What are your reasons for reading historical fiction?
Of course, there are lots of reasons. If you enjoy historical fiction, or anything else, you can’t always say why. If you try to do so, it can spoil your fun. You can overanalyse things. One reason could be just a love of history. Another could be a fascination with a particular character. Then you might enjoy trying to separate the facts from the fiction. But I would like to suggest another pleasure might be that it’s a way to get away from cliches.
Why do you find cliches less prevalent in historical fiction than elsewhere?
When writing historical fiction, I have to be careful to avoid words and phrases that are, or seem, anachronistic. Most cliches I come across have been created in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Journalism and television have contributed a lot. This could be due to laziness by the writers and presenters, or it could be because they believe, rightly or wrongly, that cliches make things easier for the public to relate to. Their very familiarity has earned them a certain acceptability. People like what they know.
How do I cope with creating cliche-free historical fiction?
I enjoy the challenge of finding ways to express myself that do not sound too modern. (On the other hand, I also try to avoid sounding too old-fashioned. I want the narrative to flow easily.) This means I have to think what it is that I am trying to say and either use plain words or find metaphors and similies that have not been overworked. Some could even be original. Whether I succeed or not is for you to judge. I would welcome your feedback. Start with Highwaypersons, Debts and Duties, or wait for the sequel, The King’s Justice.
Over the last couple of months, I have seen a lot of programmes about history on TV, especially BBC4. Some were disappointing, but I found many worth watching. You may have seen my comments on the one about the Armada, but I wish they would give the Tudors a rest.
A series I found fascinating was Fit to Rule which Lucy Worsley presented. It looked at the health issues of most of our monarchs from Henry VIII to the Twentieth Century.
Did I not know many monarchs had health issues?
Henry’s problems of obtaining a male heir are well-known, but I did not know Charles I wore surgical boots. Perhaps that fact, along with his small stature, may have made him oversensitive to criticism and particularly precious about his divine right. Similarly, William III’s asthma may explain why he withdrew from much of the social life of the Court and why he appeared distant.
Of course, there were several occasions when the monarch’s inability to reproduce led to a succession crisis : Mary I, Elizabeth I, Charles II, Anne. I would like to think that people would have handled Queen Victoria’s inability to recover from the death of Albert differently today.
Does the monarch’s health have to matter that much?
Yes! At least, it does when the succession is hereditary and when the monarch has serious political power. You might say this was an argument for a constitutional monarchy or a republic. Or perhaps a system where fitness to rule was a factor in the succession. If Parliament could exclude Roman Catholics, could it not exclude people who showed an inability to rule for other reasons? George IV comes to mind.
We are fortunate to live in a time when such issues are less critical than they were. In any case, we have a Queen who is eminently fit to rule in every sense. (Call me a creep if you like, but compare her with any of her predecessors.)