Historical Faction—a cross between historical fact and a little (or lot) of fiction—is hot right now. Kids love it. Adults love it. Several publishers have released faction series that are doing very well, and this doesn’t surprise me. What I love most about the genre is not only its educational saturation, but its ability to tap into that famous adage: fact is stranger than fiction.
Fact can also be more dynamic, more shocking, more moving, more entertaining and more surprising than fiction—and we all know kids love to be shocked, surprised and entertained!
For me, writing faction, particularly historical faction, is an overwhelming experience. The lives of fascinating people (and the depth and scope of their real life journeys) are incredibly rewarding to read about, let alone write. Researching the Caroline Chisholm story and then injecting my own creative licence—how I imagined things to be back then—was remarkable, challenging and a whole lot of fun.
When writing historical faction, I think it helps to have an interest in your subject matter beforehand, though this isn’t always a prerequisite. I had keen interest in Caroline before embarking on this story yet the discoveries I made quickly transformed my ‘interest’ into quite the obsession.
After heavily researching Caroline’s life, I took note of both her major achievements and important milestones, and then earmarked the happenings that would resonate with my target audience (ages 8 – 12).
Such happenings include the classic, true scene where Caroline sails little wooden dolls and broad beans across a wash basin sea, helping her charges successfully emigrate. Caroline accidentally upends the wash basin on her bed, ruining the mattress. She’s punished and told to never play the game again. Along with other scenes in the book, it was so much fun to conjecture this scene with dialogue and visual elements.
When researching historical characters, so much more than their achievements become apparent. Photographs, paintings, articles, letters and Caroline’s own books helped me learn more about her character, her manner and even the way she thought, spoke and moved.
It’s surprisingly easy to surmise and build detail into scenes when you become so close to your character, their family, friends and colleagues. As I wrote the book, important scenes presented themselves to me and began to unfold in ways that helped with historical relevance, story-building and reader-interest.
Padding out these scenes with surmised content was a lot easier than expected because I came to know Caroline so well. Naturally, this would be more difficult to do if your character was not so well-documented, but I do believe an element of magic creeps in when writing such books. It’s almost as though Caroline sat beside me in a billowing gown and bonnet, and sent me messages as I wrote. At times, I felt more like the conduit than the author.
Other ways you can become more expressive and accurate when padding out fact with surmised content, is to visit museums and galleries containing items from that time. The same goes for imagery of the time, even if it doesn’t directly relate to your character or their story.
Watching historical films, documentaries and mini-series is a fantastic way to touch on the way people spoke, what they wore and how they lived their lives. And of course, reading, reading, reading, will also help you become more visual—not only biographies and historical accounts but newspaper articles, letters and journals, particularly those written by your character.
Writing Caroline Chisholm: The Emigrant’s Friend has been one of the most rewarding experiences in my career so far, and I’m already starting on other historical faction works. I find it a highly addictive and moving experience. Caroline has almost become part of my spiritual family now, and I so loved working with her.
I also love that Australian children will be able to learn more about this remarkable philanthropist and activist through the pages of this book. And may they become as inspired about life and the importance of family and community, as I have been.
If you could choose anyone from Australian history to write a faction novel on, who would it be?
Caroline Chisholm: The Emigrant’s Friend
(New Frontier, Oct 2013, $14.95, paperback, 9781921928482)
‘If Captain James Cook discovered Australia––if John Macarthur planted the first seeds of its extraordinary prosperity––if Ludwig Leichhardt penetrated and explored its before unknown interior––Caroline Chisholm has done much more: she has peopled—she alone has colonised in the true sense of the term.’
—Henry Parkes’s Empire newspaper, 15 August 1859
The fifth book in the Aussie Heroes series of junior historical fiction, Caroline Chisholm: The Emigrant’s Friend is an illustrated chapter book for children aged 8 – 12, and covers the remarkable life and work of one our Australia’s greatest philanthropists. The book features beautiful illustrations by Pat Reynolds.
Tania McCartney is an author of both children’s and adult books, and has been writing professionally for over 25 years. An experienced magazine writer and editor, she also founded respected literary site Kids’ Book Review. She is passionate about literacy, and loves to speak on reading, books and writing. Her latest books include Eco Warriors to the Rescue! (National Library Publishing), Riley and the Jumpy Kangaroo: A journey around Canberra (Ford Street), Caroline Chisholm: The Emigrant’s Friend (New Frontier) and An Aussie Year: Twelve months in the life of Australian Kids (EK Publishing). Tania adores books, travel and photography. She lives in Canberra with her family, in a paper house at the base of a book mountain.
Monday 30 September
Giveaway – Kids’ Book Review
Review – Kids’ Book Review
Author Interview – Dianne Bates, Writing for Children
Writing Historical Faction – Pass It On
Researching Sweet Caroline – Sheryl Gwyther’s Blog
Tuesday 1 October
Review + Five Historical Faction Writing Tips – DeeScribe
Review – Elaine Ouston Blog
The Coolest People in Australian History – Soup Blog
Author Interview – My Book Corner
Wednesday 2 October
Review – HerCanberra
Author Interview – Buzz Words
Review – Alison Reynolds
Blog Tour Wrap-Up – Tania McCartney’s Blog