Thursday, May 7, 2015 | By: Cafe

Historical Accuracy with Ashley York


The Write Way Café welcomes author Ashley York, who reminds readers historical novels are fiction, not history books. 

I love to address historical accuracy in fiction: television, movies, and books. As an historical romance writer, I have to balance history, legend, and the telling of an interesting story set in a time period that's very long ago and far away. Readers may come with certain preconceived beliefs about the period that can be deeply entrenched. Beliefs that come from other medieval books. I hope my books add to their enjoyment of the period.

It's always a little disconcerting when I see a reviewer comment on historical inaccuracy. Historical inaccuracies abound in fiction. In Foyle's War, a British Series on Public Television, they have a scene where one scientist is introduced to a man who then introduces the woman beside him. The scientist acknowledges her and they shake hands. STOP! In nineteen forty-two? No way! Men shook hands. A woman would not want to shake a man's hand. She was a woman. They didn't do that. Did I stop watching it? No.

And how about the History Channel? Being on the History Channel does not make its very popular Vikings Series any more historically accurate. The number of similarities between the Viking gods and the Judeo-Christian God are just amazing. Did the Vikings actually believe that their gods cared about their welfare? No. People were pawns in their otherworld games. There were no similarities between the harsh, willful petulance of Odin and Thor and the compassionate mercy of Jehovah. Am I still looking forward to seeing what happens in Season Three whenever it comes out on Hulu? You bet.

In a work of fiction, it's the writer's prerogative. They're not writing history. They're writing fiction. You regularly see these false renderings and think nothing of it. Is the fact that it's visual make it more believable? Perhaps. Movies are the same.

In Braveheart (I love this movie!) the most intense battle scene is The Battle at Sterling Br—wait, where's the bridge? The actual battle was fought on a bridge which adds all kinds of drama to the event. Bridges were of great importance. To take out the bridge really lessens the drama but...the writer took us through it without a bridge and we still cheered.

Even Number One Best Selling author Brad Metzler, who does write scholarly articles as well as fiction, should be read in the proper context. The Tenth Justice, a work of fiction  (which I highly recommend), should not be considered a job description for Assistants to the Supreme Court. Good thing! Metzler has experience in Washington and throws in a lot of things he knows about but it's written to be entertaining.
I still love the character's in Foyle's War and I still root for Ragnar and Rollo ;) because it's fiction. I'm not trying to learn history from them. I'm being entertained and I can respect the writer's prerogative of misrepresentation of the facts.  If it were a scholarly work,  I would expect it to be based wholly on fact. I might even complain if I found inaccuracies. A work of fiction? Entertain me.

NEW RELEASE INFORMATION:  The Gentle Knight 
     A medieval soldier returns home to find his lover died in childbirth just as his own mother had. Believing he is cursed, Peter of Normandy turns from love. When he must give escort to an Irish princess more noble than many knights, he struggles with his decision to live a solitary life. Can he take the chance that his love won't be a death sentence and possibly make them stronger?
     Padraig MacNaughton's death bed decree rips his daughter, Brighit, from the shelter of her protective clan in Ireland. Forced to take vows at a Priory in England, she finds herself in the hands of lecherous mercenaries with their own agendas. Dare she trust the Norman knight to see her safely to her new life as a nun? Even when she finds in him the fulfillment of all she's ever wanted?
     Or will honor and duty eclipse their one chance for happiness?

BUY LINKS:   Apple    Kobo    Amazon    Barnes and Noble

Website
Email: ashleyyorkauthor@gmail.com

19 comments:

Charmaine Gordon said...

Terrific post, Ashley. I feel the same way. What's a few inaccuracies compared to the tale we weave. Oh Braveheart- how I loved that movie. A possible reviewer for one on my books, She Didn't Say No, emailed me with what she called MISTAKES and said she couldn't possible review it. The story is different, fun and interesting. Why not read it and enjoy but no.
Best wishes in your writing career , Ashley.

Ashley York said...

Wow - thanks for sharing that. That must have hurt. Why don't they read it for enjoyment? I met a wonderful writer who said she wrote fantasy because she didn't want to get the history wrong and get nailed to the wall. History is not an exact sciene anyway and even academics change what they believe is right. Best wishes to you, Charmaine.

Red L. Jameson said...

Oh, Ashley, this is an article near to my heart! When I first started graduate school, I was lucky enough to have a mentor who had written all the historical books for the subject I was interested in for my thesis. ALL of them. I was amazed and a bit starstruck she would work with me. Then I found a theory she'd developed based on her own research but the research didn't match. So I tried to help by finding more research, diving even deeper into the documents. I never could find any research to fit her theory. It was a valuable lesson for me and helped me to change my thesis. Sometimes, even the historians get it wrong.
Personally, I love being an historian in this age. Everything we thought we knew is being reanalyzed. Everything. So when someone comes along and talks about "the way history was," I always politely smile, sigh, and hope they read a few journals to catch up on the revolution within the field of history.
Thank you for writing this post!

Barbara Bettis said...

Love the article, Ashely. I'm not a historian, but I did minor in history (well, in the parts I liked :>) and I've done lots of research for my own books--and I absolutely agree. Respected historians disagree on many things. For one book of mine, I read two supposedly "first hand" versions of a particular event concerning Richard I, and found both of the first hand reports differed. So what's a romance author to do?? What we do--try for the best possible version of the facts we can uncover, then tell our stories. True, too, that facts we often have of definite "historical" ideas are formed from movies, TV and other fiction. And those ideas may not be right! The things of historical accuracy I do look for, though, are actual, confirmable facts or events. I once read a book in which the author warned readers a major even she used as a turning point in her book--actually happened in a different year but... While I appreciated the warning, it bothered me. If it's an event that 's absolutely confirmed in a time and place--why change it? We're the creators of story; why can't we place our story a year or two either way?
Oh, and I can't wait for next season's, Vikings, either. Since what we know of Normandy is that it was settled by a group of North Men (Vikings) led by a person named Rollo, I'm excited what the series writers will do with that retelling. Thanks for your insight!

Ashley York said...

I'm glad you liked the article, Red. Working with someone so knowledgeable for your thesis? Wow - what an opportunity. Star struck? I bet! Historians can definitely be challenged - they like it that way. It keeps them on their toes.

Ashley York said...

Thanks for your comment, Barb. I think it's important that writers are given that leeway, though, about what year. Confirmable facts are transient. How about Outlander? Really? All those historic figures just happen to meet Claire? Was it even physically possible following the time line? I say - who cares! It is extremely enjoyable to read and I think that was what Diana Gabaldon was trying to do - entertain. I don't know anything about this season of Viking so I can't wait to see it when it's on Hulu. Love Rollo!

Barbara Monajem said...

Fab article, Ashley. Not everything that's written about the present time is accurate according to every reader's perception, much less the past.

Ashley York said...

Excellent point, Barbara. Thank you.

Beppie Harrison said...

The farther back in history we go, as storytellers the more we have to make up. Even the dates of major events become questionable as calendars change and generally it's the winners whose accounts survive. And as for the details of ordinary life, the kind of thing that adds life to our historical bones, what we know is so fragmentary! It depends on the bits and pieces of what survived and what was recorded in art and there the artist is another screen to pass through--choosing what details he needs for his work of art. I really enjoy Eloisa James and the afterword that so often follows her stories, explaining from what bits and pieces of history she assembled her own piece, and yes, sometimes events get shifted around a bit for a dramatic point. For me, what matters is that the stories capture me (and hopefully I learn something from living in someone else's head for the time I'm reading), and since she is a genuine scholar, she gives it to you straight in the afterword! Historical scholarship is one kind of beast; historical fiction and historical romance are two others.

HiDee said...

Thanks for being with us today and sharing your thoughts on an important topic, Ashley. I love that our (your) readers are sharing their experiences!

Ally Broadfield said...

Excellent post, Ashley. I try to be as accurate as possible in my books, but as you said, we are writing fiction. That means the story always comes first.

Becky Lower said...

Loved this post and the comments. As an author of American historicals, I try to get my characters involved in the actual events that shaped this country rather than just use the event as background. I may spend more time doing research for each book, but I love being able to learn about our past while I'm writing. If American history books were written in fiction form, I think we'd have a lot more interested students.

Tamara Hughes said...

I agree that historical fiction writers aren't necessarily historians, and we do get facts wrong sometimes. I also agree that the story is the most important part. That said, I think authors should make their best attempt to research the history. It's true, there are many sources that contradict each other, so it's not always possible to know the right answer.

Like you, I usually enjoy a story even if it has some mistakes, but blatant mistakes make an author/tv series creator look like they didn't care enough to look. So, I guess I'm split on this issue.

Collette Cameron said...

Great post, Ashley. Historical accuracy is important, but in romance novels, the romance drives the story. An author should do their best to be accurate, of course, but like you, if I see or read something I know isn't quite right, if the story has me engaged, I don't mind at all. Glaring gaffs are a whole other matter, though.

Ashley York said...

Great comments :) Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I think we can all agree we are a very impassioned group - historical romance writers - and we love our research! But the romance does indeed drive the story and it is our reason for writing.

Angela Adams said...

Enjoyable post, Ashley!

Ashley York said...

Thanks Angela.

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