With yesterday's post fresh in your minds, all you have to do is answer the question below, to win one of five copies of Viking Boy:
‘Was there a historical novel you read as a child that still influences you today, and if so, what was it?’
Closing date: 7th October
Competitions open only to UK residents - sorry!
Do Laura Ingalls Wilder's books count as historical novels? They are historical in that they are set in the past, but not historical in the sense that she was imagining a past she didn't know. They are novels in that they are formed into pleasing story shape, selecting from reality, but not in the sense of being totally made-up. But they gave me that strong knowledge that people from the past were as 'real' as we are, and very much like us. Those books made the past immediate and personal in ways that history lessons never did.
NB I went on to study Vikings for my degree, so would particularly love to read that book!
I read lots of Jean Plaidy books. I particularly remember the trilogy about Catherine de Medici, and the one about Lucrezia Borgia I found them a window into other worlds about which I knew very little, and I was intrigued by these powerfully drawn characters, and by Plaidy's interpretation of their motives and actions. I'm sure her books have influenced me, but I'd be hard put to it to say exactly how: I guess I would like to immerse the reader in the same way that she used to immerse me in her books. Or do I mean engrossed? Hm - possibly!
I'm with Pippa - do books set in the past, but not written in the present count? When I was about ten my dad came home from the central library book sale with piles of these old Mary Plain books by Gwynedd Rae. I'm still reading them and I'm pretty sure they've had a huge impact on the way I see books and reading now. It's funny, because books written in the same era don't really seem to have had the same effect.
If you don't know them, Mary Plain is a small bear from the bear pits at Berne zoo. An orphan, she lives with various aunties and uncles and cousins in the zoo until she's adopted by the Owl Man (he wears glasses). Along with his friends the Fur Coat Lady and her husband Bill, Mary is never short of friends or an adventure and she gets into all sorts of scrapes (never of her own making, of course). Precocious, well-meaning and thoroughly likeable - that's Mary Plain.
But what I most remember about the books is the writing she used. Mary Plain would often leave little notes about for her Owl Man or to play with friends and they were written in pictograms. I spent hours happily translating the Mary notes (which was not always easy when the pictures were of things last used about 30 years before I was born!). I've since been very interested in language (even though I'm absolutely pants at learning anything other than German it seems!) and especially in how people write. I spent a good chunk of my time at Uni learning (or trying to learn) how to read Ancient Aramaic, just because I liked how the words were made and how they could change with the use of a single letter in the root. I love finding out about new ways people are learning to read and write and new innovations in technology to help people with dyslexia or similar letter difficulties (so impressed with Hot Key Books right now!). When I was in teacher training, I used what I knew as much as I could in the classroom and I still do it now in my current job, even if it's just looking at different formats of books. Next on my list are to learn some Welsh and marvel at the vowels, locate my prized Deutche Maerchen book with old-fashioned Gothic script and to look at Norse runes and try my hand at that - should prove interesting!
So yes, long waffle short, I blame Mary Plain for a huge and growing interest in the written word and how it can vary - not bad for a little orphan bear with a penchant for pictograms!
The King Must Die and The Bull From The Sea, by Mary Renault. The story of Theseus. I first read them when I was about 12 and have re-read those and her other historical novels many times since. They are astonishing imaginative recreations of the world-view of Ancient Greece. Totally convincing. In The King Must Die we get the child's view of his society and its myths (he is not sure whether he is illegitimate, as some claim, or the son of Poseidon as he has been told by his mother's family) developing into the adult's, and also a way of making perfect sense of the fantastic elements of Greek mythology. It sets an incredibly high standard for historical novels, which unfortunately means I struggled to get into The Song of Achilles as I was always thinking how much better Mary Renault would have done it. The Last of the Wine about young men around Socrates, The Mask of Apollo, with its jobbing actor narrator witnessing the fall of Syracuse and The Praise Singer, based on the poet Simonides, are wonderful too. The last three books, about Alexander the Great, have also set the bar incredibly high.
I'd have to vote for 'Fire from Heaven' by Mary Renault - it has influenced all of my writing life, but before I found it, I was heading to history courtesy of Rosemary Sutcliff. Eagle of the Ninth was a complete revelation to me, but it was the natives I wanted to know about - Esca and Cub and the Seal People. I wrote the entire Boudica:Dreaming series to answer the question, 'what went on behind the deer hide doors that Marcus never saw'.
And last, there was Alan Garner and the "Weirdstone of Brisingamen" and "The Moon of Gomrath" Both set me on the path of searching for the magic in life.
Rosemary Sutcliff's novels of Roman and Celtic Britain had a real impact on me. I read them in West Africa, and they evoked my homeland so powerfully. The Eagle of the Ninth is the one I remember best, it's history but with a flavour of myth, as the legion disappears into the mists.
It was Jean Plaidy for me too. I loved the Norman Trilogy, especially the first part about William the Conqueror. I can still remember how real he became as I read. I think she encouraged my love of history no end, and helped me understand these were actual people with motives and desires. I also adored the storytelling. I think historical fiction is a wonderful way into unfamiliar historical periods and events, as well as being pure pleasure when you read a tale set in your favourite era. As a fledgling historian I want to tell true stories, respecting the sources and historicity, but still with a little of the flair that had me hooked on Plaidy all those years ago!
I've got a sudden urge to read Rosemary Sutcliffe now - thank you!
I agree with everything Sarah said. Mary Renault is the queen of historical fiction and The Last of the Wine is her masterpiece. It literally changed my life. Without that book, read aged 18, I would probably not be a writer and certainly not be a Classicist!
Eagle of the ninth. Loved it.
I remember reading Witch Child in one sitting when I was twelve and then dreaming about it every night for a week! It was the most amazing thing I’d ever read! Celia Rees definitely made me love historical fiction!
Rosemary Sutcliffe first: Brother Dusty feet. Then Mary Renault. Then HM Presott Man on a Donkey and now I'm inspired (and overawed) by Hilary Mantel: A place of Greater saftey, Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies.
Caddy Woodlawn by Carol Ryer-Brink in mid 1800"s homesteaders America.
caddy was always in a scrape but was a brave and resourceful honest girl who even if she was not a "civilized" young lady but was good hearted and kind.
I always wanted to be just like her but I was a smallish girl, shy and wore glasses. I couldn't have been more different.
I know I am from America and not eligible for the prize but do read Caddy Woodlawn she's just as lovely a girl as Ann of Green Gables and just as much fun!
I am not entering the competition but wanted to add that I was brought up on Mary Plain!
And my favourite Rosemary Sutcliffe is Sword at Sunset, her take on the possible historical Arthur.
I absolutely loved Here be Dragons by Sharon Penman, and went on to read her other books, too. For those who haven't read it, it follows King John's illegitimate daughter Joan as she married a Welsh prince at the age of 14. The ups and downs in their marriage are mirrored by ups and downs in the relationship between Wales and England.
The level of research apparent in the book really inspired me and I did my A Level History project on Llewellyn Fawr. I then went on to study archaeology and have been working in heritage ever since. I worked in costume for a while, and I think Penman's description of costume was particularly evocative and started a life-long interest in it.
The Historical novel I loved when in my early teens was a time slip yarn called ‘Playing Beatie Bow’ by Ruth Park. It’s not too well know over here in the UK, but in its native Australia it won the Australian Children’s book of the year award’ in 1981. I discovered by chance in the 1990’s in a dusty corner of the school library. It is about 14 year old Abigail, who gets transported back to Victorian Sydney and becomes integrated in the lives of the Bow family and the hansom Judah in particular. It turns out the Bow’s have been waiting for Abigale, and she has a crucial part to play in their family history. The book is so beautifully imagined and you really feel that you’re in the 19th century ‘The Rocks’ region of Sydney. ‘Playing Beatie Bow,’ has a real air of Celia Rees about it and to me is YA – way before YA even existed.
Rosemary Sutcliff's The Lantern Bearers - I've never forgotten the story of Aquila and his sister.
Rosemary Sutcliff's The Lantern Bearers - I've never forgotten the story of Aquila and his sister.
The book that first got me interested in history and brought the past to life for my young imagination was Cynthia Harnett's The Wool Pack. With her attention to detail, both in her gentle text and charming drawings, I was completely entralled and I've wondered about the past and how people lived ever since.
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