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Rory Clements Bibliography Template


Jan 16, 2012, 1:49am

I've seen a lot of discussion lately about the popularity (or assumed popularity) of real historical figures (the Tudors, for example) in novels. Publishers seem to think that this is what readers want--glamorous (or not-so-glamourous) royalty and their courtiers. Some readers prefer fictional characters; certainly, putting a fictional character at the center of your story would seem to give the writer more latitude.

When I read historical novels, I don't mind the appearance of a real figure in a cameo. For example, Henry VIII makes a brief and rather pathetic appearance in the latest Matthew Sheldrake adventure by C.J. Sansom; Sir James Saumarez and other officers are found interacting with Patrick O'Brian's fictional characters. And I think those authors do their best to make such portrayals accurate.

When a historical personage is a major character in a novel, it seems the author has got to take special pains with him or her--not just to be accurate, but to be fair. I've just finished Revenger by Rory Clements, in which Sir Walter Ralegh is accused of crimes far more serious than marrying without the Queen's consent. I'm assuming that Mr. Clements did do his research--I'm not picking him out for criticism. But suppose your character is someone of whom little is known. Does that entitle the author to turn her into a Disneyesque wicked stepmother, for example (yes, I do actually have a novel or two in mind here)? Can an author decide to turn character B into character A's older sister, when B was actually younger (and maybe not a sister at all)? How about the protagonist's love life? I'd prefer that authors save those detailed descriptions for their truly fictional creations. If there's some evidence pointing to a romantic relationship between real persons, I think it should be handled discreetly. And finally, I get tired of authors' killing off historical figures in various gruesome ways, when there's no evidence for unnatural death. (Two novels--one a historical mystery and the other a pathetic supernatural fantasy that probably only got published because of the author's connections--have the same character murdered by being buried alive. This real historical figure was someone who died at a reasonably advanced age and probably of natural causes.)

And then there's the plot in which real characters become--ahem--vampires.

Readers, writers, historians--what do you think?


Jan 16, 2012, 2:31am

There seem to be two types of historical novelists:
- the ones doing their research and trying to stick to the real history of the person (as much as possible) or at least invent stories that could have happened.
- the ones that use the historical figures as figureheads - just to ground their story in the time and then proceed to tell a story that has the correct name... but nothing else matches.

I prefer the first type and when reading about a period I know well, the second type is pissing me off.

The vampire/ghost ones worry me the least - if I am reading the book, I know this is going to be a fantasy based on the real person so... I read ahead. One of my favorite series is like that (Henry Fitzroy turned into a vampire instead of being dead in Tanya Huff's novels). He is also now in the 20th century of course so it does not really qualify as historical fiction but that's the first example I could think of. One of the real historical figures being a vampire and a story about him in his real life time? No troubles - for the same reasons -- the mere moving into the neighboring fantasy genre allows the authors to explore the figure differently.

If it is fantasy/SF/horror, I do not expect the history to be followed correctly -- simply because of that small thing called the "alternative history" subgenre. :) In real historical books - it depends. If there are some rumors, it is possible I suspect. Or if the author actually tries to make a point that something might have happened differently. And it will depend on how the character is handled beforehand.


Edited: Jan 16, 2012, 4:57am

> 2 AnnieMod

I also prefer the first type.

An author who worked masterly in this way is Dorothy Dunnett. Starting in November last year I’m reading her Niccolo-series, situated appr. 1460-1480 and covering Europe (Iceland incl.) and parts of Asia and Africa.

Her protagonist is not historical, but I guess about half to three-quarters of her characters are. (They can neatly be looked up in two Dorothy Dunnett companions by Elspeth Morrison as are the ways and conventions of medieval commerce in Peter Spufford’s beautiful Power and Profit).

I am – again – completely enthralled by DD, whose Lymond series that I will reread next winter or earlier I read about 10 years ago. That series is differently situated: an age later, ‘faster’ and with a more limited geographical scope.

In my opinion DD’s craftsmanship as a writer ‘giving flesh and bones to history’ is unsurpassed, and I agree wholeheartedly with someone who called her the ‘Queen of Dialogue’.

So sad that she, one of the greatest writers of historical fiction ever, seems to be almost forgotten. Nobody in my daily surroundings knows of her or her works.


Jan 16, 2012, 5:37am

>3 marieke54:

Never heard of her...
Some of the great authors of yesterday had been forgotten - for various reasons. I like finding them again.


Jan 16, 2012, 7:10am

#3 I am a Dorothy Dunnett fan and have read and re-read her Lymond and Niccolo novels. I've been in love with Francis Crawford since I read the first book when I was a teenager, some 40 years ago now!


Jan 16, 2012, 7:39am

I tried Dorothy Dunnett last year — on the recommendation of people in this group, I think — but I ran out of energy about halfway through The game of kings. I'm not sure if I should try to carry on: I liked the attention to historical detail, the way she brings in period ballads, and the whole Border atmosphere (the craftsmanship, as Marieke says), but I got tired of the characters. They don't seem to develop at all, or have any real human quirks about them, but react to every situation in exactly the way you'd expect, like automata. In a relatively slow-moving story, that gets tedious after a while. Like reading Scott, but without the humanity and sense of fun that makes Scott worth reading. Or like bad science-fiction. But I might be judging her on the basis of an unrepresentative sample: it was her first book, after all.

On the more general question, I think it must be much harder to write an interesting novel about a well-known historical figure than about a fictional character. One big problem is that your readers already know where you're going with the story, or think they do: you can fool them by stopping before you get there (Wolf Hall) or by adding a twist that for some plausible reason never found its way into the history books. But there's only a limited number of times you can pull that sort of trick. If you stick to the known facts about the character, you may end up with something that reads more like a biography than a novel, and leaves the reader wondering why you bothered with the apparatus of fiction at all (T.C. Boyle's The Women, for instance). It's probably safer to centre your story on a "minor" character who either didn't exist or about whom the reader won't know very much. The late George MacDonald Fraser was a positive genius at getting his fictional hero Flashman into situations where he could observe the great events of history, but never leave a mark on the historical record (for plausible but thoroughly discreditable reasons, of course).

Before Christmas I read both Margaret Forster's Lady's Maid and Virginia Woolf's Flush: a biography. One takes Elizabeth Barrett Browning's maid as central character, the other her dog. As there's far more documentary material available in EBB's letters about Flush than about Elizabeth Wilson (doesn't that say something about Victorian England!) Woolf should have had a harder job than Forster, but on balance I think hers was the better book. I'm not sure what that tells us, except that Woolf was the better writer, even when she was fooling around...


Jan 16, 2012, 10:20am

May I address this as a writer, without being offensive or being suspected of shilling my books?


Jan 16, 2012, 10:54am

As both a reader and writer, I like the type book that stays close to the facts. I've found real human stories are usually as thrilling and interesting as fiction, sometimes more fantastic. I have a manuscript with an agent in which the protagonist is kidnapped, held hostage, marries her captor, overthrows a usurper, and rules the Western Roman Empire...and it's all historically accurate. Very few people have ever heard of her (so the agent will probably have a hard time placing the book...no built in audience like the Tudors or the Borgias.) Her life is worthy of a soap opera. My job as author is to create the kind of characters who would actually do the things that history tells us they did and tell their story in an entertaining way. There's always a place for "literary license" when historians disagree or the truth is unknown, if it's not taken too far. A secret meeting between Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots is a favorite of authors. It could have happened, even though we don't have any evidence. Personally I feel it's a stretch, but can see why authors are drawn to the dramatic possibilities. Author's notes are invaluable in explaining where a writer might have embellished the facts or explained why s/he went with one interpretation over another when there is confusion. Ignoring or changing known facts like manner of death, birth order, marriages, etc. crosses the line for me.

I also enjoy totally fictional characters with historical "cameos" if they are dealing with historical events and shed light on life and times. Robert Harris does a great job of this in Pompeii. A fictional engineer investigates the failure of the aqueduct system shortly before and during the famous eruption. Pliny the Elder and Pliny the Younger make important cameo appearances, but the emphasis is on the engineer and his race to figure out why the water system failed, then his (and others) struggle to survive the Vesuvius.

Fantasy and alternate history are wide open and everything and everyone is fair game. Readers know before going in to judge the book on it's entertainment value, not historical accuracy.


Jan 16, 2012, 10:56am

I too much prefer # 1, accurate historical fiction, partly because of other readers who think something is accurate when it isn't.


Jan 16, 2012, 3:28pm

Thanks for that link - very enjoyable.


Jan 16, 2012, 4:29pm

> 8

Yes, please! I'd love to hear an author's perspective on this.


Jan 16, 2012, 11:20pm

Thanks, lilithcat.

I write young adult historical fantasy. In my books so far (two published and a third coming out this summer) I use historical figures and situations as the basis for my fiction. My first book was built around the fact that Queen Victoria, before she became queen, had a difficult teenhood: her mother's comptroller really was a Disney-like villain (that's the only way to describe the guy, who did some appalling things to the poor girl) who was, with the mum's connivance, trying to browbeat Victoria into either requesting a regency or accepting him as her private secretary, so that he could in effect rule England (and line his own pockets--he'd already been embezzling from the mum and from Victoria's aunt). I took this true-life situation to hang my story on, and I did my best to be as true to the history and culture of 1837 as possible, and to depict the characters of the historical figures as faithfully as I could based on my understanding of them. In my upcoming book, I do the same with several figures from 1815, including the Duke of Wellington. Most authors of historical fiction that I know are doing just that--the best they can, to bring the past to life. But how they interpret a historical figure may not be how a specific reader would.

In the book I'm working on now, I'm playing with the facts a little more loosely and having historical figures be in places that they really weren't at that time. But I'll be explaining that in an author's note...and even though the historical figures are put into a fictional situation, I'm again trying to depict them and their personalities as closely as I can to my understanding of them. It's walking a fine line between story and fact, and it isn't always an easy line to walk. I do my best. I think most authors do, but again, their interpretations of what is "best" may differ, and you as readers (and heck, me too as a reader) are free to differ.

Another point, more personal to me, that #10 touched on: because I'm writing for young adults (though I've seemed to have some crossover success), I feel it's absolutely incumbent on me to be as accurate as I can (or as accurate as anyone can be, when writing about a time and place that isn't their own) because my books may be the only place they learn anything about what life was like in England in 1837 or 1815...and if I can, I want to entice them into thinking that gee, maybe history isn't all that dry and boring. So I do what I can to bring it to life and make people like Queen Victoria (who, after all, became queen three weeks after her 18th birthday!) relateable and intriguing. Who knows what future reading my silly books might inspire?

Sorry that was so long--this is something I think about a lot.


Edited: Jan 17, 2012, 7:20am

>14 Marissa_Doyle:
Thanks for posting that, Marissa. (At least you know that with "Young Victoria" practically anything will look like serious history when compared to what Julian Fellows did with it.)

I'm sure we as readers are sometimes rather unfair to authors. If you represent historical figures exactly as we imagine them, we accuse you of being dull; if you don't, then you're clearly wrong, even if you've read Victoria's diaries and I've only looked at secondary sources. :-)


Jan 17, 2012, 7:14am

Yes, he took a little too much, ah, creative license at times for my taste. But darn, the costumes were dead on and the sets were gorgeous!


Jan 17, 2012, 7:28am

>14 Marissa_Doyle:,15
Sorry, amplified my post while you were replying to it...

To be fair to JF, the casting director probably had a lot to do with sabotaging the story. With a Lord Melbourne who was barely out of nappies and an Albert who thought he was still playing Mr Wickham, he didn't stand much chance of making it believable.

BTW: I've always suspected that the "Bedchamber crisis" was a ruse thought up by schoolteachers to make next week's lesson sound interesting.


Jan 17, 2012, 9:20am

> .16

That's exactly how I felt about the film, Mozart's Sister! Gorgeous costumes, and they got to film at Versailles(!), but events were wrenched wildly out of time. (Among other things, the film had the Mozarts arriving in Paris at the time of an event that occurred about 10 years before Wolfgang was even born!)

I'm glad you take the trouble that you obviously do to be accurate. It would be very easy for someone who writes fantasy to justify inaccuracies by saying, "It's just fantasy."

depict the characters of the historical figures as faithfully as I could based on my understanding of them.

I think that's the best that anyone can do. Particularly when the historical record is meager or lacking, differences of interpretation are bound to arise, and both author and readers must accept that. It is important, though, that the writer also write with an understanding of the times in which the person lived. I'm always bothered when an historical personage is given a 21st-century sensibility.


Jan 17, 2012, 3:12pm

#7 You got further than me in The Game of Kings. I only got to page 75. I just couldn't get into it. Perhaps I should give it another go? I'm curious to see if it develops more. I've always enjoyed the recommendations of other readers. So many fans.....it must be good right?

As far as the discussion goes. I agree with choice number one. As a student of history, it really makes me mad when things are placed into books that are so out of place.


Jan 17, 2012, 7:49pm

The Game of Kings is the most difficult to read of the series, but I think worth sticking with. I love the series, but was disappointed with the last book.


Edited: Jan 17, 2012, 7:52pm

Given that the OP did specifically invite comment from historians . . . here's mine:

The number of well-known historical figures for whom we have comprehensive knowledge of their lives from cradle (or even adulthood) to grave is smaller than you'd think . . . and really small for people who lived prior to (say) 1750. Months . . . years . . . even decades go undocumented, or covered by a historical hand-wave like:

"After taking his medical degree at Edinburgh University, John Smith moved to London and spent the next 5 years working as a society doctor. Then he left it all behind, and moved to Mombasa to set up a clinic for the poor. It is there his story really begins."

So . . . you're a historical novelist and you want to make John Smith (famous for whatever it was he did for the poor in Mombasa) a character in your next book. Having him turn up in New York, or India, or the Antarctic somewhere in those five years would be out-of-bounds. But . . . there's a lot that the good Dr. Smith might have done, in those five years, that history has no record of.

He could have been involved in an unsuccessful plot to blow up the Stock Exchange.

He could have had a passionate affair with a duchess. Or several (affairs or duchesses, serially or in parallel, depending on your genre of choice).

He could have created an artificial human out of spare parts in his garden shed.

He could have spied on the Irish or the French for HM Government.

He could have been involved in an elaborate scheme to sell counterfeit Constable portraits.

Heck . . . maybe one of those was the reason he chucked it all and moved to Mombasa!

Next time you read one of those modern, doorstop biographies . . . look for the places where the author, for all their research (and through no fault of their own) just doesn't know what their subject was doing.

It seems to me that we unnecessarily impoverish ourselves -- as fiction writers, as fiction readers -- when we insist that historical figures only appear in novels doing things that they're documented as doing . . . especially in the periods of their lives where the documentation is thin or non-existent, and there's so much room for entertaining speculation. :-)


Jan 17, 2012, 11:59pm

>21 ABVR:

Well, that might be so but a love affair of Elizabeth I with someone that does not even exist in the real life is a bit too much :)
That is why I said above "or could have happened". Noone really says not to invent stories (this is fiction after all). It is more about the type of stories.

Using a minor character helps. As long as he does not start showing up in places where we would have had documentation for if it was true.


Jan 18, 2012, 1:17am

# 2--I had forgotten all about about Tanya Huff's character Henry Fitzroy--he was really very attractive! I enjoyed the books more for the characters than for the plots, and wouldn't mind reading more. (Ms. Huff, if you're reading this--just a hint!)

One of my favorite mystery series does have a fictionalized historical personage as a protagonist: P.F. Chisholm's Robert Cary mysteries. Her Sir Robert is an attractive character who gets involved in believable situations--he's intelligent and brave and chivalrous (within reason). He also has a sidekick, Sergeant Dodd, a rough-and-ready Northerner (from the Border marches), whose background and culture contrast with those of the polished courtier. Queen Elizabeth I has not made an appearance in these novels, but the characters talk about her; when a serious problem crops up on the Border, her servants on the spot all agree, "Let's not bother Her Majesty with this!" I would like to think that the real Sir Robert would be amused by his fictional counterpart.


Jan 18, 2012, 8:34am

>21 ABVR:,22
Yes. I think there's a sort of convention that writers are allowed to invent people who would have left some trace in the historical record, provided they are well under the radar of the sort of history we are likely to have read. No-one's going to condemn Scott because there's no record at Horse Guards of an Edward Waverley ever having served in the British army, or because the land registry hasn't heard of an Osbaldistone family in Northumberland. No ordinary reader is going to look in those places anyway.
We will even put up with Captains Aubrey, Hornblower, Bolitho, et al., even though they win famous victories that we might well have read about in the history books if they were real.

On the other hand, it seems to be much harder to get away with having a real person do something that doesn't fit in with the historical record: many readers seem to find Kenilworth annoying, because the story contradicts what we know about Robert Dudley from our normal mainstream history books, encyclopedias, or whatever. Even though all Scott really did was take real events a couple of decades apart and mix them together.


Jan 18, 2012, 11:05am


What a wonderful post! You should write a novel on those five years. . .

I have never seen the point in fictionalized accounts of well-known historical figures living through well-documented historical events (why, oh why, would I want to read a novel about Elizabeth I when I could have a good biography?) unless the novel's premise is a giant "What if. . . ?" as in your delightful examples.

The attraction to me is, to continue the example of the OP, in reading fiction set in the Tudor period rather than in the Tudor household itself. When known historical figures make a guest appearance in a novel I'm reading, unless there's a clear artistic justification to do otherwise, I am happier when these appearances either match something in the record which the book's characters easily could have witnessed, or at least don't clash with the record.

Historical figures whose entire lives have only gotten a "historical hand-wave" (love that expression!), however, are fair game: To take that hand-wave, ask "What if. . . ?" and flesh that out to book-length requires tremendous imagination and insight, and makes for a marvelous read.


Jan 18, 2012, 1:16pm

>24 thorold:

The Dudley case is special in some ways - the history books from a century ago (or even less) does not match what we know now either. (he just happens to be a pet project of mine).


Jan 18, 2012, 4:21pm

Bravo #21, I totally agree!


Edited: Aug 20, 2012, 2:05pm

"entertaining speculation" - I love a new look at an old story. We have the psychological expertise to read people and situations in ways far different than we suspect people did 100 - 2000 years ago and much of what got recorded back then may be quite far from the truth also.

That life is "stranger than fiction" is an old saying... I read for enjoyment as to me the story is not as important as the author's skill with both the telling and the use of the language. How an author deals with historical figures says a lot about the author and how the reader accepts the plot and character development says a lot about the reader. For me , an author who takes too many liberties does not get read again... and a historical fantasy designation saves me time and money.


Sep 2, 2013, 3:44pm

I'm also an advocate of the Sharon K. Penman school of exposure to encounters with historical figures are a good part of historical fiction. But I greatly dislike the cardboard image just brought in to bestow a blessing on the hero. You have to do enough research to display the real person IN CHARACTER. Kenneth Roberts had an interesting theme in his novels about the Revolutionary war, that Benedict Arnold was a man of considerable energy and attainments in the War. But doing interior dialogue of George III which display the author's inability to see plausible motivations....Don't do that.


Edited: Jul 5, 2017, 9:35pm


Except when the "what if" is an utter absurdity with reliance on shallow popular familiarity with cartoonish representations of historical figures. Why have her be Elizabeth I queen of England, with all the baggage it entails. Why not name her something else and have her live in a reality all of her own, with its own rules where the premise you have in mind doesn't come of as cheap and sensationalized. Perhaps trying to have it both ways, the characters and settings behaving in entirely invented ways, but also pretending that they are based on reality, with easily recognizable names and no need to provide a detailed background.

Imagine the Mona Lisa except with a can of Campbell's soup in place of her head, genius or tawdry. Now imagine every famous painting with heads replaced by cans of soup, and they keep selling. People just can't get enough of them it seems. Packing every salon. That is not to say I do not like the film Amadeus as much as the next man, but if it were made into a 300+ page novel, given to me at no charge at the airport before my departure on a transcontinental flight, I would have tossed it in the garbage where it belongs and watched the film during the flight. These things no longer warrant even a chance.

Up to the very last paragraph one might have thought #21 to be facetious, but it turns out to be simply asinine. I for one choose not to think of him that way and propose that an evil presence, a time traveling ghost of John Smith, took over his body and wrote that last paragraph in order to make him look foolish and have us turn from laughing with him to laughing at him. For shame John Smith, for shame.

The eve of war: a secret so deadly, nothing and no one is safe...The gripping new spy thriller from the bestselling author of Corpus.

June 1939. England is partying like there is no tomorrow, gas masks at the ready. In Cambridge the May Balls are played out with a frantic intensity - but the good times won't last... In Europe, the Nazis have invaded Czechoslovakia, and in Germany the persecution of the Jews is now so widespread that desperate Jewish parents send their children to safety in Britain aboard the Kindertransport. Closer to home, the IRA's S-Plan bombing campaign has resulted in more than 100 terrorist outrages around England.

But perhaps the most far-reaching event of all goes largely unreported: in Germany, Otto Hahn has produced the first man-made fission and an atomic device is now a very real possibility. The Nazis set up the Uranverein group of physicists: its task is to build a superbomb. The German High Command is aware that British and US scientists are working on similar lines. Cambridge's Cavendish Laboratory is where the atom was split in 1932. Might the Cambridge men now win the race for a nuclear bomb? Hitler's generals need to be sure they know all the Cavendish's secrets. Only then will it be safe for Germany to wage war.

When one of the Cavendish's finest brains is murdered, Professor Tom Wilde is once more drawn into an intrigue from which there seems no escape. In a conspiracy that stretches from Cambridge to Berlin and from Washington DC to the west coast of Ireland, he faces deadly forces that threaten the fate of the world.

More books by this author

Author bio:

Rory Clements was born on the edge of England in Dover, the son of a Royal Naval officer and a former WREN. Since 2007, Rory has been writing full-time in a quiet corner of Norfolk, England, where he lives with his family. He won the CWA Ellis Peters Historical Award in 2010 for his second novel, Revenger. A TV series of the John Shakespeare novels is currently in development by the team behind Poldark and Endeavour. Find out more at www.roryclements.co.uk.





Pub Date:March 2018

Page Extent:448

Format:Paperback - C format

Subject:Fiction & related items

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