Fact and fiction…
Writing the last part of Gisborne, I’m second guessing myself constantly. Is my language anachronistic, are my facts solid, how much variation from the accepted history am I allowed?
Recently I was re-reading the dates of Richard 1st’s reign and found that he was crowned in September of 1189. So… the beginning of autumn. That now requires me to go right through the whole novel to change the season in which Ysabel travels through France and England with Gisborne from autumn to summer.
That doesn’t just involve changes to the settings (eg colour of leaves on trees) but the kind of foods available, the clothes one might wear, journeys on the high seas, how thick a horse’s coat is, what flowers might be blooming, the presence of certain seasonal ailments and so on. In addition, I am now having to do a lot of counting of days and months so that the story ends at just the right point of factual history.
For me, so new to this venture, I read and re-read what I have written. Anything I am remotely unsure of I will change to red type so that I can re-read my research and insert the correct fact in the next edit. Even so, I am aware the true historical fictionistas, those whose reading and knowledge is exceptional, will find plenty to dispute and argue about.
Blondel de Nesle, Richard’s troubadour, appears in this novel and I can find no account of his physical attributes. Because he is a favourite of the king, and because Richard himself is known to have been golden and attractive and potentially bi-sexual, I am taking a great liberty and making Blondel to be lithely good-looking, bordering on the feminine. I am waiting for the trip-up, I can tell you.
Writing hist.fict is wonderful satisfying but it’s also a terrifying prospect releasing a historical fiction novel to a reading public that may know as much as, if not more than you. So much is known, so much must be respected. In many ways I’m glad my main character is essentially a character of legend as that gives me room to play, but with others like Richard the Lionheart, I am hamstrung by history and can deviate little from what is known.
I’m just wondering what other little gems I shall find on tomorrow’s read.
Description of your process through research is fascinating. I love the details of having to switch to autumn through winter, food available, horses’ coats, etc. The mediaeval era is tricky in terms of accuracy, anyway. The earlier it is, the dearth of documentation is rife. Even into the 14th/15th centuries, so much is based on monkish chronicles (aka Nationalis Enquiris) and of course, propaganda! :/ Do keep posting on the process!
Now Fitzg, you worry me when you talk of monkish chronicles etc. Are you one of the fictionistas? Please read Gisborne with an open mind!
This is awesome. I am so impressed. The research involved is both thrilling and frightening. Think how much you have and will have learned. And what a wonderful period to delve into. Your writing is truly magical. I can’t wait for you to publish. I like the idea of the red type. I’m going to borrow that trick from you.
Have a great day!
Barbara, trust me. Stick to writing comedy thrillers and everyone will love you! And re the red type, I gift the idea to you… one writer to another.
It is so interesting to get a view into your process of writing.
I think you can’t go wrong with your writing- and research method. The Middle Ages are a time where we do not know much about some surprising common aspects of life and what might be true for one region might not be for another. So don’t worry overmuch, I am very much looking forward to your Gisborne book. I am far behind with what I want to read at the moment, but am slowly catching up ;o)
It’s very true what you say. A lot of the research contradicts other research. The bathing and personal cleanliness issue is a perfect example. One lot of research said it was appalling, another says not at all. Comparatively clean given the commodities available for cleanliness.
One does worry though… it’s all to do with one’s own credibility. myself? As a hist fict reader, I’ve always said i like slight seasoning rather than heavy flavour with facts in a story. That has become my own philosophy, so here’s hoping.
Prue, I hear you. I write time-travel/historical fiction and I spend about two years doing research before starting to write (though during that time I work on other projects so that the research is intermingled with other writing that I’m doing – otherwise, I’d go nuts!) I too, have that fear of getting some detail wrong, but you know what? I don’t think we’re claiming to be professional historians, just doing the best we can to make a story authentic and enjoyable. Someone might come along and say…”Oh, they didn’t eat that in those days,” or something along those lines (though so far not) and then I’ll just smile graciously and say, oops!
all the best,
Hi Georgina, welcome to the fray.
That’s it in a nutshell, isn’t it? We are NOT academia, nor historians. Whilst my university major was history, I am a mere Bachelor, not a Doctor and certainly not an academic. I am an entertainer… absolutely bottom line…ENTERTAINER!
Can I borrow the ‘oops’ line?
Gore Vidal wrote a novel about Blondel searching for where the captured Lionheart was being held. Have you heard of it? It was one of his early histfics.
shomeret, lovely to see you here as well as Goodreads. And I confess to not knowing of the Gore Vidal on Blondel. Shall seek it out! Thank you so much for that.
I am sure that point is the key,Mesmered, this is entertainment.
And after all, this period has become so much the stuff of legend that truth and invention cannot always be separated.
When I’m reading for entertainment, glaring anachronisms and historical inaccuracies do seem jarring and a little lazy. An honest amount of research adds elegance and interest.
But it is the story that is the main thing, the thing that keeps me reading.
Well certainly I am telling stories to entertain, not to lecture. There are people with specific qualifications to be able to lecture from a position of detailed knowledge… I leave it to them to inform us.
Creating veracity is a given as we entertain, but the heavier it becomes, the more the average reader might shut down and I want to appeal to a cross-section of readers, not just hardcore historical fiction lovers.
Research is the bane of our lives, Prue, when we dare enter the realm of writing faction.
I think the very act of writing about real people in real times demands we bring to the story a level of accuracy otherwise avoidable.
My own novel set in this period – the rule of King John seen through the eyes of Isabella – is still a WIP in part because of my inability to resolve historical accuracy.
Until recently so few studies were available in English of Isabella’s French (Angouleme) background. Bad enough the language barrier, without the myth and legend that is King John’s reign to blur reality further.
But the big stumbling block is that some “facts” are best left undiscussed, because modern-day sensibilities are not in tune with historical reality. The age of Isabella on marrying John being one such.
Being betrothed to a child for political purposes was common enough and most of us can accept that was just the way things were. But accounts from the time indicate this was a passionate engagement at all levels. A love affair that had little regard for political gain. A fairy-tale romance.
This passion between John and Isabella is the very driving force of the story I am trying to write. The small fact of Isabella being just twelve, however acceptable that was in that time, means this will be a WIP a while longer yet.
Yes, but Mark, one of the things Historical Fictionistas (I make no claim to having discovered that title. It’s a group I belong to on Goodreads filled with information and the most erudite people) generally accept, is that the protagonists are potentially going to be young because it was the way of it… that and a level of maturity. Married at 12, a mother at 13, dead at 30 if not before.
In my case, I deliberately made Ysabel older. My choice. But I had that leeway because she was fictional as is the male protagonist, Gisborne. That said, I wouldn’t have had a qualm about writing her as a twelve year old if she had been a historical personage. Just go ahead and do it… find a French translator and let us have the benefit of your take on Isabella of Angouleme… i know it will be a beautiful read.
Fictionista?? Is that a sort of police corps of historians, combing for every detail? Gosh, no. Meant to be reassuring, not in amateur historian mode 🙂 Not even historians can get it right! Background of the era is great; but please don’t worry every little detail. You are fine. You convey the atmosphere/flavour of the period in your writing.
If I’m not totally off the mark, Mark, from what we can garner of that era, people were considered adults at puberty. (Teenagers only recently existed) Life was short, so a 12yr-old Isabella could well have been as passionate about John, as he was about her? And is Bad King
John another maligned victim of propaganda?
Fitzg, you’re right on the mark! Historical Fictionistas on Goodreads were just talking about anyone trying to write a fiction that John was good rather than bad, then they would have an uphill battle.
I say if anyone can do it, Mark Williams can.
That’s why I had to shelve mine by giving it to my alpha-reader… and how much fiction and how much fact is still the biggest question for historical novelists, sigh! In my case I’m afraid I crammed too many facts without adding the fiction – and I describe King Richard as a red-head, because that’s what I found in my research of physical descriptions, but I won’t say you got his hair color wrong because hey, who was there to actually see it anyway? 😉 I only use Blondel’s compositions, but he doesn’t really show up in my story, so I don’t know what he looked like either…
Got to have a story there, Barb, don’t we? Facts often get in the way of a good fiction.
As to Richard? Golden could mean red, fair, sandy, blonde, light brown… any colour in those light tones. I haven’t seen him referred to as ‘red-head’ but I have certainly seen him referred to as the golden prince. The novel has a mere glancing reference to golden Richard and he can’t even be listed as a minor character as he doesn’t interact in the plot at all. It’s about two other people entirely, so it matters little in my mind.
Lord I hate it when you find you’ve made a mistake with knock-on potential. I rewrote about a quarter of Marius’ Mules 3 for similar reasons.
You mean summer vs autnumn? It was such a drag!
Prue, this is totally fascinating. I realize now how much I take for granted when I read a historical novel. Just realized that good research never shows its bones or intrudes in any way, the backbone is not too little, not too much. I was toying with the idea of writing a historical story but now I’m scared. LOL!
BTW, one of the worse historical pieces I’ve ever read was a regency novel. The author’s idea of period-speak was to prefix “be” to almost every other verb. Seriously. I couldn’t get to the third chapter.
Judiang, go for it… and just be as nervous as I am. When’s all said and done though, all I want to do is entertain. I am a fiction writer… it’s what I set out to do.
Laughed at the Regency reference. It’s sort of like writing a pirate novel and having the saying ‘Arrr!’ in every second line!
I have not forgotten our plans (just wanted to say that up front) but i had to comment on this.
My latest thought on this issue is that the level of historical accuracy required bears a strong relationship to the story itself. That is: is the story itself transgressive in some way? Do the archetypes in which the story participates take over the story in such a way that huge amounts of historical detail are not necessary? In that case, if the story intentionally breaks with history by means of its plot, or what happens in the story moves the protagonists a great deal through different milieux, then the detail isn’t so necessary. OR, does the plot involve dealing with something that can only be a transgression in a particular period of history? Or, similarly, is it a story that depends on establishing virtue? In the latter two cases, more historical accuracy seems necessary to me.
I think the first chapter is key. We have to believe that the setting is convincingly historical at least at the outset.
As a historian, two things that bother me: material culture anachronism and linguistic / address anachronism.
Servetus… as a reader, for me historical fiction requires a certain amount of effort in creating a setting with some veracity otherwise characters sit in some sort of odd limbo. If a writer is writing about the twelfth century, then they should be faithful to the facts. The difficulty is that in the middle ages, many many facts are contradictory so that one can only do one’s best by taking the line that impresses one the most. It is a given that it won’t impress all one’s readers by I do love the comment by Georgina earlier… that if one misses something there is always that lovely word that covers a multitude of sins… ‘oops!’
I just noticed that Georgina Young-Ellis had posted. I wanted to mention that her time travel book… The Time Baroness is so perfect in detail one can only assume she is channeling Jane Austen. Not only sight, but smell and touch. All my senses came alive in that book… much like in A Thousand Glass Flowers.
It’s now on my TBR list!
Just wanted to give my rather late little twopence on your post.
When reading the origional Gisbourne story, i think you already put alot of evident research into what Ysabel wore, and the surroundings in which she and Gisbourne were in, so whilst writing an actual novel (which hopefully will be read by a much wider audience), it would be important to get those factual aspects right, I think the very descriptive detail you put into your work paints a very vivid picture anyways, which im guessing may suffice to envisage the story in ones head! Then again, i am no professional writer, so that is just an opinion.
You posted the revised version of the 1st chapter a while ago too, and I like the fact that you are starting at the begining of Ysabel’s story, since it is all written from her point of view anyway.
Im so glad you are coming to the end of writing it….and i hope that means we will be able to read it soon! Just one question, will you post any snippet of the new version on this blog or elsewhere?
Hi yelloweeeee. I probably won’t release more than an absolute snippet… literally a paragraph at the very most when its ready to go. There was so much released when it was a fan-fiction and the story has morphed so considerably that I’d prefer readers had a real surprise. Hope you don’t mind too much.
I’ve just seen this reply. Whilst i’m a little gutted you won’t give us very much of a sneak peak, i’m glad to know it’s morphed alot….it gives me more to look forward too!
Thank you once again for what you have written so far, i have enjoyed it so much! So I can’t wait to read the completed story! Good luck with your publishing, I hope it goes well! Will it be in paperback form? Or e-book? Or both?
Lovely for you to say, Barbara, thank you!