Historical Fiction

I love historical fiction.

For one of a number of reasons it is my favourite medium

For starters – it makes me feel intelligent. Like an educational Desperate Housewives – I can engage in a gossipy medium that actually teaches me stuff. Yeah!

Two (2): It’s a good form of escapism. Fuck watching Modern Family or like, some other pretentious shit that pretends to understand our times, historical fiction is all like – “hey, I’m old, I dunno you and you dunno me, so let’s just go about it and see what happens.” For reals I’m not intimidated…I think. It’s a safe genre – everything it talks about has already happened. It’s not scary, like futuristic novels. It’s not paranoid or dangerous, like contemporary work. It’s old news, it’s already happened. Play on!

Three (III/IIV/IIIIIIIX/ETC): It’s essentially an extension of what we already think (or know, or think we know). As much as avid readers of the genre would protest, essentially this medium is an exaggeration of what we believe the past to have already…been. Basically, it’s an egotistical adventure in proving to the recorded word that you knew best (yes, I fucking KNEW that Caesar would die!) and even in the events that you didn’t quite knew, they still fit the norms. Costume/location/characters etc. Which leads into point 4 (or is still part of point 3, I’m not sure).

Four (kind of like 1). Historical fiction likes to prove the reader intelligent. This genre will relegate itself to suffocating the reader with detail that their imagination had created beforehand. The vast majority of these texts are fantastically written, but in reality cannot escape the paradox that they are, nonetheless, written by people who reside in the same time as the meagre reader who is subjected to the role as the Neanderthal consumer who should be amazed by every generic landscape created by the bored faux-historian. Often, the result is a bewildered reader left to muse to his/her friends that “it was like I was there” when they really wanted to say “It was a great story.” The language/dialogue/setting makes you feel you have gone back in time whilst you sit on your sofa scoffing ice magic from the bottle. The reality is that the writer is probably doing the same.

Essentially, we are the product of our time – we cannot change that and, well, we should certainly not try and change it. I would simply prefer a greater level of introspection when dealing with the matter of the past (regardless of the wank this would invoke). There is much to learn from the past – it will shape our future.

3 responses

  1. I very much agree with you about historical fiction. Even though it is a popular subsection of fiction I am surprised it is not even more so. When I wrote my historical fiction, Let Me Help, I tried to avoid the trap living in the same modern time frame as the reader by at least spending time in many of the areas though sadly not all where the story is set by living with relatively traditional Bedouin in the desert and spending lots of time researching and talking to people from areas I didn’t get to such as Mongolia.

    Incidentally I really enjoyed your photos of Egypt. Cairo is one amazing city isn’t it? The photos of Saqqara, Luxor and Aswan bring back great memories of crossing Egypt both through the desert and along the Nile. Alexandria and Sinai are two other areas that are as different to each others as Cairo and Aswan are.

    07/13/2012 at 18:39

  2. Hi Stephen,

    Thank you very much for your thoughtful comment. Historical Fiction is a great genre. Let Me Help sounds like a great read – how can I go about attaining it? It sounds like you approached it from an almost Anthropological fashion which I have a great respect for.

    Thanks also for your feedback on the photos. Egypt is a beautiful nation and honestly I could’ve taken a billion photos, but being a rubbish photographer they wouldn’t do their subjects any justice! Cairo is amazing, we only spent a couple of days there but it was just such a buzzing, vibrant place to be. We loved it.

    We didn’t get to Alexandria or Sinai unfortunately, they’re definitely on the menu for next time! I’m also very keen to get to the Western Desert (Siwa Oasis in particular). Have you been?

    07/15/2012 at 16:24

    • Hi there,

      I’ve just been reading more about your Egypt trip and you visit to the Red Pyramid. I found that area so refreshing after the hustle and bustle of Giza and it is fascinating to see some of the neighbouring pyramids nearby.

      I would very much recommend a trip to Alexandria even if just a day trip from Cairo although in truth it could warrant 2 days. After the heat and dust of Cairo and the south it is a refreshing change to enjoy the sea-breeze. The atmosphere of the city and people is different too, much more westernised.

      Sinai is very different again and it has the most spectacular iron coloured mountains. It is a whole days drive from Cairo and the journey just builds your anticipation. I spent an unforgettable night on top of Mt. Sinai overlooking the monastery and spending a great night with strangers, most of whom couldn’t speak any English at all and everyone just sits and chats excitedly waiting for the sun to appear at dawn. It also has the benefit of being just an easy ferry journey away from Jordan.

      I haven’t been to Siwa yet and it is the last place I know of in Egypt that I would like to see but I would dearly love to return to everywhere I have visited.

      If you go to my blog site and go to “My books” page there are links there. It is available in paperback on Amazon but also on iTunes, Epub and Kindle formats. It used to be out in book shops but sadly the publisher ceased trading.

      You are correct about how I wrote the book. I knew I could write entertainingly but I wanted to find something interesting to write about. Everyone knows how long it takes to fly from London to New York or what foods they eat and what countries they get on well with so I wanted to make the world of my story just as infallible. I didn’t want someone complaining because they had ridden by horse from Jerusalem to Cairo and the journey time was wrong!

      Thanks for your interest in my book, I hope you enjoy it and I will definitely be keeping an eye on your blog in future. I am currently writing a travelogue including my trips to Egypt based on the places I researched for Let Me Help and it is a lot of fun reading yours as I can instantly related to my experiences. Did you find yourself meeting tourists and travellers who told you stories in your first few days in Egypt and you found yourself slightly disbelieving them and then after a week or two you kind of think to yourself that you’d believe anything?!

      07/16/2012 at 00:29

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