This morning Henry has been telling us all he knows about Star Wars. Isn’t that history now? I seem to recall the films came out in the nineteen seventies. Henry is now two years old, but when he gets to my age the world will have moved on and the events of today will be ancient history.I’ve mentioned elsewhere that I have an interest in history and I’ve tried my hand at writing stories set in past times. I don’t claim to have got everything historically totally accurate – we’re all prone to oversights - but I do claim to have put in many hours of research before I began those novels. And I do make an attempt to create a believable historical atmosphere.
I quickly lose interest in a novel when I detect that the writer has made little effort to pay respect to recorded historical fact. Why do writers stray away from historical accuracy? Is it because they are so used to Hollywood movies, like the silly Braveheart film, where any pretence to the truth of history was thrown out of the window? Or is it a matter of the writer being too lazy to do the barest amount of research?
A few years ago, a publisher asked me to proof-read a novel set in eleventh century England. It was so wide of the mark that it could have been a comedy script, except that it wasn’t intended to be comedy. The writer really believed that Anglo-Saxon people lived in huge stone-built Norman castle keeps shortly after the Norman invasion (even the Normans took some years to get those castles up and running and lived in wooden structures in the meantime). I think she must have been watching Errol Flynn in that old Robin Hood film. When I pointed out some of the more basic errors (there were many) the author threw her rattle out of the cot and promptly had her contract terminated.
I was recently grateful to Kath, another writer of historical fiction, who pointed me towards a very useful book called Medieval Underpants. It says all there is to say on the matter of historical accuracy.
Which brings me back to the future, when Henry will be my age. Life will be very different then and the things we take for granted today will be history. I wonder if the family videos we have stored on our computer will remind him of what today’s way of life is really like. I think about that when he wanders into the study, climbs onto my knee and says, “See Henry.”