For me, the story of Sai Jinhua begins on a summery day in Shanghai. It is the final day of a trip I very much fear will be the last one that I and my husband will take with our two sons, both of whom are poised to leave on journeys that are suddenly, although hardly unexpectedly, becoming their own next chapters.
Having grown up in Wisconsin, I was surprised to learn that German prisoners captured during World War II were shipped across the Atlantic to my home state. They were housed in rural areas—vacated schools, fairgrounds, migrant worker camps—and were put to work in canneries and on local farms. Between 1942 and 1946, Wisconsin housed POWs in 39 camps across the state.
Australian poet Robyn Cadwallader was researching a PhD thesis when she came across the story that inspired her first novel, The Anchoress, the richly told story of a woman who chose to live a very cloistered life in the name of religion. Here, Cadwallader explains how she stumbled upon one of history’s lesser known corners.
If you were born in 1800, there was a 50 percent chance that you would die before your fifth birthday. Popular sports of the day were often bloody: bear- or badger-baiting, cockfighting and, of course, bare-knuckle boxing.
For me, the first act of writing historical fiction is resistance. There are tropes within the American imagination that pop up readily; it takes a slapping of your own hand to not reach for these tropes and recycle them.
Priya Parmar is a former freelance editor whose first novel, Exit the Actress, was based on the 17th-century actress (and royal mistress) Ellen "Nell" Gwyn. Her second novel, Vanessa and Her Sister, is based on the life of the artist Vanessa Bell. In this behind-the-book essay, Parmar explains how important—and how personal—choosing a historical fiction subject can be.
A chance discovery of an old biography at The Strand inspired journalist Alix Christie's debut novel, Gutenberg's Apprentice, which tells the story of the invention of moveable type and the printing of the Gutenberg Bible. In this essay, Christie explains how her lifelong love of letterpress printing left her uniquely suited to fictionalize this remarkable true story.
“There’s a scene in your story that’s unrealistic. The one where your main character’s marriage was arranged so quickly. In those days, matchmaking could take years, especially between old, wealthy families.”
This was the feedback from a family friend who read the manuscript for Three Souls during its early stages of editing. This friend grew up in a very traditional family and had majored in Chinese literature. If my novel’s depiction of Chinese family life in the years before World War II passed her critical judgement, I could breathe a sigh of relief.
There were many things I liked about my Grandmother Puffer’s home: cartoons on television (We didn’t have a TV at home: hippie parents.), Cheerios for breakfast (ditto), and all manner of ancestral relics. There was a genuine family tree—branches wider than my arms—and artifacts like a chair that Myles Standish had sat in (and in which we were not to sit) and a bugle that had been played at President Wilson’s inauguration. More than all this stuff, there were the tales my grandmother could tell.
When Coll Coyle, a struggling tenant farmer in 1832 Ireland, accidentally kills the landowner he works for, retribution is fierce. Forced to flee the country for America, Coyle exchanges one bleak existence for another when he finds work digging the rail beds for the Pennsylvania railroad. And he’s still being pursued by the relentless overseer, Faller, who is determined to see Coyle...