Writers On Writing / Challenging ideas about truth with Jesse Blackadder


The historical novel isn’t only retelling an old story. It’s a way to challenge ideas about truth, memory, history, and fiction.”
We interviewed author Jesse Blackadder in the lead-up to her workshop Going Down in History: Writing Historical Fiction. Join her on Saturday 22 September to learn how to research and write history to make it come alive.


Dr Jesse Blackadder is fascinated by adventurous women in history, and forgotten and hidden stories. She has written seven novels for adults and children, including two major works of historical fiction published by HarperCollins. Her novels use history as their leaping-off point, entwining fact and fiction into compelling stories. She is the winner of the 2011 Antarctic Arts Fellowship and the Benjamin Franklin Prize for Historical Fiction.

Ahead of her course at Writing NSW, Going Down in History: Writing Historical Fiction, we asked Dr Blackadder a few quick questions.

What is it that drives you to write historical novels?
Real stories from the past spark my imagination. Untold stories
the ones that have been overlooked and forgotten, or the details that have been left outfascinate me.

What is the relationship between historical fiction and truth? 
The historical novel isn’t only retelling an old story. It’s a way to challenge ideas about truth, memory, history, and fiction. Through the novel form, we can invite the reader to consider how a historical narrative is told, and its sometimes problematic relationship to ‘truth’.

I like to decide early if it’s a story where I’ll stick closely to known historic facts, or if I’ll use the historic facts as a springboard into the story, and I find ways to make this clear to the reader.

Researching historical fiction can be a daunting task. Where is a good place to start?
Secondary sources—booksare a great start. There is a fabulous website that hosts resources for historical novelists: www.historicalnovels.info.

However, there’s a huge thrill to using primary sources. Tracking down newspaper articles, diaries, letters, and archival records is exciting, and if you find something genuinely new, it’s an incredible high. Visiting the place where the story is set is also vital for me. I also suggest marrying an historian who specialises in your period.
Going Down in History: Writing Historical Fiction with Jesse Blackadder will take place at Writing NSW on Saturday 22 September, 10am-4pm. Book your spot here >


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