Lo­cal au­thor shares how to pen his­tor­i­cal fic­tion

Moose Jaw Express.com - - News - Randy Palmer Moose Jaw Ex­press

The in­ter­est­ing thing about writ­ing his­tor­i­cal fic­tion is that it has its base in his­tory, and his­tory is lit­er­ally doc­u­mented events that have taken place.

In writ­ing a fic­tional story about some­thing that’s hap­pened can be chal­leng­ing when it comes to get­ting read­ers to buy into the story.

That was just one hur­dle that Moose Jaw au­thor David Richards helped some as­pir­ing writ­ers over­come as part of his his­tor­i­cal fic­tion work­shop at the West­ern De­vel­op­ment Mu­seum on Apr. 13. The event in­cluded a va­ri­ety of tips from the au­thor of four ac­claimed nov­els, as well as a tour of the mu­seum and how ideas could be gen­er­ated from such a sim­ple walk­through.

“We’re go­ing to talk about his­tory and we’re go­ing to talk about fic­tion and how to blend the two to­gether,” Richards said prior to his sem­i­nar. “You have to be care­ful, be­cause a lot of peo­ple who read his­tor­i­cal fic­tion read a lot of it, so if you try to sling too much fic­tion or re­vise his­tory, you can run into trou­bles...

“The fic­tion is num­ber one, you have to write a good story, a good yarn and it has to float along in the his­tor­i­cal river. But you can’t re­vise or change his­tory, oth­er­wise the peo­ple who are read­ing it will nail you in­stantly. So it’s a pro and a con thing; like a guy who writes po­etry has to wait from some in­spi­ra­tion to hit him. With his­tor­i­cal fic­tion, you go to the li­brary, open a book and you see a mil­lion plots.”

Richards knows of what he speaks. A writer of his­tor­i­cal fic­tion since the mid-80s, Richards has had four nov­els pub­lished through This­tle­down Press, with his sec­ond book – The Lady of Ba­toche – win­ning the 1999 Saskatchewan Book Award for Young Adult Fic­tion. His more re­cent tomes Soldier Boys and The Source of Light have both re­ceived award nom­i­na­tions.

While the his­tory part of the whole equa­tion is nat­u­rally im­por­tant, it all comes down to brass tacks in the end – you have to have the fic­tion part down, just as well. “The real tricky part for me is still get­ting the fic­tion,” Richards said. “Get­ting the story, get­ting the char­ac­ters, get­ting the plot and the in­spi­ra­tion to make it go. That’s the good guys, guys like Ken Fol­let, they’re fic­tion writ­ers who have a lot of his­tory flow­ing through them.” It also helps to write what you know or at the very least do some heavy re­search. That comes into play for Richards when it comes to choos­ing lo­cales for his sto­ries. “My his­tor­i­cal fic­tion that has been pub­lished has all been based in Saskatchewan or started else­where and ended up in Saskatchewan,” he said. “We have lots, tons of good sto­ries here... One came from when I was look­ing at the Riel Re­bel­lion and the photos of the Bat­tle of Fish Creek, I did a bunch of re­search and that was the first com­bat pho­tog­ra­phy ever taken in the world. So that be­came a story.”

That book, Soldier Boys, was a na­tional fi­nal­ist for the 1994 Ge­of­frey Bil­son Award for His­tor­i­cal Fic­tion for Young Peo­ple.

Richards’ pre­sen­ta­tion was in con­junc­tion with the Saskatchewan Fes­ti­val of Words, which will be hold­ing their of­fi­cial launch on Apr. 19 and is set for the July 19th weekend.

“I love the Fes­ti­val of Words,” Richards said. “It’s one of those things where if you wanted to see Mar­garet At­wood, you had to go to a big fes­ti­val in Van­cover or Toronto. Now, you can get in your car or walk a few min­utes, and there’s Mar­garet At­wood in Moose Jaw telling you how to write.

“It’s re­ally neat and the peo­ple who are here who run it and work with it are top notch.”

David Richards reads from a book of po­etry dur­ing his­tor­i­cal fic­tion work­shop.

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