Today I would like to welcome to the blog author Freda Lightfoot. Freda is currently on tour promoting her book The Queen and the Courtesan and has stopped by to chat. Before I give the floor over to Freda, lets get to know her a bit.
Born in Lancashire, Freda has been a teacher, bookseller and, in a mad moment, a smallholder on the freezing fells of the English Lake District where she attempted to live the ‘good life’. She has now given up her thermals to live in an olive grove in Spain, where she produces her own olive oil and sits in the sun. She began her writing career by publishing over 50 short stories and articles, and has published 39 novels including many bestselling family sagas and historical novels.
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Turning Historical Fact into Fiction
Sebastian Faulks has described himself as a novelist whose books happen to be set in the past. ‘For me,’ he said, ‘the use of historical settings is to cast the present in a more interesting and broader light.’ People are clearly more important to him than circumstantial detail. Some novels are so deeply researched they seem like non-fiction in disguise. In a romance too much information can kill the story dead by boring the reader. Even so, we must do our research and set the scene as accurately as we can. We can take some liberties, for the sake of the story, but if we veer too far from the facts as we know them, the reader may feel cheated and lose faith in the work. If a mistake crops up, an anachronism, this will jar the reader, and jerk them out of the story back to the present.
It’s wise to avoid controversy or anything doubtful which has a hint of being anachronistic. It hasn’t so much to be correct as to feel correct. E.g: Soldiers did play baseball in the American Civil War. I believe they also played in a Jane Austen novel too. But the reader may found that hard to accept.
Societies traditions, moral mores and customs help to build the picture, but this is where even the most fanatical historian can come unstuck. Many time periods, such as the Regency, have become so stylised that you may actually be considered to have written an historically inaccurate book if you do not follow the “popular perceptions” of the period. Presenting a realistic, complex view of Society during a specific era can be the thing that makes the difference between a passable yarn and a gripping story.
It’s surely about striking the right balance. The story is the most important thing, but it must be firmly rooted in its world. It must not simply be a costume drama. The past must be made as relevant as the present. The problems are the same, human emotion, conflict and behaviour. Falling in love and losing that love are just as painful. Bernard Cornwell said: ‘Essentially the background has to be right because it’s the detail of the background that pins down the fiction in the foreground.’
The Queen and the Courtesan is what might be called biographical fiction, in that I have fictionalised the facts. Henriette d’Entragues was a fascinating character to write as her greed and ambition didn’t make her particularly likeable, so she was in a way an anti-heroine, if there is such a thing. I wanted the reader to disapprove of her, but not so badly that they switched off and closed the book. And she had to be a person true to her time yet appeal to the modern reader. Quite a challenge. I think the hardest part of writing historical fiction based on fact, is that you can’t simply let your imagination run loose. I usually write character-driven relationship sagas but with this trilogy I had to search out every detail. It was almost like being a detective, finding out what these people were really like, the intrigues they were involved in, and what their motivation was. Fascinating, but scary too at times as I needed to read widely to gain every viewpoint before I could write with any confidence.
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