One of my favorite new blogs, A Writer of History, recently posted an amazing interview about the writing of historical fiction—or is it “creative history” or historical nonfiction? Personally, while some argue that the terms are synonymous for the same genre, I’ve always felt that the genre designation depended on the author, the research, the message, and the presentation, if you know what I mean! And I’m glad that author Charlotte Gray not only agrees but has definitely earned the right to place her relevant works (Gray also writes pure nonfiction) into the genre of historical nonfiction.
During the interview, which was posted to the blog on February 25, Mary Tod asked two seemingly unrelated questions of Gray: “What ingredients make for successful historical nonfiction?” and “Can you tell us what you mean when you say that the frontier between fiction and nonfiction is under constant negotiation?”
Gray’s insightful responses are actually central to the fiction-nonfiction debate:
Trustworthiness. I have worked hard to establish a reputation as a nonfiction writer who does not invent characters, events, conversations. If I say what somebody is thinking, I know about their internal monologue from private letters etc. So readers can know they are increasing their knowledge and understanding of Canadian history without constantly asking themselves, “Did this really happen?” . . . A novelist is not under such constraints to stick to the known facts . . . he or she can let their imaginations run! (But if they have somebody driving a car in the 1880s, that’s a problem!)
Jump over to A Writer of History and glean the knowledge that awaits in the many other information-packed answers. While reading, remember that much of the commentary and advice can pertain to other fiction genres and categories as well as it does to any type of nonfiction.
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