Historical fiction offers the historian and the author the rare opportunity for constructive collaboration. The two genres can of course be happily combined within a single person, but very often historians or historical researchers are employed by authors to provide material for their fictions. In this often happy marriage, the former assists in the production of a narrative but is untroubled, or rather unburdened, by the ‘leaps of faith’ necessary to hold together a plot and portray emotional complexity, in a way which would be unacceptable to most academicians. The author benefits by being relieved from time-consuming archival ‘spade work’ and is able to tap the researcher’s knowledge. I experienced the joys of this reciprocal relationship in 2007 when I was commissioned by author June Goodfield to conduct archival research for her historical novel Rivers of Time (2010). It was with great anticipation that I read chapter drafts and smiled at the way this fertile mind incorporated the material which I had supplied into a wonderful story of will power and reconciliation. But this raises a question for the production of historical fiction. Is historical fiction better served by authors immersing themselves in their own historical research, or does a degree of hands-off collaboration curtail the past’s invasive tendencies?
Peter Robinson is a visiting Fellow at the Institute of Historical Research