Taking a Holiday Break  

Posted by Tony Hays

I'm taking a little holiday break from blogging. But coming in the new year will be a discussion of handling accuracy in a fictional setting and why we will never know exactly what happened on November 22, 1963 in Dallas, Texas.

To Travel, or Not to Travel  

Posted by Tony Hays

One of the constant debates among writers of historical fiction is "do you have to visit the places you write about?" Two schools of thought exist on this question. Naturally, they are yes and no. But more specifically, more directly, the question is "does it do you any good to go?" And again, the answers are yes and no.

My first published novel was set in London, 1602, onstage at the Globe Theater. I wasn't in a financial position to go to London, so I used my money to buy maps and books, anything, everything that told me about Shakespeare's London. And it worked. I felt good about my period detail, and the book garnered positive reviews for its accuracy. All without having gone to London. But here's the obvious point: going to London in the present day does little to help you grasp the London that Shakespeare knew. And when I did go to London, I had the rather bizarre experience of feeling as Shakespeare would if he were to return. His city had disappeared.

The Globe is gone, merely a paved parking lot behind a converted 18th century brewery. It's foundations were being excavated when I first went there. His lodgings on Silver Street now lie under a parking garage. He would recognize St. Paul's, looming as it does over the London skyline. The great London fire of 1666 stole many landmarks familiar to Shakespeare. His gatehouse in Blackfriars is long gone as are the jetties where he would catch a boat taxi across to Bankside and Southwark. Westminster, home to his friend Ben Jonson, was, then as now, outside the City, but then you could tell that it was outside the walls. Not now.

But when I turned my hand to King Arthur, it was a completely different story, (no pun intended.) I knew exactly where I wanted to set Arthur's seat, and the vast majority of the various scenes. Glastonbury, South Cadbury, Ilchester. And I could not have written about them without visiting. Of course, there have been changes in that landscape as well. Glastonbury Tor still rises above the Somerset levels like a great beacon. The countryside is still primarily rural. At South Cadbury, the abandoned ramparts still mark the slope. Did Arthur walk the hollow way that runs from the northeast approach to the summit? I do not know, no one knows for certain. But I do know that a Dark Ages lord feasted in the hall there. And I know that people once walked those ramparts and saw the majestic form of the Tor in the distance. I know that that the morning breeze smells much the same today as it did then. And I suspect that the sun sets beyond the levels in the same way. Without experiencing that myself, I would have been incapable of giving them a life on paper.

So, the answer to the question is really, "sometimes, it is necessary." The key, I think, is in recognizing the difference.

Why Historical Mysteries?  

Posted by Tony Hays

When I was a little boy, I read constantly. I remember my father getting mad when my brother and I would read at the dinner table. But that didn't stop us. And almost at the same, I became enamored of history. I read the Iliad and the Odyssey before I was ten. I read about Stonewall Jackson's Valley campaign. And I would use gravel as soldiers and reenact the siege of Troy and Jackson's tactical genius. Between our house and the one next door, a raised lump of ground marked the property boundary. Using a section of it, I created castles and forts and caves. I created little worlds that only I could see and only I could understand. I somehow finagled a subscription to the new Liberty Magazine, a remake of an old Depression-era publication that reprinted original articles. I also fell in love with Punch, the British satire magazine about the same time.

The leap from that to writing stories took place when I was eight. I do not know what, specifically, sparked the writing bug. In the back of my mind, perhaps I believed that I could do as well. Or, more likely, the magic of putting words together in ways that birthed worlds of my own creation was too much of a lure to resist. And so I wrote. I still have those stories, mostly spy and international conspiracy tomes. I even dreamed of selling a collection of them door to door. I've always been big on dreams.

But mysteries? I grew up in an age of controversy and tragedy. I was six when JFK was assassinated, eleven when RFK and Martin Luther King Jr. were killed. From those days until now, we have lived in an age of conspiracy. And as my writing grew better, the story ideas that came to me were mysteries. And when the novel bug bit, it seemed that only mysteries with an historical bent captured my imagination. I wish I could explain why, but I can't. No great event drove me in this direction. It just seemed as natural as breathing.

What I hope to do with this blog is to talk about historical fiction, particularly historical mysteries. And not just fiction, but occasionally about real historical mysteries as well. I hope to bring guest blogs and interviews from a variety of authors and experts. And, perhaps, in some way, contribute to the global discussion of historical fiction and historical truth.

For more information about my own work, check out my website at www.tonyhays.com. And please, please feel free to email me with suggestions or ideas.