Friday, 18 November 2011

Novel approaches to history

Right, so today I went to a conference about historical fiction and learned quite a lot, not least of which being that my book might/should hold its own in this field, which is cheering. But as usual with these things the whole area is Dogged by Definition.

For instance: how do you define "historical fiction"? What differentiates a historical novelist from any other sort of novelist telling a fictitious tale set in the past? What is a Fact, and how it it pinned down? (Like a butterfly on a board?) Does the imagined truth of fiction take us to places that the "proven" truth of historians cannot go? To what extent are historians story tellers anyway? To what extent are myths false, and to what extent do they illuminate the way?

All of which related to my own story about the Dark Lady Myth, the idea that Shakespeare wrote his most violently emotional sonnets to a mysterious femme fatale, in a state of morbid sexual despair. And here is a Nicholas Hilliard portrait that may or may not be one of the possible Dark Ladies, my heroine Emilia Bassano:

Ate biscuits, ingested caffeine, listened and scribbled, did not ask any questions. I think I feel, like many writers of historical fiction who are not historians, that I might be found out. And yet, the most inspirational speakers were those in exactly this same position: Hilary Mantel and Stella Tillyard. And in the coffee break talked about the politics of maps, and maps that lie... Absorbing in a way that things can only be when you feel a story brewing.

Oh and the conference was this:

Sunday, 13 November 2011


Yes, write now. This is the advice that is so easy to dish out to other people, and indeed I DO dish it out to students on a regular basis. But then find I'm not filling my notebook with random bits of observation, reflection, jollification etc as I should.

Why is this? The idea that what gets written down is a commitment of some kind? That what I might think is not "good enough" to be jotted down in indecipherable scrawl?

Or that it's impossible to dredge up one item from among so many half thought bits of mental flotsam, so that it's best to leave it all mixed up together, in some forgettable, inchoate mess, because it's unfair to pick one idea and not another? I honestly don't know.

Even this blog suffers from this, my mistaken notion that I'm not quite up to it at this particular moment. It's like saving all your nice clothes for the day that you are beautiful and skinny enough to deserve them, and spending all your actual life in preparatory joggers. So this is what I have so say, right now.