The 18th century is lazily going by in the fictional English town of Airenchester, when we meet hour hero, Thaddeus Grainger, the type of young gentleman of means and taste. A bright, clever, careless boy in the words of his doting housekeeper, Thaddeus is in equal parts bored and disillusioned when it comes to the fine society he confidently belongs to, but that is the way of things, and what is a fellow to do – except navigate the currents, and keep apart from the worst of it? In fact, Thaddeus’s only rebellion is to cultivate the close friendship of reasonably genteel but penniless William Quilby, a vicar’s son and journalist… Continue reading
And so I learned that, while I’d always assumed that people walked to the Theatre via Bishopsgate, Bishopsgate Street and Shoreditch, this was not the case. Not that the Burbages wouldn’t have liked such a straightforward route to their playhouse – but there was opposition from the local landowners – particularly from the Earl of Rutland, who effectively blocked the easy access… Continue reading
Some historical characters seem so very, very perfect for fictional treatments, don’t they? Whether they have lived enormously interesting lives, full of drama and colour, or we know tantalizingly little about them – just enough to make us want to fill the gaps – they practically beg to be written. Continue reading
There is this competition, you see – short stories, historical setting… I really, really want to submit. I’ve known about it for quite some time – and, in fact, for some reason, at first I thought the deadline was in late April. So I began brainstorming ideas back in March, and went through old notebooks, mining for those little Could This Be A Story notes, or hastily sketched half-page notions, and wrote down lists of promising ideas… and then hit on something I liked. Something that was tied to my work in progress. Something promising. Continue reading
One historical author of my acquaintance describes something she calls “historical serendipity.” This is the condition of knowing one’s period so well and so intimately that when one reaches a point in the story where it’s necessary to… (gasp) make something up, one’s fictional choices are not only historically plausible – but very often turn out to be the ex post facto honest-to-goodness truth, as well.
Did it ever happen to you? Continue reading
Once upon a time I came across an interview or an article – I wish I could remember – in which a historical novelist gleefully told about placing in his latest novel’s prologue a handful of elements that could easily pass for anachronisms. He gleefully anticipated the mails, weblogs and reviews pointing out his “blunders”, and the joys of answering back that, in fact, a lack of written record for some thing before a certain date could not be taken as proof that the same thing did not exist… Continue reading
So the Times Literary Supplement was in Oxford for the HNS Conference, in the person of Michael Caines, who covered “us” with a nice set of musings about what goes on behind the curtain of historical fiction.
He quotes from an essay of Toby Litt’s, affectionately calling HF a “deeply bogus” oxymoron of genre, in that its trick is done by conjoining “what was with what might have been”. Continue reading
I told you about Bryher’s The Player’s Boy, didn’t I?
Well, to this lovely, melancholy novel my Paris Press edition adds a wonderful afterword, consisting of a letter that Bryher wrote to a friend to explain her fascination with Elizabethan literature and history. It’s a charming little piece about growing up, reading, cultivating one’s imagination, finding strength in literature and history, and being slightly eccentric… It’s well worth reading in its entirety.
My favourite part, though, has to be the final musing on the historian’s perspective: Continue reading
A little Saturday thought, from Milan Kundera’s The Curtain.
Something about history, and truth, and what – and how – is remembered or forgotten.
Something that goes very well with my own pet theory about the iridescence of history…
This is the most obvious thing in the world: man is separated from the past (even from the past only a few seconds old) by two forces that go instantly to work and cooperate: the force of forgetting (which erases) and the force of memory (which transforms).
It is the most obvious thing, but it is hard to accept, for when one thinks it all the way through, what becomes of all the testimonies that historiography relies on? What becomes of our certainties about the past, and what becomes of History itself, to which we refer every day in good faith, naively, spontaneously? Beyond the slender margin of the incontestable (there is no doubt that Napoleon lost the battle of Waterloo), stretches an infinite realm: the realm of the approximate, the invented, the deformed, the simplistic, the exaggerated, the misconstrued, an infinite realm of nontruths that copulate, multiply like rats, and become immortal.
A realm that, I might add, makes for wonderful hunting grounds, when you happen to write historical fiction…