Setting – Authors’ perspectives and techniques | A Writer of History

Research: Jane Johnson’s approach to research: I need to immerse myself in the research – each novel usually requires a year of research – before I write the book. It’s partly a matter of confidence – knowing what I’m talking about! – partly the need to feed the compost heap from which the story emerges. All those facts, all that information needs to be piled up and then to mulch down to a rich material that will allow the story to grow straight and true (or twisted and strange!) but with its own integrity and power. I don’t want to have to fact-check three times in every sentence, or even every page: it breaks up the flow. I always go back to primary sources first, since I’ve learned only too well that even academics wing it sometimes and I’ve caught a number of so-called experts out in fudges and errors. I want the work to be accurate and to reflect as truthfully as possible the times I’m trying to portray. The story and characters are of course paramount, but if you’re going to write fiction which purports to be ‘historical’ I think you owe it to the period and to the readers to get it as right as anyone can.

via Setting – Authors’ perspectives and techniques | A Writer of History

4 thoughts on “Setting – Authors’ perspectives and techniques | A Writer of History

  1. I think that makes complete sense Sharon, many of us learn history from fiction even if we then go to check out the history books – because history books are very dry and miss out the people – except for their actions. I always think of The Grapes of Wrath with its alternating family narrative and documentary chapters as an interesting compromise. My own first (unfinished at about 50,00 words) has the Rwandan genocide at the centre of the novel and I would love to go there to complete the research…


  2. I totally agree. I especially agree with the fact that, if i don’t feel confident in my knowledge of the period, I won’t be abel to write the story. Happened ot me. One of my 1920s projects is on hold becasue after writing some 6 or 7 chapters, I realised I didn’t know the period well enough and I kept second-guessing myself. That’s not good.


    1. I am in the middle of doing research on ancient Rome and am in much the same boat as yourself. I’ve written a little more than 6K words, but I don’t feel like the research is quite there yet. Soon, though!


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