Wednesday, March 01, 2023

The secret dreams of historians UPDATED

There's a podcast called Tides of History, hosted by an American, Patrick Wyman, that I hear sometimes. It follows the host's interests, but tends to come back to the ancient past, mixing historical and archaeological evidence. Multi-hour examinations of the Polynesian Expansion or of the Bronze Age Collapse, for instance. Its shows tend to be pretty deep dives, featuring longish interviews with scholars you have never heard of.

The other day I was surprised to see an announcement of a freestanding episode in the series with the teaser line:

Every historian I know has a secret dream of writing historical fiction, but few ever do it. Dan Jones, a longtime friend of Tides of History and an outstanding historian, has actually done it: Essex Dogs, his fantastic debut novel about a group of soldiers during the Hundred Years' War, is out now. I talk to Dan about writing historical fiction and what it can...

They do? (Have that secret dream, I mean.) Can't say I do. And if I were to write a novel (I won't), I imagine it would be contemporary and not historical. 

 (Have not listened to the podcast or read the novel mentioned. May do yet.)

Update, March 2:  Helen Webberley responds from Australia:

I would like to offer the opposite position. I was writing a historical blog post (on Canada as it happens), drawing on primary sources as is appropriate for proper historians. But the events were so improbable, I actually thought I had written historical fiction.

Update, March 9:  Russ Chamberlayne:

Your March 1 (sorry, March 01) post on historians writing historical novels seemed to doubt that many do. Could there be more of them that write creative non-fiction instead?

Creative non-fiction has been a literary genre for so long that many practitioners will be aware of the grant money. But for those who aren't, here's the web site of the $40,000 Whiting Creative Nonfiction Grant, from the New-York-based Whiting Foundation. It's for those already in possession of a contract (or will be by the April 25 grant application deadline) with a Canadian, U.K. or U.S. publisher. Other grant possibilities (contract or no) are listed at the bottom of the page.

"Creative non-fiction refers to all non-fiction and mixed genre writing shaped by literary sensibilities, devices, and strategies."  -- Betsy Warland, Breathing the Page: Reading the Act of Writing. I'd be okay with historians doing more of that, sure.  

Follow @CmedMoore