52 books in 52 weeks: Writing Crime Fiction – a 60 minute masterclass

06-historical-fictionI set myself the goal of reading and reviewing 52 writing guides over the year. Here is book six.

Writing Historical Fiction – a 60 minute masterclass by Katharine McMahon took me just over an hour to read from start to finish. I read it on the PaperWhite, and that struggled at first to calculate the total time the book would take to read, starting at 6 minutes, then 12 minutes, then finally an hour and 12 minutes. But it probably took me just about an hour.

This is another no-nonsense, straightforward book that collates everything you need to know about starting to write historical fiction. It doesn’t tell you how to write the book from start to finish, but it shows you how to get started and then ways to develop your story.

There are exercises in this book, which I loved as not one was about closing your eyes and imagining a waterfall or anything like that. Granted, the first few exercises get you to study your favourite historical novels and try to identify what it is you like about them. But then you start to write down your own ideas.

My favourite exercise was the one that provides two examples from history that you can write-along with. The text links you to two historical documents and it’s up to you which one you go for, starting with why you think you chose that one.

Other aspects I liked include:

  • The author defining the historical novel as “anything that doesn’t happen now or in the future”, particularly as my own “historical” novels are set in living memory – even my own.
  • Her advice not to go down the heavily researched path, coming up with pages and pages of copious notes, as the chances are you won’t use much of it. Better, she says, to conduct research on a need-to-know basis – AND she advises on how to research before starting and when to stop and just write.
  • Why she doesn’t create a Q&A pen-picture of her characters before she starts, preferring instead to let the characters grow by themselves and instill within her a “feeling”, or several.

This is another nice little book that I’ll be holding on to and using in my own work. In fact, I liked it so much, I bought one of the author’s novels, Season of Light, set against the French revolution.

Only available on Kindle for £3.48 (or $4.23), Writing Historical Fiction – a 60 minute masterclass is Book 7 in a series from The Guardian.

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