Editorial

I have always loved history. Visiting my mother’s home in Scotland, there was the cannonball fired through the front door by General Monck’s army as it marched north to quell the Royalists. History was made up of such colourful incidents in real life – and the dates (so hated by many school children) that had to be learned by heart, were the framework on which to hang them. In fact, I think I learned most of my history through stories – whether the novels of such as Rosemary Sutcliff, Ronald Welch and Jane Oliver – or through the works of H.E. Marshall, where fact certainly became story; the story we wanted to believe was our history, peopled with heroes and hope. It can be a shock to learn that some of our heroes have feet of clay!

Clive Barnes, in his humorously reflective article, looks at this question – why read about history? What are we, the readers, looking for? Is it important? Taking up cudgels for the historical novel, Dawn Finch picks up the theme in her report of a panel discussion hosted by the Histeria Group – a group of children’s authors who write in this genre. Here the panellists focused very much on why an author should choose to write about – or set a novel – in the past, and the place such books have in the marketplace.

At present there is a resurgence in the historical novel for young readers. After falling into the doldrums it is once more popular – as it used to be in the past. One of the most notable authors in the early twentieth century, was G.A. Henty. A prolific writer, his books enjoyed such titles as With Kitchener in Soudan (1903) and St George for England: A Tale of Cressy and Poitiers (1885). Once famous, he is now almost forgotten. Rachel Johnson throws light on this author, while Mary Hoffman writes about her own experiences as a writer of historical novels aimed at young adults and children.

Roald Dahl might be an unlikely candidate as a writer in the historical genre. June Swain in reviewing his The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More (1977) discovers it to be imbued with a sense of history – the stories, curious facts that have inspired the imagination of that master storyteller, and his own past experiences which are, of course, history.

Whether recounted as ‘fact’ or embedded in fiction, the events of the past fascinate. Ann Lazim has been researching the history of the suffragette movement and, in particular, how it has been reflected in books written for children. Her review is in part ‘historical’ – many of the titles she quotes are no longer in print, but she brings us right up to the present with books published today. Writing the past continues to attract authors; the historical novel is definitely not history.

Ferelith Hordon

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