Interesting points in the BBC Radio 4 Front Row discussion on historical fiction follow. (Swot that I am, I took notes!)
The field is littered with terms like literary historical versus generalist historical, down to populist historical usaully written by amateurs.
Novelists “explore and explain the past.” Sarah Dunant is a trained historian and says as a novelist her job is to tell you really good stories and as a historian to be as truthful to the facts as it is possible for her to know.
Tristram Hunt, academic historian and non-fiction author, is bored and appalled by the rise of historical fiction and the relentless focus on detail which provides the authenticity.
Prof Margaret MacMillan is gloomy about the profession abandoning the field to amateurs. Amateurs are not trained to weigh evidence. They often write without informing themselves about the period and produce, for example, 14th century heroines who sound like 20th century feminists, which is simply not correct.
Antonia Fraser thinks we shouldn’t write with hindsight, ie Henry VIII thought each marriage was going to work, though we know otherwise.
Sarah Dunant doesn’t write about real people. She reads around the pressures, politics, dress and culture and creates composite characters who are not real but might have experienced thoughts and feelings akin to the real characters of history.
Philippa Gregory does the research for the bare bones of history and her fiction breathes life into the bones.