Historical Fiction and “Real Historical Facts”

My publisher forwarded  me a letter from Kay in NJ—thank you for the letter, Kay, and for being such a great fan of historical fiction! As to your comment, ‘I’m not certain where history ends and fiction begins”…Ah, the “truth” in history and fiction.  

 Seventy years ago, Jack Woodford (Why Write A Novel aka self-published as How To Write and Sell A Novel, 1943),  the infamous–and successful—“pulp” novelist wrote that what distinguishes “the great writers of historical novels” from the other writers, “is a curious faculty for being able to swing from fact into fantasy, providing they first have the fact.”  

 He advised the novice writer, “if you simply can’t imagine a plot, or a story, the pages of history contain enough plots, and enough stories, to keep all the writers in the world busy for all the years that the world will last.”

I love that comment, but oodford was wrong in one aspect: he assumed that having “the fact” provides smooth sailing for the writer and reader of historical fiction. Yes, but what are the “facts” in a historical novel?

 Readers of historical fiction are generally a discerning lot who often read about a particular period because they already know a lot about it (myself included) or know nothing about it and want to venture into unknown territory (myself included). The first approach presents certain pitfalls for the reader and the writer.

 Some readers feel slighted when the writer veers away from what someone called “real historical facts” which some believe the writer has an obligation to follow. These readers like to point out where the writer went “wrong” in these facts. That is one aspect of writing historical fiction that other genres aren’t burdened with.

 For example, no readers of science fiction (as far as I know), would point out  to the author that s/he has the information wrong because they know for sure that the decontamination chamber on Zenon X is painted in blue and not green, or that it wasn’t in operation until 26956, give or take a few centaves. (I am making it up, of course, and this doesn’t apply to series where readers do expect consistency.)

 But in historical fiction, readers do expect some of the “real historical facts,” even though some don’t want to be swamped by a lot of them. The problem is of course, that those “real historical facts” existed at some time in a “real” setting which was far more complex than any fiction work can encompass without turning into an academic treatise on the subject. In short, in reading historical fiction—remember, it’s FICTION.

 Fortunately, there are non-fiction books on the very subject of a historical novel that a reader can explore—available at the library or bookstore. Currently I reading

Frank McLynn, Richard and John, Kings at War (Da Capo Press, 2007). Great summary of literature on the subject of these two men and their reigns—a very readable. 

 So….for The Sixth Surrender, see under the ABOUT tab for a timeline and the other background information. As for  who-are-those-guys….?

 The Plantagenets & their Associates 

 *Aliénor of Aquitaine–duchess of Aquitaine and dowager queen of England

Sabine de Nevers–her lady-in-waiting, Lasalle<s aunt

*John Plantagenet– her son, duke of Normandy, king of England, count of Poitou and Anjou

*Isabelle d’Angoulême– heiress to the county of Angoulême

*William des Roches–John’s seneschal of Anjou

*William de Briose – lord Marcher in Wales

*Roger de Laci–constable of Chester, John’s official

*Lupescaire–John’s mercenary captain

*Sir William Marshal–the Earl of Pembroke, Aliénor<s favorite knight, supporter of John

*Isabel de Clare–countess of Pembroke, Marshal’s wife

*John d’Erlée–his squire

*Constance of Brittany–widow of Geoffrey Plantagenet, Aliénor<s son, and mother of: Arthur                                             and Eleanor of Brittany

*Arthur of Brittany–John’s nephew, and heir presumptive

*Eleanor of Brittany( “the Pearl of Brittany”)–his sister and heir

 Residents of Fontevraud Abbey*

 *Abbess Mathilde

Father Osbert – Fontevraud’s priest & confessor

Brother Egremont —Fontevraud’s librarian

Sister Domenica–mistress of  novices

 The Lords of Lusignan* & their Associates

 *Hugh le Brun–count of La Marche

*Young Hugh–his son

*Ralph de Exoudon, count of Eu–Hugh le Brun<s brother

*Geoffrey, count of Lusignan–Hugh and Ralph<s uncle, head of Lusignan clan

Armand de Lusignan--the count of Rancon, their cousin

Dame Ermengard--his chatelaine

Richieu   > his men-at-arms

Viart     >

Joscelyn de Cantigny–his knight

Dawud B his Saracen musician

Geoffrey of Parthenay  – knight of the Temple

 The Residents of Paris

 *Phillip Augustus – king of France 

Abbess Nicola— of Saint Sylvain’s convent

Madame Violaine— brothel owner

Ziya      > her employee

Equitan > her employee

The Viscounty of Tillières*

 Juliana de Charnais former Sister Eustace, viscountess of  Tillières, chatelaine of fortress of Rivefort

Bodo–her Saxon bodyguard

Mistress Hermine – her nurse  

Catalena–her maid

Paulette de Glanville* > her ward

Mathea de Glanville* > her ward & Paulette’s sister

Donat– her groom

Guérin de Lasalle— Juliana’s husband, viscount of Tillières

Anne, countess de Valence—his mistress

Ravenissa – his mistress

Jourdain–their son

Gwenllian–Welsh girl

Aumary de Beaudricourt–squire to Lasalle

Jehan de Vaudreui*–  Lasalle’s friend and second in command

Ersillia–mistress of Jehan Vaudreuil

Harpin Peyrac      >

Rannulf Brissard   >

Hugon de Metz          > Lasalle’s knights

Saez               >

Jean le Roux       >

Heinrich Kadolt–leader of Lasalle’s mercenaries

Erhard of Hesse–his brother

Father Cyril — Rivefort’s chaplain

Master Thibodeau – Tillières’ bailiff

Mistress Margaret–wife of blacksmith at Rivefort

Louis Pavilli  >   Rivefort’s steward

Edith  Pavilli >  his wife

About Hana Samek Norton

I am a historian who writes 'history with a story' in off-duty hours.
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