Latest from the H for History blog

Ed O’Loughlin on why the historical novel has more fun

Posted on: 09/09/2016 with tags: 18th century, Arctic Canada, Canada, Ed O'Loughlin, historical fiction, Minds of Winter, Modern history, Polar Exploration

Historical novels are a cheap form of tourism: the past is another country, they do things more exotically there. We don’t really know what it felt like to live in Victorian London, any more than we understand the lives of the poor of Peru or Cambodia, but we can drop in for a while and be charmed by the quaintness, titillated by the strife and the poverty, then return to the dull here and now. Historical novels are an escapist resort for people who are dismayed by the dreariness of contemporary…

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‘The Britain we live in today is the Britain of Attlee’s creation’ John Bew on his new book, CITIZEN CLEM

Posted on: 09/09/2016 with tags: biography, Citizen Clem, Clement Attlee, John Bew, Labour Party, non-fiction, Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, 20th Century, World History, WW1, WW2

The gallons of ink spilled on Winston Churchill – and the huge appetite for books about him – have created something of an imbalance in our understanding of twentieth-century Britain. Not only does Clement Attlee’s life deserve to have a rightful place alongside the Churchill legend. It is also more emblematic, and more representative, of Britain in his time. It is difficult to think of another individual through whom one can better tell the story of how Britain changed from the high imperialism…

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Jeska Lyons reviews The Unseeing by Anna Mozzola

Posted on: 09/09/2016 with tags: crime fiction, debut novel, historical crime, historical fiction, history, Reviews, Victorian, Victorian England

What struck me the most when reading this book was the incredible sense of time and place Mazzola creates, and how vividly she paints a picture of grim 1830s London. We meet Sarah Gale, the epitome of a fallen woman, as she is sentenced to hang for assisting her lover James Greenacre in the murder of the seemingly innocent Hannah Brown. From the first page you are transported into poor Sarah Gales’ bleak world, and you don’t escape from her reality until you close the book completely. The atmosp…

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Jo Liddiard reviews A Death at Fountains Abbey

Posted on: 18/08/2016 with tags: A death at fountains abbey, antonia hodgson, Book review, historical crime, historical fiction, The Devil in the Marshalsea, Georgian

I’ve been a huge fan of Antonia’s since I was spellbound by THE DEVIL IN THE MARSHALSEA, and so to see Thomas Hawkins and his various associates back for a third time is a real treat for me. Not least because this novel sees them transported away from the grimy, crime-riddled streets, gambling dens and chop houses of London to supposedly more gentile Yorkshire and Studley Hall and Fountains Abbey. What this book, as with THE DEVIL IN THE MARSHALSEA and THE LAST CONFESSION OF THOMAS HAWKINS, does…

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Ten Cunning Methods of Poisoning by Karen Maitland

Posted on: 17/08/2016 with tags: author blog piece, karen maitland, poison, Wicked Children, Medieval, Tudor

The obvious method of poisoning someone was to add the toxin to the victim’s food or drink, but it was not always possible, especially when the rich and powerful employed food tasters and the poisoner might not have access to the kitchens or if he did, would immediately be suspected. So the successful poisoners of history had to come up more ingenious ways to get the poison into their victims. Killing Ointment – This was made from arsenic, vitriol, baby’s fat, bat’s blood and hemlock and was int…

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Antonia Hodgson on Street-Level History

Posted on: 15/08/2016 with tags: antonia hodgson, author blog, fiction, historical crime, historical fiction, Georgian

I write about the early Georgians. Someone has to. I confess I stole that punchline from Bill Bryson. But it’s true – it’s a neglected period. Hardly any-one writes fiction set in the early to mid 1700s. Is it the wigs? The Whigs? (Now that’s my kind of joke – historically accurate, and not very funny.) Historical fiction tends to draw on the great stories of wars and monarchs. Henry VIII’s life has moved beyond history to the point of myth – and like all great myths, can be told over and over w…

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The Ten Best Modern Novels Set in the Nineteenth Century by Anna Mazzola

Posted on: 13/07/2016 Victorian

This is hard. There are many incredible novels set in the nineteenth century and I have read large numbers of them as ‘research’ for my own novels (i.e. as a means of putting off writing my own novels). I am not including within this list books that were actually written in the nineteenth century, as that would make my task impossible. Forgive me for what I have had to leave out. I anticipate years of angry letters from Patrick O’Brian fans. 1. Nights at the Circus, Angela Carter, 1984 Just sque…

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Seeking the soul of a city: Robyn Young on Florence

Posted on: 08/07/2016 with tags: robyn young, Sons of the Blood, War of the Roses, Tudor

Robyn Young takes us on a research trip through the streets of Florence. The air is sultry and swarming with insects, the sky simmering with storm, as I step off the plane in Florence’s Peretola Airport, formerly known as Amerigo Vespucci after one of the city’s famous sons – the merchant voyager whose name was given to the newly discovered Americas in 1507. I’m on a research trip for Court of Wolves, the second novel in my New World Rising series. Much of the action will take place here in Flor…

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‘What Hastings had heralded, the Harrying confirmed. The Normans were here to stay’ James Aitcheson on The Harrowing

Posted on: 07/07/2016 with tags: Battle of Hastings, English History, historical fiction, historical novel, history, James Aitcheson, Medieval, medieval history, Norman Conquest, The Harrying of the North, The Middle Ages, Medieval, Norman

This year marks the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings, one of the best known events in British history. On 14 October 1066, English and Norman armies clashed at the site now occupied by Battle Abbey in East Sussex, in a fierce struggle for the English crown that ended in the death of the incumbent king, Harold Godwineson, and in victory for the invader, William of Normandy. Most people today, if asked what was the most significant event of the Norman Conquest, would probably name Hasti…

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The Harrying of the North by James Aitcheson

Posted on: 06/07/2016 with tags: Battle of Hastings, historical fiction, medieval history, Middle Ages, Norman Conquest, The Harrying of the North, william the conqueror, Medieval, Norman

Ask most people what was the defining event of the Norman Conquest and they’ll probably name the Battle of Hastings, when William the Conqueror defeated and killed his rival Harold Godwineson en route to seizing the English crown in 1066. However, it was the cruel coda to Hastings that has arguably done most to define modern perceptions of the Normans and their impact on England. Over the winter of 1069-70, William the Conqueror’s armies laid waste Yorkshire and the north-east of England in a ru…

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