Top tips on writing historical fiction from 64 successful historical novelists

by Andrew Noakes

When you’re embarking on a new journey, there’s no greater asset than those who have walked the same path before you. Listening to those who have experienced the same worries and doubts, faced the same challenges, navigated the same tricky questions, and ultimately made a success of it is probably the single most valuable thing you can do.

So it is with writing. Listening to authors who have made a success of their writing is vital if you want to succeed yourself. It isn’t always easy to locate their advice, of course. Many authors are great at giving interviews, going to events, and responding to questions, but that requires you to do a lot of legwork to compile the information you need.

That’s why we’ve created this comprehensive guide, curated exclusively for historical fiction writers looking for advice on the craft from those who know best. We contacted each of these 64 historical fiction authors directly and asked them to respond to one simple question:

What is your top tip for writing historical fiction?

Below, you’ll find their answers. You can use the navigation menus to skip to your favourite authors or investigate particular themes that interest you, but the guide is also in a logical order if you want to read from top to bottom.

The featured authors have a diverse range of backgrounds and experiences, and we’ve deliberately chosen authors who are at various stages of their publishing careers. If you’re just starting out, landing a publishing deal or writing a well-received debut novel will likely feel like a more immediately attainable idea of success than, say, selling millions of books or becoming a household name, though you may well aspire to that kind of success one day. This article contains authors at both ends of the spectrum – and everything in between.

Top tips on writing historical fiction from 64 successful historical novelists…

Conceptualising your story

To write a story that’s cohesive and compelling, you must begin with an understanding of what it’s about. Ruadh Butler has some great advice on how to distil the essence of a story idea.

Ruadh Butler

Try to figure out what your story is really about. A single sentence will do it. An old trick is to imagine a guy dashing into a pub to report to his friends about an amazing match he just saw. He wouldn’t start by saying, “It was drizzling and Ireland’s starting outhalf was missing and the pitch was a bit patchy in Tokyo,” followed by a blow-by-blow account. He’d open up with the definitive moment of the match. “Oh my God, lads, you should’ve seen it. It’s the last minute and Carbery chip-kicked to Stockdale. He regathers in the air and gets it down. Ireland win the World Cup.” The sentence you write should inform both the start and the end of your story.

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Ruadh Butler is a writer of historical fiction from Tyrone in Northern Ireland. His first novel, Swordland, based on the little known events of the Norman invasion of Ireland in 1169, was published by Accent Press in February 2016 and has been followed by Lord of the Sea Castle in 2017 and The Earl Strongbow in 2018. Visit his website here.

Choosing your era

If commercial success is your goal, it doesn’t hurt to be strategic. Douglas Jackson recommends picking your era with care.

Douglas Jackson

‘Events, dear boy, events’, as Harold McMillan may or may not have once said. In an increasingly crowded historical fiction market it’s important to choose your era with care. If you’re going to be published it must be unique enough to stand out from the crowd, but commercial enough to attract sufficient potential readers’ attention. It also helps to have lots of things happening during your main character’s lifespan so you can offer a publisher not just one or two books, but potentially five or six. George McDonald Fraser’s Flashman series and Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin novels are a perfect example.

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Douglas Jackson is the author of the successful historical novels Caligula and Claudius, among many others. His stories focus mostly on the Roman era, though he has recently embarked on a new series set during World War Two. Visit his Amazon UK author page here and his Amazon US author page here.

Research

E.M. Powell reminds us of the importance of research in historical fiction. Sarah Sundin, Janet MacLeod Trotter, and Kaia Alderson offer some practical advice on how to go about it, while Beverly Jenkins advises us to draw from unexplored voices and viewpoints.

E.M. Powell

I know there are historical fiction writers who are happy to set off and see where their writing takes them. That approach brings me out in hives. I’m a diehard ‘research first, plot second’ writer. Yes, doing all the research first is a lot of work and puts zero words on the page. But it can yield all sorts of nuggets for plot ideas as well as great characters. I also can’t imagine writing a whole novel—and then finding out the premise collapses because of something I discover in the research. I’m just not brave enough!

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E.M. Powell’s historical thriller Fifth Knight novels have been #1 Amazon and Bild bestsellers. Her new Stanton & Barling medieval murder mystery series starts with THE KING’S JUSTICE, which was released on June 1 2018. Visit her website here.

Sarah Sundin

Create a system to document and organize your research material so you can find it quickly. Keep a numbered bibliography, entering every book, website, video, interview, and correspondence. Document the information you find, whether by handwritten notes, downloading, printing, or clipping information to online programs—keying the information to your bibliography. Divide your material into research topics, from setting to fashion to transportation. Organize your material in a “binder”—an old-school physical binder (with divider tabs for each topic) or a program like Scrivener or Evernote (with notebooks for each topic)—or both. Your future self will thank you!

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Sarah Sundin is a bestselling author of World War II novels. The Sea Before Us received the 2019 FHL Reader’s Choice Award, and When Tides Turn and Through Waters Deep were named to Booklist’s “101 Best Romance Novels of the Last 10 Years.” Visit her website here.

Janet MacLeod Trotter

The Resources of Empire: Businessmen’s survey of the Empire’s resources (Federation of British Industries, 1924). This was one of the many gems discovered in the Lit & Phil Library in Newcastle which prompted me to start researching the tea industry in India – and turned into a series of four books! My tip is to find a good library – one that is full of biographies, bygone travel, gazettes, eye-witness accounts etc. so that you can immerse yourself in the chosen period. Live it, smell it, see it through the eyes of those who were there. My story ideas emerge out of my reading.

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Janet MacLeod Trotter has had 24 books published, 19 of them historical family dramas. Her INDIA TEA SERIES, set in Britain and India, has proved hugely popular. THE TEA PLANTER’S DAUGHTER (the first in the series) was nominated for the RNA Romantic Novel of the Year and was an Amazon top ten best seller. Visit her website here.

Kaia Alderson

Make a timeline of real life events for the time period you’re targeting, and then another one for the events that happen in your story. Combine the two into one big timeline you can refer to while you write. (I put the real life stuff in italics.) That way you don’t, say, have your characters talking about the movie Casablanca two months before its world premiere. (Yes, I did that and caught it in time. Whew!)

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Kaia is a comedy and fiction writer based out of coastal Georgia. Her historical novel Soldier Girls, which tells the story of the only female African American military unit sent overseas during World War Two, will be published by William Morrow in fall 2020. Visit her website here.  

Beverly Jenkins

As an African American female writer of historical fiction, I make a point to research sources that aren’t considered mainstream. History is written by the conquerors, but some of the most intriguing and enlightening material can be found via the unexplored voices and viewpoints of the so called conquered. My advice? Widen your research net. Don’t limit yourself to what you’ve been taught as the truth; truth comes in many forms. Dig deeper.

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Since the publication of Night Song in 1994, Beverly Jenkins has been leading the charge for multicultural romance and has been a constant darling of reviewers, fans, and her peers alike. She is the recipient of the 2017 Romance Writers of America Nora Roberts Lifetime Achievement Award. Visit her website here.

If you’re just starting out with your research and planning, outlining can be a great way of translating your ideas into a cohesive plan for your novel. Check out The History Quill’s novel outline template, designed exclusively for historical fiction writers, below.

Novel outline template

Your template will help you to…

Turn your ideas into a structured story

Build a rich and historically authentic setting

Create complex and engaging characters

Reading

Reading widely is also vital, both with respect to research and in order to develop your craft. Angus Donald, Mary Anne Yarde, and Sinmisola Ogunyinka all mention this in their advice, as well as other useful tips.

Angus Donald

Firstly, read a lot. I mean a lot – several books a week. You must know how books work to make them properly. Read history, any period; it will give you a truer sense of the past. Read other people’s fiction, see how they do it, see how you can improve on their efforts. Read elegant prose: it will improve your own. Secondly, be entertaining – you may inform and educate but if you bore the reader, that book will never be picked up again. Research is sweat and toil, but when you’ve unearthed a nugget, resist the temptation to shoehorn it in just because you bled for it. Finally, edit. Writing is editing, they say. My first drafts are horrible: full of clichés, repetition, clunky dialogue. They only become remotely readable by going over them, again and again, tweaking, cutting and rewriting. There may be people who bash out exquisite prose on the first go, but I’m not one of them. I suspect nobody is.

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Angus Donald is the author of the bestselling Outlaw Chronicles, a series of eight books set in the 12th/13th centuries and featuring a gangster-ish Robin Hood. His new Holcroft Blood series stars an artillery officer who was the son of notorious 17th-century Crown Jewel thief Colonel Thomas Blood. The second book in the series – Blood’s Revolution – will be out in paperback on November 14 2019. Blood’s Campaign, book 3, will be out in hardback later that month. Visit his website here.

Mary Anne Yarde

I have several top tips for writing historical fiction. Read anything and everything you can get your hands on. Research until you know the era your book is set in inside out, and then, research some more. Write and write and write — the only way to get good at writing is to keep doing it. Lastly, believe in yourself. Writing Historical Fiction can sometimes feel like a unique brand of torture, but it can also be one of the most rewarding things you ever do.

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Mary Anne Yarde is the multi award-winning author of the international bestselling series — The Du Lac Chronicles. Born in Bath, England, Mary Anne Yarde grew up in the southwest of England, surrounded and influenced by centuries of history and mythology. Visit her website here.

Sinmisola Ogunyinka

My top tip for writing historical fiction: Decide the genre you want to write in, the era and then find and read at least three books in the same genre. Be deliberate about the books you choose. Go on Amazon, look at the bestseller ranks of the books and the reviews. I’d advise you pick at least one with 1-star reviews so you can find out for yourself what works and what doesn’t. This is a very important part of your research, and you’re also tapping into what other authors have researched on. When you’re reading, make notes of terms especially in the dialogue, and google these terms, find their meanings and their use. That’s my top tip. Second to this tip, find a good historical fiction editor to edit your book! Wish you all the best in your writing.

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Sinmisola ‘Sinmi’ Ogúnyinka is a romance and historical fiction author, wife, mother, movie producer, and talk-show host. She is also a graduated Craftsman student of the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers’ Guild, Colorado, USA, and founder of the Pleasant Writers’ Guild. Visit her website here.

The small details of history

Andrew Swanston, Philip K Allan, VL McBeath, and Margaret Skea all recommend conjuring the past by getting the small details right.

Andrew Swanston

The best historical fiction appears effortlessly to conjure up the time and place of the story.  It does this, most of all, by including as much detail as possible without cluttering up or distracting from the plot.  The style of a woman’s gown, what you could buy for a groat, how a musket worked – and a thousand equivalents in all periods.  These are what bring a story to life. Include it all.  You can always edit it later.

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Andrew Swanston read law at Cambridge but was inspired to write by his lifelong interest in early modern history. His Thomas Hill novels are set against the backdrops of the English Civil War, Cromwell’s Commonwealth and the early Restoration respectively. He now lives with his wife in Surrey. Visit his website here.

Philip K Allan

My top tip for writing historical fiction is to work hard on getting the period feel of the book right. Do this well, and you will draw your reader back in time. Fail, and your novel could be a just a modern tale in fancy dress.

Lots of elements contribute to this, from the way the characters speak, to their attitudes and cultural values. Even minor details that are unimportant to the plot can help, like the name of a popular entertainer, a reference to a song or social event.

My novels are set in the Royal Navy at the end of the 18th century, but I look beyond this, for example, to the novels of Austen, the letters of Byron or the cartoons of Gillray.

But still remember, that at the core of every successful book, is a rattling good yarn. Best of luck.

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Philip K Allan is the author of the Alexander Clay series of naval fiction. He has six novels published so far with a seventh due out in the autumn. He also writes for Naval History Magazine in the US and for Marine Quarterly in the UK. Visit his website here.

VL McBeath

Do your research! Historical fiction readers can be unforgiving if you get the basic facts wrong. Make sure you understand the period you are writing about and try to include references to real-life events to ground your story in the setting. You should also aim to enhance the authenticity of the book(s) by getting the small details right. It can make a big difference.

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VL McBeath is the publishing name of Val McBeath. She is the author of the Ambition and Destiny series set in Victorian England. Born and raised in Liverpool, Val now live in Cheshire with her husband, youngest daughter and cat. Visit her website here.

Margaret Skea

The key to writing authentic historical fiction, that provides a ‘you are there’ experience for the reader, is extensive and rigorous research. An author should immerse himself in every aspect of the period – for example, food, clothing, housing, modes of travel, religious belief and practice, politics and economics. Getting these details right matters, not only to paint a realistic background, but, perhaps more importantly, because they all impact on how a character will think and behave. It is a thorough grasp of both detail and mindset that enables an author to write as naturally about the past as about last week.

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Margaret is the author of the acclaimed Munro Scottish Saga series and Katharina: Deliverance, which was runner-up for the Historical Novel Society’s New Novel Award, 2018. Its sequel, Katharina: Fortitude, is now available to buy here. Visit Margaret’s website here.

Immersion

But how do you achieve the kind of immersion they recommend? Lots of the authors we contacted included tips on this in their advice, including Vanessa Riley, Deborah Swift, Sandra Perez Gluschankoff, Rory Clements, Margaret George, and Laura Morelli.

Vanessa Riley

My top tip is to look at the artwork from the period one is researching. There are clues hidden in every sketch and brush stroke. Societal conflicts, preferences, values, and secrets can be discovered and can lead an author to the hidden story—one that needs to be told.

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Vanessa Riley writes Regency and Historical Romances of dazzling multi-culture communities with powerful persons of colour. With a varied background including a PhD and MA in engineering from Stanford, her writing promises to give you laughs and to show you how light always prevails and how love always, always wins. Visit her website here.

Deborah Swift

1) Write about a period you have a real enthusiasm for. You will be spending a lot of time in that period so you must love it and find it fascinating. Enthusiasm projects off the page.

2) Find or invent a story that couldn’t have happened at any other time. That way the story and period are integral to each other.

3) Wherever possible, look closely at real objects, buildings, documents and detritus from the era, as this gives you a chance to literally stand where people like your characters stood.

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With a background in set and costume design for theatre and TV, Deborah writes about extraordinary characters set against the background of real historical events. Her book, The Lady’s Slipper was shortlisted for the Impress Prize. She currently lives in North Lancashire on the edge of the Lake District, where she both writes and teaches. Visit her website here.

Sandra Perez Gluschankoff

To write about a historical event, I must be connected to it somehow, either personally, or through a particular episode in history that calls me to become a part of it. Then, it’s all about inhabiting the time and the soul of the event. Research gives me the power to time travel and experience in mind and spirit what once was. Learn the language, cook the food, sing their songs! Writing goes beyond words on a page. It is living a story to the point that it becomes so personal that it needs to be left behind as a testament of an experience had.

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Sandra was born and raised in Argentina and immigrated to the United States a little over two decades ago. While her academic background in her birth country is in psychoanalysis, anthropology, Judaic studies, and Hebrew language, she is best known for her accomplishments in Spanglish as a best-selling, award winning historical novelist and award-winning screenwriter. Visit her website here.

Rory Clements

Read diaries and old newspapers voraciously. They will tell you what life was really like. The problem with history books and memoirs is that they are invariably written with the benefit of hindsight – and from a more modern perspective in which attitudes have changed out of all recognition.

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Rory Clements is the bestselling author of the John Shakespeare series of Tudor spy thrillers. His six acclaimed novels, Martyr, Revenger, Prince, Traitor, The Heretics and The Queen’s Man, follow Elizabeth’s Intelligencer, John Shakespeare, brother to the playwright William, through the dark underworld of Tudor England. Visit his website here.

Margaret George

You need to practice a form of self-hypnosis that blots out the present and convinces you that you are really there in the past era, propelled in a little time machine that sets you down in this alien land.  You construct this time machine by having artifacts from the era, music that evokes the era, and blocking all incoming sensory data from the ‘real world’ around you. Then for a moment you close your eyes and will yourself to be there. It helps to ask permission from the characters that you are writing about, asking them to help you understand them.

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Margaret George writes biographical novels about outsized historical characters including Henry VIII, Mary Queen of Scots, and Cleopatra. She is a multiple New York Times Bestselling author with her latest work, The Splendor Before the Dark, focusing on the Roman Emperor Nero Augustus. Visit her website here.

Laura Morelli

When I am starting a historical fiction project, I immerse myself in the primary sources. What words, expressions, language did people use at the time? What were they angry or passionate about? What rules did people break? What were their worries, their fears? After a while, I hear their voices begin to rise up through the centuries.

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Laura is the author of the Venetian artisans series, set in 16th century Venice. She holds a a Ph.D. in art history from Yale University and has written for many national publications, including USA Today and the New York Daily News. Visit her website here.

C.S. Quinn, Fred Lightfoot, Tony Riches, and Hogarth Brown all recommend visiting the places you’re writing about, if possible.

C.S. Quinn

Whenever you can, get out in the field to research. Walk the streets, touch the artefacts, stroke the pages of old books. There’s nothing more inspiring than physically putting yourself in location and you’ll be surprised by what comes to you. Wandering around historic places thinking of your characters is so much fun. Your job as a writer is to have an interesting life so take full advantage!

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C.S. Quinn is the pen name for the historical thrillers of Catherine Quinn, including the celebrated The Thief Taker and Fire Cather. Working in both journalism and fiction, her background in historic research won prestigious postgraduate funding from the British Art Council. She now lives in Devon with her beloved partner and two children. Visit her website here.

Freda Lightfoot

I’ve always loved writing historical fiction, and have written for many publishers as well as Amazon Lake Union. The important thing about writing historical fiction is to research thoroughly the period you wish to write about, and understand how people lived then. If possible try to visit the area, as I love to do, and make notes having visited their museums. I also spend time researching books I have, making notes to give me a sense of reality. I write about real or ordinary women living a difficult life in some interesting part of the world. I then edit carefully.

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Born in Lancashire, Freda Lightfoot has been a teacher and a bookseller, and in a mad moment even tried her hand at the ‘good life’. With her passion for history, she has published forty-five historical novels including many bestselling family sagas and historical fiction. Freda now spends her winters in Spain and the rainy summers in the UK. Visit her website here.

Tony Riches

My top tip is to visit the actual locations you intend to use. When I wrote about the young Henry VII in exile, I stood in the (now dangerous) remains of his tower in the remote Forteresse de Largoët in Brittany and breathed the damp forest air. I scrambled up the narrow path from the stony beach at Mill Bay, where Henry landed on his daring invasion to claim the throne of England.  I watched as a thousand armed re-enactors fought the Battle of Bosworth. However difficult and whatever the cost, this is the only way to develop an authentic sense of the world your characters inhabit.

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With a background in non-fiction books, Tony now focuses on writing historical fiction about the lives of key figures of medieval history. His Tudor Trilogy has become an international best-seller, and he is in regular demand as a guest speaker about the lives of the early Tudors. Tony currently lives in Pembrokeshire with his wife. Visit his website here.

Hogarth Brown

My top tip for writing historical fiction is to do one’s best to visit the locations one writes about. I visited all the Italian locations in my first two books in my Hermeporta series, and I’m currently touring America researching my third. I travel by foot, bus and rail as much as possible: this is the best way to collect stories from locals and gain a feel for locations, which helps add character and flavour to my writing to engage the reader. You never know when a useful story will reach your ears and inspire you.

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Hogarth is the author of the Hermeporta Series that follows Professor Winston Sloane on his quests through time, to collect the greatest minds that have ever lived and the significant others that pursue him there. Visit his Amazon UK page here.

If you’re looking for inspiration for your historical fiction research, check out The History Quill’s 50+ top online research resources for historical fiction writers below.

50+ top online research resources for historical fiction writers

Includes…

Online archives with thousands of primary sources

Image, video, and audio resources

Maps, language tools, and specialist blogs

Historical mindsets

Immersion is also about understanding and portraying the mindsets of historical characters, which can present numerous challenges. Andrew Taylor, Manda Scott, Annie Whitehead, Judith Arnopp, and M.K. Tod all touch on this issue in different ways.

Andrew Taylor

Writing historical fiction is not just about assembling facts: it’s also about trying to inhabit them emotionally and morally. One implication is the need to avoid hindsight. Done well, the results are fascinating for both readers and writers. The historical novelist should at least try to inhabit the psychological universe of his or her characters, to understand their moral, religious, political and social universe.  This is harder than it seems. There were plenty of decent people even fifty years ago whose beliefs about (for example) race, class, gender and sexuality are nowadays beyond the pale.

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Andrew Taylor is a British crime and historical novelist, winner of the CWA Cartier Diamond Dagger (for lifelong excellence in the genre) and the triple winner of the Historical Dagger. He has published over 45 books. Visit his website here.

Manda Scott

We are always told to write from what we know, and in terms of historical fiction, obviously it matters a great deal to understand the social and cultural details of our period. But more important still – in any era of historical publishing – is that while we can learn facts and can garner knowledge, we can’t manufacture wisdom. To put it more simply, we can never – ever – write beyond our current level of emotional intelligence.  Great writing comes out of emotional flexibility and the capacity to see multiple viewpoints. The more work we do on ourselves, the more we are able to fill in between the lines of history, which is where the real life lies. 

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Author, columnist, and screenwriter, Manda Scott has written fifteen novels and a number of short stories. Her first novel, Hen’s Teeth; was shortlisted for the Orange Prize, and Into the Fire was published in 2015 to widespread critical acclaim. When not writing, she teaches shamanic dreaming, practices regenerative farming, and works with the local Extinction Rebellion in an effort to mitigate the effects of the sixth mass extinction. Visit her website here.

Annie Whitehead

Research is key (not only what happened but how people lived, dressed, what they ate, etc) but my top tip is: keep in mind what your characters would know, and have them think within that frame of reference. Don’t let them talk about back-pedalling, or level playing-fields. Even seemingly innocuous words, such as ‘spotlight’, can jolt the reader out of the historical setting. Use (or invent!) era-appropriate alternatives and instead of looking back from today, drop yourself into the period and look out from it. Your characters can be unusual for their time, but keep them inhabitants of that time; the period feel will be the stronger for it.

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Annie Whitehead is an historian and author with a passion for all things Anglo-Saxon and Mercian in particular, which can be seen in her three novels, To Be A Queen, Alvar the Kingmaker, and Cometh the Hour. She is a member of the Royal Historical Society and a member of the Historical Writers Association. Visit her website here.

Judith Arnopp

Well-researched historical fiction is always a joy to read but it isn’t easy to write. For me, success hinges on point of view. Religious, political or a gendered perspective has a huge bearing on the finished novel. An author must choose the perspective they wish to write from and stick to it.

I write in the Tudor period, sometimes from the pov of the Catholic faith, sometimes Protestant.  England was in turmoil, ruled by an ungovernable king, and people died daily on the scaffold for their religious beliefs. The trick is to imagine the realities of an inconceivable world. 

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Judith’s writing concentrates on the transitional period of the Wars of the Roses and the Tudor court. She has written a number of historical novels, including her popular series The Beaufort Chronicles. Visit her website here.  

M.K. Tod

Ask readers what they love about historical fiction and they will highlight certain attributes: feeling immersed in time and place with a story that is authentic, educational, and leverages the dramatic arc of historical events. To do this, authors must be intimate with the historical period—politics, wars, weapons, customs, values, religion, transportation, language, tastes, smells, fashion, food, famous people—and yet use those details sparingly.  Their writing must embody the mindset of characters that lived long ago and yet appeal to modern day readers. They must select historical facts that best serve the story without turning it into a history lesson. Definitely a challenge.

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M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and shares thoughts and analysis of the genre at her award-winning blog A Writer of History.

Historical accuracy

Few issues in historical fiction are as contentious and challenging as the question of accuracy. Erin S Riley, Laura Landon, Alison Weir, Lizzie Page, Alice Poon, Anuja Chandramouli, and Danielle Wong all weigh in on this in their advice, among other topics.

Erin S. Riley

The advice “write what you know” is often given to budding writers, but this advice falls short for writers of historical fiction. We can (and should) completely immerse ourselves in the time period in which we’re interested, but even having done that, few of us can say we’re an expert or a scholar. I think the better advice is to write about a time period you’ve thoroughly researched, then fact-check like there’s no tomorrow before you publish. The most beautifully written novel will fall short if you’ve included historical inaccuracies that pull a reader right out of the story. Don’t be that author who writes about Vikings wearing horned helmets, who use a doorknob to open a door, then sit down to eat their dinner with a fork!

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Erin is the author of the popular Sons of Odin series of historical novels, set during the Viking age. Visit her website here

Laura Landon

In writing historical romance, a thorough knowledge of the ‘life and times’ is critical. Just because you want something to happen doesn’t mean your readers—who are very savvy about the era they love to read—will let you get away with it. As a writer you must be committed to research. Only then can you build a strong hero with believable flaws, and a heroine with a particular understanding she can draw upon to help her hero heal. As you build their backstories and nurture their new acquaintance, you must build a crisis possible in that period that will threaten their relationship, even while it ultimately bonds them for life.

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About Laura (in her own words): If you ever meet a senior citizen who says she’s living her dream, that’s me. I spent years of my life teaching music, running a Dairy Queen, and stocking a MiniMart. And then I discovered writing. That’s when I knew who I was truly meant to be. Now my books are sold all over the world, in four languages, and even in Japanese manga! Oh yes. Thanks to my dear readers I’m living my dream! Visit Laura’s website here.

Alison Weir

Give it your best. Be original, be absolutely committed. Read all the sources you can: original sources are more important than secondary sources. Don’t feel you have to go with the views expressed in the latter; make up your own mind on the contemporary evidence. Appraise your subjects in the context of their own age, not this one. Don’t impose modern values retrospectively. Always give context to your work – write as if the reader knows nothing. 

Above all, show rather than tell! Don’t just write: ‘Anne Boleyn was angry.’ Think of ways in which you can show her being angry…

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The biggest-selling female historian in the UK since records began in 1997 – and a popular historical novelist too – Alison lives and works in Surrey. Her books include Britain’s Royal Families, The Six Wives of Henry VIII, Children of England, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Henry VIII: King and Court, Mary, Queen of Scots and Isabella: She-Wolf of France. Visit her website here.

Lizzie Page

Don’t let truth stand in the way of the story,’ was my editor’s advice when nothing much was happening in my first novel and this has stayed with me. It can feel awkward in a time of fake news and political lies but if something is fiction, known as fiction, labelled as fiction, then be as free with the truth as you dare. Don’t let your research be a straitjacket, you’re firstly a story-teller: have plenty of conflict, internal and external and lots of thwarting. If my characters aren’t being thwarted regularly, I know something is wrong.

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Lizzie Page’s popular historical novels include The War Nurses, Daughters of War, and When I was Yours. Visit her website here. Visit her Amazon UK page here.

Alice Poon

Historical novelists are not historians, but are nonetheless passionate about history. We are allowed to fill blanks creatively and speculate on historical characters’ motives etc., as long as our yarn is plausible and the research solid. There are no strict rules as to the ratio of fact to fiction. Facts are sometimes stranger than fiction. It all depends on the type of novel we are writing and our storytelling. Good historical fiction transports, and inspires the reader to learn more.

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Always fascinated with iconic but unsung females in Chinese history and legends, Alice cherishes a dream of bringing them to the page. The Green Phoenix, set in 17th century China, is the first of such works. Visit her website here.

Anuja Chandramouli

Historical fiction is a ‘harmonious marriage’ between fact and fiction. It is a tricky business requiring the skills of a tightrope walker. Painstaking research on the subject is a must in order to capture the essence of real characters as well as the age they lived in and to pay due respect to the original material. This is your foundation but leave room for imagination, intuition and insight as well. Mostly though, strap yourself in, enjoy your journey into the past with its blurred boundaries between the real and unreal, and savour the magical experience with every fragment of your entire being.

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Anuja’s writing takes inspiration from Indian history and mythology. Her first book, Arjuna: Saga of a Pandava, was named by Amazon India as one of the top 5 books in Indian writing for the year 2013, and she has gone on to write a succession of popular novels. Visit her Amazon India page here and her Amazon US page here.

Danielle Wong

Think of history as a muse, and don’t be afraid to take creative liberties. When constructing an accurate depiction of another time period, certain details—social convention, dialogue, and political setting—are more significant than others. After all, fictional elements are what separate historical fiction novels from history books. Research is crucial, of course, but don’t get too mired in trivial details. I believe that each story calls for a unique compromise between the real and the imagined, and that authors must determine this space for themselves. Striking that balance is an intricate, but imperative step in writing brilliant historical fiction.

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Danielle Wong is an emerging author living in San Francisco. Her debut novel, Swearing Off Stars, was published in 2017. The book was has won several awards, including an Independent Press Award, an International Book Award, and a Benjamin Franklin Award. Visit her website here.

If you’re looking for detailed guidance on how to achieve accuracy and authenticity in historical fiction, make sure you download The History Quill’s dedicated guide below.

Accuracy and authenticity in historical fiction

Includes…

A 3 step plan for achieving historical authenticity

Advice on how to balance accuracy with creative license

Useful research tips to help you avoid historical howlers

Story vs. history

Many of the authors we contacted emphasised the importance of ensuring the story never gets drowned out by the history. Bernard Cornwell, Matthew Harffy, Michael Jecks, Jemahl Evans, David Penny, Denny S. Bryce, Terri Nixon, Lauren Willig, and Cindy Fazzi all comment on this. Selina Siak Chin Yoke reminds us that, ultimately, “all fiction is an act of imagination”.

Bernard Cornwell

Somerset Maugham is supposed to have said there are three rules for writing a novel, but unfortunately no-one knows what they are.

I have one rule. Tell the story. You are not an historian, you’re a story-teller, so abandon anything that does not help the story. You will make historical errors, we all do, you will even change history when you must, and you should probably disregard 95% of your research, because only one thing matters! The story! The story drives readers through the book – they want to know how it will end. There are two other immutable rules for writing an historical novel,  but unfortunately no-one knows what they are.

Tell the story!

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Bestselling author Bernard Cornwell was born in London but currently lives in the US with his American wife. A master storyteller with a passion for history, his current bestselling series, THE LAST KINGDOM, is centred around the creation of England. Visit his website here.

Matthew Harffy

Story over history is my mantra.

With historical fiction, it is easy to get bogged down with research. It is all too common for writers to want to show off all the information they have gleaned from obscure sources. Historical accuracy is important and you want to steer clear of anachronisms, but of the two words that define the genre, it is “fiction” that is crucial.

Yes, you will have a handful of readers who like to pick holes in obtuse historical details, but the vast majority of readers will not even notice any mistakes as long as the world feels real and they will judge the quality of your work based on your plot, and above all, your characters.

Remember, people read novels for the story, not the history.

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Matthew currently lives in Wiltshire, England, with his wife and their two daughters. His childhood in the landscape of Northumberland sowed the kernel of an idea for a series of historical fiction novels that became The Bernicia Chronicles. Visit his website here.

Michael Jecks

Anyone who writes historical fiction is in it because they really, really like the history. And obviously the readers like it too.

So aspiring authors often spend days absorbing facts and data. And then regurgitate the lot in their book – and are then surprised when no one wants to read it.

Facts are great. But anything that doesn’t move the story onwards is going to turn readers off. Delete anything that doesn’t move on the plot. If you have fascinating details to impart, put them in a separate Author’s Note instead.

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The published author of over 40 novels, Michael has always been fascinated by history, but it was only after a career change was forced on him that he was able to indulge his interests full time. His books have won wide acclaim in the UK and abroad and been shortlisted for prizes such as the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award – a rare accolade for a medieval novel. Visit his website here.

Jemahl Evans

Wear your research lightly. It is very easy to overwhelm the reader with details that don’t add to the story or help paint a picture of the past. I am guilty of it myself, but nowadays I try to remember that the story should always come first. However, when you do drop some knowledge make triple sure that you are accurate. If you’re writing during the war of 1812 don’t give them the wrong equipment, because as sure as eggs is eggs some readers will notice. It is a difficult balancing act to manage but if in doubt always err towards the story, the fiction, the engagement for the reader rather than the history that you have spent days reading up on. It’s not a waste – I probably junk about 95% of the stuff I read for research but you never know when it may come in handy later down the line – particularly if you are writing a series.

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Jemahl Evans is the author of the Sir Blandford Candy Adventure Series, including The Last Roundhead. With an MA in history and a background in education, Jemahl is now home in Wales where he spends his time teaching, reading history, listening to the Delta Blues, walking his border collie, and whining on Twitter about the government. Visit his website here.

David Penny

My single biggest tip for writing historical fiction is to research your period, place and people diligently and then use barely any of it in your writing. Think cinematically when creating scenes so the reader sees and experiences them with all their senses and gains a true flavour of what living at that time must have been like.

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David Penny is the author of the Thomas Berrington Historical Mysteries set in the chaotic final years of Moorish al-Andalus in Spain. After being traditionally published in his 20s, David started writing again after a lapse of almost 40 years. Visit his website here.

Denny S. Bryce

As a soon-to-be debut author in historical fiction (January 2021, Wild Women and the Blues), my first tip is to fall in love with the genre. Then fall in love with exploring, learning, and sharing your stories from whatever historical time zone (or zones) that captivate your imagination.  The research rabbit-hole is real. Fact-checking is critical, but writing a story that excites, intrigues, and emotionally devastates (add smiley face here) your target reader is the secret sauce.  And finally, read, read, and read all the authors that excite you as a reader until your eyes (and heart) burn.

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Denny writes historical fiction and urban fantasy. Her debut novel, Wild Women and the Blues, will release in January 2021 from Kensington Publishing. Visit her website here.

Terri Nixon

For me the most important thing is a combination: research and voice. One without the other won’t work. You can research every single detail about your era, or your event, if you want to, but knowing what to leave out is the important bit; if it’s not relevant to what your character is going through at that very moment, it becomes nothing more than a history lesson, or worse, an info dump. And only by becoming your own character can you know what really matters, and how to deliver it with authenticity, so your reader fully absorbs your story.

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Terri Nixon is a hybrid author who has published numerous popular historical fiction novels, including The Oaklands Manor Trilogy series. Visit her website here.

Lauren Willig

Research everything. Immerse yourself in the sources. Make friends with librarians.  Read, read, read. Let the facts and, just as importantly, that indefinable je ne sais whatever of your chosen era, seep into your bones. You got that? Now step away from the research pile. Ignore those sticky notes. Resist the urge to include all the cool historical facts. In fact, resist the urge to include most of the cool historical facts.  Nothing kills a story faster than info dump. Let your characters take over, because it’s about them, really. And if you’ve done it right, all that research is there anyway, in those characters, in their voices and their worldview, even though only a tiny fraction makes it into the book. But that’s what Author’s Notes are for. And cocktail parties. Now let me tell you about this cool historical fact…

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Lauren Willig is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Pink Carnation series and several stand alone works of historical fiction, including “The Ashford Affair”, “That Summer”, “The Other Daughter”, and “The Forgotten Room” (co-written with Karen White and Beatriz Williams). Visit her website here.

Cindy Fazzi

My historical novel, My MacArthur, is about General Douglas MacArthur’s little-known romantic affair with a young Filipino actress, Isabel Rosario Cooper, in the 1930s. If you’re writing a historical novel about a real person, especially someone famous, then research is king. In the case of MacArthur, there was an overabundance of information about his military career. I sifted through a lot of information. I had to remind myself that I was writing a novel, not a history book. It entailed a lot of discipline to strike a balance between history and fiction.

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Cindy Fazzi is a Filipino-American writer and former Associated Press reporter. Her historical novel, MY MACARTHUR, was published by Sand Hill Review Press on Nov. 1, 2018. She writes romance novels under the pen name Vina Arno. Visit her website here.

Selina Siak Chin Yoke

People often muse that a lot of research must have been necessary for my novels. Less research was needed than many think. Ultimately all fiction is simply an act of imagination, translated into words. There is no substitute for living and breathing your characters’ lives and writing what you imagine.

Personally, I don’t rely too much on tips! When I traded stocks, people would ask for tips all the time. If only it were as easy as just ‘buying A’ and ‘selling B’!

At the end of the day, only you can figure out what works for you. Good luck!

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Of Malaysian-Chinese heritage, Selina Siak Chin Yoke grew up listening to family stories and ancient legends. She always knew that one day, she would write. After an eclectic life as a physicist, banker and trader in London, the heavens intervened. In 2009 Chin Yoke was diagnosed with cancer. While recovering, she decided not to delay her dream of writing any longer. Her first novel, The Woman who Breathed Two Worlds (The Malayan Series, #1), was published on November 1, 2016 and debuted as an Amazon best-seller in historical fiction. Visit her website here.

Illustrating history

One of the best ways to bring the history into your writing – without making your story read like a history book – is to illustrate it at the micro level. Cryssa Bazos, Iris Yang, and Soraya M. Lane give us some suggestions for this.

Cryssa Bazos

Live the scene. Instead of providing a sweeping historical account at thirty-thousand feet, reveal the world at ground level through the unique perspective of your character. While this may only result in showing a small slice of the history, what you do reveal will be more impactful and ultimately more memorable to the reader.

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Cryssa Bazos is a historical fiction writer and 17th Century enthusiast, with a particular interest in the English Civil War and romantic fiction. She is a member of the Romantic Novelist Association and the Historical Novel Society. She is the author of two books: Traitor’s Knot and Severed Knot. Visit her website here.

Iris Yang

Historical fiction is both fun and hard to write. How to write the facts without being boring? One thing I learned is to let the characters be part of the historical fact. For example, in Wings of a Flying Tiger, rather than telling the fact that the Japanese went inside the Safety Zone to search for Chinese soldiers to kill, I wrote a scene showing the horrific details of how the Japanese carried out the task. As historical fiction writers, we have the advantages that the historians don’t have—providing details to put the readers back in time to evoke their emotions.

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Iris Yang, Ph.D. (Qing Yang) was born and raised in China and came to the United States as a graduate student. She has loved reading and writing since she was a child, and published her debut novel, Wings of a Flying Tiger, in 2018. Iris now lives between Sedona, Arizona and Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Visit her website here.

Soraya M. Lane

When plotting your novel, think carefully about how to balance history with characterisation. It’s important to focus on the story of your main character(s), and weave history into what they are seeing/feeling/hearing ­– this will allow you to show not tell throughout your story. As historical fiction authors, we need to know as many historical details as possible, but not all of those details need to end up on the page. We need to show the period of history through the eyes of our character(s) and what they are personally experiencing.

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Soraya M. Lane graduated with a law degree before realizing that law wasn’t the career for her and that her future was in writing. She is the author of historical and contemporary women’s fiction, and her novel Wives of War was an Amazon Charts bestseller. Visit her website here.

Characters

Speaking of characters, creating rich, complex characters is vital in storytelling. Neema Shah and Adam Lofthouse both emphasise this in their advice, while Anne O’Brien, Piper Huguley, Patricia Bracewell, and Carol McGrath offer some tips on how to achieve it. Joanna Courtney and Renita D’Silva remind us that historical characters, for all their outward differences to modern people, are often motivated by the same core emotions we all have within ourselves.

Neema Shah

Character first, always. You can do all the historical research you want but the protaganist is the beating heart of your novel. The history is there to add colour and context, to illuminate and enrich, but it’s your characters that bring it all to life. And look beyond the obvious. Even amongst the best-known points in history, there are so many wonderful stories that remain untold. Challenge yourself to look for a fresh take, reveal an unexplored event and find a new way to tell the tale.

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Born and raised in London, Neema Shah is an award-winning fiction writer whose debut novel was sold at auction and will be published in the UK and Commonwealth by Picador in Spring 2021. Kololo Hill is inspired by the 1972 Ugandan Asian expulsion and her own family background. Visit her website here.

Adam Lofthouse

My top tip would I think apply to any genre: Strength of character.

Think of your favourite book, what is it you love about it the most? After the dust has settled on the battlefield, your hero has finally found the murderer, what is it you remember most fondly? For me it isn’t the action or the drama, its not even the journey I’ve been on, it’s the characters I’ve met along the way. Their dreams and their flaws laid bare, nothing left in the ink pot. Get that right, the killer plot you’re craving will fall in to place. 

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Adam has for many years held a passion for the ancient world. After ten years of immersing himself in stories of the Roman world, he decided to have a go at writing one for himself. The Centurion’s Son is Adam’s first novel. He lives in Kent, with his wife and three sons.Visit his Amazon UK author page here and his Amazon US author page here.

Anne O’Brien

First draft: choose a dramatic scene of tension and emotion.

Allow your characters to step onto the stage, to move and speak and interact. Watch them.  Listen to them as they tell the story.  Learn their habits and traits of character.  Do you like them or despise them?  Let them talk to each other.  Let them come alive for you.  If they are alive for you they will live for your reader. 

Write the scene as you see and hear it.

When you eventually place this scene in your novel, with hindsight you may re-write or polish it.  That’s fine.  By meeting your characters so early, they will walk closely with you from beginning to end of the novel.

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Sunday Times Bestselling and seller of over 600,000 copies of her books in the UK, Anne O’Brien focuses on novels about the forgotten women of history, including A Tapestry of Treason. With a background in history and education, Anne now lives in an 18th century cottage in Herefordshire with her husband. Visit her website here.

Piper Huguley

No matter who your characters are, they have an inner life. One of the biggest mistakes I see authors make is when they create characters of color and their only existence is in relation to the protagonist. Just like any person, characters of color have goals, desires, families and motives. Spend the necessary time thinking about what those would be. Your fiction will be so much richer for it.

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Piper Huguley seeks to make new inroads in the publication of historical romance by featuring African American Christian characters.  The Lawyer’s Luck and The Preacher’s Promise, the first books in her “Home to Milford College” series, are Amazon bestsellers. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her husband and son. Visit her website here. 

Patricia Bracewell

Before you begin to write, know the history, of course, but also know your characters inside and out: Hair and eye color, age, height, build, but also who their parents are, their siblings, spouses, lovers, children. Ask and answer as many questions as you can think of about each character: What does she want and why? What is he afraid of? What does she hate? Who does she hate? What makes her laugh? What makes him cry? What makes him angry and how does he express it? Invent back stories. Imagine how each character will change by story’s end.

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A native of California with a lifelong fascination with British history, Patricia Bracewell penned her debut novel Shadow on the Crown, the first book of a trilogy about Emma of Normandy who was a queen in England and a power behind the throne for nearly four decades. Visit her website here. 

Carol McGrath

Excavate your research and bury it within the fabric of your story. Create convincing historical characters by using particular details to describe them and their world. If you mix real personalities with invented characters you can permit freedom. I generally stick with my protagonist’s POV if she is in a scene to avoid upstaging her. Look for the ‘white spaces’ in her historical time-line where we don’t know where she is or what she is doing. This is where you can invent and even discover your story as long as you are plausible.

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Based in England, Carol McGrath writes Historical Fiction. She studied History at Queens University Belfast, has an MA in Creative Writing from the Seamus Heaney Centre, Queens University Belfast and an English MPhil from Royal Holloway, University of London. The Handfasted Wife is her debut novel, first in a trilogy titled The Daughters of Hastings. Visit her website here. 

Joanna Courtney

For me, the biggest fascination in exploring characters from the past is not how different they were to us, but how similar. Life wasn’t lived from one headline to another but in the day-to-day nuances and interactions, and the key to a gripping historical novel is to create a convincing (i.e. well-researched) world but then, vitally, to bring those inhabiting it to life as living, breathing people. We have not changed that much in all it is to be human, and putting a character’s own fears and hopes, embarrassments and joys onto the page is, I believe, the key to engaging a reader.

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With a background studying medieval literature and short fiction, Joanna Courtney is the author of  The Queens of the Conquest trilogy which focuses on the stories of the three women vying to be Queen of England in 1066. Visit her website here. 

Renita D’Silva

Readers root for characters they can relate to. 

It does not matter when and where you set your story, the point to remember is that people are people, living their lives the best they can, striving to make the best of their circumstances. While with historical fiction these circumstances might be very different to modern times, what I have discovered while researching and writing historical fiction is that they are not all that different – at the end of the day we all strive for pretty much the same things: to love and be loved; to be seen, known; to matter. 

So my top tip is to write with heart, creating believable characters who leap off the page and burrow in your mind long after their story is told.

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Renita D’Silva loves stories, both reading and creating them. She is the author of a number of novels and short stories including The Girl in the Painting, A Sister’s Promise, and A Mother’s Secret. Much of her work is set in India as well as partly in the UK. Visit her Amazon UK author page here and her Amazon US author page here. 

Writing methods

Method is important. Carol Hedges reminds us that unconventional approaches can sometimes yield results (though be careful if you want to try hers yourself!), while Tracy Borman recommends ‘show not tell’, especially when you come from a non-fiction background (something Alison Weir, a fellow historian, also recommends above). Griff Hosker recommends setting daily writing goals, while Antoine Vanner advises playing scenes out in our heads and getting out of the house – preferably at the same time!

Carol Hedges

My writing method always causes anxiety to those who don’t write crime fiction: I start at the end of the book, writing the denouement first, then revert to the opening section and write the actual crime. After that, I work on the steps that lead to the final resolution.

I tend to let the story just unfold. Plan? Sorry – what was that word again? My ‘stuff happens and then more stuff happens as a result of the previous stuff having happened’ method means the whole writing process is a high-wire act.

It is unconventional; it is frequently challenging; it is iconoclastic, but it works for me.

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Carol Hedges is the successful UK writer of 18 books for Teenagers/Young Adults and Adults. Her writing has received much critical acclaim, and her novel Jigsaw was long-listed for the Carnegie Medal. The Victorian Detectives are published by Little G Books and are available in print and Ebook via Amazon.co.uk/.com. Visit her website here.

Tracy Borman

Show not tell.  As a historian, I’m used to writing what actually happened – pure and simple.  But as a novelist, I quickly had to learn that an entirely different craft was needed to convey information.  Rather than filling entire paragraphs with descriptions of people/events, etc, my editor told me that I had to be altogether more subtle about it, weaving in those details through dialogue, mannerisms, the odd reference here and there.  It was the single most valuable lesson I have learned in making the transition from non fiction to novels.

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Tracy Borman is both author and historian. She is the author of  a number of highly acclaimed books, including Thomas Cromwell: The Untold Story of Henry VIII’s Most Faithful Servant, Elizabeth’s Women: The Hidden Story of the Virgin Queen and Witches: A Tale of Sorcery, Scandal and Seduction. She lives in Surrey with her daughter. Visit her website here.

Photo credit: Lorentz Gullachsen.

Griff Hosker

Tell a story! You can create interesting characters and relationships but if it is not a good story then people will not read it.

Do your research and know your subject: historical fiction readers will pick you up on any mistake.

Make sure that you want to read the story you are writing.

Be disciplined; I set a daily target and I keep to it. You can always remove those sections you don’t enjoy when you edit.

Enjoy it! I am living the dream. I write every day and I write about things I love.

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With a background in educational consultancy and teaching, Griff Hosker began writing Roman historical fiction novels with The Sword of Cartimandua. Griff writes at least 5000 words each day and has written a number of series set in a wide variety of historical periods. Visit his website here.

Antoine Vanner

Play out every scene in your head, again and again, as if you were present. Get a feel for the heat, cold, fear, elation, anxiety, exhaustion, hope and despair which affect the main characters. You may not mention more than 10% of this detail when you come to write, but you’ll find yourself reporting as if you were an eyewitness. And when is the best time to play out such scenes in your head? Not at the keyboard but ideally when you’re alone without one – in my case when I’m taking long walks with my dog!

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Described as “The Tom Clancy of historic naval fiction” by Joan Druett, Antoine Vanner is the author of the Dawlish Chronicles, a series of naval adventures are set in the late Victorian era. He currently lives in Britain with his wife, dog and two horses. Visit his website here.

Editing advice

As well as advising writers to write what they want, Susanna Gregory offers a useful tip to prepare for the editing stage.

Susanna Gregory

The best advice I can offer is to write for yourself. Don’t think about genres or marketing or what publishers might like, but follow what YOU want to write about. First of all, you’ll find it a lot easier than struggling with some artificial template, and secondly, it will read better, because it’s what you really want to do. Then make sure you finish it, even if there are huge sections you don’t like.

Once you’ve reached the last page, put it away for several weeks or even months. Then, come back to it with fresh eyes. You’ll find that you can be a lot more ruthless about pruning things down – time always makes your prose feel a bit less precious! You’ll also discover that some of the bits you didn’t like are actually quite good, and that some of the parts you loved need a rehash.

But most of all, never give up. Keep at it, and enjoy what you’re doing. Good luck!

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Susanna Gregory is the creator of the Thomas Chaloner series of mysteries set in Restoration London as well as the Matthew Bartholomew books. She was a former police officer before taking up an academic career. She now lives in Wales with her husband, who is also a writer. Visit her website here.

Closing advice

Robert Wang advises writers to connect with their inspiration to fuel commitment to writing, while Paul Fraser Collard closes with a vital recommendation – have fun!

Robert Wang

When Andrew asked me to contribute to his post by offering advice to writers based on my experience of writing my first historical novel, The Opium Lord’s Daughter, the one word that came to my mind is COMMITMENT.  My commitment to write this novel originated from my personal experience of growing up in Hong Kong and learning how it became a British colony – by attacking China in 1840 and forcing it to buy opium from British smugglers when China tried to stop the addiction epidemic, and forcing China to give up Hong Kong so smugglers can use its harbor for their opium ships.  This realization fueled a fervor and commitment within me to tell the modern world about this ugly piece of history, as so few people really know about it outside of China.  My advice to writers is to connect with the fervor within you to write…with a singular commitment to getting it done.  Research is critical, you want your novel to radiate credibility and substance so readers will believe the historical facts behind your story. 

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Set during the Opium Wars, The Opium Lord’s Daughter is Robert Wang’s debut novel. Told from two perspectives—Chinese and Western—the story takes the reader directly into a tale spanning two continents, vividly told through the perspectives of several colorful main characters whose stories serve to illuminate both the intricacies and the sweep of this critical period in history. Visit Robert’s website here.

Paul Fraser Collard

I have one piece of advice for writing a historical novel – HAVE FUN! It can be the one thing that gets forgotten. There are so many things to think about. There’s the story and its arc, the history and all those little details that bring a book alive. There are characters to develop and plots to thicken. With so much going on it is easy to lose sight of the joy of writing. You, the writer, have all the power! It is up to you who lives and who dies. You decide what happens and when. There is a glorious power in shaping a novel. So I urge any writer to have fun and to enjoy it. 

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Paul Fraser Collard is the author of the acclaimed Jack Lark series. A lifelong love of history and historical fiction led him to write the brutally courageous Victorian rogue and imposter Jack Lark who first burst into life in 2013. Visit his website here. His latest Jack Lark novel, The Lost Outlaw, is now available to buy on Amazon UK here and Amazon US here.

If you want to learn more about writing historical fiction, check out our guide, How to write historical fiction in 10 steps, here.

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