Panel discussion 16th October 2012 – Manchester Literature Festival “Pages Ago” historical fiction event: Chair - Jerome de Groot (Q), authors Alison Weir (AW), Robyn Young (RY), Maria McCann (MM), Douglas Jackson (DJ), Sarah Dunant (SD)
Q: What's the place of historical fiction in modern society? A move to secret / untold / minority stories?
MM: A desire to flee into the past?
RY: Away from the present – fiction as education
AW: fiction as reclaiming / addressing unwritten histories
Q: is there a tension between the pastoral and the revisionist?
SD: Eternal questions or the idea that belief systems alter over time. Why does faith provoke death? Historical fiction is key to understanding the past.
MM: Escapism isn’t necessarily to a good place.
Q: Questions of trust between the reader and the writer?
DJ: Get is as right as you can, and read between the lines of history.
RY: Agreed. Responsibility is to get it as right as possible. Know your sources and evaluate them so that you can navigate the differences. The author’s note is vital. It promotes openness and trust.
MM: Facts need to be right.
SD: Fictional characters need to be historically plausible. A bibliography is essential in a historical fiction book. There’s a relay race between historians and novelists and readers too. You’re passing information on, so be authentic.
Q: Tensions between historians and novelists?
AW: Historians are working towards the popular too, and some of them are now novelists. There’s a general shift towards the popular.
Q: Free rein or lots of fact?
DJ: A half-way house.
Q: Influence of publishers on historical periods covered in fiction?
RY: Author-led, then publishers follow suit.
AW: Tudors: high drama and accessible primary sources.
Q: Omniscient narrator or third person limited?
AW: There’s some publisher pressure but third person limited gives additional scope in telling a story.
MM: There’s tension evident on this question.
SD: If it works, it works. First person and present are temptations. But; you have to be able to write.
RY: Questions remain: royalty rates? Loss of control?