Waking up…and Peter Ackroyd

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… Continue reading


The value of historical fiction…

Yesterday, whilst rolling my eyes for the nth time over a tome I’m currently reading…

Can I just stop here?

You need to understand how badly this book is written.

We’re talking dessicated prose here.  We’re talking genius of a historian who absolutely cannot write in plain English, who cannot say what he means with anything approaching engagement and relies on words like periphery and atomised and transhumance.  These, I swear to you, are his favourite words.

To say that he has rendered a human story, a story of great tragedy, of loss of life and culture, of oppression and imperialism, bloodless doesn’t begin to tell you how dry this stuff is.

I read a passage or two out to a friend last night and after the initial shock, he collapsed into fits of laughter and said it reminded him of the stuff they write about music theory–where the writer clearly has forgot there’s any music involved.

That’s how bad it is.

Right.  So where was I? Continue reading

Getting It Right…

Over the past couple of days I have had the immense pleasure of sitting in the audience at the inaugural talks of the Chalke Valley History Festival (www.cvhf.org.uk), where–on Thursday evening–I heard Andrew Lambert and Peter Snow talking about Lord Nelson and the Duke of Wellington.

And may I say that Professor Lambert was every bit as superb, as precise, informative and thoughtful as I remembered from his lectures during the conferences leading up to the bicentenary of Trafalgar.

Today, I had the privilege of hearing Katie Hickman, Katharine McMahon, Simon Scarrow and Guy Walters discussing Fact and Fiction–all about historical fiction writing.  Which I found immensely helpful too.

All had found themselves carried off by research which had led not where they thought they were going.  Ha ha.  All had found it necessary to leave some of their favourite discoveries out.  All were passionate about history and historical fiction.  (As was the audience!)  And all mentioned the difficulties of conveying the past without getting bogged down in concepts that contemporary readers may find difficult–religion being one.  Continue reading