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Writing Historical Fiction

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How can we render the language of the past? What’s the difference between historical facts and historical fiction? What does writing about the past say about the present?

In this course, you will explore the key elements of writing historical fiction, balancing historical accuracy with the demands of crafting fiction.

You will be introduced to key considerations in writing fiction set in the recent and remote past, building a historical world view for characters, the way historical fiction offers a means of commenting on the concerns of the present, and strategies for making research come alive for readers.

Learning and teaching

The module will be delivered online (via Zoom) through ten two-hour live sessions, based around workshops which will include regular peer and tutor feedback. Class sessions will be supplemented by resources available to students via Learning Central.

Indicative content is likely to include:

  • rendering the language of the past – how accurate should we be?
  • historical facts vs. historical fiction: key differences, opportunities and pitfalls
  • truth, authenticity, accuracy and responsibility to readers
  • creating a historical world view: internal and external
  • speaking of the present through writing about the past
  • animating research with imagination.

Coursework and assessment

To award credits we need to have evidence of the knowledge and skills you have gained or improved. Some of this has to be in a form that can be shown to external examiners so that we can be absolutely sure that standards are met across all courses and subjects.

The most important element of assessment is that it should enhance your learning.

Our methods are designed to increase your confidence and we try very hard to devise ways of assessing you that are enjoyable and suitable for adults with busy lives.

Assessments will enable you to build a portfolio of new writing and to receive feedback on your work.

For those who already have an idea for a novel-length work of historical fiction, the module will provide you with strategies for taking this work forward.

For those who wish to develop practical knowledge of writing historical fiction but don’t yet have a specific project in mind, the module will help you generate lots of new ideas to explore.

Reading suggestions

Recommended texts about historical fiction

  • Jerome de Groot, The Historical Novel: the New Critical Idiom (Routledge, 2009)
  • Hilary Mantel’s Reith lectures from 2017, available via the BBC as audio with transcripts

Recommended texts about the craft of writing historical fiction

  • Susanne Alleyn, Medieval Underpants and Other Blunders: A Writer's (and Editor's) Guide to Keeping Historical Fiction Free of Common Anachronisms, Errors, and Myths (CreateSpace, 2015)
  • Celia Brayfield and Duncan Sprott, Writing Historical Fiction: an Artist’s and Writer’s Companion (Bloomsbury, 2014)
  • Emma Darwin, Get Started in Writing Historical Fiction (John Murray, 2016)

Recommended texts about the craft of writing fiction more generally

  • Anderson, Linda, and Neale, Derek, Creative Writing: A Workbook with Readings (Abingdon: Routledge, 2005)
  • King, Stephen, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (London: Hodder, 2012)

Library and computing facilities

As a student on this course you are entitled to join and use the University’s library and computing facilities. Find out more about using these facilities.


Our aim is access for all. We aim to provide a confidential advice and support service for any student with a long term medical condition, disability or specific learning difficulty. We are able to offer one-to-one advice about disability, pre-enrolment visits, liaison with tutors and co-ordinating lecturers, material in alternative formats, arrangements for accessible courses, assessment arrangements, loan equipment and dyslexia screening.