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.
“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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