Historical Accuracy

There’s always such a lot of discussion on accuracy in historical novels. Readers will always find fault with some aspect even for respected best-selling authors. I recently listened to a very amusing talk by a well-known crime writer on letters he had received, calling him to account for what the reader perceived as wrong or offering to help him get it right next time. And yet, cinema-goers rarely display the same critical level of awareness about film. I’m thinking of Braveheart and U-571 which do their best to rewrite history. Surely a film reaches more people than most books and how many people go away with false information from a film thinking it’s true? They tend to criticize continuity errors more than the accuracy of the subject matter, it seems to me.

I recently read a book, Villa Mimosa, which I got free. I read it as a lighthearted spoof about the war in 1944 in the Pas De Calais. I doubt that anyone would consider it bearing any relation to the truth and yes there may have been historical inaccuracies, even faults with the French language but I enjoyed reading it as entertainment. It was

Villa Mimosa by [Tickell, Jerrard]

well-written, had good characters and made me smile.  You can read my review on Amazon.

I beat myself up about getting historical facts wrong but it is bound to happen. We novelists do not purport to be non-fiction writers and research historians. We aim to tell a story set in a particular time, bringing a flavour of the times to the book without overpowering the reader with a long list of facts. The story and the characters are what drives the book. If it makes the reader think and draw comparisons, so much the better.

I would be interested to hear your thoughts.

 

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About Rosemary Noble

Writer, author, amateur historian and traveller
This entry was posted in Book Review. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Historical Accuracy

  1. jessiecahalin says:

    The narrative and empathy for the characters are essential. William, in Ranter’s Wharf, educated me about the historical period, and the realism was skilfully woven into the novel. I drank in the historical details, but the narrative and characters made me travel back in time.

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  2. Angela Petch says:

    As a fellow historical novelist (why do I always want to write hysterical novelist??) I get your dilemma. There are always going to be pedants but, if we have set out to place our story in a specific period, we need to be accurate about the important historical details. Somebody will argue what important means, but for example, if the scene is a battle field, we need the essentials of the date, location, correct title of battalion, whatever. The fiction we describe within that scene is fiction – the imagined feelings of the characters etc. if we have invented the characters. You are right that we do not claim to be writing documents/records, like authors of text books and I’m sure we insert disclaimers at the front of our books. The bigger problem for me is how not to bog down the plot with too many facts and pull the story out of shape if we are writing about a known period of history. I don’t feel this happens in your books, Rosemary.

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