Books Historical fiction History Writing

Link salad

Linky post! Because I’m a bit headachey again.

  • Women studying anatomy, circa 1905, via Twitter, as usual; I’m definitely going to be using this as a reference for Killingly.
  • This dog has been appearing at Greek demonstrations for the last two years. He has to belong to a protester — he is wearing a collar. But it’s awfully easy to think of him as some little god of protest — Eris as a mutt?
  • And speaking of little gods, do read Sarah Johnson’s long interview with Guy Gavriel Kay, in which they discuss, among other things, writing historical fiction that treats the culture’s religion as real rather than symbolic (something I’m also interested in, of course).
  • See also David Mitchell’s essay in the Telegraph about historical fiction. Tonally, this feels a little weird to me; it’s very cheery and flip. Mitchell has just published a historical novel, though apparently not on purpose, as he explains: “I didn’t set out to write a historical novel just for the heck of it – you’d have to be mad.” (You would? Also, who ever writes a novel “just for the heck of it?”) The breezy tour through the history of historical fiction also rang a bit false for me at times, though that’s partly because I love nothing better than nitpicking at other people’s generalizations about eighteenth-century literature. I also find his suggestion about “Bygonese” both accurate and, again, a little tonally weird; as with the whole piece, it’s written in a manner that suggests it’s more original than it is, especially since Mitchell then suggests a set of features common to historical-fiction dialogue (“Commonly, shall is used more often than will …”) and lists errors to avoid (using ahistorical vocabulary: “such as brinkmanship: duh, it’s a Cold War term.” As Omar would say: indeed). I’d love to see Mitchell write a piece about historical fiction intended for historical fiction writers and readers rather than a general newspaper audience.


  1. I agree about the flip tone and that some of his ideas were the same old things hashed over by other writers in newspaper pieces on the subject. (Similarly, at least once a year, there’s an article in the student newspaper here with the earth-shaking revelation that the library buys new books. Again, indeed! But in some ways these pieces are necessary, to remind general audiences of things that people in the field already know.) I appreciated his respect for the genre and his willingness to read what other writers have previously done; judging by Thousand Autumns, he seems to have mastered the form very well indeed. It’s excellent. Thanks for linking my GGK interview, too!

  2. Sarah, I’m really glad to know that you liked Thousand Autumns — I definitely want to read it!

    And yeah, I absolutely agree that “introductory” essays aimed at audiences unfamiliar with historical fiction are a good thing. I have a bad habit of nitpicking general-audience pieces on topics close to my heart!

    I’m thinking about making a longer post on his notion of “bygonese” — I’d love to hear what other historical fiction writers think about dialogue styles.

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