Why historians should write fiction

A well-argued piece by Ian Mortimer (James Forrester) – the case for historians immersing themselves in the past by writing historical fiction, and reflecting what they want to say about the human condition in the mirror of times in history when certain beliefs, mores, or behaviours were much more prevalent. There’s a simlar argument for good science fiction, too.

Novel approaches


 Ian Mortimer

“Your book reads like a novel,” is a comment that popular historians often hear. When said by a general reader, it is a compliment: an acknowledgement of the fluency of the writing and a compelling story. If a historian uses those same words, however, it is an insult. It means ‘you cannot be trusted on your facts’. Hence the title of this piece is bound to infuriate every reader of this journal, for it implies that historians should tell lies. After all, that is what novelists do, isn’t it? Make it all up if they don’t know the facts?

I ought to explain at the outset that I am a novelist (James Forrester) as well as a historian (Ian Mortimer), and I write history for the mass market as well as scholarly articles. As a novelist, I tell lies. Whoppers. All historical novelists do. In my…

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Field walk, Moores Lane, East Bergholt

Just to complete the story – this is what the lovely volunteers who got my lecture on how to identify a flint tool – complete with the supersized example from the blog post below – achieved :)

Field walk report, field adjacent to Moores Lane development


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One blow away from a teaching tool…

Found a lovely big flint nodule in a field the other day, and have just been sat outside in the sunshine attempting to turn it into an axe.

Got impatient with a ridge, hit it far too hard, split the axe down the middle (taking a slice of finger with it), and cursed horribly – until I realised that I’d made the perfect teaching tool for field walkers :)

THIS is a striking platform; this is a bulb of percussion (although they’re usually much smaller than this *blush*), and look, on this side I’ve taken the edge down with just an antler horn, note the size of the indentations; and on this side, the same with a bronze point.


Bulb of percussion & bronze tip work (on right)

Antler work on the flip side

Antler work on the flip side

Super! Now off to bleed on another hobby, had enough knapping excitement for one day :)

Whilst I’m thinking about it, here’s a very uselful little guide to fieldwalking. Thank you, Cambridge Archaeology Field Group :)


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On nuns and rocks

I came across a most interesting article today.

Even if you aren’t interested in mediaeval fighting (ARE any of my friends not interested in mediaeval fighting? What does that say about us? lol), the article rocks for this statement alone. And scroll down to the first illustration to see it in action :)

“The manual includes instruction on all sorts of weapons and covers a wide arrange of scenarios, including, brilliantly, how to fight a nun who has a rock wrapped in her veil while you are standing up to your waist in a hole. (Whether or not Tolhoffer intended it, the description also works as a lesson for nuns: how to fight a man standing up to his waist in a hole while you have only a rock and your veil).”


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2015 Reader Survey Results

Mary Tod’s 2015 survey on what makes a good book, in the eyes of readers – mainly of historical fiction. Essential reading – and thanks for all the work you put into it, Mary!

A Writer of History

2015 What countryThe 2015 reader survey ran from April 23 to May 19 and reached 2033 participants from different parts of the world.

2015 Historical Fiction Reader Survey report summarizes results shedding light on preferences and habits of readers, particularly in the realm of historical fiction. The report includes unique questions for authors, bloggers and publishing industry professionals as well as a series of questions regarding social reading. Click here to access the full 24-page report.

Stay tuned for further insights regarding favourite authors — more than 3600 entries to collate — and favourite historical fiction — more than 4000 entries to collate — as well as deeper analysis from cross-tabulation of results.

Best way to ‘stay tuned’ is to follow A Writer of History (see the FOLLOW button on the left hand margin).

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I have had an interesting day so far; I got up, put my glasses on, and cursed as a lens slipped out. Closer inspection (one-eyed) showed that the frame had snapped just above the nose-rest.

Hah! thought I. I can fix this; what is the point of developing a new hobby as a jewellery maker, if I can’t put the skills to good use? Some fine wire (or at the worst, gaffer tape) will do. Unfortunately, tightening the wire caused the frame to snap at the top.

More cursing, and a call to Specsavers, for an urgent appointment – and a frantic scrabble through drawers to find something I can see to drive in. Can you be here in 20 minutes? Um, I can try…

Driving as fast as I dare in pouring rain, trying to remember how to get to the carpark in town that’s by far the nearest to Specsavers, but has a very eccentric way in… Yes! A stroke of luck; found it by accident. Its parking meters are both bust. Gah! I hope the parking officer is Someplace Else today.

Strolled into Specsavers one minute before my appointment. Got seen and processed through the various stages very efficiently; paid less than I was fearing; and then got the bad news. The replacements will be two weeks coming :( And they can’t fit the old lenses into anything temporarily, because you need the EXACT same frames.

Back home. The piles of discarded glasses cases need tidying. One pair that had been discarded earlier – prescription sunglasses, no good in the rain – look interesting. Find a pair of reading glasses, and inspect – Yes! They are the same frame!

Hunt for teeny screwdriver. Pop out brown lenses; pop in clear, old ones. Drop teeny screw on floor. Curse. Find it on hands and knees; after much fiddling, replace. Wash glasses; try on. EURGH! No! Curse. Swap lenses, left for right. Drop teeny screw on desktop, curse, replace; wash; try on.

Whew! Not too bad. Not as good as the old set up, but probably OK for a fortnight. I can now see to read, drive, and work. If I’m really lucky, my brain will compensate, and I won’t have this headache for a fortnight!

Times like this make me SO aware that I would have hated growing old in any era that predated prescription lenses!


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Mediocre Failures

This is a superb response to the “Pass SATS or you’re a failure” Conservative policy announced today. Every child Matters, right? This paragraph sums it up for me:
“Perhaps most importantly, we could offer kids like mine what their primary school has offered them already : care, compassion; an opportunity to shine at non-academic activities like swimming, or telling stories, or singing; a safe place where dedicated adults try to find what they’re good at (even if they’re not actually that good at it) and nurture those abilities and interests. Rather than saying “Look, kid, you’re 11 now, so jump through this specific hoop, or you’re a failure”, we might see it as our duty to try and offer at least a range of different approaches to education which allow all children to get something valuable out of their last half-decade of schooling.”

Disappointed Idealist

My children are adopted. They were adopted at the ages of three, four and six. As with nearly all children adopted in this country over the last couple of decades, this means that their early life experiences were pretty terrible. As each was born, their collective experience of life became more damaging, as their circumstances worsened. So the eldest is least affected as her first years were perhaps less difficult experiences, while the youngest is most affected, as her entire first two years of life were appalling. I’m not going to go into detail here about their specific early life experiences, but if you want to read up on the sort of effects which can result from serious neglect or abuse, then you could read this .

Why am I writing this ? Especially now after midnight in the middle of the Easter holidays ? It’s because I’m so angry I…

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Oliver Rackham

“It was hard to penetrate any room in his house because of the piles of books and specimens.”

That’s the kind of obituary I’d like – Oliver Rackham was a true scholar; ecologist, biologist, archaeologist – and with the authorial skill to put across the wonderful synthesis of ideas he came up with.

I never met the man, but I own many of his books, and I’m sad he’s not around to write more.

Oliver Rackham; thank you; rest in peace.


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I wanted to be a writer when I grew up…

A guest article I wrote on the subject: http://www.withoutbooks.com/when-asked-im-proud-to-say-im-a-writer/ My friend Amy Burns Heffernan has a fascinating and growing blog on all things writerly, with a good sprinkling of guest posts, at her blog “Without books… life would be dull!” – I love her concept, and am proud to be asked to contribute.   Nicky.

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Goodreads giveaway – Henry and the Magic Pencil Book 1

To celebrate the release of Book 2, I have a signed copy of Henry and the Magic Pencil Book 1 up for grabs on Goodreads.


Limited time offer, put your name in the hat today! Or if you can’t wait, all the stories are on Amazon.


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