Historical Fiction in rude health, thanks largely to women writers | Sunday Times Culture section

Interesting article in today’s UK Sunday Times newspaper, in the ‘culture’ section. Unfortunately for non subscribers or buyers of the paper, behind a pay-wall. Some key points and passages are:

…  Few literary genres have a readership that is quite as gender-divided. Women do read male historical authors, even the ones who specialise in blood-spattered warrior adventures. Yet in a world where all the market research indicates that most men are inherently prejudiced against picking up a book written by a woman, it can be an uphill battle for a female author to reach a male readership. This is why so many women writing historical fiction publish under names that deliberately obscure their gender: Robyn Young, MC Scott, SJ Parris, AL Berridge

and, in the new year, MJ Carter have all taken this route.


… Manda Scott  saw a shift in her readership from an 80% female/20% male audience to a 50/50 one when she published her latest Rome espionage series as MC Scott  


… historical fiction appears to be in robust health. Sales are running at a three-year high, up 14% on 2012, which … is all the more exceptional when you consider that overall sales of novels are down 21% 


… Without Mantel’s success, it would be hard to imagine the hoopla that recently marked the republication of some of Mary Renault’s work.


I think attention of editors and marketing departments was re-focused on what was inherently excellenty and widely-read work – like Rosemary Sutcliff’s!

… “When I started writing historical fiction, around the turn of the millennium, big literary names writing books that happened to be set in a historic period were absolutely adamant that they were not writing historical novels,” says (Manda) Scott, who, as well as being an author, is the founding chairwoman of the Historical Writers Association (HWA). “Today those same people are perfectly happy to be considered historical writers.”


… not many historic periods are considered sellable to Americans. This is why the Romans, Vikings, Crusaders, Plantagenets, Tudors and Victorians are mined for colourful historic context, while authors are discouraged from pitching series set in the 17th and 18th centuries.



… female authors have dominated 2013. Mantel holds the first and third spot, while Philippa Gregory — author of The White Queen, adapted for the BBC this summer — is responsible for 7 of the top 20 titles, 4 in the top 10. Cornwell is the only male author to make the top 5, or even the top 15. 


…  Another influence on the robustness of the genre is not a historic series at all, but a fantasy one …  The phenomenal international success of George RR Martin’s novels has created an appetite for bloody dynastic sagas. Though they are fantasy, the books are rich in historical context: their author has always said that he was inspired by the Plantagenets. 

Source: History Prejudice, Sunday Times, December 15th (behind paywall)


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