In order to write any historical fiction, some semblance of having done one's research is critical. Last month, one of my colleagues had been asked to review a novel set in a period of history in which she is a known scholar. Her estimation of the novel was low because the historical facts were at variance with her knowledge. The author included actual historical figures who had not yet been born, wrote about events that had happened decades earlier than the era current with his story.
These, if aware of the period in question, can halt a reader in their tracks and send the book hurling across the room. But how precise do fiction writers need to be to give the impression of verisimilitude?
Another of my colleagues has studied the history of clothing and medicine. Fortunately, I haven't made serious mistakes in my historical novels set in Wales in the 9th and 10th centuries for her to rush at me screaming but I was dismayed that so much of what we assume to be authentic is, at best, a misunderstanding and, at worst, downright dishonest.
While undertaking research for my American historical, I've learned that the saying "History is written by the victors" is disturbingly true. History cannot be accepted without question. All history is subjective, in the hands of the person or persons doing the recording, for whatever their reasons for presenting 'facts' or presiding over the elimination of other, inconvenient, 'facts.'
The same colleague who screams when she finds errors in fashion or medical treatment, declared that there was only one 'right' side of any conflict involving mankind: the side perceived by historians to be morally correct. However, there is another saying worth remembering: "The first casualty of war is Truth."
I had the honor of editing two volumes of women's autobiographical essays of their experiences in Wales during World War II. While these were personal experiences and written in good faith, memory is always selective and sometimes faulty.
Any personal account of an historical event may also be self-serving or deliberately falsified in order to put the chronicler in a good light or on the politically acceptable side of history.
Surely, when we are hundreds of years distant from an historical event that shaped our lives, we owe it to ourselves to take a deeper look, to find the Truth hidden by the convenient facts. If we perpetuate untruths for lack of research, or will, we do ourselves and our readers a disservice.
Mistakes about who was born or what events were taking place are much lesser sins than deliberate distortion. There is one more saying that encourages us to seek answers: "The Truth shall set you free."