Friday, September 01, 2006


"Advice to Persons about to write history - Don't."
John Emerich Edward Dalber-Acton, Lord Acton 1834 - 1902
Letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton April 5, 1887

I'll clarify that statement. If you want to write history, be prepared to spend hours, maybe years, researching your subject. May sure you are avidly keen on the subject and willing to devote yourself to long periods of time immersed in that other world. It will be an adventure that you will never regret taking!

Recently there was a blog about the five historical novels that inspired the writer to write historical fiction. As long as I can remember going to the library most of the books I borrowed or collected for my own use were historical fiction themes. Some of them had a profound affect on me at an early age. Being brought up in a Christian family where the Bible was daily reading material, and my father a Baptist minister, I became keenly interested in the Holy Lands and from there, Greece and Rome. I not only read all the books I could find with those settings, but saw movies as well and was totally drawn into that ancient world. By the time I was sixteen I had already written a few short novels (and plays) with Biblical themes set in Palestine, Rome or Greece. And then, I discovered Alexander the Great and my life was to be changed forever as I grew to know this amazing young man. I wrote my first novel with an Alexander theme the last year of high-school. Almost failed my grades because of it. But I was consumed, intrigued, and totally in love with the character. I spent all my spare time in the library researching. And from that time on Alexander and his World have become a major part of my life.

I also grew up reading about British history and was greatly influenced by Shakespeare when I saw my first Shakespearean play "Richard the Third" when I was 14. Other writers of ancient and medieval and Victorian Britain also influenced me. My second work-in-progress
Dragons in the Sky is a Celtic novel set in Iron Age Britain near Stonehenge.

What did I read (and what do I read?) that inspires me to write in this genre?
Here are some of the writer's and their books that have definitely influenced me.

CHARLES DICKENS I was particularly fond of "Oliver Twist" and, of course,
"A Christmas Carol."

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE All his plays. I can watch them time and time again and never grow tired of them. My favorite, of course, is Richard the Third. But I also love Othello and A Midsummers Night Dream.


THOMAS B. COSTAIN I was particularly impressed by "The Black Rose" and always thought it was written by Sir Walter Scott. It turns out that Costain was known as the Canadian Sir Walter Scott. He also write The Silver Chalice . Both of these were made into movies which I loved. I googled the Black Rose which was filmed in 1950. I knew that it had starred Tyrone Power, but was amazed to find that the cast also included such notables as Orson Wells, Michael Rennie, Laurence Harvey, and get this: Robert Blake of "In Cold Blood" fame. The other film , The Silver Chalice, starred Paul Newman.

HOMER "The Iliad" and "The Odyssey" are my Greek history 'bibles'

SOPHOCLES & EURIPIDES All their plays. I love Greek drama, especially the tragedies.

MARY RENAULT I read her novels over and over and refer to them constantly. I have learned from her how to construct stories from ancient history and make them live. She, in a way, has been my historical fiction 'mentor'. My favorite is Fire From Heaven but I'm also fond of The Mask of Apollo and the two books about Theseus and the Minoans, The King Must Die and The Bull From the Sea

MARY STUART Her Celtic stories, especially Song for a Dark Queen

MARGUERITE YUCENOR "Memoirs of Hadrian" and "Fires"

MARGARET GEORGE Memoirs of Cleopatra

STEVEN PRESSFIELD He's my current favorite historical writer. "Gates of Fire" is a masterpiece about the Spartans. And his newest novel is "The Afghan Campaign"
(check out the dedication!) I can dream, can't I? Or is it a dream come true?

What books (or writers) have influenced you?

"A few hints as to literary craftsmanship may be useful to budding historians. First and foremost, get writing!"
Samuel Eliot Morison 1887 - 1976 History as a Literary Art, Old South Leaflets 1946


Anonymous said...

Enjoyed your list. Something I'll have to do myself.

Browsed your just discovered blog and I like it, so I bookmarked it. I'm writing my first historical novel. It takes place in Victorian England. I'm always looking for sources of craft, inspiration, and research.

Gene Calvert Washington, DC

Debra Young said...

Oh man, I so love historical's a few of mine:

Mika Waltari's THE EGYPTIAN, read in junior high and still remember it!
AKHENATON, Cecelia Holland (I think)
Wilbur Smith's novels of ancient Egypt (RIVER GOD)
and Greek and Roman mythology led me to read about these cultures

A DISTANT MIRROR, Barbara Tuchman (not historical fiction but an inspiring work about the 14th century), also her book about writing historY, PRACTICING HISTORY

Kay Richardson said...

The Spire. There's a great historical nov for you. Written by William Golding. Full of phallic imagery and everything.

Sam said...

LOL - Just read Kay's comment. Cheeky!
Anyhow, I love historical fiction and history books. I see Debra likes Barbara Tuchman - she's my fave too - LOVED her 'In a Distant Mirror', and of course Shakespeare and Homere!

Wynn Bexton said...

Interesting comments and book lists, friends. Thanks for replying.

I'm off to NYC for five days now. Back on the blogspot next weekend.
Check my travel blog for updates:

Gabriele Campbell said...

Nice list. I see you have Ivanhoe and the old epics, too (for me it was the Song of the Niblungs as much as the Illiad). But I can't get into Dickens.

Wynn Bexton said...

Back from my fabulous trip to the Big Apple. I'll be posting travel blogs soon.
My latest reading has been the memoirs of Queen Noor of Jordan
"Leap of Faith" which is an incredible story, a quite an education to read. I highly recommend it!