What Does Historical Fiction Mean to You?



What does Historical Fiction mean to you?

Good morning! (Or afternoon, or evening.) I’m G.S. Wiley, and I’m excited to be a part of the Speak Its Name advent calendar for the first time this year. I’ve enjoyed reading the posts so far, and I’m sure you have as well. Today, I thought I’d take the discussion in a bit of a different direction and ask, what does the label “historical fiction” mean to you?

The ever-helpful (well, sometimes helpful) Wikipedia defines historical fiction as “a story that is set in the past.” But what does that mean? A thousand years ago? The 1940s? Last year? I’ve written and read stories set everywhere from the prehistoric age (anyone else remember a youth secretly misspent absconding with their mother’s Jean M. Auel books?) to the early 21st-century, all of which could be classified as historical fiction. What do you think? As a lover of historical fiction, does a book or short story have to have frock coats or togas or loincloths for you to be attracted to it, or would you be just as willing to pick up a story in which the protagonists wear platform shoes or Members Only jackets? Is there a watershed date that qualifies a book as historical for you? What about stories written in the past? When it comes to “historical” fiction and holidays, the obvious choice is Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” I can’t think of a more classic Victorian Christmas story, but of course, when Dickens wrote it, it was contemporary. Does it still qualify as historical fiction, or is it merely an old story?

After 2nd Paragraph

The holiday of greatest historical significance most of us remember (probably…it depends on how hard we celebrated) is New Year’s Eve 1999. I spent the day watching televised celebrations from around the world. At night, I went to a party wearing a special commemorative hat cut out of the newspaper (remember those?) I wore it ironically, of course, since I was a know-it-all nineteen year old at the time, but I admit I still have it. In 2008, I commemorated the Millennial New Year’s experience in a short story, “Millennium” about an Australian Olympic gymnast, besieged by injury, spending the Millennial New Year’s Eve worrying about getting into shape for the Sydney Olympics and dealing with his long-distance relationship with a mining engineer in Kalgoorlie. Sadly, the story is now out of print, but I’m hoping to soon make it available for free.

After 3rd Paragraph As for me, I think any story set at a defined date in the past qualifies as historical fiction, whether that means characters dancing to phonograph records or first-generation iPods, whether the story was written and set in the 1880s or whether it was written in 2012 and set in 2006. To me, the label is less important than the story itself. I’ll read just about anything, if the story is compelling enough. I also write stories in a variety of genres, and as my Advent prize I’m offering an ebook of choice off my backlist (including stories currently out of print) to one lucky winner, who will be selected at random from the comments on this post. If the winner is patient, she or he can choose to wait for my newest release, “Crocodile Kev’s Merry-Go-Round,” due out from MLR Press at the end of January as part of their Australia Day celebrations.

Thank you for spending a little time with me today. Happy holidays to you and your families!

G.S. Wiley

L0001133 East London Hospital for Children: New Year's Eve Festival.


G.S. Wiley lives in Canada with her husband and daughter. More information about her published works can be found at www.gswiley.com, along with a collection of free stories. Two of these stories are Christmas-themed, “The Weary World Rejoices” and “Khaki Christmas” and both fit neatly into the historical category.


Advent Calendar Giveaway!

As G.S says above the giveaway prize is an ebook of the choice of the winner from the back catalogue!  Good luck!

The BONUS BUMPER PRIZE QUESTION (don’t answer this – just save them up for Christmas Eve.)

17. What festive word does this represent?



21 Responses

  1. I’ve written one work of historical fiction, Vienna Dolorosa, which was about Vienna on the day of Nazi Occupation 1938. It took me three years and I was physically and mentally exhausted at the end but I do believe it made me a better writer. Many of my recent writings are of the 1960s and 70s but is that historical fiction? Yes, I think so, it’s the past, isn’t it? In 50-60 years time it will be as ancient as WW2 is today, though there are still survivors. I think when there are no chances of there being any survivors then it becomes ‘historical’ but who knows?

  2. Interesting point. I mean yesterday is history now, isn’t it! I think you’re right though, any story set in a defined period seems sensible though I think I’d have to be looking at no closer than the 1980s on a personal level. 1990s just doesn’t seem far enough away. Strange to think writers of the future might be writing about our time as historical fiction.

  3. Very interesting post and definately food for thought. My interpretation of historical means anything up to and including the 1950s. (The decade I was born. So I suppose I’m an historical oddity) . 😀 Thank you and merry Christmas to you and yours.

  4. it’s a tricky point when something is written contemporaneously but in the past – I pass several “gay historicals” that do that, although they aren’t, strictly speaking “historical” just books that were written in the past. I believe the Historical novel Society counts it as books written on the subjects of times 50 years ago and back–and SIN had been using Stonewall/Wolfenden as their cut off point, but these have to be moveable barriers, as you can’t stay there forever.

  5. I tend to think of anything set earlier than 1900 as historical and later than that just as recent history – dont know why!

  6. I hadn’t thought about this before, but I realise I’m with Jessie Lansdel – historical is anything set before I was born! A bit egocentrical, perhaps, but there you go. 🙂
    However, I’ve written stuff set in the 1980s, which is well within my memory, and found the research to be almost as onerous as writing 1920s stories – it’s amazing what you forget, especially as relates to exactly which year certain fashions were in, or music or TV shows.

  7. I suppose I think of anything taking place before my own date of birth as being historical. Though, darn it all, now I’m old enough that I guess, strictly speaking, a historical novel could be set in the time I grew up. Arrrrgh!

  8. I’m in the “anything before my time being historical” camp, even though it’s hard to wrap my head around sometimes…

  9. I don’t think I have a set date or timeframe of what I class as “historical”, but see it more as how significantly life differs in the time period in which the tale is set from life (in the same place) when it was written… so I wouldn’t class something set in 2001 as historical, but something set in the late 1980s or early 1990s would be, because there have been enough changes in society and social norms compared to now.

  10. I agree with the other reviewers that anything before my date of birth qualifies as historical, although I’d include the 1980s during which I was a small child 🙂
    I just recently discovered your writing (“The Conch Republic” and “The Year Without Summer”) and LOVE it, so I sincerely hope your out-of-print titles will be available again, soon!!!
    Happy Holidays!

  11. anything before the past ten years or so is historical. anything from this century, the past decade or so, is contemporary. But in my mind, I really mean any period before modernism. In other words, no clue.

    brendurbanist at gmail dot com

  12. I remember the 1980s very well, as I was a teenager — but I’d have to count it as historical now, because for plenty of readers, it could be before their lifetimes or at least their conscious memories! And the end of the Cold War makes things feel very different.

    For my own historicals I’ll stick to the Age of Sail, or the Baroque era perhaps. I have more fun writing it if it’s before the Industrial Revolution!

  13. I tend to class anything requiring detailed research of the era rather than personal memory as historical.

  14. I tend to think of historical fiction being fifty years or older. For periods less than fifty years, it might have a different name which I can’t think of any at the moment.

    strive4bst(At) yahoo(Dot) com

  15. Odd to think that at some point people will be raving about historicals set in the Second Elizabethan Age.

    If I don’t remember it then it’s historical, which I suppose should include last week but actually means anything before about 1960.

  16. Its been said here before but to me it has to be prior to my birthdate. Yes, that is inching into historical but my mind refuses to go there. I am ok with WWII and before. But please nothing after that. I cringe when I see a 65 Mustang marked historical. I would prefer memorable but that would be for personal reasons. lol

  17. Thanks for the comments, everyone! It seems like “anything from before I was born”/”anything I don’t remember” is a generally well-liked description for historical fiction. I hadn’t considered that, but it makes perfect sense. We have a relationship with everything we read, and I don’t think most people like to think of themselves as “historical”!

    I know I was a little shocked recently when a 10-year-old student told me he’d never heard of one of our most famous recent prime ministers (Jean Chretien)…I voted for him several times, and to these kids, he’s an irrelevant historical figure!

    Best wishes to all, and thanks for reading!

  18. Please count me in. Thanks!

  19. Great post, and one to which there’s no definitive answer. I remember playing archaeologists with my girls in the garden and we found a coin (ony about twenty years old). An archeological pal said that was still a genuine artefact – once it was in the soil it was part of history!

  20. Interesting post. I guess historical means different things for different people. I’ve always envisioned it to be anywhere from the early 1900’s and back. I love reading historical novels, and my heart always go out to the MC’s and wish them not to get caught (before I reach the end of the book). Thanks for sharing your thoughts and Happy Holidays!

  21. Hi! *waves*
    I’m with the historical-is-before-my-time group only I’d add another twenty years (or is that take away another twenty years?) so perhaps that is more ‘historical is beyond living memory’? I grew up in the sixties and WW2 was still a topic of conversation among adults – rationing, deprivation, and wartime spirit rather than fighting – and so it was boring to me but not history. When I had to pick exam subjects at 14 I can remember being incensed that History wasn’t proper history and only covered the current century.

    I can see where writing something set twenty or thirty years ago within your own life experience would be even harder work than something set 120-130 years ago. Very distracting having to figure out the exact fashions and gadgets that would have been to hand because there is a delay between new gadget being released and getting into general use. Even something as everyday as television: from memory colour TV started broadcasting in the UK around 1966 but very few homes had colour TVs until the 70s – I think we got ours in 72 and it came with bragging rights then and it probably wasn’t until the eighties that black & white tellies became the rarity rather than the norm.

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