My son is six and, at the moment, is addicted to history. He loves finding out about the First and Second World Wars, the Titanic, Ancient Greeks, Ancient Egyptians, the Kings and Queens of England. We have dozens of Horrible Histories episodes saved on our recording-thingy-planner-digibox, and it’s one of the Boy’s favourite programmes. I have high hopes for him – he’s going to be the next Simon Schama or, at the very least, a
History Professor at Oxford.
I get all pink-cheeked and proud when I listen to the Boy jabber on about his latest discovery. He’s been reading history books in bed and then he tells me all about them in the morning while I’m fighting to get him into his school uniform. “Really, it hit an iceberg? Button your shirt. Gosh, not enough lifeboats? Tie your shoe laces.” But I do feel very proud of him for being so interested in events from our near and distant past.
It also takes me back to when I was little, and how certain historical events fired my imagination. For example, I visited Hardwick Hall as a nipper and came home to write notepads full of stories about bridleways, ladies dressed in embroidered gowns, and men called Percy. Yes, I was that kind of child.
Historical fiction is increasingly popular these days. Look at Hilary Mantel’s phenomenal success with “Wolf Hall” and “Bring Up The Bodies”. I’ve read both and they are spectacular – I forgot I was reading about a person who lived nearly five hundred years ago but instead walked with Thomas Cromwell, endured with him, conspired with him.
A different kind of historical novel that I greatly enjoyed is “Libra” by Don DeLillo, centring on the Kennedy assassination. Then there’s Colm Toibin’s “The Testament of Mary”, which is set in history but might not count as an historical novel, being more an exploration of the grief experienced by Jesus’ mother in the lead up to his crucifixion and in the days that followed. Did you know that the guns of the Somme in 1916 were heard as far away as Hampstead Heath? There’s something in this information that needs teasing out.
Which era of history fascinates you? What historical facts inspire you to write? Which writers of historical fiction do you most admire?