Tall tales from history: Are historians best placed to write historical fiction?





Historians turning their hands to fiction are all the rage. Since Alison Weir led the way in 2006, an ever-growing number of established non-fiction writers – Giles Milton, Simon Sebag Montefiore, Harry Sidebottom, Patrick Bishop, Ian Mortimer and myself included – have written historical novels.

So successful has been the experiment, with many of the books making the bestseller lists, that earlier this year Penguin bought two novels from Kate Williams, one of our finest young historians, for the staggering sum of £1m.

If not nearly as lucrative, my own contract with Hodder in 2007 was still quite a leap of faith. On the strength of a four-page proposal and no sample chapters (let alone a finished manuscript), I agreed to write a trilogy of books about an Anglo-African soldier called George Hart who fights in the wars of the late Victorian period. My only previous stab at fiction was in the late 1990s when my then agent, having read the first two chapters, told me not to give up the day job.

So what was different now and why was my editor at Hodder prepared to take the risk? A key factor was the runaway success of Alison Weir's debut historical novel, Innocent Traitor, about the brief 16th Century reign of Lady Jane Grey....



comments powered by Disqus

Subscribe to our mailing list