The website of the historical fiction writer.

Philosophy (Of Sorts)

Historical Novel Society Conference 2014 – Part VI: Confronting Historical Fact with the Unexplained

Once upon a time (Sunday) there was a discussion about myths, fairy tales and all things Gothic in historical fiction. We were encouraged to get our phones out, take loads of photos and tweet like mad. Sadly I had enough to do writing all this down so I could translate it and put it on here but if you go on Twitter you can read the hash tag HNSLondon14 to see what people were saying about the weekend (you might find one or two of mine!)

Kate Forsyth was in the Chair for this panel discussion and was joined by Jessie Burton, Essie Fox, Deborah Harkness, Cathy Rentzenbrink and Professor Diana Wallace.

Stories of myths and legends are as old as storytelling itself and fantastical elements appear quite often in historical fiction. Facts are quite often limiting (and these are often interpreted) so the imagination is turned to. Myths, legends and the occult are still popular, even after the Scientific Revolution when magic and alchemy were no longer widely considered to be real, particularly vampire stories which appear all through history all over the world.

There is sadly still some snobbery surrounding historical fiction, even though historians also interpret facts to make their own narratives. This could be through fear that readers may use novels as history books. However, it could also be because the historian wants to promote a book or TV programme.

That said, historical fiction is a great way of introducing people to history and give them an imaginative way of learning about the past.

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Ice Age Art

Last week I went down to Old London Town for two reasons. One was to go to the Royal Observatory in Greenwich. After sailing the ocean waves (well, after a boat ride on the Thames) I climbed the steep hill to the Observatory (not a good idea when you’ve got an annoying cough) and had a look around. If you go to Greenwich then I suggest visiting the National Maritime Museum while you are there. The Cutty Sark is open again too.

After that I went to the British Museum to see their Ice Age Art Exhibition.

If you watch the Werner Herzog film, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, then you will have a good introduction to early human art. This exhibition is more to do with actual objects than paintings, which are shown in a light show projected on the wall about half-way round. In this exhibition you can see carvings in stone and bone along with figures carved from tusks and antlers. These show the mentality of humans all over the world 40,000 years ago – the animals they lived with, religion and how they viewed each other.

Anyway, I’m not going to ruin any more of it. If you want to find out what’s there then get down and see: http://www.britishmuseum.org/whats_on/exhibitions/ice_age_art.aspx


Perfect Songs for a Perfect Day

Over the last few days I’ve been asked repeatedly how many cards I’m expecting to be getting today. My reply has always been ‘none – my birthday isn’t for another few months.’

Then I found out it’s Valentine’s Day.

So, to mark this occasion where I’ll be fighting a feeling of nausea and to celebrate my Twitter anniversary, here is another alternative list of songs you probably won’t here on the radio today:

1) I Never Loved Eva Braun – The Boomtown Rats
2) What a Waste – Ian Dury and the Blockheads
3) Five Years – David Bowie
4) This Flight Tonight – Nazareth
5) My Best Friend’s Girl – The Cars
6) The Good’s Gone – The Who
7) Tears of a Clown – Smokey Robinson and the Miracles
8) Child in Time – Deep Purple
9) I Fought the Law – The Clash
10) Wild Honey Pie – The Beatles
11) Swords of a Thousand Men – Tenpole Tudor
12) While My Guitar Gently Weeps – The Beatles
13) The Great Pretender – Freddie Mercury
14) Why Don’t We Do It in the Road? – The Beatles
15) Time – David Bowie
16) Give Us A Goal – Slade
17) Queen Bitch – David Bowie
18) Itchygoo Park – The Small Faces
19) Put Out the Fire – Queen
20) Suspicious Minds – Elvis Presley
21) Evil Walks – AC/DC
22) Jugband Blues – Pink Floyd
23) Wunderbar – Tenpole Tudor
24) No Regrets – Midge Ure
25) Please Release Me – Engelbert Humperdink

Enjoy!


Why Historical Fiction?

(To set the scene, perhaps listen to ‘Living in the Past’ by Jethro Tull?)

This weekend marks the beginning of the Historical Novel Society Conference 2012. This is a coming together of authors, readers, agents, editors, publishers, reviewers and anyone else who has an interest in historical fiction. Everyone seems very nice and this promises to be an interesting weekend.

This has led me to think why historical fiction?

Well, for a start, history by its nature is a collection of stories. Whether it be someone telling you their day at work, your grandparents reminiscing about the war or the photographs on your mantlepiece, all of them tell a story. It is one person or object telling you their version of a particular event. The writing of historical fiction can sometimes take this further. Although liberties can sometimes be taken with facts occasionally, this is usually to benefit the story. Most authors admit to this in their notes at the end of their work and recommend non-fiction history books/places to explore. This shows that fiction is a very useful way of introducing people to a subject (as was mentioned in the speeches this evening.)

Another main reason for reading and writing historical fiction is because it’s fun and what better reason can there be for that?

Anyway, these are just some thoughts for now. I’m sure the conference will give many more! My thanks go in advance to the organisers and if you want to find out more about the Historical Novel Society, take a look at their website: http://historicalnovelsociety.org/

TOMORROW: What Sells Historical Fiction? https://jamesbicheno.wordpress.com/2012/10/05/what-sells-historical-fiction/


Wedding Song List Part Deux

Before you all start showering me with congratulations, confetti and ball-and-chains, I would like to make it quite clear I am not getting married. I would, instead, like to enjoy my life. Anyway, you might remember a little while ago on Valentine’s Day I made a list of alternative songs that should be played to ward off the evil spirits of slush. Since then I’ve thought of a few more.

So, on this very lovely spring morning (or rather, very British spring morning) here is something that will make things less soppy should you find yourself as the DJ at a very digestion-troubling wedding:

1) Ogre Battle – Queen
2) Feed My Frankenstein – Alice Cooper
3) Dude Looks Like a Lady – Aerosmith
4) Everybody Hurts – REM
5) Boys of Summer – Don Henley
6) Halo of Flies – Alice Cooper
7) Shaddap Your Face – Joe Dolce
8) Evil Woman – Electric Light Orchestra
9) Lyin’ Eyes – The Eagles
10) Anything by Tenacious D
11) Piggies – The Beatles
12) Firestarter – Prodigy
13) Who Ate all the Pies?
14) Bring Your Daughter to the Slaughter – Iron Maiden
15) Walk Away – Cast
16) Crash – The Primitives
17) The Drugs Don’t Work – The Verve
18) Dreamers’ Ball – Queen
19) Who Let the Dogs Out? – Baha Men
20) How Soon is Now – The Smiths
21) Tired of Waiting for You – The Kinks
22) You’ve Lost that Loving Feeling – The Righteous Brothers
23) My Melancholy Blues – Queen

Of course, if anyone can think of any others then please feel free to add them. Check this for others: https://jamesbicheno.wordpress.com/2012/02/14/the-alternative-valentines-songlist/


One Man, Many Tasks

Well, 2012 is charging along in leaps and bounds, which is only to be expected, seeing as it’s a leap year (and before anyone asks, no I did not get anyone proposing! Mind you, I’m sure some people do it so they can have some new gloves…) March is almost upon us! Can it be that this blog is nearly two months old!

A few posts ago I talked about ideas being like badly behaved cats, always demanding your full, undivided attention at the expense of the everything else. I still stand by that comment only these cats now have ADHD. There just aren’t enough hours in the day but that’s what happens when you’re a writer and why it is important to do a little bit regularly when your time is not always your own.

Five hundred words a day does not seem like a lot but it’s manageable, whether you have a full-time job, an army of kids or several other hobbies and soon, as I learned with NaNoWriMo, the story/play/novel soon grows and takes shape. It also gives you the chance to do other writerly things such as reading, watching programmes, feeding the cats, listening to the radio, housework, telling the cats they’ve been fed, making notes on another idea, the list goes on.

So, who says men can’t do several things at once? As I write this I am watching the England vs Netherlands match (England are currently 2-0 down but what a belter from Robben?) I think I’ve proved that theory wrong, just like the whole ‘manflu’ thing is a load of tripe too! We are all one and the same.

Anyway Scribblers, hope the leap day has gone well for you all. I’m now going to try and think of a good ending to my new short story (and this blog post…)


Planet Pancake

Want to know what I’m giving up for Lent? Take a look at this. No, it’s not something escaped from a science lab, it’s not a Medieval map of the world during Prehistoric times and it’s nothing nicked from the set of Dr Who. It’s my attempt at making a pancake last night:

 


Music and Writing

When I look over the ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ bits of writers’ websites, one question that usually appears is ‘do you listen to music while you write?’ The answer, as you may have guessed, is different for each writer. Some say they have to live in complete silence as if they’re in a monastry or (public) library. They believe that the slightest sound, let alone symphony, will completely destroy their fragile concentration. It would be like charging around a prestigious art school with spray paint cans and a chainsaw, causing irrepairable damage to masterpieces before they are even finished. This is fine. Some people thrive in the sanctuary that the silence brings. Even I do sometimes.

However, there is the other extreme. Some people like the chaos and noise that comes with full blown Heavy Rock. You too can write your magnum opus with the explosive hedonism that only Rock can bring (see how I write Rock in capitals?) raging in the background. I myself have done this. Only the other day I tried to write my novel with the support of AC/DC. When I was studying my degree I would do all my reading in the days leading up to Deadline Day. The day before (later two days) I would write up my notes while playing all of Queen’s albums to see how many I would get through before I finished (some discs got played twice as the word counts got longer).

Now I’m a bit older, I’ve discovered how classical music is fantastic. They say Mozart is helpful for children, well it can work for adults too. Film music is even more helpful. When I wrote In the Shadows of the Gods I found the music for Lord of the Rings and Gladiator to be good as they place you there. The 3-CD boxset of Classic FM at the Movies is another. Writing science fiction? Try Star Wars or Tron. Today I’ve listened to the soundtrack to Wings of Desire before the Brit Awards came on. Sometimes composers from the countries you write about can be useful: Tchaikovsky for Russia, Beethoven for Germany, Grieg for Norway, etc.

Anyway, Happy Pancake Day! Tune in tomorrow for an example of how I (try to) cook pancakes.


Brits Abroad

This morning I did the whole setting up of my computer for the writing day: 1) Check Facebook, 2) Check e-mails, 3) Check Twitter (not many tweets to catch up on) Then I got on with today’s Five Hundred (not to be confused with the film/graphic novel 300). I’ve found keeping Twitter open while writing can be both a good and a bad thing. It’s good because I can keep an eye on what’s going on in the world but it’s bad as I’m switching between windows when I should be getting on with my work. Still I managed to double yesterday’s output and got 1266 words out. Not bad for a morning’s work.

One of the stories that appeared on the Twittervine was about two British boxers getting arrested and being detained for having a scrap. Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t what boxers are paid to do? Earn their daily bread by punching other boxers? What’s next – artists being done for vandalising a perfectly good canvas? Demolition firms getting into trouble for destroying property? Librarians accused of extorition when they charge fines?

Oh. They weren’t actually having a match. It was an actual scrap…


Twuddite

On Tuesday I finally succumbed to curiosity (with just a pinch of peer pressure) and decided to join Twitter. Before I really could not see the point of it. ‘What’s wrong with Facebook?’ I would ask. ‘I can do what I like there whereas Twitter is exposed to everyone.’ (I’ve since learned that this is not the case and you can make your tweets private). Occasionally I would have a look at what people had been putting on there and felt like I was reading computer code. What on Earth is this obsession with @ symbols? It’s bad enough seeing them outside of e-mail addresses, such as when people say ‘see you @ the pub’ when a good old-fashioned ‘at’ would do. Then there’s the #. I’ve now learned this is how you follow a discussion with like-minded people and add your own view such as ‘Recent Owners of Portsmouth Football Club #howtoripthebleedingheartoutofaproudcommunityanddropkickitwhileitstillbeats’

Anyway, I must say I’m finding it quite a useful tool for writing. It works very well with things like e-mail lists and Facebook groups for getting snippets of information fast. Today I followed what was happening at the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook Conference that I went to in June and learned a few useful things such as not sending work to another person in an agency that has rejected you (which I was actually thinking of doing – they do share work around so they say). Speaking of agents, I’ve still not had any offers so I’m gearing up for round two of postings. I do think, though, that perhaps electronic publishing could be the way forward. It’s certainly appealing to a lot of my friends, as we discussed at our group the other day…

This week has certainly been one for technology. On Wednesday I set up a wireless router for the first time ever and it seems to have gone alright so far. Everyone seems to be able to read this and I don’t think anyone’s hacked into it yet… Anyway, I’m going to try and finish Conqueror, the most recent book in Conn Iggulden’s series of brilliant novels about Genghis Khan and his family this weekend. Then I might start either Two Caravans (for a book club), Ten Days that Shook the World or Clan of the Cave Bear to have a break from technology. You wouldn’t think I was still in my twenties, would you?