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Genres of Literature – Historical Fiction

January 22, 2018


Historical Fiction are novels with an historical setting in which fictional characters and events take place. Although some narratives do center around real historical figures this might be why definitions vary. The Historical Novel Society defines the genre as works written at least fifty years after the events described, while critic Sarah Johnson has defined the genre as being set before the middle of the last century (20th century). Her definition is based on the author having written from research rather than personal experience. Another view by Lynda Adamson states that some people read novels written in the past i.e. Jane Austen as if they were historical novels.

What is your definition of an historical novel?

No matter which definition you agree with, historical fiction is a literary fiction where the plot takes place in a setting in the past. These major historic events mostly take an ‘off stage’ part, while the characters inhabit the world in which they take place. Used as an umbrella term it can also be applied to works in other narrative formats, such as performing or visual arts like theater, cinema, television, opera and in more recent times video games and graphic novels.

The essential part of an historical novel is that it pays attention to the manners and social conditions that the era depicted ensuring the readers can understand why the characters respond in the manner they within their environments. Unfortunately, not all novels are accurate in their details and this causes tension about the historical authenticity  between readers and critics and even scholars.


Some sub-genres insert speculative or ahistorical elements into a novel such as alternative history of historical fantasy.

Other sub-genres include:

Documentary fiction

These novels incorporate not only historical characters and events but reports of everyday events found in 20th century newspapers.

Fictional biographies

A fictional biography of a historical figure.

Historical mysteries

Also known as historical whodunits, this sub-genre’s plot involves solving a mystery or crime with a setting in the distant past.

Historical romance and family sagas

Novels with a background detail set in a particular period, but that does not play a key role in the narrative. They can also contain more modern-day sensibilities, and more conventional characters in the novels would point out the heroine’s eccentricities, such as wanting to marry for love – not a true reflection of how the society worked at that time in most cases.

Alternative history and historical fantasy

Where the established history is changed with dramatic results or modern day characters return to the past and change it. And also narratives are loosely based on historical events but fantasy elements are added including sorcery and supernatural creatures.

Children’s historical fiction

This has become a prominent sub-genre resulting in narratives exploring other time periods via time travel or time portals transporting modern day characters. It allows children to learn and understand about different eras.

My medieval fantasy novella, The Rython Kingdom has elements of history through its characters but it is not historically correct in regards to the monarchy at that time.

Have you written historical fiction?

Was it strictly historically accurate or was it in one of the sub-genres?





Author Interview Janet McDermott-Brown…

August 29, 2013

Altruistic – definition: unselfishly concerned for or devoted to the welfare of others.

Welcome Janet McDermott-Brown, a children’s author. Today’s word fits in well with her favorite character, Midnight. Read on to find him.

Janet McDermotta)     What do you enjoy most about writing?

I enjoy creating another world and immersing myself in it. I also love the colours that are woven by words and description within a story. Somewhere to escape to, somewhere that is exactly as you wish it to be.

b)    What age did you start writing stories/poems?
I believe I started to hold an interest in story/poetry writing whilst at senior school. I am also a songwriter and I began to write lyrics first and had a notebook that I carried around from about 14 years old.

c)     Has your genre changed or stayed the same?
My first attempt at a novel was a vampire story, but I didn’t get to finish it. Then I tried a children’s story for the first time, based in London during the Great Fire of London, but didn’t finish that either (yet)! Finally, I fell upon a story I could see through to the end. My children’s fantasy/adventure book ‘The Picture House’.

d)    What genre are you currently reading?
I actually read a lot of children’s novels, fantasy adventures and supernatural based stories are among my favourites. If reading adult books, I like historical novels, supernatural and some horror with vampires and werewolves.

e)     Do you read for pleasure or research or both?
I read for pleasure, research and inspiration. I have always loved books, from being a very young child. I also collect books, as well as reading them.

f)     Who is your best supporter/mentor/encourager?
My friends and family are all very encouraging. My Mum is probably the longest and best person to have helped me, especially all the reading/editing she has done for me.

g)     Of the characters you have created or envisioned, which is your favorite & why?
My favourite character is Midnight from ‘The Picture House’. He is a black cat, who can talk. He lives in the Picture House and becomes a very useful friend to one of the main characters, Lilly. He is a very cheeky, knowledgeable and charming cat. He is based entirely on my own cat Jesse – if only he could talk!

Midnighth)    Where is your favorite writing space?
I actually like to write in my bedroom. It’s the quietest room in the house. My sanctuary. I write long hand first in my notebook then type it up into my computer in the study.

i)      Do you plan your stories, or are you a seat of the pants writer?
I do use a spidergram, I find them useful for ideas. I then write a guide to all the chapters before I start. The story will quite often change and evolve, but the main thread of the story will remain true to my plan.

j)      What inspires your ideas/stories?
Inspiration can come from anywhere. If my mind is open it can come from spoken words, places, feelings, people, objects, books, films. Anywhere at all, something just has to catch my imagination.

k)    Do you belong to a writing group? If so which one?
I have done some creative writing courses, but do not belong to a writers group. It is a bit more difficult when writing children’s stories to find a group to join.

l)      Do you have a book published? If so, what is it called & where can readers purchase it?

The Picture House
I have published ‘The Picture House’ on Amazon Kindle
‘A pale-faced dark haired boy, known as Moth had an extraordinary talent. And on one particular day that talent might just save his life…’ Moth is trapped in his own nightmare world of monsters and zombies. His three closest friends are in a race against time to find his memory shards that are scattered throughout his incredible imagination. Follow their adventures as they endeavour to save Moth from the grubby grips of Gritt and his malevolent master, Sinister.

m)   If you could meet one favorite author, who would it be and why?
Frances Hodgson Burnett. She wrote my favourite book of all time, ‘The Secret Garden’. I love that story and would want to ask her how she thought up the story and what inspired her.

n)    Where can readers find you and your blog?
I have an author page on facebook, which will have all my news and info.

  • o)    Do you have plans or ideas for your next book?
    Yes, I have an idea for my next novel. The novel is in the very early stages of development, entitled The Paper Giant (© Janet McDermott-Brown). It will be another fantasy adventure book, which I hope to write over the next few months, with an aim to publish it next Spring.
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