Robyn is interviewed for Ancient & Medieval Mayhem blog.
Q. Do you think it is important to be as historically accurate as possible in an historical fiction book?
A. I feel historical fiction should be as accurate as possible in the portrayal of its worlds – that is to say, the author should strive to use authentic period detail, avoid anachronisms and have as deep an understanding as reasonably possible of the time and place they are writing about. But, beyond that, things become rather grey.
For one thing, history can be far too convoluted or protracted to allow for an accurate retelling of events in what is supposed to be a page-turning novel. For example, during what came to be known as the Great Cause (the trial to choose Alexander III’s successor) there were endless councils and gatherings that would have weighed down the book tremendously had I been faithful to the chronology of events, so I amalgamated them into one. Besides this, the sources we take our material from are sometimes obscure or open to interpretation, often contradictory and frequently missing the vital information that would explain a person’s motivations for actions they have taken.
Robert Bruce switched sides several times during the Wars of Independence and although we can speculate what led him to do so we still don’t know for certain what he was thinking, or hoping to achieve. This is where the author of historical fiction can move beyond the restrictions of historians – creating the motivations that lie behind the actions of characters and filling in the gaps in recorded history. But, of course, these are our own interpretations and you can’t say these will be accurate, any more than you can say a chronicler, often with their own, usually politically motivated agenda, writing decades, or even centuries after events occurred is accurate in their retelling.
The more I research the Middle Ages, the more I realise just how much we don’t know. But, for me, therein lies the appeal. When I write I’m not an historian, I’m a detective. It is the novelist’s licence to question “what if?” which led me to take a controversial route in depicting the fate of Alexander III, whose death, although believed to be a tragic accident, was never actually witnessed.
One thing I do feel strongly about, though, is where the author deviates significantly from established fact, or fills in gaps with their own interpretations they should explain this in an author’s note. I also provide a bibliography so readers can read the “real” history if they want to know more.
Read the full interview: Ancient & Medieval Mayhem