Ask a class of secondary children how many of them read fantasy and you are likely to get a good show of hands. Ditto thrillers, spy stories, and tales set in the here and now. But if you ask if anyone reads historical fiction, you’ll get very few hands, if any. Why?
Well, possibly because the kids don’t understand the concept of ‘historical fiction’ without a few examples. Certainly if you mention Michelle Paver, you’ll get more hands. (“Oh, is that historical fiction?”) But more likely, I think, because they think historical books will be boring or difficult. My theory is that in a child’s mind there is a direct and logical link: historical = history = school subject. The logical assumption (perhaps not on a conscious level) is that if you don’t enjoy history as it’s taught in schools, or if you find it hard, you won’t enjoy historical books. Or even if you don’t mind history, why would you do a school subject in your free time?
And yet what is historical fiction really? It’s a story, like any other, just set in the past. Yes, of course there are all sorts of definitions. I’ve written essays on the subject on more than one occasion. But they aren’t really important. What’s important is getting young readers enthusiastic about reading stories of all kinds – to get them to see it as an advantage that authors have all of the past ages of the world to roam through as settings for those stories. So let’s throw away the word ‘historical’ and call them adventures, thrillers, romances, mysteries, or whatever else seems appropriate.
Romantic adventure, anyone?