Why do I like to write historical fiction? For one, I enjoy learning about history and how people lived during different times. Whether history bores us or interests us, it’s a part of who we are today and it’s shaped the current life we live. I don’t write historical fiction because I admire those eras more or because wish I lived back then. On the contrary, looking back in time and seeing how people lived makes me grateful that I’m living now. It’s interesting to learn about how people survived and made life work in what was often barbaric conditions. It’s easy to romanticize past eras for being more poetic, just, or good, but is that based on reality? The rights and freedoms that many of us have today (If we’re lucky enough to live in a first world country) were not available to a lot of people in the past.
What interests me about history are the people and the movements that didn’t conform to what was considered normal for the time. I like reading about unconventional women who lived during more suppressive times and helped shape movements that would give future women more freedoms and rights. Even thinking about transportation before the 20th century is fascinating. Everyone literally had to have a horse or a mule, otherwise they’d have to get around on foot. The train wasn’t even invented until 1804 and it didn’t become a popular means of getting around until later. You could always sail if you wanted to travel far, but life at sea was harsh even for the people who travelled in luxury. What was an ordinary way of getting around for people back then seems like an adventure to us now!
I wrote two stories a couple of years ago about female outlaws. They’re both different types of people with different reasons for turning rogue, but their environment really shapes who they become. I think for women in the Wild West, the only option was to basically become “a man” if you didn’t want to marry young or be a saloon girl. The people who were attracted to the frontier were brave and wild types to begin with, but female outlaws interest me immensely. I’ll probably write another book centered around that in the future.
In a movie called “Timeline” about a group of archaeologists traveling back to medieval Scotland, one character says “The only thing worse than dying here is living here”. That’s coming from someone who enjoyed studying the time period. She had the knowledge of customs and ways of living that would probably get her by if she was forced to stay there indefinitely. Then another character decided to stay there for love. There’s always a part of us that wonders if we were meant for another time and historical fiction is an avenue for that – even though most of us would never want to live back then.
There’s another reason why I like writing historical fiction. The research is so much fun (and sometimes eye opening!). It gives you a chance to learn about a place in history and study how the society was run. Historical fiction can bring you to fantastical places, much like fantasy. Unlike fantasy, there’s a knowledge and framework you can work within so you can arrange your story around key events to draw in the reader and bring a historical event to life.
Back on the barbaric part of history: I was inspired to write a novella about two boys who become stranded on the Galapagos Islands during the Napoleonic War. I wanted to give a voice to child warriors, past and present. It boggles my mind knowing that teenagers (Some midshipmen on vessels during the Napoleonic War were as young as 12!) fought in those wars and were expected to act like grown men. Their families and the leaders they served would preach “Fight for freedom” or “Your service will give respect to the family name”, but what sort of country becomes free off the blood of the children that it’s supposed to protect?
My story, The Pup & The Pianist, dives into the life of a “powder monkey” and the midshipmen he observes on the ship. While the age of sail is interesting and the stories set during that time can be adventurous, I wrote it to honour the sacrifices given by children who were killed by a system that didn’t deserve them. They should have been protected from violence, not thrown into it and left to die. The ships during the Napoleonic War were beautiful and the paintings of that time period may look romantic, but it wasn’t pretty for everyone.
I’m currently working on a novel set in the ancient world – my first! The research for this one has also been very interesting (and disturbing). No hints yet, but I hope people will enjoy the incredible journey my protagonist undertakes and the unforgettable people she meets along the way.
I hope you enjoyed this post! The idea sprung up in my mind the other day about why I enjoy historical fiction so much and what makes me like to write it. I’d love to hear your thoughts about historical fiction.
Do you enjoy reading or writing historical fiction? What draws you to it the most? What is your favourite era?