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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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Novelists achieve a different understanding of history to historians. Asking ‘What is the relationship of fiction writers with history?’ opens the door to many insights into the nature of creation and of narrative. It illuminates what history does in fiction and why some novelists take their historical research very seriously indeed.

This book explores the nature of the author’s relationship with history and with their sources, from the author’s own view and often using the author’s own words, and it places the writer’s relationship with history inside the wider perspective of how a novel is developed and the processes the writer must engage with to turn history into publishable story.

This volume is not about the past: it concerns fictions and tales and interpretation; it is concerned with the aesthetic. John Tosh’s analysis (2006: 12) that popular historical knowledge ‘is only incidentally concerned to understand the past on its own terms’ applies. While writers appear to offer readers insights into how to see the past and play a role as educators on the meaning of history, in letting us feel as if we are participants in that history they are acting primarily aesthetically.

The terminology used in this work is heavily influenced by the terminology used by the writers being studied. It focuses on the concepts writers themselves use to articulate their understanding of history and how it relates to their work and to place it in a wider cultural framework...

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