Well, why do you? I know why I love historical fiction but I’m not saying.
Maybe you can’t stand historical fiction. If that’s you, I’d love to hear from you too.
Why? Well, the Copperfield Review, a journal for readers and writers of historical fiction, which will celebrate its fifteenth anniversary, wants to hear our views, for a feature in the new year. An expanded version of my blog post on the Anne of Green Gables Museum in Prince Edward Island, Canada, appears in the current edition of the Review, btw.
A few weeks ago someone put me on the spot by asking me what I meant by historical fiction. There is no such thing, she said. It has to be historical something, so let’s think for a moment about the various historical genres, excluding, of course, proper non-fiction history (popular and academic):
Documentary Fiction – blow by blow, and often biographical, accounts of what actually happened, written as (most frequently) drama or film (eg Steve Jobs film, which I haven’t seen) or in the form of a novel. TV companies can’t get enough of documentary fiction, especially if it features self-important generals. I often feel they’ve run out of proper fiction.
Historical romance – Georgette Heyer’s girl-meet-boy stories, normally set in the Regency period, are good examples, if old fashioned ones. A rollicking good read, all of them.
Fictional biography – Think Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, which featured Thomas Cromwell’s life story, written up in a dense novel.
Historical mystery/ crime – A rapidly expanding genre. Ellis Peters’ Cadfael series (written in the 1960s and 1970s) is my favourite.
Family sagas – ‘The Forsyte Saga’ by John Gallsworthy, or Anthony Trollope’s Palliser novels, or (dare I mention it?) Downton Abbey. I read most of the Palliser novels a long time ago. (In those days, I was dependent upon the public library and its stock.)
Alternate history and historical fantasy – Destiny’s Rebel, by Philip Davies, the last book I read, falls into this category. It was all about a princess in a fictional land in a fictional world, but loosely based in medieval times. Much fantasy fiction is set, very loosely, in the medieval world. Vampires and zombies may also feature.
Steampunk (a sub-group of historical fantasy/alternate history) Think G D Falksen and his astonishing pastiches, incorporating jingoism, lots of brass, goggles, dirigibles and all things that fly.
Children’s historical fiction – Same sort of thing, but for kids.
So, what do you like about historical fiction – or not? Please let me know by commenting.