Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn from Wolf Hall © Company Productions/ Ed Miller

Medieval Historical Fiction

How amazing: readers of historical fiction prefer reading novels set in the Middle Ages. Authors prefer to write about the 19th – 20th century!

cover of wolf hall by Hilary MantelSince 2013 Mary Tod, aka the historical fiction writer M. K. Tod has done an internet-based survey on writers, publishers and readers of historical fiction. The latest, which was conducted in spring 2015, was recently published freely on the internet and is important to study for anyone pondering to enter the burgeoning field of ‘historical fiction’.

The survey builds on 2033 answers with a skewed gender-profile: 84% female, 16% male). However, this is not strange, as we know woman prefer reading fictional literature, while men prefer non-fiction.

Remembering this, the survey nevertheless presents us with a series of fascinating insights into the business of historical fiction – especially some differences between readers (1264) and authors (537).

The main difference here is that readers predominantly wish to read about The Middle Ages (6th to 16th centuries), while authors prefer to write about the 19th and 20th centuries.

Perhaps one reason has to do with the tremendous work of getting it right while at the same time strive for the end-result to be characterized as superb writing.

Not least, as “getting it right” is complicated by the fact that writers of historical fiction seem to be caught between a rock and a hard place

On one hand, the top reason for reading historical fiction is simply “to bring the past to life; how people lived in other eras”, while “realistic era behavior” is the second most important reason to feel that the characters in a novel “come alive” (The most important has to do with being offered and “interesting and complex narrative” – but the two aspects vie for first position).

On the other hand readers do not deem it important “to learn about food, clothing and the way they live” and they are even less keen on “dialogue which evokes period”.

This is obviously challenging for authors, who wish to follow in the footsteps of Hilary Mantel and earn a booker prize together with income from a much acclaimed televised series and a live play on Broadway, staged by the Royal Shakespearean Company.


2015 Historical Fiction Survey Results


M. K. Tod hosts a blog called ‘A Writer of History’ where she publishes about Historical Fiction Writing in general. She also writes historical novels.




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