In which therein you will encounter a writing update, talk of historical novels and study

One year of MA down. Summer semester over and a new one just begun, to quote from the classics. It was more gruelling than expected. Perhaps because summer kinda felt like it should have been holiday time and I was slaving over discussion threads and readings and deadlines (as well as some work and life). But it got me closer to the destination and took off some of the pressure for the rest of the year, with one subject now in this first semester and another in second semester. Slow and steady, yah da yah da.

I also achieved a minor milestone of submitting something to one of those *important* journals. It will take a while to find out though. Fingers are, of course, crossed for acceptance, but just submitting felt like I’ve overcome a self-imposed hyper-self critical barrier. Yay me. It’s all a mind game, confidence trick. But I’ve read those journals, and more and more am thinking, yep, my work could fit here. Maybe. We’ll see.


Summer classes were interesting with much debate over historical fiction and how some read it for authenticity and history while I read for the story. My basic argument is some writers (like Kate Grenville of late), like to promote the historical aspects of their novel over the invented stuff in it. For me that’s problematic – a novel is not fact. A novel is not required to answer to peer review processes or to consider and weigh evidence at all or objectively, or even to adjust its narrative in the light of new findings in the same way a historian’s work should. And while I understand much of history is about telling a story, the important bit about the novel should surely be the story, while the important bits about history should be that whatever ‘facts’ are presented have been checked and as far as possible, validated. If a history text is not a great read that’s too bad, but it’s death to a story if a novel doesn’t read well.  What I’m interested in, as a writer, but also as a reader and a listener to other writers, is not where their facts are from, since anyone can find facts these days, but how, as writers, they shaped the facts, how the story negotiated the historical landscape and how creativity was deployed to filling in the gaps. All of which is not history work, but writing work. I want Grenville and others like her to speak about their imagineering rather than their ‘real’ sources or historical relevance. I want them to be brave, it’s ok, they are novel writers.

A short list of Historical Novels/Stories.

  • Wolf Hall – good Tudory fun from a different perspective. A sequel is in the works. Yay!
  • Name of the Rose – but pretty much everything by Umberto Eco is worthwhile.
  • An Imaginary Life – David Malouf – the story of Ovid is more imaginative than historical but always moving.
  • Fly Away Peter – David Malouf – more brilliance.
  • The Snow Goose – Paul Gallico. A classic novella.
  • The Reader – I picked the big secret, but whoa. Haven’t seen the film.
  • Anything by Borges, he ‘uses’ history just so well.
  • Jane Eyre is a historical novel because Bronte set it in the past relative to her time. The book is so much more complex than any movie version.
  • All the usual Shakespeare plays.

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