I Am Selling a Lot of Historical Fiction These Days

What is historical fiction?

A historical fiction novel is set in the past, and typically during a significant time period. ‘The Book Thief’ by Markus Zusak, for example, was set during World War II, and Kathryn Stockett’s ‘The Help,’ was set in Mississippi during the civil rights movement in the 60s. The time period is an essential part of the setting and, frequently, the story itself.

It’s common for a novel like this to include well-known historical figures. ‘Girl With a Pearl Earring’ by Tracy Chevalier describes the world of 17th Century Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer.

A historical fiction novel may feature purely fictional characters, however, or a mixture of fictional characters and real-life figures.

Lately, I’m seeing clear signs of renewed popularity throughout historical fiction’s subgenres, including adventure, epics, prehistoric, romance, and mystery.

The popularity of historical fiction

One reason for the popularity of this genre is that they are set in a very real past, but the stories told through the lens of a modern writer. It’s a fascinating combination inherent to all historical novels.

Another reason for historical fiction’s popularity is that readers enjoy novels that transport them from their everyday worlds. By delving into the past, readers can enjoy escapism.

Many readers enjoy the echoes of the past and our contemporary lives. People often wonder what it might have been like to have been born in another time. Reading historical fiction can be an entertaining, immersive experience that satisfies that intellectual wanderlust.

Since these books generally require a lot of research to write well, they can be resoundingly realistic. They can be thrilling and educational; transporting and enlightening.

If this has inspired you to write a historical fiction novel …

In the words of David Mitchell, author of Cloud Atlas and historical fiction novel The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet:

“I didn’t set out to write a historical novel just for the heck of it – you’d have to be mad. Rather, only within this genre could the book be written.”

Writing a historical novel can mean months or even years of research. It’s not a task to be taken lightly. If you are up for a challenge, or if you have relevant education, background or life experience, this will be helpful.

In his article for the Telegraph newspaper, Mitchell goes on to support the idea that one of the best ways to learn how to write, in addition to practicing, is to read.

“This being my first [historical novel], I read a number of others to avoid reinventing wheels. Small hope, but my reading led me to a new respect for a genre that sometimes gets associated with blue-rinses and rags-to-riches sagas set in Liverpool.”