Today on #IrishWritersWed I am thrilled to welcome writer of Historical Fiction, Catherine Kullman, to Swirl and Thread.
Catherine is the author of two novels of Historical Fiction set in ‘England during the extended Regency — that fascinating period between the demise of hoops and the invention of crinolines – the end of the Georgian era but before the stultifying age of Victoria.’
Please continue reading for this very interesting and quite educational post…
Some Thoughts on Historical Fiction
by Catherine Kullman
Historical fiction is frequently defined as a novel, play or screenplay set at least fifty years prior to the time of writing; its writers must therefore draw on research rather than personal experience to create an authentic setting and story. Both author and readers consider the past through the prism of the present.
Contemporary fiction on the other hand instinctively reflects/portrays the world as it is at the time of writing.
While today’s readers of Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf and other nineteenth and early twentieth century authors consider their works from a twenty-first century perspective, these authors mostly set their books in their own time, especially identifying those that were set in the past, e.g. Waverley or ’Tis Sixty Years Hence (Walter Scott, 1813), or A Tale of Two Cities; A Story of the French Revolution (Charles Dickens, 1859).
What is the attraction of historical fiction to authors and readers?
First, I suppose, it takes us out of ourselves—transports us to an unfamiliar society recreated partly from familiar facts and partly from a myriad of tiny, new details so that it seems as real to us as our world of today. The setting rings true and the characters’ actions are determined by the laws, morals and customs of their time, not ours.
Sometimes this horrifies us; at other times we find it liberating and long for more romantic, more adventurous, perhaps simpler bygone days. But over and above this, good historical fiction informs us about the past. It provides insights into yesterday and helps us understand today. It encourages us to persevere or warns us to change direction. It can reveal past, hidden wrongs, teach us to value the struggles of those who went before us and inspire us to preserve and build upon their achievements.
With history becoming more and more a niche subject at schools and universities, it is historical fiction that offers millions of readers a connection to the past, a past which casts long shadows. We need only look back two hundred years to the beginning of the nineteenth century. The Act of Union between Great Britain and Ireland of 1800, the Anglo-American war of 1812 and the final defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 are all events that still shape today’s world.
At the same time, the ruling aristocracies were being challenged by those who saw the need for social and political reform, while the industrial revolution which led to the transfer of wealth to the manufacturing and merchant classes was underway. Women, who had few or no rights in a patriarchal society had begun to raise their voices, demanding equality and emancipation. It is the beginning of our modern society.
Following the collapse of the Treaty of Amiens in 1803, the United Kingdom was at war with Napoleonic France until 1815. Unlike other combatants in this long war, Britain was spared the havoc wrought by an invading army and did not suffer under an army of occupation. War was something that happened elsewhere, far away.
For twelve long years, ships carrying fathers, husbands, sons and brothers sailed over the horizon and disappeared. Over three hundred thousand men did not return, dying of wounds, accidents and illness.
What did this mean for those left behind without any news apart from that provided in the official dispatches published in the Gazette and what little was contained in intermittent private letters? The question would not leave me and it is against this background of an off-stage war that I have set my novels.
How long did it take, I wondered, for word of those three hundred thousand deaths to reach the bereaved families? How did the widows and orphans survive? What might happen to a girl whose father and brother were ‘somewhere at sea’ if her mother died suddenly and she was left homeless?
As Conn Iggulden put it in a talk at the Historical Novel Society Conference in London in 2014, historical fiction helps fill the gaps in the conventional historical narrative, a narrative that is no longer as familiar as it once was.
My characters and their stories are fictional but the world in which they live is very real and there are no twenty-first century solutions to their dilemmas. The main story arc is romantic; I am particularly interested in what happens after the first happy end—how life goes on around the protagonists and sometimes catches up with them.
In The Murmur of Masks, Olivia agrees to a marriage of convenience, unaware that her husband’s secrets will prevent love ever growing between them. How can she build a satisfying life for herself?
Perception & Illusion charts the voyage of newly-wed Lallie and Hugo through a sea of confusion and misunderstanding. Will they come to a safe harbour or continue to drift apart?
I love writing; I love the fall of words, the shaping of an expressive phrase, the satisfaction when a sentence conveys my meaning exactly. I enjoy plotting and revel in the challenge of evoking a historic era for characters who behave authentically in their period while making their actions and decisions plausible and sympathetic to a modern reader.
In addition, I am fanatical about language, especially using the right language as it would have been used during the period about which I am writing. But rewarding as all this craft is, there is nothing to match the moment when a book takes flight, when your characters appear before you and determine the path they will take.
Thank you so much Catherine for joining us with this fascinating post on historical fiction.
I think we all learned something here today!!
Catherine Kullman was born and educated in Dublin. Following a three-year courtship conducted mostly by letter, she moved to Germany where she lived for twenty-five years before returning to Ireland. Catherine has worked in the Irish and New Zealand public services and in the private sector.
‘I have a keen sense of history and of connection with the past which so often determines the present. I am fascinated by people. I love a good story, especially when characters come to life in a book.
I have always enjoyed writing, I love the fall of words, the shaping of an expressive phrase, the satisfaction when a sentence conveys my meaning exactly. I enjoy plotting and revel in the challenge of evoking a historic era for characters who behave authentically in their period while making their actions and decisions plausible and sympathetic to a modern reader. In addition, I am fanatical about language, especially using the right language as it would have been used during the period about which I am writing. But rewarding as all this craft is, there is nothing to match the moment when a book takes flight, when your characters suddenly determine the route of their journey.
If you would like to know more about me and my writing, please visit my website www.catherinekullmann.com which also hosts my blog My Scrap Album where I write about Historical Facts and Trivia, sharing some of the background information and detail that help me bring the late Georgian/Regency era to life.