Library Moments: Historians writing fiction

Bessie Sullivan, County Librarian: Hello, I’m Bessie Sullivan from the Haliburton County Public Library and this is Library Moments. Once a week some of us from the library will come and talk about books, upcoming events, or the services we offer at the library.

Historians spend their lives researching and studying what has happened in the past.  There seems to be a natural progression for some historians to want to tell more of the story by bridging the gaps in history with fiction.  In this way we get a historian’s interpretation of how people might have felt and acted during a factually real period in the past.

Today on Library Moments Sherrill Sherwood, Erin Kernohan-Berning and I will each talk about a historian turned author.

storms of warSherrill Sherwood, Collections Development: The Storms of War by Kate Williams is the first book in a trilogy that tells the story of the de Witt family from 1914 to 1939. In the early summer of 1914, life is good for the de Witt family. Rudolf and Verena are planning the wedding of their daughter, while their eldest son is studying in Paris and another son is just back from his first term at Cambridge. Celia, the youngest of the de Witt children, is on the brink of adulthood, and secretly dreams of escaping her carefully mapped-out future and exploring the world.But the onslaught of war changes everything and soon the de Witts find themselves sidelined and in danger of losing everything they hold dear. As Celia struggles to make sense of the changing world around her, she lies about her age to join the war effort and finds herself embroiled in a complex plot that puts not only her but those she loves in danger. With gripping, pitch-perfect detail, cinematic scope and empathy, Kate Williams tells the story of Celia and her family as they are shunned by a society that previously embraced them, torn apart by sorrow, and buffeted and changed by the storms of war.The second book in the trilogy, The Edge of the Fall, will be published this spring.

katherine of aragonErin Kernohan-Berning, Branch Services Librarian: Author Alison Weir’s formal education is as a teacher, with History as her main subject. However, she soon became disillusioned with teaching, and instead pursued a variety of careers including running a school for children with special needs, managing in the civil service, and writing historical nonfiction including King Henry VIII: the king and his court and The lost Tudor princess : a life of Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox. In 2011 she collaborated on The ring and the crown with fellow historians Kate Williams, Sarah Gristwood, and Tracy Borman examining royal weddings since the year 1066.

The idea of writing an historical fiction novel is not new to Weir – she began writing fiction in the 1970s – but her first novel was not published until 2006. Since then she has written more fiction than nonfiction including The Lady Elizabeth and most recently The Marriage Game. Weir’s newest book, Katherine of Aragon: the true queen marks the first novel in her new The Six Tudor Queens series – it’s due out in May of this year. Weir has not stepped too far away from her nonfiction; many of her books are based on unpublished nonfiction works that she had written previously. As an historian, Weir’s work has been called “popular history” a term with some derogatory subacademic undertones. However, in response Weir says “History belongs to us all, and it can be accessed by us all. And if writing it in a way that is accessible and entertaining, as well as conscientiously researched, can be described as popular, then, yes, I am a popular historian, and am proud and happy to be one.”

work songBessie Sullivan, County Librarian: Ivan Doig had a Ph’d in American History and his main interest was the history of the settlement of Montana.  He wrote 17 books with 13 of them being historical novels.

The novel Work Song picks up with Morrie Morgan ten years after another Montana novel, The Whistling Season. Lured like so many others by “the richest hill on earth,” Morrie steps off the train in Butte, Montana the copper-mining capital of the world, in its heyday of 1919. When Morrie crosses paths with a lively former student, now engaged to a fiery young union leader, he is caught up in the mounting clash between the iron-fisted mining company, radical “outside agitators,” and the beleaguered miners. As tensions above ground and below reach the explosion point, Morrie finds a unique way to give a voice to those who truly need one. Not only does the reader gain some knowledge about the development of Montana, there are also interesting facts presented about mining and the labour movement.  

Well researched novels are a great opportunity to learn history through storytelling. When reading a novel like one of the books described today I am often inspired to get more information about the era being discussed to expand my learning.  Well researched novels don’t have to come from historians, but being written by a historian certainly adds to the book’s credibility and elevates the level of trust that can be placed on the accuracy of the research.

That’s it for this week’s Library Moments, thanks for listening here on 100.9 Canoe FM.

*Originally aired on 100.9 CANOE FM April 10th – 16th, 2016.


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