. The exception to this personal reading rule is DD because it is very much her style, her tone. But as a writer writing my first ever historical fiction novel, I am still unsure how much is required. Without doubt the research must be used correctly; there shouldn’t really be any excuse for saying the clock chimed if the clock didn’t exist in the timeframe. But equally do I really want to know the detail of the canonical hours and how they worked? I love to eat chocolate but I’m not in any great need to read how its created.
My narratives are character driven and I am inclined to only ever give enough fact to give the scene and the character veracity. I’d love to know what other historical fiction writers and readers feel about this and welcome comment! How much, dear reader, do you want to read? How much dear successful hist.fict writer, do you use in your novels?
To date, I have read 48 non-fiction texts that I have either bought, borrowed from the library or researched within the Reference Library and I’ve read over 20 PDF’s online. If nothing else, I shall have a head full of leads for another story and know the difference between chausse and bliaut!
Addendum: You might like to look at :
Whilst you all know me as Mesmered, for the night of the Ball you may call me Lucia Brabante and until today, I was excited to be attending. I was sure Ser Richard Armitage, an entrancing visitor to Veniche, would ask to escort me.
For some reason this year, I’ve had an insatiable desire for historical fiction. I’ve always loved the genre, ever since I was a school reader. But the devil they say, is in the detail, and it’s the more intellectual detail I love, especially from writers of the calibre of the late and most wonderfully great Dorothy Dunnett and the most current and thoroughly popular Phillipa Gregory. I have also enjoyed Sharon Penman, SJA Turney and Posie Graeme Evans amongst many others. Eleanor Of Aquitaine and Henry I sit comfortably with Caesar, with Claes van der Poele and with Francis Crawford of Lymond. Apart from the unique plots, the height and breadth of research is what thrills me. I try and soak up just a little bit more information each time I open the books.