Tag Archives: Historical Fiction



The Library will be open throughout the weekend. I will add archived INKSPILL links for you to delve into at your leisure. Enjoy.





Historical Fiction and Research

Historical Fiction Part 2





Guest Writer William Gallagher tells us














With Guest Writer Heather Wastie 





With Guest Writer Charlie Jordan 





includes video – Nina Lewis 





I had the great pleasure of FINALLY seeing Inua Ellams perform in Birmingham this Spring, he also did a blinding set at the Swindon Poetry Festival this Autumn. 

This is a poetry film, featured as part of 2015 INKSPILL writing retreat. 


Nigerian-born Inua Ellams, a London-based writer, created the story “Dolphins” as part of “The Refugee Tales”, works about the journeys of refugees and migrants seeking safety in Britain. Ellams worked with children who have made treacherous journeys across desert and sea, and wrote the stories based on their experiences.  © Film for Action




Guest Poet Interview with Daniel Sluman on his 2nd collection 



Come back to the Library tomorrow where we will have more links for you from INKSPILL 2015 & 2016.

Writing Historical Fiction: Research


Last October I hosted INKSPILL – a virtual writing retreat, as part of the programme we looked at Historical Fiction.

AWF Banner


Part 2

Today I am attempting to write a short story which is Historical Fiction.

Here is some of the advice I researched;

1. Fiction. Regardless of your time period, regardless of all the in-depth research you’ve done, you must remember that you’re writing fiction first, and historical fiction second. In other words, don’t forget that it’s action and conflict that moves the book forward.

2. Avoid history lessons …You know your period of history so well, but you must assume that your reader does not. So, it’s temping to fall into the habit of giving history lectures for a few paragraphs. Educating your reader may be necessary, but it works best when the history comes across as part of the action.

3. Using your research. Make sure the historical fact is of interest to your reader.

Don’t paint historical pictures without making them a part of the drama of your book.

4. Building a Setting. I’ve always found that an effective way to build a setting is not simply to describe the landscape, but also to make the setting part of your character’s journey.

5. Using languages or accents. I was always careful not to use words that took too much space to translate. The basic rule of thumb, I think is, if you want to use a foreign word for effect, then look for those words that are close enough to the language of your book that the meaning is obvious.

© 2014 Writer’s Digest wd

Pick your time period – it should be an area of history you either know about or have an interest in learning.

Then choose your character(s), setting and work on the plot – remembering this is a story first, you can edit, amend and add historical detail and facts at a later stage.

Immerse yourself in that time period.



Mini Tour: 11 Days, 10 Gigs, 3 Counties


I will carve out some time to write about all these events over the next week. Today was the last booking for 2 days. I had planned to have tomorrow off from writing – something I did on Day 4 of this mini tour and found it revived my energy and also provided time to enjoy my life with Mr G, who is extremely supportive of all my writing endeavours.


However, I have just discovered a competition for historical fiction, a genre I have read but never written. Last year it was an area on the Inkspill Writing retreat that was requested, so a quick look back at posts and I will hit the desk!


There are lots of events next week but I have chosen to do just 2 of them. I know I will still be recovering from the past 11 days!


I will post more about Confab Cabaret, SpeakEasy, Poetry & Pollination & WWM.

INKSPILL – INKWELL Session 1 – Historical Fiction & Research Part 2

AWF Banner

SATURDAY 26th October – DAY 2

AWF circle Inkwell 1 – Historical Fiction & Research – your questions answered. Research, polls and questions posted on the blog in the summer. Alternative links will be available for those not interested in Historical Fiction.

Welcome to the first INKWELL session, this is the 2nd part Skills & knowledge, Pitfalls to Avoid & Historical Research

FIND THE FIRST PART OF THIS INKWELL SESSION HERE https://awritersfountain.wordpress.com/2013/10/26/3517/

inkspill crit.


Your Questions Answered – Ink Well

Historical research & fictional writing

In this session we will cover

  • Research & Sources
  • Skills & knowledge
  • Pitfalls to avoid
  • Historical Fiction – Research

Skills & knowledgeAWF circle

It is as important as researching that you understand how to apply the knowledge to your writing.

Just because your novel is set in the past doesn’t mean that the manuscript should be full or archaic text that the reader would need a companion book to understand.

You have to find a balance between showing the historical setting and creating a book that appeals to the modern reader. You cant just throw your characters into costumes and alter their speech at the same time you must not overwhelm the reader with hundreds of pages of historically accurate detail and end up with more of a nonfiction history text either.

Find a good balance. Readers of historical fiction are usually well-informed, and while they don’t want to be bogged down with useless information, they also don’t want to see a Celtic maiden wearing pleather, or a World War I soldier using laser sight.

ã 2010 staff writer Writer’s Relief


You’ll need to research their style of dress and your characters’ names.

Sometimes looking at old photographs or paintings can give you a good sense of the clothing and hairstyles of the period.


Find out what streets, buildings, and parks existed at that time. If the location isn’t crucial to your story, or if you’ve created a fictional town or city, keep track of the basic information and stay consistent.

Dialect and Terminology

Make sure you’ve got the correct terminology.

Where to find information

Internet sources are not always reliable (although reference links on Wikipedia can be helpful), and any information gleaned from them should be carefully cross-checked. The Internet is full of great sources, and you might start at a historical fiction writers’ site for some valuable and pre-tested Web site links.

If possible, personally visit the location you’re writing about. Tourism offices and historical societies are often helpful and usually have the most accurate information about their cities and towns. Visit the local museum, attend re-enactments, or interview old-timers. Take a tour, take some time, take pictures, and immerse yourself in the depths of the setting. If this is impossible, check with historians and/or the local library.

An obvious place to start is the library and a good librarian can be invaluable. They may have original documents and maps hidden away from the general public, or they can steer you in the right direction. Books aimed at younger readers can also boil down the basics of a time period—what people ate, how they dressed, what their bedrooms looked like, what their mother might say and more. Also, check out the history section of bookstores, and don’t forget about used bookstores—they often have out-of-print history books that can offer a glimpse of the past.

Ask the experts. Find a local expert on the Civil War, or check out the Web site of a well-known Roman Empire scholar. Many experts are happy to answer your questions as long as you’re professional and have done some of your own research in advance.

Keep in mind that you can’t please everyone. There are bound to be grey areas where you’ve taken some liberties, or you may have overlooked some pretty obvious anachronisms. If your plot and character development are strong, editors and readers will be more forgiving of technical inaccuracies.


Pitfalls to Avoid AWF circle


  • Poor Research


  • Too much History in the Text


  • Dialogue that doesn’t fit the era


  • Setting not specific enough to show where the story takes place.


  • The modern world seeping in.

© 2010 Margo L. Dill


  1. You are writing fiction first and historical fiction second
  2. avoid history lessons
  3. use your research
  4. build a setting
  5. use language, dialect & accents


Historical Fiction – ResearchAWF circle

Things to remember about doing historical research:


  1. Learn to love the learning process that comes with it. Think of yourself as a detective or an archaeologist sifting through clues and analyzing data.
  2. Use a good mix of primary and secondary sources for both perspective and immediacy.
  3. Double-check everything. Mistakes will reflect on your work even if it is the fault of your source.
  4. Hand in hand with double-checking comes evaluating your sources. If something seems a bit improbable or sketchy, it probably is. Look for another source to back it up.
  5. Use archaeological records, art, music and alternative resources to round out your research.

Copyright © 2004 Catherine Lundoff


Links to articles on Historical Fiction writing

We finish this first INKWELL session on Historical Fiction with a list of useful websites.


British Library http://www.bl.uk/

US Public Libraries


http://books.google.com/ search inside many public domain works

http://www.royalhistoricalsociety.org/ Royal Historical Society: wonderful programme of lectures






inkspill crit.

We hope you have found this session helpful and that you have gained valuable information from the posts.

If you still have burning questions that neither this session, relevant articles or linked websites can answer, leave your comment here and we will do our best to answer it by the end of the retreat.

Thank you.


INKSPILL – INKWELL Session 1 – Historical Fiction & Research


AWF Banner

SATURDAY 26th October – DAY 2

AWF circle Inkwell 1 – Historical Fiction & Research – your questions answered. Research, polls and questions posted on the blog in the summer. Alternative links will be available for those not interested in Historical Fiction.

Welcome to the first INKWELL session, if Historical Fiction and Research is not of interest to you, here is an alternative link


inkspill crit.


Your Questions Answered – Ink Well

Session 1

During the planning of this programme I asked followers of my blog what they wanted to know. I have always found courses and workshops more fulfilling when they are personalised and able to cater to specific needs, knowledge and support.

The first of these sessions tackles Historical Fiction. I have drawn on my own research and many sources, I write in my own words and link up to articles written by experts, websites and publications along the way, I have sought permission to do so from the original sources/ writers.

For those of you not interested in this session there is an alternative link to continue a creative writing focus.



inkspill crit.

Historical research & fictional writing

In this session we will cover

  • Research & Sources
  • Skills & knowledge
  • Pitfalls to avoid
  • Historical Fiction – Research

Let’s begin with a definition of Historical Fiction;

Research & Sources AWF circle

I would argue that all writing requires a certain element of research, even if it is as simple as researching the chosen market or target readership. Writing Historical Fiction inevitably involves thorough research, so if you’re not up for that you should think twice about writing in this genre. In fact, don’t think. Just don’t do it.

Similarly if you are so gripped by the research and haven’t got ideas for plots or characters, perhaps you should consider writing Historical non-fiction.

How much research is enough? Is a common question and we will address this issue in this session.

Caro Clarke writes about Historical Fiction (amongst other things)

The good historical novel is the wise selection of the right fact for the right effect. It doesn’t surfeit the reader by too much information, it doesn’t starve them with too little. But, in the end, it is the story that must rule. If you’ve swept your readers into Willem’s world by judicious use of historical fact, you must hold them there because of Willem himself, because of Maria Dolores, and their struggle to love each other. If you don’t engage your readers’ emotions, all the research in the world is for nothing.

You must bear this in mind along with your research the need for the story, the characters and the plot, it is this that will keep the readers interested. You need just enough research to be an expert on the times and to avoid uncharacteristic items and events into the setting and plot of your chosen period. You need not be an expert or a historian.

Copyright Caro Clarke


So what about that research?

It’s important to know there are two basic categories;

  • Primary sources, contemporary records of the time period that you are researching.
  • Secondary sources – written after that time period.

And it’s not just books that have the answers. As a historical researcher, think about other possible sources of historical fact.

Many writers join historical re-enactment groups or organizations that focus on aspects of the time period that they are interested in. These organisations usually have some local experts and knowledgeable people, who would probably be only too willing to help with your research. It can be quicker to learn this way. Remember you need to keep your story historically accurate, but it is the STORY that counts. So you need to know enough to represent an authentic feel.


Beyond Books

You can find other ways to research;

  • Try watching films and plays about your chosen time period,
  • go to museums and travel if you can.
  • Check out local restaurants with the cuisine of the area you’re writing about.
  • There may be community education programs on culture, language and travel at local colleges:
  • try taking a class or attending a talk.
  • Learn to ride a horse or shoot a bow and arrow or do silk embroidery.

These experiences will help you use first hand knowledge in your writing – and at the very least may lead to an interesting new hobby!


How much research is too much?

This is the opinion of Catherine Lundoff (from her article ‘Historical Research for Fiction writers’ )

If it becomes a substitute for writing, then it may be time to stop for a while. If you get excited about doing research, it’s fairly easy to get sidetracked to the point you’re doing more research than writing. Don’t lose sight of your goal: a finished story where the settings, plot and characters pull the reader into a vivid picture that he or she may not have read before. Remember you can always check more facts later. There should be a point where you begin to actually write your novel.

© Catherine Lundoff

Catherine Lundoff uses historical settings for a lot of her fiction, including an ongoing series on vampires in colonial Mexico, swashbuckling adventures set in regency England and 16th-century France, and a novel set in an alternate nineteenth century Europe. She even put herself through graduate school on her research skills. Her articles have appeared in The Journal of Women’s History, Speculations, the SpecFicMe Newsletter, American Writer, Queue Press, and Writing-World. Check out her website at




Links include the full article ‘Historical Research for Fiction Writers’ where Catherine Lundoff writes in depth about the process of researching and writing in this genre.

Remember to use a range of Primary and Secondary resources and double check everything.

Skills and Knowledge AWF circleCOMING SOON