Too much History for Historical Fiction

What does a writer (unpublished) do when told by someone in the publishing industry that although she (the writer) has an impressive knowledge of history, there is far too much of it going on in her Historical Fiction novel?

And – that her Main Character is not famous enough for anyone to EVER be interested in reading her story?

My main character – Marie de Rohan – helped drive a fundamental change in 17th century European history. Her story can’t be told without this ‘history’ aspect. She was interesting enough for Alexandre Dumas to write about her and for Marcel Proust to mention her in his Remembrance of Things Past. Also – Queen Victoria was on the throne when the last major study of her life happened.

Both comments have utterly floored me for a while now. Are these industry wide thoughts?
Is there no room anymore for the new subject – a Scarlett O’Hara rather than sweetie-pie?
No room for the pure, un-PC historical without pages of velvet bodices and excruciating post- Freudian self-examination?

I don’t – I can’t – believe that this is true. Am I wrong? Do you have any thoughts about marquee names and watered down history? Help, please!

Picking myself off the floor now.
I’m stubborn enough to carry on regardless. Just not sure which way to turn!!

Marie de Rohan

Theme in Storytelling

Mark Barrett has lately been publishing a series of posts about THEME on his site Ditchwalk

He cites Thomas McCormack’s book THE FICTION EDITOR which includes a chapter called Axing Theme.

To quote Mr McCormack – ‘Let’s start calmly: Each appearance of the word ‘theme’ in a literature appreciation textbook should be marked with that yellow crime-scene tape. Samples of the way ‘theme’ is taught should be sent to Atlanta so the Centers for Disease Control can get on it…I seriously pursue this crusade here, albeit in condensed, almost outline, form, because I believe that what’s being done in classrooms stunts, and even kills, the ability and appetite of many of the best students. This deprives our globe of much talent that would otherwise find itself in writing, teaching, reading . . . and editing.’

When Mark Barrett asked Mr McCormack for permission to quote from his book he received this reply – ‘I have no objection to your posting the piece wherever you will — the primary motivation behind my writing that book was not to get rich but to promulgate some helpful things I’d learned in many years of association with storytelling.’

Flannery O’Connor’s take on THEME – “People talk about the theme of a story as if the theme were like a string that a sack of chicken feed is tied with. They think that if you can pick out the theme, the way you pick the right thread in the chicken-feed sack, you can rip the story open and feed the chickens. But this is not the way meaning works in fiction. . . . The meaning of a story has to be embodied in it, has to be made concrete in it. A story is a way to say something that can’t be said any other way, and it takes every word in the story to say what the meaning is.”

You can access Mr McCormack’s full article about Theme and its dire effects here.


Hoydens and Firebrands

I’ve been beside myself with delight this week, having been honoured with a guest spot at the fabulous blog Hoydens and Firebrands

Hoydens and Firebrands is home to several great writers of 17th Century Historical Fiction who share their work, research and love for this fascinating century with us.

Our Roaring Ladies are:

Alison Stuart – By the Sword, The King’s Man.

Anita Davisdon – Duking Days Rebellion, Duking Days Revolution.

Kim Murphy – Whispers through Time, Whispers from the Grave.

Mary Sharratt – The Vanishing Point, Daughters of the Witching Hill.

Sandra Gulland – Mistress of the Sun, The Josephine B Trilogy.

My thanks go to all of you for allowing me to share your warm, bright place.

Please visit Hoydens and Firebrands – – Roaring Ladies who Write about the 17th Century.

So great is the Crowd

As a contrast to the previous post about solitude, here’s a wonderful quote from a dispatch written by the Papal Nuncio Bentivoglio  to Cardinal Borghese. He describes the early 17th century French court…

It is impossible to imagine how great the confusion is at present. They seem fond of a grandeur full of tumult and noise intruding not only in the audience chambers and in public view, but on the King himself. I sometimes despair of being heard, as there is scarce space between my words and the ears of the king, so great is the crowd.’

Court of Louis XIII

Court of Louis XIII


I’m reading a lovely paperback called Solitude by Anthony Storr and his introduction struck me.

He quotes Edward Gibbon:

‘Conversation enriches the understanding, but solitude is the school of genius; and the uniformity of a work denotes the hand of a single artist.’

Many people today are afraid of solitude and modern attitudes state that we, as humans, can only ever find true fulfilment in companionship.

Writing is often called a ‘lonely profession.’ Many creative activities could be called the same and it is interesting to note that many of the greatest minds never married or formed any close personal ties.

To whit – Spinoza, Pascal, Locke, Kant, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Newton, Descartes or Hildegarde or St Theresa or Hypatia.

From Storr…

Creative talent of a major kind is not widely bestowed. Those who possess it are often regarded with awe and envy because of their gifts. They also tend to be thought of as peculiar; odd human beings who do not share the pains and pleasures of the average person. Does this difference imply abnormality in the sense of psychopathology? More particularly, is the predilection of the creative person for solitude evidence of some inability to make close relationships?’

Edward Gibbon was a writer and a happy man who chose the solitary life and his writing over all else:

‘In old age, the consolation of hope is reserved for the tenderness of parents, who commence a new life in their children; the faith of enthusiasts who sing Hallelujahs above the clouds, and the vanity of authors who presume the immortality of their name and writings.’

There is a happy medium. A wonderful family, several pets – and a sound-proofed room of one’s own. Oh! And Army Issue Ear Defenders.

17th Century Anagrams

I’ve been reading about Dame Eleanor Davies and her time in Bedlam. She was committed to the asylum on December 17th 1636.

She had been tried in 1633 for treason against King Charles 1. The charge levelled because of her self-proclaimed status as prophetess and, more damaging, her prophecies about the deaths of Buckingham and Charles.

Dame Eleanor played a popular 17th century game of anagrams but her’s was more dangerous. When she realised that John Davies (the name of her husband) was an anagram of JOVE’S HAND, she put on widow’s weeds and publicly declared that her husband would be dead within a year.

John’s response was – ‘I pray you weep not while I’m alive, and I will give you leave to laugh when I am dead.’

Eleanor laughed before the year was out.

At her trial, a chaplain played the Dame at her own game by demonstrating that Eleanor’s name made the anagram ‘NEVER SO MAD A LADIE’

This all got me thinking about my own characters names and anagrams and I tested a few.

My main character is called Marie de Rohan – DRAMA HEROINE

Louis de Bourbon – DUBIOUS NOBLE OR

Cardinal Richelieu – A CLINICAL RUED HEIR

Gaston d’Orléans – A GRANDNESS FOOL

Walter Montagu – NATURAL GEM – WOT.

I’ve decided to rename my novel. It’s now A SAVAGED MANY FLOWER VOW by QUEEN JIGGLY ARC.

Keep your eye out for it!

17th Century Gossip Column

from Tallemant, sieur des Réaux 1619-1692…


One of M. d’Orléans’ followers was Sauvage. He was a very agreeable fellow, whose god was his belly. He used to give admirable imitations of the songs of the Pont Neuf.


When Monsieur had gone away to Lorraine, he was anxious to seek him out, and, in order to get hold of boots cheaply, he ordered a pair from each of ten or twelve different shoemakers, giving them different hours to call. To each one he declared that one boot was too tight, and then gave them all one time at which to bring them back. When they came – they found nobody!

From Brussels Sauvage used to send gazettes full of inventions to spike the wheels of Renaudot, whose Gazette de France was beginning to circulate. (1631) The gazette of Sauvage was much more popular than the other. Moreover, for the sake of diversion, he used every day to contrive some imposture or other.

It was he who had engraved the representation of a fish which he styled ‘the Adriatic Carp,’ in the body of which had been found, according to the inscription, I know not how many muskets, halberds, crosses etc. This circulated throughout France.

His last imposture was an edict of the parliament of Grenoble, whereby a certain child was declared legitimate, although the mother confessed that it was conceived during her husband’s absence, on the grounds that it was done by the force of imagination, she thinking that he was living with her. The names were given, and those of the doctor and midwife too.

Plenty of good folk believed it.

It was written in the true style of Grenoble, and the Procurator-General of Paris wrote to that of Grenoble concerning this edict.

The parliament there issued one against the author, whereof the latter only made mock.

In the medical schools the question was debated whether the force of imagination could suffice to produce a conception.

Sometimes Sauvage concocted also satiric gazettes, as that one in which he said: ‘The God of the Charente who appeared to Balzac has arrived here, as little of a God as ever.’