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Guest Blog: Why Write Historical Fiction?, Donna Lea Simpson


9781402217913Do you recall, like I do, all those kids in school who found history boring and flunked it time and time again? It probably still happens. Maybe that’s the fault of the school system. Memorizing dates, learning the fascinating inner workings of parliament (heavy sarcasm), or, for the Canadian school kid, the Family Compact was all about: those topics are enough to make any kid’s eyes glaze over. 

So, how did some of us come out of school interested in history? Particularly, for me, English history? 

One word: fiction.  

There you have it, another good reason to encourage kids to read novels. Fiction did it for me, particularly Jane Austen, and the fascinating glimpse into the past I got while reading her books. When I read Pride & Prejudice for the first time, along with adoring Jane’s lovely prose, I felt like those people in the novel lived and breathed, and it gave me a sense of her time. No, she did not include specific events, or write about issues, but the aura of the era, so to speak,oozed from the pages. 

So I took some college courses, English fiction courses, yes, but straight history too, and I read more authors: Maria Edgeworth, George Eliot, the Bronte sisters, Sir Walter Scott, and many others. I took a German culture course and read Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther. Each new book gave me more of what I crave; that window to the past, a little slice of a life lived in an era that felt, to me, bigger, more romantic, wilder, with more possibilities. It seemed that the very lack of knowledge of the world was a boon to people then, because they had more to explore, more to imagine. 

Then, in my quest for more reading material, I found Regency romances, and in the hands of the most skillful of modern writers, (Mary Balogh, Jo Beverley) I found that world again, the lovely imaginative history. And from there, I decided I could write it. Writing historical fiction entails research, and so I’m googling history and searching the library, working everything I learn into the fine fabric of historical romance-mystery. My own little slice of heaven.  

Lady Anne and the Howl in the Dark (April 2009 – Sourcebooks Casablanca) took me down so many fascinating historical roads… I learned about the abolition movement in Georgian England (the Lady Anne series is set in 1786 during the rein of George III), and about the dreadful events on the Zong slave ship. Sometimes historical research is not only fascinating but deeply troubling or moving. Lady Anne and the Ghost’s Revenge (August 2009 – Sourcebooks Casablanca) allowed me to research the fascinating but dangerous world of smuggling in Cornwall, and Lady Anne and the Gypsy Curse (November 2009 – Sourcebooks Casablanca) took me to Kent in England, where I learned about how gypsies were often the object of scorn and mistreatment, but in Georgian times they were actually a vital part of the local economy! I love passing on what I learn, weaving it into the plot and using the facts to support the fiction.  

So, I urge you all, you mothers and fathers (and grandparents and aunts and uncles)… don’t solely focus on math skills and science courses. Encourage your kids to read for pleasure! Introduce them to Jane Austen and Sir Walter Scott. Who knows, they may turn out to be writers of historical fiction, and we all know the world needs more historical fiction! 


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