Truth and Fiction


Historical fiction can be a slippery genre. How do you write about the past and make it relevant for today? How do you know that you’re telling the truth about the lives of people who lived before you? Is it okay to add bits? To embellish and turn facts on their head for the sake of a good story? I wrestle with these dilemmas all the time.

I read several different approaches to historical fiction over the weekend. Jackie French’s ‘Macbeth and Son’ was terrific. I’ve always admired her historical fiction – she’s so meticulous about historical detail that she really makes the past feel rich and vivid. I can see why this book wound up on the CBCA younger reader’s shortlist because it’s a great read. It could almost fudge into the bottom of the older reader’s list as the heroes of the story, Luke/Luchlan are both in their teens – their lives running parallel though centuries apart. The historical element was the most compelling section of the book but maybe, as a history buff, I’m biased.

‘I, Coriander’ by Sally Gardner has a completely different approach to history, merging magic and historical fact in a way that I’d normally find distracting. Coriander’s mother keeps a magic, silvery ‘shadow’ in an ebony box in their London home during Cromwell’s reign in the late 17th century. But the magic and the history merge into an engrossing read. The sort of book you can’t put down.
The history felt so authentic and rich and the fantasy was equally satisfying though I can’t help feeling a twinge of slightly pedantic unease about combining the two. But I couldn’t have been that uneasy because I sat up until 2.00 am to finish it. Serious fun.

Kirsty is an Australian author of books for children and young adults.

“Books are windows into other ways of being.”

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