About Matt Phillpott

I am an historian of early modern Britain and the Digital Resources Manager at the School of Advanced Study. My main area of interest is in the authentication of knowledge in early print, including religious, historical, and agricultural texts.

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.


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:



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).

The end?

All good novels have an end; indeed the ending can make or break a reader’s enjoyment of an entire work. Academic histories however tend to avoid an ending; they see themselves as one point in a long line of books focused on that topic of research. I guess a virtual conference is somewhat similar to the historian’s task, at least more so than the novelist’s.

This tale (we hope) will continue. Although this is the end as far as our part of the story is concerned it is only the beginning of what we hope will become a valuable resource to novelists, historians and scholars of various interests. The Novel Approaches site will remain online for as long as wordpress (our domain host) will provide for it, as will the oppotunity to continue the discussion around these resources.

Those same resources will also appear on our other websites: the book reviews can also be found on Reviews in History; the lectures on History SPOT.  In addition we hope to bring some video highlights from the conference to you in the near future. So stay tuned!

All there remains for us to do then is to say a very big thank you to all of you who have participated in our virtual conference. The IHR Digital team, publications and event management very much hope that you enjoyed (and will continue to enjoy) your time here.

If you have enjoyed our conference then it might be worth noting that there is a Historical Novel Society Conference in the works for 2012.  The conference will take place at the University of Westminster (Regent Street site) on the 29th and 30th September.  As well as booksellers, agents and editors / publishers they are expecting the following authors (among others) – Bernard Cornwell, Elizabeth Chadwick, Sarah Dunant, Barbara Erskine, C.J. Sansom and Sarah Waters – plus the Napoleonic Association in full uniform!

Further details will appear on the Society’s website as the programme is finalized – http://www.historicalnovelsociety.org/.

In the meantime if you would like to make a suggestion for future events (or to let us know what you thought about our virtual conference) please do so in the Suggestions section of this site or on our end of conference survey. We’d love to hear from you. Also don’t forget to let us know if you like the idea of a workshop on how to use historical research for writing fiction.

Best wishes


A History of historical fiction

Over the last month Dr Matt Phillpott has published on the IHR Digital blog a series of posts describing the results of his investigation into the history of historical fiction.  The idea was to provide a brief overview of the subject.

These have now been collated into a short online article which is now available as a pdf file.

A history of historical fiction PDF Copy

For access to each section as blog posts click the links below.

1. A Brief History of Historical Fiction Introduction

2. Theories of historical fiction

3. Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley – the first historical novel? Part One

4. Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley – the first historical novel? Part Two

5. Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley – the first historical novel? Part Three

6. Early French historical novelists

7. The first phase of Historical Novels: Don Carlos, Montpensier and The Princess of Cleves

8. The Nineteenth Century Historical Novel – An educative genre

9. The Nineteenth Century Historical Novel – Nationalism and Desire

10. Historical Fiction in the twentieth Century

11. The gendering of historical fiction Part One

12. The gendering of historical fiction Part Two

13. Postmodernism and historical fiction Part One

14. Postmodernism and historical fiction Part Two

15. Novel Approaches


Competition winners

At the beginning of the week we set up a competition.  We asked you to write a short piece about what your favorite historical novel is (why? and, if applicable, how this has influenced your thoughts on academic history?).

We are now very pleased to announce the winners of this competition:

£25 Amazon book vouchers     Susan Beaumont (click here for the entry)

1 year subscription to the IHR journal Historical Research    Jody Allen (click here for the entry)

We will be in touch with the winners at the beginning of next week regarding their prize.  Well done!

And thank you to everyone who took part.