As you may know, my first non-fiction book, Get Started in Writing Historical Fiction, is due to be published next month as part of the Teach Yourself series. I’m delighted that John Murray Learning have produced a free e-book sampler which contains the whole first chapter. It’s a pdf file, and to download it all you should need to do is click this link: Download GS Hist Fic sampler. It's a .pdf file (click here if you don't have a pdf reader); it will either dowload directly, or display in your browser for you to save to your computer.
If you like what you read, then you can order a copy from your friendly independent bookseller, or click one of the links below: it's published on 10th March in the UK and Australia, and on 3rd May in North America. Hive, by the way, is very nearly your friendly independent bookseller, so if you like to buy online, do consider using them.
But since readers of This Itch of Writing like thinking about writing, as well as writing, I thought I’d say a little about my experience of writing the book itself.
When John Murray first approached me to write it, about eighteen months ago, I was excited but also daunted. I’d been blogging for six or seven years by then, but by its nature a blog post is the product of the moment. Even with a perennial topic - Showing and Telling, for instance, or how to give a reading - any given post is self-evidently contingent, a thought-in-progress, perhaps the first word, but very obviously neither the last nor the only word. Now I was being given the chance, but also the challenge, of setting down my thinking about how to write historical fiction in a form more organised, more permanent, and much, much longer.
There were other challenges. Obviously, Get Started in Writing Historical Fiction had to do what it said on the (rather handsome, I think) tin: it had to set you, the writer, well and clearly on the road to learning how to write this most rich and fascinating genre. By the end of the book I hope the reader-writer would understand all the basic skills involved in everything from finding stories to finding readers, by way of plotting, characterisation, research, revising, different sub-genres and so on.
But I know that many of the Itch’s most faithful readers come here when they’ve written themselves into a creative or a technical corner, or when they’ve got stuck, or bored, or downhearted about their work. So I was determined that GS Hist Fic, as it’s know to its friends, would also be useful to that kind of writer; I wanted it to be a handbook, a vade mecum, as well as a course.
What's more, over the years I’ve found that writers come to historical fiction from two main angles. First, there are those who are experienced in writing - who know all about Psychic Distance or how to write a synopsis - but who are daunted by having to use those skills on a world which they don’t have direct knowledge of: by how to tell a story when they have to look everything up - and by where to look things up at all.
Other people picking up GS Hist Fic and wondering if they should buy it will be new to storytelling of any kind. They’ve fallen in love (or into fascinated horror) with an historical person, place or event. They may know exactly how to find a reenactor’s group or a specialist library, and they may do lots of writing for work. But this new passion, they know, is different: this needs words of a very different kind, driven by imagination, voice and character.
So I’ve designed Get Started in Writing Historical Fiction to work the way that you work. Thanks to the very clever format that Teach Yourself have established to be consistent across the whole list, the discussions and exercises are cumulative. You can start at page 1 and work straight through. But each exercise, each section, each chapter, can also be used on its own, to spark ideas, un-stick you, or help with a particular problem or puzzlement. And there are plenty suggestions for both fiction and non-fiction to read that will help you understand more about what you, particularly, want to write, and how to go about it. There’s even a plotting grid.
Indeed, I found as I wrote that although GS Hist Fic tackles all the specific challenges the genre presents, virtually all the creative and technical discussion and exercises apply equally well to other sorts of fiction. So until I get round to writing the book-of-the-blog, this is the closest there is to my How To Write book.
As I said at the top, to get a flavour of the book you can download a free pdf of the whole first chapter: Download GS Hist Fic sampler. Click here if you don't have a pdf reader); it will either dowload directly, or display in your browser, for you to save to your computer. It is a proof, so there may be minor differences between it and the finished thing, but it it is, in essence, the beginning of the actual book. And if you like what you read and want to pre-order the book, then just drop by your favourite independent bookseller, or click one of the links below: