Previously…Scotland’s History Festival

Interested In history or historical Fiction? If so then ‘Previously’ – Scotland’s History Festival is for you. Lots of events taking place in various locations – Edinburgh, Glasgow, Moffat, Dunfermline, Stirling and St Andrews. Visit the Home page for more general information including detailed event info.

I’m giving a talk / workshop – in Edinburgh on Friday 21st November at 17.30pm and again on the 29th November at 11.00am in St Andrews – on the place of history in Historical Fiction.

Although billed as being for writers it is equally suitable for anyone interested in the relationship between history and fiction whether as a reader or a writer and focuses on how history can / should underpin authentic historical fiction.

Is it me?

Someone recently asked me, having just finished reading Turn of the Tide, if Kate (the wife of my main character) was me? I can honestly say that thought had never occurred to me, but it did start me thinking about where our characters come from.

Of course in my case most of the characters in Turn of the Tide, apart from the main family, were historical, so writing them poses particular problems.

1) I needed to find out how much information exists about them, in terms of physical appearance and how they behaved obviously, but, more importantly, any evidence also as to how they thought – what motivated them, their beliefs, loyalties and so on.
2) Relationships and location(s) are also important – no William Wallace and Isabella of France anachronisms for me, and whether there is concrete evidence or not, it should be at least possible for them to be where I place them at any given time.

Having researched them, I needed both to be true to what was known and to ensure that as I developed them as characters their actions remained at least plausible when examined in the light of known facts. Often it’s the less well known characters who provide most scope for development and are therefore most fun to write.

Crucially I need to ‘come clean’ (in an author’s note) where I modified known facts in the interests of the story – changes are sometimes necessary – this is the start of a series of novels, not history books.

The fictional characters should be easier to write, after all, I can make them be and do whatever I like? Well, yes, and no. It begins that way, but once a character is established they too need to act ‘in character’ unless there’s a very good reason for them not to. Where do they come from? I guess the best description is that it’s a little like choosing sweets from a pick and mix stall – individual traits, whether physical or of personality – are drawn from my experience of everyone I’ve ever known and mixed up to form new composite characters that (hopefully) aren’t sufficiently like any one person to be recognisable. And in answer to the original question – Is Kate me? I don’t think so, but perhaps in some ways she is a person I’d like to be.

People’s Book Prize Final

At long last! Voting is open in the People’s Book Prize final. Turn of the Tide is one of 12 finalists in the fiction section – scary stuff. The voting will close at 10.00am (BST) on Wednesday 28th and the winners will be declared that evening at a ceremony in Stationers’ Hall.

Wish me luck!

And here’s the link for anyone who might like to have a look / vote. To read the excerpt click on the book image, and then the ‘read extract’ link. And if you enjoy it, please do vote.

Watch this space…

Writing an historical character – what do you do?

I attended a book launch last week of one book about Catherine De Valois – The Agincourt Bride by Joanna Hickson.

Today I read an article about the writing of another forthcoming book on Katherine De Valois, The Forbidden Queen, this time by Anne O’Brien.

A cursory glance at the two covers immediately indicates that these books are about the same person – the picture used in each case is instantly recognisable. But there is one obvious difference – the spelling of her name.

A minor illustration of a greater truth – that much of what is written in historical fiction involving historical characters is a matter of choice and that there is often room for many interpretations of one character’s story. Each author, if they strive to remain true to the known facts may, and likely will, present a very different story.

As readers we should value this variety.

As writers of fiction we must recognize that we write from a starting point of our own perspective and that in some sense our attitudes / belief systems/ even our prejudices will have permeated and helped to form the stories we present.

We should welcome and learn from other, often very different, insights into characters that we, through spending months, or maybe even years with, have come to know and love. It may be an enriching experience.

So – a big question – when writing about an historical character should writers consult other fiction dealing with that same character, or should they restrict themselves to non-fiction sources?

What do you think?

Available now…

‘Turn of the Tide’ is a year old!! You can buy it in bookshops in the UK and find it on Amazon

It is all very exciting, and a little scary!

I’m working hard on the sequel just now but some of the characters are being a little difficult – refusing to do as I tell them and insisting on going their own way…doing a bit of travelling too and getting into dangerous waters.