- as always these are notes and therefore inherently flawed - so please don't take them as a precise account of the talk.
Historical Fiction at Its Best
He is fascinated with what a single person can do in a lifetime.
Before becoming a published writer he was an English teacher for seven years. His mum was a history teacher and his great grandfather was a Seanchai (a traditional Irish story teller – the one who passed down the tales orally).
He also said that because these actions took place so long ago that it seems okay even though they were appalling. He provided a quote by Chesterton I think Pen couldn’t keep up – apologies) …I can forgive many sins if a life is interesting enough…
With regard to his own writing practices he never starts with a blank page – he starts with golden lines of history and he joins them up. The Difficulty is the he has to make things up because, as well as the events, you need the motivation and to fill in the blanks and this is where you fall foul of the enthusiast, but choices have to made.
He said that history can change on the single word of a single man.
He then spoke of Genghis Khan and his attraction to write about him:
-greatest rags to riches story ever
-father when he was 11 and the family was abandoned
-utter poverty and expectation of certain death to grandson becoming the emperor of the most powerful country at that time
He is fascinated by the fuel that energizes leaders
-missing male figures
-the men they are produced by are cold and distant figures
He quoted Robert Hindley
Read a lot
Write a lot
Then added never be precious about your work.
Accept that there is an element of luck – for him it was the fact that the film Gladiator had just come out so people were interested in the Romans.
He was asked who inspired him – James Clavell with Tai-Pan, Bernard Cornwell, the Hornblower books.
He said the more books you read the more you can see what works…
your heart pounds because…
you care about something because…
He loves writing history because the plot is taken care of – but people care about people so the core of a book has to be about characters and ones you can care about.
If a reader is upset or thrilled he has done his job.
For research he does travel. Initially he thought he could write without seeing, but found that he needed to see it, smell it ….for example without it he would never have understood that he could travel at 60 miles an hour for eight hours and still be in the same valley.
I could have listened to