Why Do We Write – And Read – Historical Fiction?

Deirdre Huston, one of our historical fiction writers, gives us her thoughts on why we love to explore the past in books.

Follow Deirdre on Twitter and check out her website


When I tread my way through a landscape or explore a building, the sharp edges of time crumble. The characters of the past draw me in. Their tales cry out to be told, to be shared for the first time or seen in a fresh light.

The story of any individual cannot be recounted without considering their society and by looking to the past we give ourselves a long view and a chance to explore the intricacies, limitations and possibilities of human existence. This mirror that writers hold up to history can illuminate truths which may be blurred by the immediacy of our contemporary lives. We live in a world where technology is pervasive and virtual communication seeps into all our relationships. What better way to combat the constant itch of the modern world than step into a time that is not our own?

As with any definitions of genre, the boundaries blur and there is cross-pollination but The Historical Fiction Society states, ‘To be deemed historical (in our sense), a novel must have been written at least fifty years after the events described, or have been written by someone who was not alive at the time of those events (who therefore approaches them only by research).’

So what does our reader of historical fiction want?  We hope they throw down the book after its final page and wonder what the time is, dazed by the escape a gripping tale offers because, yes, ultimately it’s all about the story. Readers want to be swept away and many loyal historical fans find it their most reliable means of escape from mundanity. They relish immersing themselves in a parallel world, emerging with bleary but fresh eyes, new questions and a sense of understanding to counter the uncertainties of today’s reality.

Balancing factual accuracy and the needs of a fictional narrative takes skill and can be made much easier by how the writer approaches a subject. Chevalier describes how research can only take her so far and how when she is ‘still searching for something – that imprecise something’ she knows it is time to write a story to explore the gap (C. Brayfield).  As we begin a story and teeter on the edge of the unknown, we are drawn in by the voices of the marginalised and the underdog, the celebrated and the revered.

Gaps wait to be explored. Teeter no longer. Plume Anthology MA Creative Writing 2017 Bath Spa University features a variety of extracts from historical novels and we invite you to dive into the past.

Eighteenth-century Sussex: Deirdre Huston The Howl of the Waves.

Venetian High Renaissance: Julia Grigg The Fortieth Part

Vietnam and its legacy: Lara-Ashley Monroe Thunder Walks in Peace

Cornwall, 1942 and contemporary: Melanie Greenwood Slipstream

England, France and Canada during World War Two: Peter Deacon The Time Just Before

Norfolk, 1953 and onward: Zoë Somerville Erosion


By Deirdre Huston