Tag Archives: Susanna Clarke

In Search of Historical Fantasy


Medieval (Photo credit: Moyan_Brenn)

I think that I may have a problem as a writer. Hopefully not in the quality of what I do, but in the choice of one of the genres that I like to write in. I do write mostly historical or fantasy fiction, and quite often what I enjoy most is to write historical fantasy. However, I think there’s a problem with that.

The problem is that Historical Fantasy (note switch to capital letters – to provide some more gravitas) is a slippery genre to define. If you check out the listings at online retailers or on places like Goodreads – or reader discussions online – then you realise that Historical Fantasy means different things to different people – and don’t get me started on Wikipedia.

The issue is that my definition, I believe, doesn’t match with that of some others. For me Historical Fantasy should be a piece of fiction actually taking place in an historical setting. So for instance, for my Hell has its Demons story, the setting is Fourteenth Century England. I then add in fantastical elements – basically demons and magic in my story are real.

Yet it seems for other people – and for those genre listings on online retailers particularly – the genre is in fact anything that has a vague historical tinge to it. So you get books by Tad Williams, G R R Martin, Brent Weeks, Michael J Sullivan and Joe Abercrombrie all appearing. If you then look at the sub-genre of Medieval Fantasy – which I think I’m writing in, then you get pretty much the whole Epic Fantasy genre. I just can’t understand how those books muscle into my ghetto and claim historical/medieval definitions!

But another issue with the genre, even if you take a stricter view of it, is that it is a bit of a mash-up. There’s no Historical Fantasy section in traditional bookshops or libraries. There’s actually not that many well known authors/books in the genre. I would say a handful really still writing – Gabaldon, Novik. Susanna Clarke – who wrote what I would say is the defining book of recent Historical Fiction – doesn’t seem to be producing anything new at all, which is a great shame.

So in a sense I am writing in a genre without much of a real fan base. But hey, maybe that’s a good thing! I think there is a desire for this kind of fiction, and it would be great to see it better defined and promoted by the big retailers – kick out the second-world fantasy that includes armour and swords please!


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A Books That Don’t Exist Yet On Your Wish List for Christmas

christmas 2007
christmas 2007 (Photo credit: paparutzi)

I thought it would be cool to compare Christmas wish lists for books, but not wish-lists for actual books that exist. What are the top 5 books you wish were going to be out for Christmas but aren’t because they don’t exist and haven’t been written yet?

  1. Follow-up to Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
  2. A new story featuring Severian the Torturer, courtesy of Gene Wolfe
  3. A new Robert Harris thriller – I’ve read all of them and even sampled one of his non-fiction works!
  4. Lord of the Rings sequel (Sauron fights back) by J. R. R. Tolkien
  5. A decent sequel to Star Wars turned into a decent film as well – i.e. episodes 7 to 9!

What are your most wished for books?


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Current Writing Plans

Currently I am planning to do a short story or two featuring the back story of some of my main characters from Hell has its Demons. I am still doing quite a bit of background research for the novel, and this takes some time, and I keep feeling the urge to get some writing done. But I think the problem would be if I went off and wrote about other characters and setting I might start losing the focus on my main project. Also writing some shorts about the same characters might help flesh them out and be a good work out for getting the right style for the novel.

I’m partly inspired to do this by the short stories of Susanna Clark in Ladies of Grace Adieu. These very much use the same style and setting as her novel Jonathan Strange & Mr Norell.

So if it worked for her, it can’t be such a bad idea! Although I am rather concerned that it took her ten years to do all her background research. Sometimes I feel that it might take me at least that long!

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Ladies of Grace Adieu by Susanna Clarke

I just finished reading Susanna Clarke’s short-story collection Ladies of Grace Adieu. I really was most impressed by these stories. A couple of them featured characters from her bestselling novel Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, but I think I probably preferred the stories that didn’t. For me I think the stand-out tale was “Mr Simonelli or the Fairy Widower”. This piece really brought out Clarke’s vision of faery as a sinister and evil place, but with a wonderful tone of humour easing the reader along.

I would love to be able to replicate what Clarke does in my own fiction – which is sort of similar in that it takes a historical setting as it’s starting point and then brings in fantasy elements from the literature of the period.