Pick an era, any era?
I write about history because I’m fascinated by it. Who could not be captivated by the weird and wonderful art and architecture of the Ancient Egyptians and their imaginative afterlife. (When you get to the other side of the River of Death, and you’re judged to have led a sinful life, you get eaten by a monster! Now there’s something to occupy your mind in those final moments… If you’re dead already can you be killed twice?) And who could fail to be gripped by the titanic struggle between good and evil that characterised the Second World War. The Imperial storm troopers in Star Wars and the Daleks in Doctor Who were both directly inspired by the Nazis.
Most people find history interesting, even those who say it’s boring in school. Films and TV dramas with a historical theme are still popular. But here’s a curious thing: there are three areas which completely dominate the field: the Ancient Egyptians, The Tudors, and the Nazis. In Britain, for example, 90% of all TV documentaries are about one of these three subjects – if you include World War Two in the Nazi category. And I’ll bet that another 8% is gobbled up by the Romans and World War One with a final 2% for everything else.
It’s curious, and writers step outside these boundaries at their peril. I wrote a novel called The Cabinet of Curiosities about the court of Rudolph II in Renaissance Prague, partly because I knew it was an obscure subject, but I wanted to interest my reader with the bizarre mind-set of the time, and the almost magical essence of the city. The book completely bombed. (Maybe it was a dud, but I think the nub of the problem was summed up by a teen blogger who wrote a one line review: ‘This book is outside my sphere of interest.’)
I also wrote a book about two English sailors transported to New South Wales in 1802 (‘Prison Ship’.) I thought that would create a lot of interest especially in Australia, but I was wrong. Some topics are just off the radar for most people.
Do you have an historical era outside the obvious that you’d like to read about? Why do you like it? Do let me know.
PS If anyone is remotely interested in Rudolph II can I point you to this article I wrote for the ‘History Girls’ website earlier this year. It’s a great site, by the way, for anyone interested in history.