We have one of my favourite historical writers with us today: the amazing Celia Rees! She's here to tell us about her favourite historical writers! AND! Bloomsbury have agreed to give us a signed copy of Celia's latest book This Is Not Forgiveness to giveaway!! If you live in the UK or Ireland, enter the giveaway in the Rafflecopter thingy and tell us your fave historical author/novel! :D Now, I'll hand over to the wonderful Celia...
My Favourite Historical Novels (And Writers)
I am a writer, but also a reader. For me, the two things go together. When people ask me for advice about how to become a writer, my advice is to read. Read all the time, as much as you can. Read writers you admire, the best writing in your chosen genre. Learn from them.
I’ve always loved history and, as a child, I read historical fiction because it allowed me to be part of the story. I devoured books on the Tudors when I was studying for ‘A’ Level because it was a quick way into the period and rather less boring than the average textbook. I never thought, back then, that I would actually be writing historical fiction. When I started writing in this genre, it seemed natural to read other writers. I still do, and I go to the best of the best.
Two writers stand out for me. Both of them women. Sarah Waters and Hilary Mantel. Apart from their gender, they have certain other traits in common. They are both supremely clever. The kind of writers who leave you thinking: ‘How does she do that?’, ‘I couldn’t do that.’ So they give you something to aim at. They are also very brave. Their books are innovative and daring, in structure, subject matter and style. They take risks constantly and resist the temptation to look down. You know that their books are meticulously and deeply researched but you feel it, sense it, rather than wading through detail page after page. They do not let the research take over, it never jars, never clogs up the story. That is where the cleverness lies. The research allows total immersion; it is as though you are living in that time, that period. They make the time come alive.
I first came across Sarah Waters, Tipping the Velvet in an airport bookshop, looking for something to read. It was only a short flight but even that would be unbearable without a book. I loved it immediately: the finely realised sense of period, the sly humour, the sense that you were looking into a secret world, hidden from the mainstream, and she wrote like a dream. I’ve read all her subsequent novels and have found a great deal to admire, each time a different thing. The intricate structuring of Fingersmith; the sudden switches in Affinity, as if the rug is being pulled from under you; the complex, clever and controversial narrative form that The Night Watch takes and the mixing of genre in The Little Stranger. Each book is set in a different period, but she manages to realise the time absolutely, from the dreadful poverty of reeking Victorian rookeries to the grey exhaustion of Post War Britain. In these days of relentless self publicity, Sarah Waters is a rarity: a modest, unassuming, self deprecating author, absolutely sure of her own ability.
Unlike Sarah Waters, Hilary Mantel does not write in one specific genre (I guess we have that much in common). I have admired her writing for long time, her Orange Prize winning Beyond Black, is a particular favourite of mine. Her fame has increased with her Booker Prize winner, Wolf Hall. I once stood next to her when we were both checking into the same hotel for the Ilkley Festival, I guess that wouldn’t happen anymore. I read her A Place of Greater Safety when I was writing Sovay and had to admire her awesome skill at filleting the bewildering complexity of the French Revolution and making it not just understandable, but as exciting and terrifying as the events must have been, without ever betraying their complexity.
She has a talent for taking on the major players. In A Place of Greater Safety, Danton, Robespierre, Camille Desmoulins carry the story; Thomas Cromwell, Cardinal Wolsey, Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn are all characters in Wolf Hall and her new novel, Bringing up the Bodies. That takes great writerly confidence and not a small amount of courage. In her last two novels, Hilary Mantel has brought new life to the tired, trammelled ground of Tudor history and has imbued one of the time’s most reviled figures, Thomas Cromwell, with real humanity. Her books are a gift to any ‘A’ Level student. I wish they’d been around when I was studying the period!
a Rafflecopter giveaway
Thank you so much Celia! And to Bloomsbury for the giveaway! Everyone, I LOVED This Is Not Forgiveness and can't recommend it enough! Good luck in the giveaway!!
Everyone, if you liked this post, make sure you follow all the FoG events on Twitter at #FortnightOfGuests
Celia Rees (born 1949) is an English author of children's literature, including some horror and fantasy books.
She was born in 1949 in Solihull, West Midlands but now lives in Leamington Spa with her husband and teenage daughter. Rees attended University of Warwick and earned a degree in History of Politics. After university, she taught English in Coventry secondary schools for seventeen years, during which time she began to write.
During her time in teaching she asked several of her pupils why they wouldn't read the books they were given and what they wanted to read about. The pupils said that they wanted books with action, horror, danger, magic and pirates.All of these are main themes in Rees' books.