I might cop some flak for saying this, but I’d suggest writing a historical novel is twice the work of a contemporary.
Both stories require research but historical novels requires the author to get an understanding of the time, the place and the people. Contemporary authors have the advantage of not having to explain the time period. It is now. One picks up a phone, switches on a light, opens the fridge – no great descriptive detail needed and the plot can unfold.
For novelists wanting to go beyond 'the ball gowns and bling' of costume drama, to immerse their readers in the time period means being authentic to the time and place, even if it seems foreign to modern audiences.
Early on in Dark Heart, I have a scene where the hero Marcus, is in a wrestling match with a friend when a page came to deliver a message. As was the custom of the time, men wrestled naked and Marcus addressed the boy while naked.
I had writers competition feedback which said that scene made one of the judges feel uncomfortable, even though they understood that casual nudity was probably custom at the time.
As LP Hartley said in the opening of The Go-Between, ‘the past is a foreign country, they do things differently there’.
This is precisely the reason why historical accuracy in fiction is so important. It should challenge us to have a renewed appreciation for our past and reflect on the immutable aspect of human nature – that very thing that connects us with people of generations past.
To my mind, there are two things that make historical fiction work:
- Great world building (all senses are engaged – you see what your characters see, feel what they feel, etc)
- A story that is so authentic to the time period that as a reader, you don’t know what’s fact and what’s fiction
Let's put the ledger together.
Here is what’s factual:
+ Maximinus Thrax
+ The political purges which destroyed Senators and targeted Christians in high
+ The threat of a tax strike by Carthage
+ Valentin, c'mon, I couldn't write a Roman-era historical romance without St
+ The Oracle of the Dead
+ Nero's library in Antium
+ The buildings in Rome from the Temple of Jove and Templum Pacis through to the
high density Insulae.
+ The industrial mill in Janiculum Hill.
+ The Villa of Jove on Capri
+ The ancient historians referenced – Cicero, Tacitus, Seneca, Galen
+ Women doctors
- All of the cast
- The cult of Elagabalus (although child sacrifice and sex cults were common)
A series of ritual murders of young boys recalls memories of Rome’s most wicked Emperor. Magistrate Marcus Cornelius Drusus has discovered the cult extends to the very heart of Roman society.
Despite his personal wealth and authority, Marcus is a slave to his past – conflicted by his status as an adopted son, bitterly betrayed by his wife and forced to give up his child.
Kyna knows all about betrayal. Sold into slavery by her husband to pay a gambling debt, she found herself in Rome, far from her home in Britannia. Bought by a doctor, she is taught his trade and is about to gain her freedom when her mentor is murdered by the cult.
When the same group make an attempt on her life, Kyna is forced to give up her freedom and accept Marcus’s protection. With no one to trust but each other, mutual attraction ignites into passion but how far will Marcus go for vengeance when he learns the cult’s next victim is his son?
Find out more
Dark Heart will be released on April 28 through Dragonblade Publishing. Stay in touch by following Elizabeth:
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Marcus Cornelius Drusus landed on his back with a thud that nearly winded him. His opponent dropped astride and offered a savage grin.
“Your time in Rome has made you soft,” he growled.
Marcus gritted his teeth and dug his heels into the sand, shoving his hips upwards. The move unsettled the attacker. He used his advantage to dislodge Lucius, a man of equal age, size and strength, but battle-hardened after three months on Germany’s frontier.
Lucius fell to one side. Marcus found his feet.
“No, just more cunning,” he grunted. Finding a surge of power, he pushed his opponent hard in the chest. Lucius stumbled backwards. Marcus grabbed Lucius’ wrist. It was easy to pivot him around and bring him face down into the sand. Marcus landed his own weight across the man’s back, twisting his opponent’s arm high behind his back.
He raised an eyebrow. Lucius twisted his head and gave him a sour expression. Marcus grinned. Before the vanquished could make further reply, a page boy sprinted through the palaestra toward them.
“Magistrate! Magistrate! The Captain of the City Watchmen wishes to speak with you urgently.”
Marcus heaved a sigh and looked down at his naked form, covered with sand from the wrestling pit.
The lad nodded. “He waits outside the Baths.”
He stood and offered his friend a hand. Lucius clasped it at the wrist, pulled himself up and thumped Marcus on the back.
“Shall I tell Mother and Livia you’ll be absent from dinner?”he asked.
Marcus instructed the boy to say the captain would have his presence shortly before answering his friend.
“No, I wouldn’t want to disappoint them. I’ll be there. I’m sure the captain’s report won’t take long.”
The boy sprinted back down the colonnades, but Marcus and Lucius followed at a more leisurely pace. Marcus halted at the entrance of the tepidarium.
Lucius raised his hand in farewell and headed towards the frigidarium – the cold baths were the customary first step for bathers, followed by the tepidarium, and then the caldarium – the hot baths – after which came the skin scraping and massage.
Duty calls. Marcus slipped into the tepidarium for a quick sluice down.