I am, I will confess, so excited about this I could easily invite all my friends round and throw a party. So delighted, I hardly know how to express it.
It hardly seems possible or even credible. Because it’s not an opinion you’ll take away with you after a brief stroll in Waterstone’s History section. And it’s not a sentiment you’ll find much support for (in real terms) if you look at the glut of what’s reviewed in the Guardian or the Telegraph , or what wins the prizes large and small.
But just listen to this! I mean, read this, please, kindly, and I should be so enormously grateful if you would…
It’s from an article by the best-selling and thoughtful novelist, Peter Ackroyd:
“It may seem unfashionable to say so, but historians should seize the imagination as well as the intellect. History is in a sense a story, a narrative of adventure and of vision, of character and of incident. It is also a portrait of the great general drama of the human spirit. That is why historians should attempt to enthral and inspire the reader in equal measure. The role of academic historians is a significant one, but it sometimes seems that they are more interested in talking to one another than to any larger audience.”
Can you see why I’m excited? Thrilled to bits?
Because this is just what I’ve been saying.
Though until recently, I felt a lone voice.
(Yes, yes…crying in the wilderness. Well, not exactly crying…more like whinging probably. Or moaning. And not so much the wilderness as…shutting up now.)
But this has been a superb year for history and historical fiction. Sesquisuperlative, even.
There was the inaugural Chalke Valley History Festival in July. Which was a corker.
There was the presence of the Historical Writers’ Association at the Kelmarsh Festival of Historical Writing. Also this past summer. And that too was chockablock with well-attended talks given by author-historians.
But I just love what Ackroyd’s says about the need to “seize the imagination as well as the intellect” and “enthral as well as inspire the reader in equal measure”.
In fact, I believe I’m going to frame those words as put them up in my bookroom as rules to write by.
And I do believe with writers such as Ackroyd taking up the cause, and with a top publisher such as his, obviously waking up to the fact that the market is there, enough so to commit to a six book contract, that there is great hope for this field which Ackroyd refers to as one of the fine arts.
Great reason to smile and laugh and get on with the job of writing great historical fiction, telling those stories well and beautifully which will inspire and enthral.
And with that, I’m going to shut up and go to it.
(And hope that this will is only the beginning of bookshop shelves being filled with newly written histories of Italy and Austria and the great battles between Napoleon and the rest of Europe…)