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Pick an era, any era?

Dec 14,2012
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File 12543I 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 File 12546interest 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.

Dec 18,2012
Hi Ambivalence and Daydreamer - thanks for your thoughts. Maybe that Brit percentage is a little exaggerated, but I did hear it straight from the mouth of a well-known TV presenter of historical documentaries. Victorians are popular in the UK too - fascinating era. 'Near death potential' now there's a concept!
Dec 14,2012
Pirates! I'm pretty sure it's a popular concept, but in a romanticky kind of way. I'd like to read a narrative based a little more close to reality? I second (as always) Daydreamer on the action, adventure, or mystery. Or just near-death potential.
Dec 14,2012
I'm kind of suprised to see Ancient Greece isn't anywhere in that 98%. I would have thought that with all their myths and rich history and culture they'd be popular too, like Rick Riordan's "Percy Jackson". I agree that I'd prefer to read something I knew at least a little about, but if my friend were to recommend a book, I'd read it regardless of my interest in the historical context. And if I was just browsing the bookshop or library, I'd be more likely to pick up something that promised action, adventure or mystery...

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