This week I’m talking about the ever-present issue of how accurate you need to be in historical fiction. Different writers take different approaches to this: I framed this video around discussion of a single passage in Wayne Johnson’s excellent novel, The Colony of Unrequited Dreams. Johnson’s a brilliant writer, but his approach to the primacy of fact in historical fiction is very different from the approach I take both as a writer and a reader.
My sensibilities as a reader of historical fiction were shaped by Sharon Kay Penman and Margaret George, both of whom I read at a very young and impressionable age. I’ve always appreciated writers who put an “afterword” at the end of the novel telling you where they deviated from known history. I do this myself, and a reviewer once mocked me — actually made fun of me — in a review, for this slavish devotion to facts. But I like facts. I think the airy castles of fiction need to be built on a solid foundation of historical fact — and that means getting the historical, geographical, and cultural details correct as much as you possibly can. I do, however, appreciate that other readers and writers may take a different view. What do you think?