Conceptualising The Past: How Fiction Writers Talk About The Middle Ages

Gillian Polack, Australian National University


This is a study of how a group of authors of historical fiction in English achieve a balance between the demands of fiction writing and of medieval history. Twenty-two writers from the UK, the US, Canada and Australia responded to questions aimed at elucidating their relationship with their writing, their audiences and with the past. All the writers are professionally published. Most of them are loosely classifiable as 'genre' writers.

The responses demonstrated that the historical knowledge of fiction writers tends to be interpreted through the genre the writer chooses for his or her writing. This has interesting implications for the acceptance of works written out of love by publishers supposedly interested more in marketability than in the subjective emotive value of a texts: the genre perspective is a shared element within the wider literary culture. In fact, it links writers with readers as much as it links writers with publishers. Use of language, ideas of what makes up the past and its interpretation: these are just some of the tools writers bring to bear in creating novels using the Middle Ages.


Most studies of historical fiction are based on the published word. When studies of writers and genre discuss specific authors, those authors are usually well known for their achievement (for both literary skill and publishing success) in the genre. The developmental stages of the novel and the interplay between it and the author and history are understudied. How writers choose the Middle Ages, what genres they choose to assign their works to, how they research and use the past all demonstrate that history as used by writers is not as simple as some assume, nor are genre categories as inevitable.

This paper examines how a sample of authors of English language fiction using the Middle Ages creates and defines fiction and define relationships with history. All the writers are professionally published, but they range from emerging authors to established authors; from authors published by small presses to authors published by major presses; from authors of speculative fiction to historical fiction writers. They are generally regarded as genre authors (specifically, writers of historical fiction or speculative fiction) by their readers.

The paper clearly differentiates between the final work as read by the general public and the work as developed by the author; it focuses on the author's concept of history and on the writing of history into fiction, rather than on the end result. Its chief sources are emailed questions answered by the authors between August 2004 and February 2005.

The first part of the paper describes the zone that lies between the conception of the book and the published result, and how writers live within this space and handle it. It looks at writers' relationships with readers and publishers and asks what effects these relationships have on the nature of the history the writers present. It discusses the role of publishers. The second part of the paper examines the actual process of writing and how authors see the relationships of their writing with history and historical fact. The third part examines the reaction of writers to specific thoughts of Lion Feuchtwangler about historical fiction. The problem of language will be examined as part of this -- why some writers choose theatrical or unusual language forms to represent the past and why some eschew them. Through this, the paper will examine the relationship of the history (specifically the Middle Ages) these writers use as a backdrop or part of their stories with the aesthetic forms they choose (using their own definitions) and the integrity of the historical knowledge in their works.

The Writers

To explore the nature of the publishing industry and its effects on how history is written this paper will examine the responses of a sample of the writers from the original project. While each of the original twenty two authors are different in their views and positioning in relation to the Middle Ages, this selection of writers will indicate some of the crucial ideas that need to be factored into the equation when analysing historical fiction and representing the ideas of all authors consulted in this study. These writers are Tamara Mazzei, Elizabeth Chadwick, Dave Luckett, Michael Barry, Chris Andrews, Kathleen Cunningham Guler, Debra A. Kemp, Sally Odgers, Felicity Pulman, Brian Wainwright and Wendy J Dunn.

Tamara Mazzei is an emerging writer who is also chief editor and publisher at Trivium Publishing LLC (a boutique US publisher) and independent historian. Mazzei has, through her broad experience of the industry, both a bird's eye view and a working knowledge of writing decisions and when and how they are taken. Elizabeth Chadwick is a mid-list author with a popular following in several countries. She is an example of a writer published by a major publishing house and who makes a full-time living as a writer. Dave Luckett has formal training in medieval history (Bachelor of Arts) and defines himself as not writing historical fiction. He is mainly published by small and medium presses and his exposure as a writer is chiefly within Australia. Michael Barry has a reputation within Australia and in limited circles in the US as a writer to watch out for. He is known, however, for his speculative fiction short story writing and is only now moving into tackling novels. He is, therefore, a published writer who uses history in his current writing but is nevertheless unpublished as regards the subject matter of this research. Chris Andrews is an emerging speculative fiction writer who is working on his first novel, while Kathleen Cunningham Guler writes historical fiction with fantasy elements. Debra A. Kemp has an Arthurian novel published by a small press while Sally Odgers is a major Australian author, with over sixty books in print. Felicity Pulman is a popular writer of books for young adults. A recent series (the Shallot trilogy) was a combination of slipstream and historical fantasy, while her current series (the Janna Mysteries) is historical fiction. Brian Wainwright is a UK author of historical fiction, with two books published by small presses. Wendy J. Dunn, likewise, writes historical novels for small press publication.

One thing I was able to establish through working with these writers is that there is no such thing as typicality in either historical fiction or speculative fiction that uses the Middle Ages. There is, in fact, a particularly high level of individuation and so members of the group were selected with the aim of covering the range of responses in the group and presenting a cross-section.

From Conception to Publication

For the external world, the space between conception of a book and its publication is a blank. For a writer, this space might be a period of time where they have rough expectations of a movement from initial acceptance of a manuscript by a publisher and signing of a contract, through edits and copy edits and cover art and proofs and perhaps galleys or their equivalent and into the final haul.

The specifics of this time from submission of manuscript to the publication of the book differ from publishing house to publishing house and even from book to book, but there are certain major steps that an established writer such as Chadwick or Odgers will expect. These include at least one series of edits and copy edits and one last chance to make generally minor changes before the book proceeds to final. For writers who have not yet contracted a novel (whether they have written one or not), this space is largely irrelevant or is a mystery. This is because many writers -- especially in certain fields, for instance in Australia in speculative fiction -- new authors are encouraged to publish short stories as a developmental step before they move into novels. For most new and emerging writers, therefore, this space is to be sought after, but it is not much known.

For writers with published novels, this space varies in nature according to the size of the publishing house, their profile, the size of their advance and other factors. Because their experience of the space between singing a contract and the book reaching bookshops will vary considerably, how they factor it into their work would, in theory, vary. In practice, however, even the most experienced writers tend to differentiate between the experience of writing the novel and the experience of working with the publisher to finalise it for publication.

This difference in experience and expectation was reflected in the responses to questions. For the new and emerging writers -- with the exception of Tamara Mazzei, who is also a publisher -- the focus was upon the completion of the novel prior to submission for publication. Authors with a novel in print tended to accept a broader scale for their work, and focussed on the writing and vision of a novel as the initial major developmental step, not as the conclusion of their task.

This has important implication for the development of attitudes towards writing. Reader interests are there (and appeared as subsidiary aspects in answers to various questions) but are not a primary concern. For instance, Elizabeth Chadwick comments that she takes notes of reader preferences, but that those preferences reflect the way she writes so 'it's mostly a case of not being broke so don't fix it.'.

This focus on the writing rather than on the end readership occurred regardless of the experience or level of publication. If readers are taken into account, therefore, it is after the initial manuscript has been accepted for publication and a contract signed. Michael Barry puts the case for emerging authors most succinctly when he describes the publishing house as 'A problem to be dealt with once the book is done.' Conscious and careful awareness of reader needs therefore, fall into this space where the manuscript is prepared for consumption by the outside world rather than the space where the writer is developing and completing the manuscript proper.

If reader expectations are taken into account earlier than the signature of a contract, it is by the publisher. Some publishers admit to this; others indicate that they are simply looking for outstanding writing and have defined the specific sort of writing they regard as outstanding. These definitions are often indicated to potential authors in advance and even posted on the publisher's website. It is the guidelines that bring the writer in line with the readers' needs initially, by aligning the publisher's view of those needs with the works available for publication.

How authors interact with these guidelines is to seek out publishers that advertise they are interested in a particular style of work, or to give their manuscript to an agent who then approaches a house with the right sort of interest. These interests change over time, depending on publisher awareness and analysis of market trends.

However, and very importantly, most writers in this study do not claim to be influenced by these trends when writing. For instance, Michael Barry says that the marketability of the book is not very important to him although he also says 'I do ask myself, however, whether I would want to buy my book!' Only three respondents indicated that marketability was an issue. Sally Odgers, but only for commissioned works (i.e. not for her historical fiction and fantasy); Tamara Mazzei, who is a publisher as well as a writer; and Chris Andrews, who has yet to sell a novel. Sally Odgers explains that 'I call these 'box office settings' and unfortunately, I almost never use one. I'm interested in places and times that haven't been done to death.' Marketability for her obviously marks the places that have been trodden, and is likely to indicate something of little interest. Dave Luckett was very blunt about using marketability as a factor when writing. His comment was that 'I would have thought that an excellent method of producing a bad novel. If Spain in the seventeenth century interests you, write about that. Wishing you were somewhere else is certain to beget the same wish on the reader.' Writers claim they are following their own personal star when writing medieval history into their novels. They do not write with a market in mind. This has interesting implications.

The implications are obvious from responses to questions about who the writers wrote for and whether they were interested in the marketability or publisher at the time of initial writing. Wendy J Dunn sums up her reasons for these choices when she says ' To my husband's despair -- I really have to write what comes from my heart, and that doesn't involve thinking of market.' He also pinpointed the results of this: the match between writer and publisher is often a convergence of interests, rather than writing with intent to market.

How Writing Fiction Relates to History

The process of writing a novel is an emotive one and the strong inner will to write something personal shows through clearly in the vast majority of respondents. Mathew Cheney discusses the importance of that personal emotive link to the project in more detail in Strange Horizons where he examines some apparent difference between literary and speculative fiction writers. In order to shed some light on how this emotive link relates to the interest in the Middle Ages of the writers in question, respondents were asked to give personal definitions for key terms concerning historical themes. I also asked the authors ' Why do you use historical themes (and the Middle Ages in particular) in your writing?'

For Wendy J. Dunn, as we have seen, it is the emotive link: her love of history is directly linked to her need to write an historical novel. 'I have been drawn to the Tudor period since childhood,' she explains. This is one end of a continuum. Michael Barry is at the other end of that continuum. He uses historical themes for their utility. He points out that 'I am rewriting Australian colonial history using horror themes -- the Middle Ages references are among various 'found documents' (diaries, journals etc), but specifically provide backstory/depth/verisimilitude to the 'present-day' (1815) narrative.' His intent is horror and history is one of the tools at his disposal.

What is interesting is that the respondents divide along clear genre lines at each end of the continuum. Dunn's love of history and emotive link is typical of the responses of historical fiction writers. Elizabeth Chadwick, for instance, explains that 'From childhood I was destined to write adventure fiction. It was what excited my interest the most.' She follows this with a detailed explanation of the evolution of her childhood games, through school and into her adult writer status.

Writers of historical fantasy cluster near Michael Barry in the spectrum of explanations. Dave Luckett points out that he knows the period in question and that 'the setting is a marker for a recognisable genre, and that in turn allows me to work with a set of conventions and reader expectations.' This is an important insight. The Middle Ages is important to a number of fantasy writers, but of the respondents only Luckett discusses the conventions and reader expectations inherent in this. The divide according to genre is interesting, and requires further investigation.

The Response of Modern Historical Fiction and Fantasy Writers to Lion Feuchtwangler's Views

Lion Feuchtwangler's views of historical novels are an important yardstick for assessing the relationship of a fiction writer with history. Do they, however, represent the views of the group of writers in question? The authors were asked, 'Lion Feuchtwangler said in 1935 that he wrote historical novels as modern and up to date i.e. he did not write about history for its own sake. He saw history in fiction as a way of achieving illusion and distance and as a way of communicating feelings about his own time and thoughts and self. What are your thoughts on his theory as related to your own writing and as related to your understanding of the past and of history?'

This question was one of the least popular amongst my respondents. Only eight authors answered it. All of them reacted strongly to Feuchtwangler's views. For instance, Brian Wainwright came out fighting. 'Anyone who thought I was using HF [historical fiction] to comment on modern events would be mistaken,' he commented. 'While it is true that in essence 14th and 15th century politicians were mostly lying, cheating hypocrites, just like 21st century ones, that is not what I am trying to get across as a point. I am interested in history and people, not in making comments on the 21st century, although it may be that such commentary can be inferred by the reader. I don't really expect my readers to come to me for social commentary or moral guidance, though I suppose they might find it, like they might discover symbolism that I did not consciously insert in the story.'

Sally Odgers was less rambunctious but still posited a very different view to Feuchtwangler. For her world creation was paramount. 'I specialise in creating worlds in my stories . . . I tend to create my own villages and families. This extends to creating fantasy and futuristic worlds. I approach writing historical fiction in a similar way, in that I take facts and probabilities and add possibilities. I try to see a created or recreated world with the characters, but as the characters are often newcomers, this allows for some extra explanation and description.' Tamara Mazzei explained, 'My thoughts are that he and I have very different ideas about it. I write to find a connection with the past, in spite of the illusion of distance. That distance is often given voice in expressions that equate medieval with abominable. (e.g., 'torture' is often called 'medieval' and it was certainly used then, but unfortunately, so it is today.) To me, history and time are a means to connect, to try to invoke the humanity of those who went before. And to connect on an emotional level. Not in a nostalgic, those were the good old days way (they weren't for many!), but as a way of expressing that we're no more human (or less) than they were. I want to remember and tell their stories as a celebration of their lives, and mine, because without them, I wouldn't have lived either.'

Elizabeth Chadwick gives a clear and unequivocal 'No' to the Feuchtwangler question. 'I do write history for its own sake, ' she says, 'I am aware that I am a product of my own century and upbringing and that my writing has to be an illusion of the Middle Ages, but I try to make it feel real to myself and to my readers. I've always seen my writing as a way of telling a bloody good story set in the past. Also, although the past is far away and another country, you read some of the sources and you suddenly realise that the past is also as close as the bus stop just up the road and you can see across the border into that country and look at people not so different from yourself. It's the latter that fascinates me -- seeing the faces in and through the mist.'

On the other hand, Dave Luckett comments that 'I think there's a lot to it' [Feuchtwangler's comment]. He does qualify his statement. 'I would point out that such a theory assumes that there is a difference between the concerns of 'modern and up to date' people and historical characters. That is only true to a degree.' Debra A. Kemp also comments about the truth in Feuchtwangler's view, and qualifies her agreement with 'if I deliberately wanted to make a statement about our time, I don't think I would use historical fiction to do it.'

The importance of this is the large variation in writers' views of historical fiction. The number of authors who did not want to answer the question, the range of ideas in the answers and how the answers replied to Feuchtwangler's original statement suggests that writers using history in fiction do so for a number of reasons. Feuchtwangler cannot be used as a model of how writers think of the history they use in their fiction.

Where things get more interesting is in one particular element of Feuchtwangler's list of what makes a past colourful: language. There is significant variation on the issue of colourful language to render the past. It proves to be a very controversial one for writers. All the authors in question use colour in their work. There is no question and no argument among the authors about this as an aspect of their writing.

There is a clear divide between the actual type of language that should be used to bring colour to the past. This appears to apply more to writers of historical fiction rather than speculative fiction. For instance, Elizabeth Chadwick writes adventure and costumes and is proud of it. She is very cautious, however, about the 'overly theatrical language'. 'I have come to loathe and avoid what Julie Garwood calls 'Twisy twasery.'' She says, 'The moment a character in a novel starts saying 'Tis this,' or 'Tisn't that,' my hackles rise . . . ' Wendy J. Dunn also writes about colourful episodes of history, with intrigue and romance and adventure, she, however, uses a particular style of prose to indicate a sense of period. Dave Luckett calls this prose style 'forsoothly'.

Sally Odgers works with cadence and period metaphor, but avoids period dialogue. Brian Wainwright and Tamara Mazzei both prefer standard English. Mazzei specifies, 'In dialogue, I like to use a few 'spice' words and constructions to give a hint of the Middle Ages, but I usually end up going back and deleting 80% of that.' Her reasoning is important. She says ' there is nothing more off-putting to me as a reader than a string of 'for certes, my lords.' I think it's very easy for writers to get so caught up in their own story that they fail to achieve the distance to separate which elements will matter to the reader.' Luckett sums it up. 'Language that evokes history should pattern itself a little differently, without changing the words to archaic forms. A slightly formal voice often helps, but 'forsoothly' must be avoided like the plague.' All authors aim for this, but each has their own idea of what is colour and cadence and what is 'forsoothly'. In the first analysis, as Mazzei suggests (and as we saw earlier), they write for themselves, but they edit for the reader.

This divide between writers on what tools are legitimate for rendering colour in narrative about the past is particularly interesting. The divide here does not fall between genres. Luckett and Chadwick are in agreement in their dislike of a certain style, while the others cluster in a narrow band of choice where most things are rendered in modern language with more or less colour. The colour fades for some as they edit their own work, and fades for others when the work reaches the publisher's desk. Language colour is a constant dialogue between self and novel, between potential reader (including editors) and novel.

The differences between the Feuchtwangler comments and the thoughts of more modern writers suggests that there is an interesting cultural dynamic at work. Historical fiction is not a static field, enmired in the colourful past it presents fictionally. The two main views of language use demonstrates this admirably. Those who eschew creating a past they regard as twee, avoiding 'forsoothly' patently reflect a different view of how the past should be represented to the one that finds such usage romantic and an important aspect of constructing a fictional world. The movement and change in fiction that uses the Middle Ages obvious occurs in that dialogue between writer and self and novel and potential readers: colour in language is a very useful example of that dynamic at work.

Literary Form and Historical Fact

The question of how the writers under discussion view historical facts and how they regard aesthetic form is very important to an understanding how they interpret the Middle Ages. The questions asked of the authors sought to determine the importance of the written form to the authors, how the authors saw themselves as creators of literature (although this was implied rather than the subject of a direct approach) and on whether they felt they had a role in communicating factual history.

This study has already suggested that writers who use the Middle Ages in their fiction are more likely to have an emotive link with the period or to consider it as a tool to enhance their fiction than to have a purely empirical approach. The 'facts' of the past are subsets of a dedication to bringing a higher truth to the public or to telling a story or to exploring a personal love for a place a time or a person. The relationship of the writer to the work and to history is, however, hard to interpret in its own light. Historical fiction and historical fantasy are not failed histories or failed literary fiction: they are genres in their own right. The emotive approach to history and the methods that writers use to bring the past are part of the canons for these particular genres.

To help further elucidate the relationship between the aesthetics for the novel and history, authors were asked to give personal definitions explaining key terms. The four terms were fiction, truth, historical accuracy and history. Michael Barry describes fiction as 'convenient lies,' and truth as 'inconvenient lies.' I asked him verbally if this response was meant facetiously, and it was not. Elizabeth Chadwick is very literal in her description of fiction, calling it 'a made up story'. Tamara Mazzei is also prosaic, calling fiction 'A story from the author's imagination.' Truth Chadwick found to be a more difficult proposition. It did not immediately link to her writing in the same way as fiction. She said that truth is 'hard to define. One person's truth is not another's and eye witnesses differ. I suppose I feel there are 2 types of truth in historical fiction. What is broadly believed to have happened in the past, and then what more in depth research throws up. Sometimes these are the same, but often they differ. It's the novelist's choice which path to follow . . . or indeed go off at a tangent. I think perhaps that integrity matters as much, if not more than 'truth.' ' The shape of the novel and the relationship of the author with the work is more important, therefore than historical absolutes.

Dave Luckett explains fiction as 'that body of writing that uses imagined narrative to represent some aspect of reality and hence reduce it to comprehensibility'. For him, truth is 'the attempt (never perfectly successful) to represent perceived reality'. Brian Wainwright describes fiction as 'Stories written to entertain, usually including invented speeches and imaginary events. (Rather like 'Richard III' by Thomas More.) Historical fiction has the context of an historical background and the author's interpretation of the culture, mores and events of the time.' Truth, on the other hand, is relative. He describes truth as 'The version of events that one prefers based on the evidence available; that which seems most probable or least improbable.' Tamara Mazzei has an even more relative definition of truth: 'Something, often irrelevant, to argue about.' Felicity Pulman is more cautious in her definition of fiction than some other writers, implying genre and the shape of the work even as she describes fiction as 'a story that's been made up but that may have 'real' elements in it -- eg setting, characters, historical events, etc.' This is interesting when examined with Wendy J Dunn's definition of fiction. Dunn says that fiction is 'an artistic creation evoking reality'. This also implies genre constraints as it implies a link between reader and fictional work, otherwise reality will not be evoked. It implies, in fact, a set of formulae or rules or ideas that bond writer and reader: this is crucial to an understanding of the relationship of the genre writer with history. Engagement with readers does not solely depend on good writing. It also rests on the existence of familiar landmarks and terrain.

This brings us back to an earlier discussion. If writers are mostly not concerned with marketability, how can the market operate? In essence, the marketability of the writers of historical fiction and historical fantasy occurs at the level for the decision to write in that genre. It is working within the genre constraints that builds some of the bridges between book and reader that the publisher needs in order to market the work. Kathleen Cunningham Guler explains this most succinctly in her description of what fiction is. She says that it is 'A story that is designed. In historical fiction, it is based on a framework of fact but is primarily from the author's imagination.'

This contrasts greatly with the definitions of truth given by Wendy J Dunn. Dunn says that truth 'is the unmasked essence of humanity -- our souls . . . it is the difference between pure and unclean. Life is an eternal struggle to keep hold of universal truths shared by all humanity'. This comes to the heart of the relationship between the writer and the work and between fiction and historical reality. These writers obviously see the emotive link discussed earlier as linked with truth and beyond history.

What emerges across the group is a sense that the author interacts with history and interprets facts in order to achieve something different to historical non-fiction. They link their emotive reasons for choosing a genre in with their sense of historical accuracy and so frame a relationship with the past in terms of the creative process. Their novels both shape and interpret their relationships with history.

While this helps elucidate the writer/book and reader/book relationship, it leaves open the question of how important historical accuracy is to these writers. Michael Barry describes historical accuracy as 'whatever I can get away with'. His whole approach to fiction is that the effectiveness of the story or novel is paramount and everything is fodder and mutable as long as the writing is effective.

While Barry expresses the most extreme view, most of the writers allow themselves some leeway for interpretation and change. That leeway is framed carefully in terms of the intended novel: communication with readers is a crucial component to interpretation of the Middle Ages for most writers. The other crucial component -- and why Barry is outside the norm in his view -- is achieving the highest level of historical accuracy possible. Genre and audience constraints do not hamper serious consideration of historical interpretation.

Elizabeth Chadwick, for instance, talks about historical accuracy as 'Getting it right to the best of my ability. Some things are outside of my scope because I don't have the academic tools to follow them up and frequently not the time to acquire these tools, but within my own limitations I try to recreate an ambience that will make a reader think 'Yes, this is how it might have been.'' Brain Wainwright is in close accord with Elizabeth Chadwick. He says that, 'In the context of a novel, the meshing of the fiction with known history; Anne Neville ought not to appear drinking chocolate or riding a motor cycle. I take the view that where facts are unknown the author may invent, provided the invention is plausible. For example, if a tournament took place on a certain date and we know no more, then I may invent the winner. But if the result is known I would not change it to suit the story, nor would I have them playing rugby instead.' Dave Luckett explains historical accuracy as 'the practice of representing the actual economic and social structures of past societies, so far as they are known, or in the absence of knowledge, using logical inference and extrapolation to achieve the same end.' Both Pulman and Dunn accept the relative nature of accuracy. Dunn expresses this most succinctly when she says 'Historical accuracy depends on our viewpoints and what our tunnel vision allows us to see.'

So if historical accuracy and providing a suitable understanding of the Middle Ages is closely linked to genre and representation limits, how do these authors define history? Elizabeth Chadwick suggests that it is 'Events that have happened in the past,' then asks 'is that too simple an answer?' Sally Odgers is in complete agreement with her, as she defines history as 'Times past.' Dave Luckett adds the interpretation of the events to the events themselves, by saying that history is 'the understanding of the past'. Wendy J Dunn also focuses on interpretation when she explains, 'Like Napoleon Bonaparte said, History is the version of past events that people have decided to agree upon.'

Brian Wainwright takes it one step further still. History is 'The historical record as interpreted by historians, using a wide variety of sources. Its continual reassessment and re-evaluation means it is mutable. To some degree, what we call history reflects our current prejudices and obsessions as much as it does the reality of what happened. It contains strong elements of interpretation. We can say exactly what Richard III wore at his coronation, as it is recorded in great detail; the political events that brought about his kingship are much less clear cut.' Tamara Mazzei has the clearest overview of the relationship between the two aspects (what happened and how it was recorded) when she defines history as ' Both the past and the interpretation of it. This sums up the breadth of the issue. While using similar vocabulary to describe history, the difference between the past and the way the writers constrain it and explore it in their novels sets up a wide variety of methods for exploring the Middle Ages. Some of the relationships with history are mediated through known events embellished with fictional interpretation and characters while others move further from the known past and take the Middle Ages as a base for constructing countries in fantasy universes.

None of this embellishment and world building is done without due thought for the past. In fact, all the writers in question demonstrated a lively interest in research and an awareness of their relationship with the Middle Ages. This awareness was more likely to be expressed through an emotive expression of links to the past in historical fiction writers, and an intellectual interest in the role of history as a societal influence in fantasy writers. How authors define themselves seems to be an important indication of how they interact with the Middle Ages.


My study has demonstrated that there are clear differences in how writers use history according to their experiences of the publishing world. The differences do not just rest upon the quantity of their experience, but on the specific genre in which their experience locates their writing. This, in turn, feeds into how history is narrated by a given writer. Publishing is not dominated by market forces, therefore, but by a series of cultural choices. This paper has shown how writers negotiate some of those choices and how these choices interlock with their sense of history and interest in the Middle Ages.

What the essay has argued is that the historical knowledge of fiction writers tends to be interpreted through genre. Aesthetic choices seem to be closely linked to the nature of historical awareness and interpretation of writers who use the Middle Ages. This has interesting implications for the acceptance of works written out of love by publishers supposedly interested more in marketability than in the subjective emotive value of a texts: the genre perspective is a shared element within the wider literary culture. In fact, it links writers with readers as much as it links writers with publishers. This confluence possibly gives the fiction writers' Middle Ages a stronger claim to being the mainstream Middle Ages in wider cultural terms than the scholarly Middle Ages.

Works cited

Andrews, Chris. E-mail interview. 7 August 2004.

Barry, Michael. E-mail interview. 16 August 2004.

Chadwick, Elizabeth. E-mail interview. 15 December 2004.

Chadwick, Elizabeth. E-mail interview. 23 July 2004.

Cheney, Matthew. 'In Borderlands Between the Clans.' Strange Horizons 21 November 2005.

Dunn Wendy J.. E-mail interview. 25 July 2004.

Feuchtwangler, Lion. 'The Purpose of the Historical Novel' originally 'Vom Sinn des historischen Romans' Das Neue tage-Buch 1935. Trans. John Ahouse. 25 June 2004.

Guler, Kathleen Cunningham. E-mail interview. 5 February 2005.

Kemp, Debra A.. E-mail interview. 14 January 2005.

Luckett, Dave. E-mail interview. 18 December 2004.

Luckett, Dave. E-mail interview. 6 August 2004.

Mazzei, Tamara. E-mail interview. 18 December 2004.

Mazzei, Tamara. E-mail interview. 23 July 2004.

Odgers, Sally. E-mail interview. 16 December 2004.

Pan McMillan Australia. Pan McMillan Australia, Submission Guidelines 27 November 2005.

Penguin USA, Penguin USA, Submission Guidelines" 27 November 2005.

Pulman, Felicity. E-mail interview. 21 December 2004.

Pulman, Felicity. E-mail interview. 31 July 2004.

Trivium Publishing. Trivium Publishing, Submission Guidelines 27 November 2005.

Wainwright, Brian. E-mail interview. 18 December 2004.