Hilary Mantel’s thoughts on historical fiction chime with mine. All my novels have been set in the 1920s. It is a decade that fascinates me for all sorts of different reasons, not least because the political and social upheaval in Britain of that time is paralleled by what we are experiencing today. And that is important to recognise because events happened to real people then every bit as much as they are happening to real people now. We label things of the past as history but the lives of the past shouldn’t be so easily dismissed.
I was gratified to hear similar sentiments expressed by the historical novelist Dame Hilary Mantel in the recent BBC Reith Lectures. In the series of 5 radio broadcasts the author of Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies explores how a writer combines facts with imagination and she said something in the first programme that struck me as an echo of my own thoughts:
“My concern as a writer is with memory, personal and collective: with the restless dead asserting their claims.”
You can listen to the series, download podcasts and transcripts, or read background material and further resources to explore: 2017 BBC Reith Lectures
The oral & written testimony of past lives forms the cornerstone of my research. Which, in turn, informs everything I write. I have explored the sources and influences in the pieces curated under the research category of this website where you can read more of my thoughts on bringing historical fiction to life. There is an entire section devoted to oral history. A selection on specific topics to whet your appetite: