Speaker proposals are being accepted for the 4th North American Historical Novel Society conference, taking place in San Diego on June 17-19, 2011. The proposal deadline is September 30th, and registration will open in November. Author guests of honor will be Cecelia Holland and Harry Turtledove.
There have been a couple of relevant pieces in the British press in the past few days. In The Independent, Saul David writes about historians - others such as himself - who have turned to writing historical fiction. He cites Alison Weir as the first successful author of this type, with her 2006 novel Innocent Traitor. Her book may have made the biggest splash, but I'm curious if there are earlier examples. Carolly Erickson is one; her Hidden Diary of Marie Antoinette is from '05, though the article takes a British viewpoint, and Erickson's novel wasn't published overseas.
Regarding this statement from the essay: "This, perhaps, is the main reason why books by historians-turned-novelists are selling so well. Many readers of historical fiction like to be entertained and educated, and the only authors they can entirely trust to do both are historians."
As a reader, I wouldn't say the last part is true at all; perhaps that's wishful thinking on his part? While historians can offer readers a sense of authority, the proof is in the actual writing, not an academic degree or other credential, and some of the novelists whose word I trust the most are not professional historians. Aside from this one questionable remark, the essay has a good take on its subject, especially for insights on how the writing process differs for history and fiction - and the pitfalls that historians can potentially fall into when crafting their storylines.
In today's Financial Times, A.N. Wilson looks at why historical fiction is so popular with readers, analyzing Wolf Hall , mostly, and some more recent examples of Tudormania. James Forrester's Sacred Treason and Peter Walker's The Courier's Tale (both UK) are also recommended... and the article gets into a history-vs-fiction discussion similar to the Independent piece. I did like this comment:
"The fantasist who uses history is perhaps distorting truth. But so is the scholar who thinks that the men and women of the past can be recreated by learning alone, without the alchemy of empathy. In any case, the historical purist who eschews fiction and only wants to read 'proper history' is possibly under the delusion that such a thing as objective historical analysis exists."
The concluding essay on the page is by James Forrester (aka historian Dr Ian Mortimer), on the difficult transition from history to fiction, and the different types of "truth" that can be revealed by each.
Lastly, the Wall Street Journal's latest "Dear Book Lover" column looks at historical novels set in Africa... well, a few of them, anyway. There are some nonfiction recommendations, too.
This weekend I'm curling up with Daphne Kalotay's Russian Winter, one of my BEA finds. Review forthcoming in a few weeks.