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History versus historical fiction

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The other day I came across an opinion. That historians can’t write historical fiction. And historical fiction writers can’t write history non-fiction.

I was deeply disturbed by this, as at the moment, that’s exactly what I’m doing.

If you write historical fiction, surely you’re doing historical research. So surely you’re a historian too. Granted you might not be an academic historian, but an amateur one. And if you write historical fiction surely you love history – why else would you write historical fiction?

Basically the person was saying that historians haven’t got a creative mind. That they find it too difficult to separate the non-fiction history from creating a fictional story. However I believe that they have a unique place in the creation of historical fiction. One. They have read so much of the history of their period including small anecdotal stories of the histories of real people who would be fascinating if it were turned into historical fiction. Two. They’ve done all their research already, and Three, historians are used to researching and they’re used to writing. They’re used to using language to formulate ideas. These arguments can basically be turned and work for historical fiction authors writing non-fiction.

historical fiction

As you can tell I completely disagree with that opinion – I have to – I’m doing it. The opinion is invalid in my opinion. Moreover, historians probably do like to read historical fiction – I do. And while I’m not an academic historian, I do have a degree in it and I am working on a non-fiction project at the moment.

What’s more, this argument fails further when turned to other genres. Crime, for instance, a lot of crime/thriller authors have a background in the police, pathology, or forensics. Tess Gerritsen for instance left a successful medical practice to write full-time, and David Baldacci draws on his legal experience when he worked as a corporate lawyer.

I simply don’t see how the argument was valid. And I was disappointed that someone can have such a closed mind and disregard people’s hopes of practising both sides of history. People are capable of more.

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