I set a word count for my CFT posts. For this one it was vital. Why? Because I can go on at length about this topic!
Many an author loves history because history IS a story (of a nation, of individuals who changed a nation’s fate etc) and it can come into their stories too.
I also believe there is truth in the phrase if a nation forgets its history, it is destined to re-live it. I can think of several episodes in British history which are best kept to the pages of a history book!
And, of course, it is why we have Remembrance/Armistice Day. It is important to remember. We should learn the lessons of history. Sadly we so often don’t. But that’s not history’s fault. It is ours.
History and Fiction
Richard Hardie in his YA Temporal Detective Agency series where his “leads” time travel, has given some of his other characters the names of those who were living at the time his story is set. Why do that? It helps give a sense of realism to the story. It helps “root” it.
Antony Brown looks at history from the point of view of cold case crimes going back to the
Victorian era and coming forward to the 1930s and 1940s. That brings realism in, of course, but also gives him the freedom to work out what he thought happened based on the evidence available.
Terry Pratchett took the history of the invention of the locomotive and wrote his own version of that for Raising Steam, which I think is one of the finest Discworld novels and a fitting swansong.
I’ve written historical flash fiction pieces, one of which Dignity and Injustice was published recently in The Best of Cafelit 8. That story hinges on a well known date, especially if you’re a fan of Tudor history, but it makes sense even if the date means nothing to you.
In fiction, a lot of history creeps into the narrative. The skill is to get that history in so a reader doesn’t notice it!
Time travel, as a story device, is dependent on history. When Doctor Who travels into the future and to a different world, something of that world’s history will be either be discovered or already known by him. (Be fair, the Doctor is over 900 years old. He/she has seen a lot!). The Doctor reveals more of his/her history whenever there’s confrontation with the Master/Missy, the Cybermen, or the Daleks. There is a lot of fictional history there!
Fiction writers have the dilemma of knowing what to leave out. I know a lot about what makes my characters tick but I don’t put it all into a story. I need to know enough to flesh my character out convincingly but a reader doesn’t need to know Character A has a penchant for sushi unless it is directly relevant to the plot.
I love all forms of history because it reveals something about characters (real life ones but that is so helpful to a fiction writer). Knowing about characters is a fiction writer’s stock in trade. We must know what makes people tick, what has made them tick, what has driven them in the past, what drives them now and so on. There is psychology behind creating characters.
The first person any author must convince this person on the page could be real is themselves! If we’re not convinced, nobody else will be. This is why I outline my characters. Any niggling details that aren’t quite right I sort out in this outline. It saves me time editing my stories later because I’ve already worked out Character A is like this because…. And they will react to this because….
Then there’s local history. It was a pleasure to edit Peter Russell’s series on The Hutments. I moved into Chandler’s Ford long after those were gone and it has been fascinating to read about these. The lovely thing is people can add to local history with their own recollections. I’ve also been enjoying Rick Goater’s extracts from his grandmother’s journal which crosses local and natural history. There are so many lovely stories here. Local history should be treasured.
The Benefits of History
This country derives so much income from history in terms of tourism. People visit places where history was made. Certain places like Stratford-upon-Avon trade on being the birthplace of someone important. I highly recommend visiting Winchester and Salisbury Cathedrals.
In the latter, there is a display on how the Cathedral was built and how several generations of the same families worked on it. You glimpse into how life was lived – and I’ve found it makes me more appreciative of what we have now! For one thing, no Health and Safety when the cathedral was built. Ladders were lashed together to reach higher levels.
As for safety helmets forget it! Mind you, I am of the generation that remembers watching John Noakes on Blue Peter climb Nelson’s Column via ladders!
History Gets Everywhere
History is found from the depths of the ocean to the outer reaches of space. Look at the history of science. The Science Museum and the Natural History Museum are wonderful examples of that. Mind you, there are some things in the latter I’m glad no longer happen. They have a wonderful display of butterflies behind glass cases. It was only much later I realised how they got to have those butterflies. In many ways we owe a debt to those who collected specimens (and I appreciate much has been learned from these collections but I am glad it is not done now.).
And there’s a history to space exploration too. It isn’t just about who won which war and when.
There’s the whole realm of industrial and social history. And there’s the history of how we’ve been able to explore the oceans. Look up the history of the submarine for example…
Sport has its own history. Much play (some pun intended!) was rightly made when Sir Andy Murray won his first Wimbledon and how it was 77 years since the last British player, Fred Perry, did so. This sporting event has a personal history for me too.
My late father was a huge tennis fan (as am I) and at the time of Murray’s win, my late mother was in a care home with advanced dementia. Dad had gone through a rough time so I knew he’d relish watching the men’s final.
When Murray won, I was on the phone to dad within seconds and he was overjoyed at the result. He’d waited his entire life to see a British player win the Men’s Single Final at Wimbledon. (Mind you, that same statement is also true for the Duke of Kent who presented Murray with the trophy!).
That win meant so much to my father – and to me too. The therapeutic value of sport, whether you play it or watch it or both, should not be underestimated. And, of course, Murray has guaranteed his own place in the history books too (rightly so).
So where do we go with history? For me, it’s a question of enjoying its many stories. And those stories keep being written. I like that, unsurprisingly!
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.
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