I fell in love with historical fiction when I was about fourteen and read Mary Renault. My first book, about Richard I, was done in school exercise books only to be thrown away when I was old enough to know it for the rubbish it was. A couple of decades later, The Botticelli Trilogy came to be written and, in time, published. But I had to teach myself because, in those hoary old days, there was no such thing as creative writing courses. In teaching myself, I learnt how to teach. When I gave a course on historical fiction at Oxford University’s Summer School a couple of years ago, I believe it was the first of its kind.

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  1. Just ran into your Web site. I’m 60,000 words into my first historical fiction. Wishing I selected ficticious characters at this point but perhaps the next novel. This novel is about real people, real events, to tell the story of a family’s beginning in New France/America. When I first started I was drawn to writing the story because I wondered what it would have been like to be a women in 17th Century Quebec hop into a birch bark canoe and head to settle in Detroit–amazing imagery–she lived to be 90. Even more surprising her husband to 100. So by now I gather you can guess my issue–do I cover the span? Yet maintain interest of course. Split the novel? Just curious what your suggestion might be.

    1. Hello Marjorie,
      We share a first name and lots more. I am about 80,000 words into my first historical novel about a real person, my progenitor in the Louisiana Colony circa 1750!. He lived to be 79.
      I would love to exchange ideas with you if you would be at all interested. I am doing most of my research on the web, and 5 or 6 books about the “German Coast” along the Mississippi where he lived.
      As I’ve explained to Linda, I am new to blogs and am only now discovering the nooks and crannies of this one! So I am only now finding your October post.
      Hope to hear from you soon.

  2. Fictional characters are, of course, much easier to write, but it always pays to do some hard work. My personal discipline is to stick to the facts, even when it means ditching a good scene only because it’s happening on the wrong day. I find that sticking to the facts makes the story go deeper and get more interesting; characters tend to develop quite naturally, too.
    I was also faced with a long span and decided to write three books. Each of the books, however, is designed to stand alone and each is crafted separately as a novel.
    However I think most wise ones will suggest you go for a much shorter period. It’s a very difficult decision to make. If you can isolate the theme of your story (e.g. indomitable spirit) from the outward tale (woman moves from Quebec to Detroit in a canoe), it will help you organise things better. It is always tempting to put everything in, but if it doesn’t fit your theme, it should be cast aside.
    If you want more detailed help when you’ve finished your draft, I do offer a manuscript reading service. I’ve done this professionally for a leading literary consultancy for more than ten years.
    Good luck and keep going!

  3. I am relatively new to “blogging” and to this website, Linda, so it’s no surprise that I just found this posting by Marjorie Eyre. (Your blog is an octopus…I’m still finding tentacles!) Marjorie Eyre and I share more than a first name…our books seem to have a lot in common as I am writing about my ancestor who came to French Louisiana in the mid 18th century. I have the same problem with span but can’t really see myself writing three books. I’ll have to think about that one.
    I want to thank you for brokering an exchange of manuscripts with Pam. That worked out so well for me, and I hope for Pam. The exercise of reading and critiquing each other’s work in progress gave us both new insights. It was also lovely to make contact with another “new” writer struggling through the process.

  4. Marge, so glad it worked out well with Pam. If as you get used to blogging you find a site less like an octopus, please let me know and I shall copy its format!
    Good luck with your work.

  5. If one uses real quotations or similar thoughts or ideas from another book to create historical fiction, how is one to give proper credit to the source since this is still fiction and not non-fiction?

  6. MN – so sorry not to have responded sooner. It got overlooked, probably because I only usually look at the main page. It’s a good question, though, and my answer is that you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t; that is, a scholar is as likely to condemn you for not using his or her ideas as for using them. What I do is read a lot and let it ‘cook’ in the imagination. Some things come out somewhat undigested, and a student of the period would know where certain passages have their origin, but mostly the cooking process has made it my own material. Legally, the fight between Dan Brown and the authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail, has given the fiction writer much leeway. Morally I think the decision was completely wrong. I always put a list of further reading at the back and take every effort to mention those books that have contributed most. Hope that helps, however belatedly.

  7. Hi, I’m new to your blog. When writing historical fiction and using data, life style information, etc. do I need to get a songed release from eavh person?

    1. Hi Ray. Usually in historical fiction we are dealing with characters no longer living. Could you elaborate your question a little so that I can understand better what you need? Thanks.

  8. I’m writing about a mine disaster and, while the people involved have all died, their descendants are still living. If I get information from them about working conditions, what life was like in the community, etc, and use it in my book, do I need to get a written release? The story would, of course, involve only fictitious people, but I would use their information to describe means of travel, meals eaten, clothes worn, etc. from that period.
    Thanks for your help.

    1. You don’t need any kind of written release. All you have to be careful to avoid is plagiarism of your sources, repeating facts wholesale without so much as changing the words. There is no copyright in ideas. If you’re worried about anything, ask yourself, ‘Am I exploiting someone else’s work?’ If the answer is yes, it is usually enough to cite their publications in your acknowledgements (even in fiction). If the answer is ‘seriously yes’, then get in touch and ask their permission. It’s what Dan Brown should have done to the authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail, but he still won the case they brought against him.

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