When is a historical fiction writer not a historical fiction writer?

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.

I decided to take Gisborne far from the familiar canon and set him upon an entirely different path. A fiction upon a fiction if you like. To do his position within the time frame justice, I needed to read. A lot. However, as I say in the author’s note at the beginning of Gisborne: Book of Pawns, historical commentary about the 1100’s is highly contradictory and thus I took whichever fact suited the needs of my characters.

Perhaps this is wrong. Perhaps one needs to go back and back through one’s research to find that most primary evidence from a commentator at the time who might have noted the thoughts of monk or master at arms, prelate or professional archer. Thus surely one then has the most definitive context for one’s story.

But then why haven’t historians done the same thing? And if they have, why do they disagree? Why is there so much conjecture over such things as bathing and cleanliness, ships, foodstuffs, fabrics and riding styles? These are merely a few that spring to mind.

I think there are two kinds of historical fiction writers. There are the purist HF writers who are in fact historians themselves. People like Dorothy Dunnett, who is and shall always remain my all time favourite. And many sterling others like Elizabeth Chadwick and Sharon Kay Penman whose narrative backbone is historical fact in its most exciting and articulate sense.

Then there are writers like me – HF writers that I take much pleasure in reading but who are softer with their fact, their stories character-driven within a historical scenario.

Whichever category historical fiction writers fall into,  I shall go on accepting both. Putting aside my own style, as a reader I enjoy the experience of both types of fiction. I don’t prefer one or the other. In both instances I rest easy in the knowledge that each writer has been loyal to their timeframe and not taken the facts lightly.

A painter will always paint in the style which is right for him. That is not to say that he has ignored the very foundations of his art.Perhaps one can say the same of historical fiction writers.

What do hist.fict readers think?