Saturday, February 16, 2019

Careful when writing historical fiction!

It is true that generally, I am on the road and happily enjoy my nomadic status, but since a few months, I am enjoying the condition of living my life without moving around. Even my job seems to have found a steadier position, and I have to say that it has some good points of it. One is that I have a more fixed schedule and not connected to weather condition, and in this way, I can organize my day in a more efficient way.
Again this means that I am reorganizing myself focusing mainly on the writing part of my side-career as an author.

One good point is that I started to see things about my city that I haven't noticed before, and that is coming very handy to me and to my writing. One thing I have never really noticed, (or perhaps I have noticed it but never given the deserved relevance) together with thousands other details in this city I have still to discover, is that quite close to me there is a synagogue, now you would ask, why does this has any meaning to you?
It all starts with a novel, a historical fiction I am writing (ok, I have started writing it years ago, but the research has been ongoing for three years) and an extremely controversial fact that belongs to the setting of the story.
The fact in question is whether the rebuilding Jerusalem by Emperor Hadrian and establishing of the pagan polis Aelia Capitolina was the trigger for the third Jewish war (132 AD – 135 AD) or it was the aftermath. I have been searching everywhere, and the results have been quite ambiguous.

I have asked historians who gave me hints on great sources for the research, but it was then when I found the synagogue with annexed Jewish cultural center. Now, if they could not address me to the truth of what happened...
I have sent them an email explaining my dilemma, and they have been kind enough to disclose to me the reality that nobody knows for sure.

Whether or not Emperor Hadrian named the city Aelia Capitolina before or after the revolt remains ambiguous. Cassius Dio says that this is the cause for the rebellion, but Eusebius claims it was done in tandem with the provincial renaming.
I will go and read a bit more, but the best suggestion they gave was that in this case, I should add forewords or footnotes citing different texts and sources to explain the ambiguity of the claim whatever I will decide to trust.

I believe that regardless of whether a writer decides to set his/her historical fiction on a precise time on the history, connected or not with a particular event basic research is a must. I am afraid that falling into gross historical mistakes corresponds to suicide for the author, but it is also true that a historical novel is not supposed to be academic research upon a particular historical period or facts, but there must be details that keep even the most demanding reader glued to the story.
I believe the suggestion I got was brilliant and that is citing all the sources from which the author got the information for the story as proof for his/her willingness and effort in  recreating an accurate image of the times he/she is talking about.
Whether they might be ambiguous or not, it is important to justify why that particular version of the facts was chosen.

I have still time as this novel will be published probably on fall/winter, depending on the editing process and, mostly, the research.
So fellow authors, do your research diligently and readers, please be kind, an author’s job is that of entertaining the reader, don’t expect an academic history book.

Have a great weekend!!


  1. I don't think any writer puts forth a Work without having conducted research. However, for the sake of the story, we have poetic license to distort.

    1. I have seen a bit both the faces of the medal, writers who have been left some details aside, and readers that went to check the slightest of the detail on history books. Personally, as a reader it's all about the story, if something small is not accurate I don't mind if the story is crafted in a way that enticed me so much to let me forget about the historical details.

  2. I have even more years in my research, and sometimes it is overwhelming for a woman almost lost in history. There is just so much information that absorbs my writing time. Maybe I'll post an apology on the cover.

  3. It seems you have truly done your homework. I am a firm believer in getting the fact straight when writing historical fiction. Believe me, there are fact-checkers out there around every corner.Since your dilemma is unique, I think the advice you got made sense. It seems there are two schools of thought on this subject, so I say, go with the most popular and add an explanation on your "resources" page. Your story sounds fascinating. Best wishes!


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