Writing Historical Fiction
By Terry Spear
I love writing historical romances and when I first started out, I didn’t really know how to write a romance, though I thoroughly researched the historical part of a Western novel. But because so much of my family came from the Highland clans with their own sordid past, ties to nobility, romance, and tragedy, I love to write about the earlier time.
When I submitted one of my earlier works to an e-publisher, the senior editor said if anyone read my book who knew anything about history the reader would throw my book against the wall. Why? Because I’d made up the peerage.
Heartbroken, I took my lousy made up historical fiction novels and attempted to turn them into fantasies. I love fantasies too, but turning a historical fiction into fantasy didn’t work either.
So I started a new book, because by then I had learned that the e-publisher was wrong. Tons of books are published with the big NY publishers that have “fake” peerage titles. And tons more have made up castles. How about Ever After, A Cinderella Story? Sure, it’s fictional, but guess what? Henry, the crown prince of France that Cinderella, Danielle de Barbarak, was to have married, was not a fictional character. And Miss Cinderella was not his real wife. In actuality, Henry de Bourbon-Navarre, the son of Antoine de Bourbon, Duke de Vendôme, and Jeanne d'Albret, queen of Navarre, lived with his second cousins for seven years, and one of these was Margaret, who would become his wife. Since the reigning king at the time, Henry II, had four sons, it looked like Henry de Bourbon-Navarre would never be king. But changes came about and he did indeed become king. With wife, Margaret, not Danielle de Barbarak. Even with William Shakespeare’s MacBeth, some have concluded the story is more about James the Sixth of Scotland who became James the First of England in 1603, rather than so much about MacBeth.
I love to write about real history, do primary research as much as possible, in that I find comments from people who lived back in the real characters’ time who described them or well-known documented facts about these individuals, then incorporate them into the story.
It grounds the story, lends authenticity. Yet, mannerisms, dialogue, actions that are not documented, would have to be creatively made up.
So it is in my new book, WINNING THE HIGHLANDER’S HEART. It’s set in the time of King Henry I’s rule, and the description of King Henry I was given by an actual courtier of his time period. He also had the most illegitimate children of any English king and I used this as the motivation for Lady Anice to wish to escape from his grasp and return to her own castle. I found information on the half-Saxon, half-Scottish princess Henry married, who’d been taken into her aunt’s abbey to keep her from being soiled by the Normans, but she’d cast off her veils and her aunt beat her for it. Plus, the political maneuvering between King Henry I and his older brother, who by right of succession should have taken the throne, was also introduced in the story. I loved showing how the English tied their lines into the Saxon and Scottish royal lines to attempt to keep their power, yet scoffed at the Scottish for their heathen ways and this theme is shown throughout. And every castle they stayed at on their journey home and the lords who owned them were real people. Even the one who was King William’s second choice for his niece’s husband after he killed her first choice when he plotted against him, was refused by his niece. The reason was recorded in history and I included this. And one of the lords they meet on the road who led Henry’s troops against his brother is also introduced. So adding factual history adds realism and can make it a more satisfactory read.
But with the main characters and the main villains, they are purely fictional.
However, when writing historicals, do the research and try to make the period as accurate as possible. One contest judge told me that only dukes were called His Grace. Not so. During Henry I’s time, the king was called His Grace. So even though it’s the truth, if readers normally read a different period of time, they can think your research is incorrect.
I’ve heard authors complain that they researched and found that in some cases, for instance, glass windows were used, but it was rare. Things like this will most likely be pounced on. Glass wasn’t used. Jeez, in the last fourteen books I read for that time period, no one used glass! But heck, maybe in one lord’s house in London, maybe he had glass windows. So if it’s a real rarity, I’d make mention that it was, or leave it out.
Cats were often thought of as bad news, yet one countess carried her cat with her from household to household. The reason this was known was that in her accounts, money was spent in feeding and caring for the cat. But this was extremely unusual.
When writing historical romances, the author must decide what to make real and what is purely the author’s imagination. But I enjoyed writing a period piece that has as many real characters as I could, then made up the fictional hero and heroine’s story to coincide with this.
So if anyone tells you that your book should be slammed against a wall because something wasn’t historically accurate, tell ‘em it’s historical fiction. And smile.
Winning the Highlander’s Heart, 5 Beacon Review, Lighthouse Literary Reviews, 5 Angels Fallen Angel Reviews, 4.5 Romance Junkies. “This novel was stunning in its suspenseful complexity and a brilliant romance was crafted by a deft imagination. Set in my favorite period of English history, she weaves documented historical fact with lush, captivating fiction. Her Highlander men are breathtaking and brave. The heroine is delightfully strong willed and oft times cheeky. Together it makes for quite an adventurous and sensual read.” Charissa
Reviewer for Coffee Time Romance
“Intrigue, political maneuvering, and engaging characters results in an entertaining story that will keep the reader turning the pages. A great read!” Shelley Munro, The Second Seduction
“I fell in love with the noble, sexy Highland hero who has a wonderful sense of humor and a caring heart. The saucy heroine is a challenge for him, yet his perfect match. I highly recommend this book, brimming in rich historical details, set in vivid locations, and peopled with true -to-life, lovable characters.” Vonda Ogle, My Fierce Highlander, 1st Place, Reveal Your Inner Vixen Contest
Copyright, July 2006