On Hist Fic Saturday I am delighted to welcome back to the blog one of my favourite authors
I asked Anna why she writes historical fiction and this is what she told me...
As far back as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated by the past. The past is a vast and varied universe, all the way from those extremely distant ancestors of ours who decorated their caves with pictures of bison and mammoths, horses and hands – an ancient form of “Kilroy was here”, palm prints in red, black and yellow confirming that once these long-dead artists breathed and lived. I suppose they dreamt of a better world just like we do, a world where the fire in their hearths never went out, where their men returned unscathed from the hunt, where the babies survived and grew strong and healthy.
As a child, I wasn’t much into cave art. Instead, my historical interest spanned a period of six centuries or so, from the times of Alfred the Great to the death of Henry IV. I never liked Henry V. I still don’t… Geographically, the landscape of the past I most wanted to explore was England with the odd detour into Wales and Scotland. Rarely was I sufficiently intrigued by the history of my own country to want to spend too much time in medieval Sweden—I found the land of my birth tragically lacking when it came to heroic kings, colourful women and derring-do. Since then, I’ve discovered this is not the case, but you know what they say about first love: it never quite dies.
I was twelve or so when I discovered there was a fundamental difference between my friends and me: they were always looking to the future, longing for the moment when they were old enough to carve their own path through life. I did that too, but I spent a substantially larger chunk of my time wishing I could go back in time. I wanted to save Richard Lionheart from the crossbow bolt that took his life. I wanted to stop Llewelyn the Last from rising in his fated rebellion against Edward I. Effectively, I wanted to rewrite history—well, some of it at least.
As we all know, History cannot be rewritten. Nor can we travel back in time to experience the past in all its (dubious) glory. But as a writer, I can allow myself the luxury of carving windows to the past by setting my stories in whatever period takes my fancy. It is an addiction, this travelling through time via pen—or laptop. It is a joy and delight, allowing me to spend numerous hours researching my various periods. Many, many hours. Some things are best experienced which is why I’ve made lye and done laundry the old-fashioned way. I’ve also castrated piglets, milked cows, helped foals into the world, butchered a pig, used a flail and scythed a hayfield. And no, it was neither as easy nor picturesque as when Aidan Turner walks about bare-chested against a gorgeous backdrop of sunny skies. Reality involved much more sweat and flies.
However, historical research does not a novel make. For a story to come alive, it requires characters that are vibrant and complex, real enough to step out of the pages, no matter if they ever existed or not. Through my characters, I experience the sights and sounds, tactile sensations and smells of a distant time. For a while, I can escape the uncertainties of the present & future for the certainties of the past. Not that those certainties always apply to my characters. They tend to take on a life of their own, interacting with the known historical events in a way that quite often leaves me with my heart in my mouth.
Developing historical characters is probably no different than developing contemporary characters. After all, people have not changed all that much through the centuries and human emotions and reactions are probably relatively constant throughout the ages. Someone betrays you, the visceral rage you feel is probably identical to the one your 12th century ancestor felt when he realised he’d been set up. Loving someone probably feels the same, jealousy is as consuming an emotion in the 14th century as it is now. Anger, hatred, determination, greed, lust—they likely feel the same now as they did back in the Mesolithic age.
While on the subject of characters, I must come clean and admit that they are the main reason why I write historical fiction. I fall in love with them. All of them, but primarily my male leads, upright men of conviction, firm believers in that some things are worth dying for. We don’t see eye to eye on this, as I prefer them alive. In some cases, of course, my leads have to die. Historical fact calls for their death and no matter how much I wring my hands and beg them not to die they do so anyway and leave me emotionally exhausted.
I am still holding on to the hope that someday someone will invent a time machine. But the more I learn about the past, the more I submerge myself in the lives of those that went before, the more I realise that while I would very much want to visit the past, I would never want to live there. It is far safer and more comfortable to write about the past, preferably with a nice cup of tea at hand. Now that is, IMO, the best thing about writing Historical Fiction: I can still have tea and cake while considering just how it would feel to be disembowelled. Or hanged. Or die of the plague.
Here's more about Anna and her writing
Had Anna been allowed to choose, she’d have become a professional time-traveller. As such a profession does not exists, she settled for second best and became a financial professional with two absorbing interests, namely history and writing.
Presently, Anna is hard at work with The King’s Greatest Enemy, a series set in the 1320s featuring Adam de Guirande, his wife Kit, and their adventures and misfortunes in connection with Roger Mortimer’s rise to power. The fourth book in the series, The Cold Light of Dawn, will be published in February 2018.
16 February 2018
When Anna is not stuck in the 14th century, chances are she’ll be visiting in the 17th century, more specifically with Alex and Matthew Graham, the protagonists of the acclaimed The Graham Saga. This series is the story of two people who should never have met – not when she was born three centuries after him. A ninth instalment has recently been published, despite Anna having thought eight books were enough. Turns out her 17th century dreamboat and his time travelling wife didn’t agree…
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Huge thanks to Anna for being my Hist Fic author in the spotlight today and for sharing her love of historical fiction with us.