Novelists like me who raid the past for our stories face a number of creative and ethical questions. If we are working with real figures, how slavishly do we – or should we – adhere to the details of history as they are known? And if our characters are fictional, how much work do we do to plant and grow them out of historically accurate soil?
While the answers may seem obvious, the rate at which history is rewriting itself these days, particularly through new work on gender and race, means that the landscape is continually changing, putting pressure on the serious novelist to keep abreast of the best research coming out of the academy.
Then there is the question of how to acknowledge the debt owed. Plagiarism is a hot topic these days and while facts cannot be copyrighted, observations and conclusions, not to mention the spinning of close webs of detail to support a new thesis about a period or a person, must