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History and Fiction

Writers, their Research, Worlds and Stories

Gillian Polack

Shortlisted for the William Atheling Jr Award for Criticism or Review

Fiction plays a vital role in describing history and transmitting culture. How writers understand and use history can play an equally important role in how they navigate a novel. This book explores the nature of the author’s relationship with history and fiction – often using writers’ own words – as well as the role history plays in fiction.
Focusing on genre fiction, this study considers key issues in the relationship between history and fiction, such as how writers contextualise the history they use in their fiction and how they incorporate historical research. The book also addresses the related topic of world building using history, discussing the connections between the science fiction writers’ notion of world building and the scholarly understanding of story space and explaining the mechanics of constructing the world of the novel. This book places the writing of fiction into a wider framework of history and writing and encourages dialogue between writers and historians.

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This project has been a long time in the making. Without communities of writers and of scholars it could not have happened at all. Thanks to my group of science fiction, fantasy fiction and historical fiction friends for listening and arguing and helping me turn my questions into concrete understanding. Thanks especially to Melbourne science fiction fans for always asking ‘Where are you up to?’ and saying ‘We want to know what’s happening!’, to the Historical Novel Society of Australia for their excitement about the project, and to all the students who pushed me that much further in my understanding through keeping me grounded.

Special thanks to the ACT Government for a research grant from ArtsACT, and to Van Ikin for shepherding me through the very difficult final legs. It’s much easier to do a project over three years than over eleven, with other major projects interfering and one’s own novels crying for attention. Van’s encouragement, guidance and advice were invaluable.

There are thirty writers to whom I owe a particular debt of gratitude. Their generosity in revealing how they work and discussing their processes and thoughts so very openly was what made this study possible. Their work is discussed and they are the very best of colleagues and, in some instances, also the very best of friends. These people too, have cheered me on. I hope the results are useful! There are many other writers, scholars and friends who have given...

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