Novel Approaches: from academic history to historical fiction


Welcome to the Novel Approaches site.  Here you will find podcasted lectures from the Novel Approaches conference; book reviews and articles by historians and historical novelists; opinion pieces; bibliographies and lists of online resources.  Please feel free to join the discussion and enjoy the site!  For more information about this site click here.

Although the virtual confernece has ended this site will remain up indefinately and we would love it if it is continued to be used as a place for discussion and viewing.

Novel Approaches Newsletters:    

Novel Approaches newsletter issue 1 (November 2011)   

Novel Approaches newsletter issue 2 (Dec 2011)


September 2012 – Historical Novel Society’s 2012 conference:



How to Get the History Right in your Historical Fiction: a Workshop for Authors

Getting to know other times and other places well enough to describe them convincingly is one of the great pleasures of writing historical fiction, but also one of its greatest challenges. Anyone can achieve a basic feel for an age by reading published histories, but to go beyond this, to enter the mental and physical world of the inhabitants of another age, to see through their eyes, to touch the objects that they knew and to speak with their voices, requires detailed knowledge and the understanding that can come only from autonomous research. Above all, it helps to know and understand contemporary source materials, but to find and use these requires specialised skills.

This one-day workshop aims to encourage writers to develop their abilities as historical researchers, introducing the tools and techniques employed by academic historians, and showing how to get the most from libraries, archives, museums, art galleries and, of course, the internet. Teaching will take place in an informal format with participants actively encouraged to discuss the problems they encounter and to share their own experiences.

Contributing to the workshop will be: Elizabeth Chadwick, author of The Time of Singing, To Defy a King and many others; Eleanor John, Head of Collections and Exhibitions at the Geffrye Museum of the Home; Dr Simon Trafford, Research Training Officer at the Institute of Historical Research, University of London.

It will take place between 10.30 and 17.00 on Thursday 26th April 2012 at the Institute of Historical Research, University of London, located in Senate House. As numbers are strictly limited early application is advised.

For full details and instructions on how to apply please click here.

Opinion Pieces

We have collected various opinions from staff who work in the IHR about what historical fiction means to them. What is their favourite historical novel and why? How do they view fictional writings when researching the past?

During the week following the conference we also ran a competiton for visitors to tell us their opinions.  These can be found in the comments sections as you scroll down this page.


These short articles describe different elements of the debate and discussion around histroical fiction and academic history.  Please either click on a link below or scoll down the page.

The omniscient narrator: the historical technique of Penelope Fitzgerald (Jonathan Blaney)

Why historians should write fiction (Ian Mortimer)

Researching the Nazis: The Girl in the Bunker (Tracey Rosenberg)

A Quick Round-up of Class Opinion (Lucinda Byatt)

A history of historical fiction (Matt Phillpott)

Book Reviews

These are book reviews with a difference.  Rather than review a book in the usual way we asked our reviewers to compare a historical fiction novel with the historical research that it derived from.  These can be found below or on the Reviews in History website.  Please either click on the relevant link or scroll down this page.

The many faces of Thomas Cromwell (Mark R. Horowitz)

The dark side of Victorian London (Kaye Jones)

The Crusades (Jenny Benham)

Queers, erotomaniacs and Victorians (Harry Cocks)

Flyers and their traumas: the RAF in the Second World War (Matthew Grant)

Shell-shocked: trauma, the emotions and WW1 (Tracey Loughran)

Telling Ghost Stories (Judith Harris)

The many lives of John Bale (Matt Phillpott)

Moscow as city and metaphor (Alexander Martin)

Debating the Cultural Revolution in China (Julia Lovell)

Restoration: fact and fiction in the stores of history (Alan Marshall)

Nun’s (not) on the run (Caroline Bowden)

Conference Lectures

These podcasts derive from the Novel Approaches conference held between 17 and 18 November 2011 at the Institute of Historical Research.  They can be found on the Podcasts feed.  Each podcast is approximatesly 15-20 minutes in length.

Please feel free to join the discussion!

David Loades and Hilary Mantel in discussion

Pleanry lecture

Alison Weir

The popularity of historical fiction

Elizabeth Chadwick     Justin Champion

Tracey Loughran          Peter Straus

The differences and similarities between historical fiction and academic history

Maria Margaronis          Ian Mortimer

Beverley Southgate      Rebecca Stott

Does the success of historical fiction benefit or threaten academic history?

Jackie Eales                 Cora Kaplan

Paul Lay                       Stella Tillyard


Roundtable Questions

Site Guidance

For more information about this site see the links below or scroll down the page. 

To join the discussion (how to add comments)

Highlights (explains more about this site’s content)

Bibliography & Online resources (explanation of our resources section)

Suggestions Box (let us know what you think of the site)

For an index to content as it was uploaded please see our conference programme or hover your mouse over the About tab at the top of the page to see a list of each days content and to take part in our online survey (please feel free to give us your feedback).