Wednesday, November 11, 2009

historical fact vs. fiction

Most of you already know I'm writing a novel set in seventh-century Britain. This, of course, makes it an historical novel, though I tend to think of it as A Novel. (I thought of Slow River as a novel, and The Blue Place; publishing doesn't always agree with me.)

There are many ways, apparently, to approach writing historical fiction. There's the hey, anything goes, just use the period as window dressing around a fab story camp, and there's the never, ever, don't evereverever, contravene what is known to be known people. (There's an article in MACLEANS.CA that lays this out by illustrating the difference between the attitudes of Hilary Mantel and Kate Pullinger.)

Here's an even more interesting piece from Magistra et Mater: an historian explains why she no longer reads historical fiction.

Me? Well, I love getting things right. I've done a lot of research on Hild and her time (some casual, some deep and complex). But I'm a novelist; I also occasionally can't resist just fucking with things. Sometimes, though, it seems I fuck with things in just the right way--and those are fabulous moments when I know I'm really beginning to get a feel for the period. (At least in some senses.)

Right now I'm deep in contemplation of a letter from Pope Boniface to King Edwin (as recorded by Bede). Figuring out that the 'cloak from Ancyra' is probably a mohair cloak, and therefore sleek and lustrous (and therefore a very fine present to an Anglisc king--they loved shiny things, like jackdaws), created a whole scene in my head: an infuriated king, cursing the Pope for trying to play him--but accepting the cloak anyway because, well, it's shiny.

In other words, I'm having enormous fun. Just wanted to share.

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