Today and all of next week will be filled with page proofs and pecan tarts, but for those of you who have finished your Christmas preparations, graded all your exams, and finished writing and editing your latest book, I'll be passing along some articles that I have found particularly helpful. Most come from last month's virtual conference, "Novel Approaches." To start it off, here's an important piece by Ian Mortimer.
“Your book reads like a novel,” is a comment that popular historians often hear. When said by a general reader, it is a compliment: an acknowledgement of the fluency of the writing and a compelling story. If a historian uses those same words, however, it is an insult. It means ‘you cannot be trusted on your facts’. Hence the title of this piece is bound to infuriate every reader of this journal, for it implies that historians should tell lies. After all, that is what novelists do, isn’t it? Make it all up if they don’t know the facts?
"I ought to explain at the outset that I am a novelist (James Forrester) as well as a historian (Ian Mortimer), and I write history for the mass market as well as scholarly articles. As a novelist, I tell lies. Whoppers. All historical novelists do. In my case, I have historical characters like Sir William Cecil and Francis Walsingham say and do things that they never really said or did. I make people die from causes that they did not die of, use modern langauge in their speech, and I change people’s names. As a historian, I do not tell lies. I scrupulously note primary and secondary sources. However, I have learned a great deal about history from writing historical fiction. And it is because of this learning experience that I want to recommend it."
To read the rest of Mortimer's article, go to http://ihrconference.wordpress.com/2011/11/23/why-historians-should-write-fiction/