I had an interesting discussion with Irina Dunn of the Sydney Writers Centre at the recent HNSA conference on the difference between writing historical fiction and a fictional history.  To my way of thinking, while writers of historical fiction may introduce fictional characters into their scenarios, the author must remain true to historical fact, so far as it is known, whereas a ‘fictional history’ can give you much more wriggle room.  I touched on this during our panel discussion on genre (with Kate Forsyth, Belinda Murrell and Jess Blackadder) when I compared my medieval crime series, the Janna Chronicles (historical fiction) with A Ring Through Time – what I term a ‘fictional history’. The novel is set on Norfolk Island with a flashback to the Second Penal Settlement – a black stain on the island’s history. My main characters, the  ‘commandant’ and his family are entirely fictional, but what happens during their time on the island is factual (although it all happened under other commandants), along with some of the people I’ve woven in to the story. My aim was to tell a love story, but also to give readers a clear insight into the dreadful conditions on the island at the time, and the brutality of the commandant John Giles Price, who was the inspiration behind my fictional commandant.  To my surprise, Irina took completely the opposite point of view and, after arguing amiably for some time about it, we decided that this would actually be an interesting topic for a future panel discussion.  But I’m getting in early: what do you think? I’d be fascinated to hear your opinions as to what I’ve actually been writing!Blood-Oath-high-res

A Ring Through Time

A Ring Through Time


  1. It seems that every novel set in history must be “fictional”; the question is where it falls on a continuum. I have ideas for stories that fall all along the range and would like the freedom to explore all of them. The school of thought that implies it would prefer to enforce strict “history” is starting to sound haughty and restrictive to the storyteller.What is history but an interpretation anyway? If only we COULD have a sliding scale icon of some sort to post, print, publish, market with our stories that showed at a glance where our work intends to land on the scale – maybe everyone would relax a bit. The problem is that we are all forced to plunk our work down under “Historical Fiction” because there is not another universally recognized category – and how many sub-categories would it take? … I feel a blog post coming on! Thanks for letting me rant!

    • Apologies Lausanne; your reply passed under my radar for some reason, hence the late reply. And yes, you’re quite right; there are any number of subgenres attached to historical fiction, some of which were explored at the recent (and very successful) Historical Novels Society Australia conference held in Sydney. And they do range in tone from dense historical data to fantasy that intersects only lightly with the facts. The key, as you point out, is to be relaxed about it and accept that every variation has its own validity. Really, I think it’s up to readers to decide which route they want to go when choosing books. But do follow this up with your own blog ‘rant’ – I’d be interested to read it!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

For security, use of Google's reCAPTCHA service is required which is subject to the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.

I agree to these terms.

Post comment