DSCN2693I spent a most enjoyable morning at Ravenswood this week, talking about researching and writing historical fiction.  Using extracts from The Janna Mysteries and A Ring Through Time, I showed the girls examples of how to weave fictional characters into real historical events, how to disseminate information in an interesting way, how to create characters and how to make history ‘come alive’ in the context of the day – with lots of writing tips.  As their assignment is based on Catherine the Great of Russia, I also had fun reliving a wonderful holiday in Russia as I showed pix on pp of eg typical Russian churches with their ‘onion domes’ and their icons, plus Peterhof and Catherine the Great’s magnificent palaces and gardens.  The girls also did some writing exercises which involved fun discussions on Catherine’s many lovers + foreign and domestic policies and also involving spies, go-betweens, intercepted messages + various other dramas and problems, as well as creating the characters who might be involved in such things and how the situation might be resolved. From a somewhat hesitant response at the beginning when I asked: ‘who likes writing stories?’ the feeling by the end was that the girls now had the tools to do their assignment and the confidence to see it through. It was a fun and interesting morning, and my thanks to all at Ravenswood for making me feel so welcome.  Particular thanks to the girls who really entered into the spirit of it all and who came up with some wonderfully creative ideas.


  1. Hi Felicity,
    My name is Ingrid Leighton and I was one of the students at your Ravenswood talk, and I’ve decided to do a historical fiction for my final product of my History Elective assignment. I’m doing it on the domestic policy of Catherine the Great, mainly about the serfs. I was thinking of doing it from the perspective of a serf and a maid of Catherine the Great, to get the point of view of someone who is personally affected by the policy, and someone who is seeing the policy being made. However, I’m not sure if this is a good idea. Do you have any suggestions? Do you think it’s a good idea to have two perspectives in one story, or just one?
    Thanks, Ingrid

    • This sounds like an excellent idea as you’ll be looking at policy that will most directly affect your characters. If I were you, I’d tell the story from the point of view of the maid, as she’s likely to have more access to Catherine than a serf BUT have her friends with the serf so that she can discuss with him what she’s been hearing about Catherine’s policy and therefore you’ll get their opinions on what it’s all about. Do they approve or disprove? Do they disagree and argue about it? Could it be that they come up with their own big ideas and that your maid will then have to try to pluck up the courage to approach Catherine – and maybe even change C’s mind about the policy (and change the course of history??) Lots of plot possibilities there!!
      To help you, may I suggest that you read some of my Janna Mysteries, where the story is told from the p.o.v. of a poor girl on the margins of society – and how she works her way upwards and into the heart of the royal court, and how she DOES change history! That might give you some ideas – a feisty heroine with the courage to see things through. And to give you an idea of how to convey slabs of information in an interesting way, have a look at my Ring Through Time, particularly the scene where Alice is crouched in the bushes listening to the convicts slagging off against her beloved father and at the same time finding out a whole lot more about what’s really going on in the penal colony: p 68-73. So you have characters in this scene (as you could have your maid and serf) conveying information through dialogue – let’s SEE how awful conditions are for the Russian peasants; you
      have emotion (Alice is horrified by what she’s hearing – but she’s also rather captivated by the Irish convict – as maybe your maid rather fancies the serf? Perhaps she doesn’t agree with his ideas – and he has to convince her in order to convince Catherine? That way you can explore C’s policy from differing points of view. (I don’t want to write your story for you!)
      I’m so glad you’re going to give it a go, and I hope other of your school mates will too. Best of luck! flick pulman

  2. Hello! I’m Sandy, and like Ingrid, I’m also thinking of writing historical fiction on a topic about Catherine the Great. The topic I’m exploring is uncovering Catherine’s true character. I’m thinking of writing from a perspective of Catherine’s mirror (which I assume she had). Do you have any tips for this? I’m not exactly sure I can write a 1000 word piece all from the perspective of a mirror…Any suggestions would be great.

    • Hi Sandy,
      I replied to Ingrid’s question by email but I’m not sure if Ingrid ever received it so I’ve also put my reply to her on my blog, and I’ll reply to your question on my blog as well. I think your suggestion is really unusual: to explore Catherine’s character through her mirror – but why don’t you give it a go, and see how it works? As I said in my talk, you don’t have to get it right first time, you can always change stuff. If you find that doesn’t work, or it’s too difficult, maybe try a dialogue between Catherine and her mirror – where C talks about herself and the mirror either agrees or disagrees. Alternatively, you can have Catherine pouring her private thoughts about herself out to her mirror but also cut in with snippets of conversation between eg courtiers, servants, her kids or whatever giving their opinion of Catherine (either as a contrast to Catherine’s opinion of herself, or as an endorsement?) That way you’ll get several insights into Catherine – maybe true, maybe false! Best of luck! flick pulman.

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