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Bleeding the well dry, Robin hood and king Arthur

For discussions of historical fiction. Threads that do not relate to historical fiction should be started in the Chat forum or elsewhere on the forum, depending on the topic.
M.M. Bennetts

Post by M.M. Bennetts » Thu October 7th, 2010, 1:05 pm

[quote=""Madeleine""]Cornwall's certainly very evocative, it also does retain, despite all the touristy bits, it's own character and identity, in fact there was a campaign to have it re-named Kernow (the old Celtic name) and to have the Cornish language kept as an official language - I haven't been down there for a few years so not sure what progress they've made! Plus, stuck on its own "leg" at the bottom of the UK, it does have a feel of being slightly separate from the rest of the country. Add the facts that it's surrounded on 3 sides by water, with its' dramatic coastline, all those caves and inlets, its' smuggling history, the moorland and yes, the du Maurier and Poldark effect, and possibly the fact that it's the end of England - next stop the US - I think there are endless possibilities there!

Do you still live there, or have you ever lived there, MMB?[/quote]

Much of the family still lives there. There are more Bennetts in the Penzance phonebook than anywhere else in the UK. We go down frequently. The great grandfathers were harbourmasters of Penzance, have Cornish names like Barziliai (that's a Christian name btw) and Beckerleg and Bolitho...

And I think possibly it serves as a setting for so much HF because so much of it is rugged coastline and moorland and still relatively unspoilt--man can make little impact, it's left to the elements to play off each other there--so it's easier to imagine life as it may have been 200 or so years ago, whereas it's a bit harder to stand near Horseguards in London for example and think, 200 years ago, across the river, it was Surrey. And rural. Exactly what did that look like?

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Michy
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Post by Michy » Thu October 7th, 2010, 2:20 pm

Thanks for all the interesting and informative responses. What you all say makes sense. It's funny how much I've absorbed about Cornwall just from reading so much HF set there over my life. By the time I was 15 I may not have known all the geography that I should have about my own US, but I knew that the River Tamar was the boundary of Cornwall in England!

[quote=""EC2""]deep fried Mars Bars [/quote] Is this Mars Bars as in candy bars? Sounds like something you'd find at a county fair here in the States! :eek: They deep fry everything....

[quote=""M.M. Bennetts""]Cornish names like Barziliai (that's a Christian name btw) and Beckerleg and Bolitho...

[/quote]
I thought all Cornish names started with "Tre", "Pen" or "Pol." :) Just kidding....

M.M. Bennetts

Post by M.M. Bennetts » Thu October 7th, 2010, 3:13 pm

[quote=""Michy""]Thanks for all the interesting and informative responses. What you all say makes sense. It's funny how much I've absorbed about Cornwall just from reading so much HF set there over my life. By the time I was 15 I may not have known all the geography that I should have about my own US, but I knew that the River Tamar was the boundary of Cornwall in England!

Is this Mars Bars as in candy bars? Sounds like something you'd find at a county fair here in the States! :eek: They deep fry everything....


I thought all Cornish names started with "Tre", "Pen" or "Pol." :) Just kidding....[/quote]

You're half-way right. Then there are the Buh-names. Bennetts, Beckerleg, Bazeley, Bosanko, Bolitho...And we have our own saints too. Gerrans, Blazey, Piran (patron saint)...So yes, a different culture. (Not sure if that's a compliment.)

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cw gortner
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Post by cw gortner » Thu October 7th, 2010, 4:05 pm

It's important to note again that while we as bonafide expert historical fiction readers may be weary of the same characters / eras, the truth is most publishers are driven in acquisitions by two factors: a) commercial potential; and b) market trends. Another factor, far less relevant to most hf writers, is the "known author" factor: certain authors have such an ingrained following that readers will follow them anywhere, and they can often break out into new, less explored subjects. But in general even these authors tend to remain within the familiar. Publishers also encourage their most successful authors to stay within the confines of the era / subject matter that made them successful to start with. So, it's a Catch-22. Authors like Gregory or George could ideally break out, say, 10th century Mesopotamia, but would their editors even let them?

In addition, the truth is that readers drive the trends and establish the continuing commercial potential of any subject. Not just us on this forum, who tend to be more specialized in our choices, but readers en masse; and unfortunately they do not seem to be tiring any time soon of the same subjects. The Tudors are still selling very well; shockingly so, to my surprise. When my Tudor spy novels were submitted, I was actually not confident. I thought the trend was waning and didn't want to be caught on its last faltering steps. However, my acquiring editor assured me his Tudor titles outsell his other hf titles, citing numbers that made me think that people do indeed prefer to read the same story, or variations on a theme. My UK editor snapped up all three titles, too.

Go, figure. I believe that as many have already mentioned, it can be challenging for most readers to venture into unknown territory with hf due to a perceived lack of knowledge and/or belief the subject will not be as entertaining. I thrive on variety as a reader but clearly I'm not the average in this respect. Indeed, I don't think it was a coincidence that it took me 13 years to find a publisher for The Last Queen. Looking back over the rejection letters I got, the one common theme that emerged was that Juana was too "unfamiliar" a character -- and she's a sister to one of Henry VIII's wives!

Not sure if any of this is relevant but I thought I'd share a more personal look at this issue, from a writer's perspective.
Last edited by cw gortner on Thu October 7th, 2010, 4:08 pm, edited 1 time in total.
THE QUEEN'S VOW available on June 12, 2012!
THE TUDOR SECRET, Book I in the Elizabeth I Spymaster Chronicles
THE CONFESSIONS OF CATHERINE DE MEDICI
THE LAST QUEEN


www.cwgortner.com

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Madeleine
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Currently reading: "The Comforts of Home" by Susan Hill
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Post by Madeleine » Thu October 7th, 2010, 4:50 pm

[quote=""Michy""]Thanks for all the interesting and informative responses. What you all say makes sense. It's funny how much I've absorbed about Cornwall just from reading so much HF set there over my life. By the time I was 15 I may not have known all the geography that I should have about my own US, but I knew that the River Tamar was the boundary of Cornwall in England!

Is this Mars Bars as in candy bars? Sounds like something you'd find at a county fair here in the States! :eek: They deep fry everything....


I thought all Cornish names started with "Tre", "Pen" or "Pol." :) Just kidding....[/quote]

From what I remember from my last visit to the US, your Mars Bars are different from ours - yours have nuts in them! Ours are chocolate with lots of toffee and more chocolate instead, very fattening :eek: I've never had them deep-fried though! :eek:
Currently reading: "The Comforts of Home" by Susan Hill

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MLE (Emily Cotton)
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Interest in HF: started in childhood with the classics, which, IMHO are HF even if they were contemporary when written.
Favourite HF book: Prince of Foxes, by Samuel Shellabarger
Preferred HF: Currently prefer 1600 and earlier, but I'll read anything that keeps me turning the page.
Location: California Bay Area

Post by MLE (Emily Cotton) » Thu October 7th, 2010, 4:56 pm

I'm happy with Mary Stewart's Arthur books-- after plodding half-way through Marion Zimmer's beat-you-into-the-ground version, I decided I'd just leave the King and his round table as-is in my mind. As for Robin Hood, the last time I had anything to do with him it was 'Men in Tights'. Also tired of the Tudors.

But that's just me. As far as the business of publishing is concerned, what is familiar to old hands is new ground to many just dipping their toes into HF waters. Rather like Disney animated films, there is a new audience for 'Cinderella' every five years. The plot is predictable, but it works, and has for generations.

A king who sets out to clean up and unite his country but is betrayed by his friend/son; an outlaw who lives in the forest and rights wrongs done to the helpless-- these are appealing themes for readers. So I doubt there will be an end to them any time soon.

Also, they are English, and since we are here on an English-language forum, you're going to see English-themed HF more than that of other countries. I suspect that Hindu historical fiction has a preponderance of stories from the Ramayana.

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Kveto from Prague
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Post by Kveto from Prague » Thu October 7th, 2010, 5:30 pm

[quote=""cw gortner""]It's important to note again that while we as bonafide expert historical fiction readers may be weary of the same characters / eras, the truth is most publishers are driven in acquisitions by two factors: a) commercial potential; and b) market trends. Another factor, far less relevant to most hf writers, is the "known author" factor: certain authors have such an ingrained following that readers will follow them anywhere, and they can often break out into new, less explored subjects. But in general even these authors tend to remain within the familiar. Publishers also encourage their most successful authors to stay within the confines of the era / subject matter that made them successful to start with. So, it's a Catch-22. Authors like Gregory or George could ideally break out, say, 10th century Mesopotamia, but would their editors even let them?

In addition, the truth is that readers drive the trends and establish the continuing commercial potential of any subject. Not just us on this forum, who tend to be more specialized in our choices, but readers en masse; and unfortunately they do not seem to be tiring any time soon of the same subjects. The Tudors are still selling very well; shockingly so, to my surprise. When my Tudor spy novels were submitted, I was actually not confident. I thought the trend was waning and didn't want to be caught on its last faltering steps. However, my acquiring editor assured me his Tudor titles outsell his other hf titles, citing numbers that made me think that people do indeed prefer to read the same story, or variations on a theme. My UK editor snapped up all three titles, too.

Go, figure. I believe that as many have already mentioned, it can be challenging for most readers to venture into unknown territory with hf due to a perceived lack of knowledge and/or belief the subject will not be as entertaining. I thrive on variety as a reader but clearly I'm not the average in this respect. Indeed, I don't think it was a coincidence that it took me 13 years to find a publisher for The Last Queen. Looking back over the rejection letters I got, the one common theme that emerged was that Juana was too "unfamiliar" a character -- and she's a sister to one of Henry VIII's wives!

Not sure if any of this is relevant but I thought I'd share a more personal look at this issue, from a writer's perspective.[/quote]

interesting stuff. thanks for the perspective. as you say, well known writers can write themselves into a position of more freedom with subject matter. but that might also take them out of their comfort zone.

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Kveto from Prague
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Post by Kveto from Prague » Thu October 7th, 2010, 5:44 pm

[quote=""MLE""]I'm happy with Mary Stewart's Arthur books-- after plodding half-way through Marion Zimmer's beat-you-into-the-ground version, I decided I'd just leave the King and his round table as-is in my mind. As for Robin Hood, the last time I had anything to do with him it was 'Men in Tights'. Also tired of the Tudors.

But that's just me. As far as the business of publishing is concerned, what is familiar to old hands is new ground to many just dipping their toes into HF waters. Rather like Disney animated films, there is a new audience for 'Cinderella' every five years. The plot is predictable, but it works, and has for generations.

A king who sets out to clean up and unite his country but is betrayed by his friend/son; an outlaw who lives in the forest and rights wrongs done to the helpless-- these are appealing themes for readers. So I doubt there will be an end to them any time soon.

Also, they are English, and since we are here on an English-language forum, you're going to see English-themed HF more than that of other countries. I suspect that Hindu historical fiction has a preponderance of stories from the Ramayana.[/quote]

i guess my original point was not clear. im not really against arthur and robin. im against "new" arthur and robin stuff. im against redoing subjects that are already overdone. keeping with your cinderella example. disney has a new market every 5 years. but they dont completely rewrite a new cinderella every five years. the old one is still good enough to be used for a new audience. if it aint broke dont fix it or in this case dont "rewrite/reboot" it.

Morte d Arthur, the Farie Queen, and works that follwed can be read by new generations. but its been done. and done. and done. we dont need it redone anymore. its just my feeling of course.

As for the "english" angle, well i was hoping to stay away from that. the idea that English speakers are only interested in reading about English speaking countries. Thats why in my original post i tried to use other examples of english characters who could be better subjects. King Alfred in place of Arthur. and Dick Turpin in place of Robin Hood. Im not overloaded on the less overexposed characters, whereever they are from. the charlemagne and Roland as subjects came up later in the thread.
And I also hope its not true that English speakers are only interested in English language characters.

And Im definately not against the themes you presented. All of the other characters i mentioned would encapsulate similar themes as most stories do. its that these themes can be done with different characters to make things more interesting. Its not like Arthur is the only king unitng his country and getting betrayed or Robin hood is not the only guy sticking up for the poor. I dont think they have a monopoly on these themes.

I hope that makes things from my perspective clearer.
Last edited by Kveto from Prague on Thu October 7th, 2010, 6:11 pm, edited 4 times in total.

annis
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Post by annis » Thu October 7th, 2010, 7:24 pm

Posted by EC
Stateside you gets kilts and heather and 'Och wee lassie' rather than deep fried Mars Bars and Rab. C. Nesbitt.
Fried Mars bars? Tell me it isn’t so! I think I feel ill… What amuses me about historical romances set in Scotland is the fact that cold rain and midges never get a mention. Whenever I read about a romantic lochside interlude I always think, “yeah, right”!

Why do we like reading about the same characters over and over? Well, my take is that it’s part of our psychological makeup to find comfort in familiar rituals. Children (as any parent knows) love the same story told endlessly over and over. The fact that they know what is coming gives them pleasure and reaffirms their place in the world. We retain some of that need as we grow older. The old storytellers and bards of the oral tradition knew this well and always got their audiences going with familiar tales (maybe embellished differently here and there) before moving on to newer material. With familiar tales come familiar heroes/heroines who become part of our personal mythology. This pattern can also be seen in the comfort people take from adopting characters in long-running TV shows like Days of Our Lives and Coronation Street. as part of their personal circle of acquaintances.

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Michy
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Post by Michy » Thu October 7th, 2010, 7:25 pm

[quote=""keny from prague""]And I also hope its not true that English speakers are only interested in English language characters.

[/quote]

No, I don't think it's true. I think English speakers have a quite natural cultural/historical affinity for English language characters. Plus, that's what we've predominantly been exposed to, and so that's what's most familiar to us. But I think English language readers would be receptive to characters from other countries and cultures -- the authors and publishers may have to work a bit harder to make them attractive to English language readers, though.

That's just my take -- others may disagree........

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