Writing historical fiction – the pros, the cons, the heartaches

I’ve always had a fondness for historical fiction, and I’ve particularly admired the commitment and the lengths writers go to, to create the perfect story in our world.

Over the coming weeks, I will be examining a different element in creating historical fiction. These will include: setting, character development, and research, just to name a few.

Each blog post will be concerning issues I have faced, and how I overcame them (or plan to overcome them).

I am by no means an expert. I merely wish to share my personal experiences with the genre, my likes, dislikes, and the highs and lows of my writing process for my first historical novel, Eleanor.


Is there a formula for creating these worlds? How deep do writers need to go, in their research, to ensure their reader is completely immersed in these worlds?


These are just some of the questions I am trying to answer in my quest in completing Eleanor.

Eleanor editedAfter having fallen in love with a number of historical novels, I knew that I wanted to write my own. I can’t remember where I got the initial idea for Eleanor. It was simply a desire to write the un-romantic Romantic. I wanted ugliness, darkness, and to be as near to the raw, unbridled, reality of nineteenth-century England as possible.

One of my biggest concerns with historical fiction is the tendency for some writers to romanticise the period they are working in. And, yes it is fiction, and though I confess I sometimes have the desire to read the romanticised version of history, it is not real. I prefer the raw, unabridged version, including all the ugly parts of history. I want something as true to life as possible, I suppose. Otherwise I feel like I’m being lied to about what life in those times was truly like.

Perhaps I should stick to non-fiction then?

You know I am a pessimist, and you know that I prefer to read novels with sad endings, because I believe they are more realistic… perhaps that is why I need an historical fiction with that darkness.

That may sound contradictory when last time I talked nonstop about my love for purple prose, but if you remember: anything can be made beautiful with purple prose.

Ugliness, darkness, reality; they can be written beautifully. (Beautiful writing or purple prose does not always imply ‘happy’). We can see it in Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Wuthering Heights, and Adam Bede, as just some examples. In historical fiction, we can see it in Rebel Heiress.

Lady of the Butterflies

I instantly fell in love with Fiona Mountain’s Rebel Heiress (also published as Lady of the Butterflies) when I read it a number of years ago. This is one of my favourite historical novels. There is romance, yes, but there is sadness, rejection, and isolation too, because that is an inevitability of life. You cannot escape the darkness of the world. I loved the ending, and though I confess I would have liked to see something more definitive, or to see the heroine be with her love interest, it was a realistic ending. The fact that it went against my expectations (because I always assume there will be a happy ending), I loved that even more. I highly recommend this book, and… sorry for the spoilers, haha!

It just seems that characters in a lot of our literary worlds have a pretty good spell of luck. I don’t see many heroes dying of the plague, or women dying in childbirth. And that’s where I’ve found a love in Bernard Cornwell. He tells it like it was!


Can you steer me in the right direction? What should I be reading?
What should I be avoiding?

Next book in the queue is The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman. I’ve heard great things, so I’m looking forward to it.

light between oceans


For Eleanor, I am trying to be more accepting of the fact that readers love the romanticisation of history, but I want to add the ugliness of reality too. For instance, I don’t think I’ve come across a book that has described the common difficulty in bathing. A simple act today (for most parts of the world), but as you can imagine, without running water it would have been a pain in the arse. That is something that has come up in Eleanor, in a very minor way. Really, it’s about balancing historical accuracy with an interesting narrative. I don’t need someone to give expert knowledge in the area of Victorian bathing, but it gets hard imagining a world where it seems no one takes the time to use the facilities. Like in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (apparently I’ll use any excuse to reference my favourite game!). Sometimes I wish Geralt would at least stop fighting monsters for a minute to avail himself toilet-wards. I have video footage of a NPC doing it, but Geralt’s too good to pee on a tree obviously!

Paint me a picture, historical fiction writers! Your characters can’t always be smelling nice when their last bathing was a year ago! It’s hard to imagine the hero or heroine being romanced when they stink. Maybe they wear a lot of perfume as compensation?

For my love of The Marquis de Sade, I am completely free to dabble in the darkness. His life was lavish, decadent, toxic, and miserable. There isn’t much argument for adding romance in there, but… perhaps I could? Why not romanticise a horrible man? We romanticise the abusive Christian Grey. It then stands to reason that Sade could be romanticised too. Forcing women to take aphrodisiacs (Spanish fly), pouring hot wax on their bodies, and whipping them; there is a familiarity there, I’m sure 😉

Though I prefer to be ethical, historical fiction is, well, fiction.

Sade the coward? Never! He single-handedly broke out of the Bastille to save Marie Antoinette, his long-time admirer, from the guillotine. History won’t tell you that, but it’s true! He then married her, ‘cos, you know… facts.

So there’s the love story! Sade and Antoinette: A Forbidden Love © 2016 (patent pending).

I’m starting right now! Come on, it could work. You’re just jealous because I thought of it first! I’ll even stick a copyright symbol on it, to be sure.

I enjoy studying Sade’s life, and do also enjoy writing academic papers on him and his works, but I would love to write a fictional creative piece. I have started on a few. Feel free to check out my short piece, Letter to the Marquise.

Although his life was incredibly depressing, it was still really interesting. If someone could write a biography of his life in narrative form… that would be amazing! That’s something I want, and maybe something I’ll try myself.

Now, I shall take my leave because once again my thoughts are getting distracted and I don’t know where to end.

Please join me next time when I look at research for historical fiction.


What are your thoughts on historical fiction?
Who are your favourite authors?
Let me know in the comment section below.

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Virtue cries – work in progress

You all know my love for The Marquis de Sade or, rather, studying his life. Every now and then I like to work on a creative piece. This is a piece I was working on last year, and just completely forgot about. I was to submit it for Blue Fringe Arts, but didn’t finish it in time.

Since completing my honours dissertation: “Sade and the death of the virtuous woman: The construction of virtue in Justine“, I have been contemplating undergoing a PhD. I know I want to focus on Sade, once again, the problem is that I cannot decide on whether to write another dissertation, or do a creative piece instead.

Maybe you can help me decide?

Want to read more of my works on the Marquis de Sade?
Read the short story, Letter to the Marquise
Read the poem, My name is beauty


Stolen away at just fourteen years
Reduced to nothing and left in tears
With chastity cherished, her fate is sealed

Her virtue cries and weakens to vice
For her conviction, it is her price.
Defying chaos, defying Nature
Justine soon falls, poor innocent creature.
Unwelcome, this is not her own world
She lies lost, lonely little girl.
But she falls to her own grotesque sin
of growing pride, her vain delight in
purity fair, chastity true
They are taken; as blood from rue

Alas! we find her faith runs deeper
Even when placed with soulless preachers

Her searing flesh beneath the brand
And bones cracking under their hand.

© 2016

In defence of purple prose

I’ve been writing for a number of years now, but it was only recently that I heard the term, “purple prose“. Ever since then, I’ve heard it cop a lot of flak and I didn’t (and still don’t) understand why.

But firstly… what is “purple prose”?
Purple prose is a literary term used to refer to writing that is considered “flowery”, “ornate”, “decadent”, “elaborate” (and other synonyms).
(“Beige prose” falls on the other end of the spectrum, both in nature and in colour.)

purple typewriter2
But, how exactly does purple prose differ from what is considered normal or plain prose? Is the normal, or acceptable, prose a weird combination of the colours then? If you’re a fan of this beigey-purple taupe prose, then that’s great. I’m totally on board. I love a healthy mix of the two as well. I simply want readers (and authors) to give purple prose a chance. Ask yourself why you dislike it. Is it a matter that you prefer plain prose, or is it the reputation purple prose has earned that is the basis for your utter disdain?

I have been told I write purple prose, and I have taken it as nothing else but a compliment. As a big fan of Romantic or Gothic style literature, I love emotive, descriptive, flowery writing. I have never considered it “over the top”, but a lot of people do. So this is where I cannot help but wonder, why is purple prose bad and where is the line drawn?

purple quill image
In my search for answers, I came across a paper entitled, “In Defense of Purple Prose” — a coincidence, I assure you! — and one particular part stood out to me:

“Certain producers of plain prose have conned the reading public into believing that only in prose plain, humdrum or flat can you articulate the mind of inarticulate ordinary Joe … This minimalist vogue depends on the premise that only an almost invisible style can be sincere, honest, moving, sensitive and so forth, whereas prose that draws attention to itself by being revved up, ample, intense, incandescent or flamboyant turns its back on something almost holy – the human bond with ordinariness” (West).

So, does this mean purple prose isn’t actually bad, but simply has earnt a bad reputation?

I find West’s argument very interesting considering there is a theory that “purple prose” is seen as pretentious, or reserved only for a particular audience, and… is simply “wrong”. I hear more arguments of purple prose being elitist, than arguments of plain prose being lazy. As a reader, I want imagery, I want to be challenged, I want to be stimulated, I want to be immersed into the story, and I want to think, “Holy shit! That is amazing writing!” I want more than just a story. I find novels with purple prose able to tick all these and more.

Writing is one of those mediums where you can do no wrong. There may be some things that will make publishing difficult (James Joyce’s 100-word sentence may not take to a modern reader, and almost certainly wouldn’t be published today), or may turn readers off (change of tense/change of P.O.V.), but really, writing is flexible. Novels should have no formulae, especially not in how the prose is written. The most common piece of advice I hear is:

Write what you like.
And… you will find others that like it too.

To simply say that purple prose is “wrong” is kind of narrow-minded, in my opinion. And to completely dismiss a work because of purple prose is unfair. The most wonderful thing about purple prose is that anything can be made beautiful. I’m sure there is a writer out there that can even make doing one’s taxes sound exotic.

The problem is that all forms of purple prose are lumped together, whether they be good, bad, or ugly.

I have no qualm with minimalist writing. It is not my personal preference, but I won’t turn a book down because of it. I am currently reading a novel however that is very minimalist, so much so that there have been times where I couldn’t pin point where the characters were. “Floating heads” is the term, I believe (and I have certainly been guilty of that!). Anyway, this novel, which I won’t name, is really pushing me. I don’t usually give up on a novel, but I’m heading there. As I said, I’m fine with minimalist writing, but I feel like I need to be compensated in some way, for the loss of purple prose. I need a damn good story and plot! And no floating heads!

I need more beigey-purple taupe prose at the very least.

So, are the works of the 19th century, the Romantic/Gothic literary style, dead? Are modern readers more interested in plain prose or minimalist writing?

I do believe that perhaps the addition of purple prose could have saved some of E.L. James’ descriptive writing. I know she is considered a “God” to some of you, but could you please put your pitchforks down for a minute? James certainly opened up the erotic fiction genre (although I do have some qualms with her methods), absolutely, but it would be great if we could at least agree on one thing: her writing is pretty poor.

“Now I know what all the fuss is about. Two orgasms – coming apart at the seams, like the spin cycle on a washing machine, wow.”

This is probably one of the most famous “bad” (or “funny”, depending on your perspective) lines of 50 Shades of Grey. This kind of descriptive writing is typical of “beige prose”, and could be saved with some purple. The writer should be more attentive to descriptive language so the reader can visualise everything. The use of “washing machine” is also very “beige”. It is boring, it is mechanical, it is cold. Some more decorative language could win me over.

West continues with a question that I think is truly valid,
“How many prose writers can you identify from their style?”

Just like you can pick up a Smashing Pumpkins song from their style, or a fashion designer, so too should you be able to pick up an author from their style of writing, at least I believe so. When I’m reading Marie Corelli or Lilith Saintcrow, I know I’m reading them. Lilith Saintcrow may be upset that I call her writing purple prose, as many authors find it a terrible thing, but I consider hers to be the definition, or my definition of “purple prose”. The A Tale of Beauty and Madness series is a great example.

nameless  wayfarer2  kin

If not “purple”, then definitely a shade darker from the “beigey-purple taupe”. Corelli and Saintcrow have a very unique style and that’s why I keep coming back to them. Well, not Marie Corelli as she is quite dead, unfortunately. But the book I’m reading now? Anyone could have written it, in my opinion. There is no unique style. And that book is what I would label “beige” or plain prose.


What is your definition of “purple prose”? Where is the line drawn, do you think? Which authors do you consider “purple” and which do you consider “beige”?
What are your thoughts?

Let me know in the comment section below.


I recently came across an argument regarding the use of purple prose. It was said that purple prose is essentially the reader describing the story as if it were a movie. Every minute detail, dramatic action, and so on described. That is certainly an interesting point. I agree that being overly descriptive (ie giving too much unnecessary information) can be an issue, but I see a distinction between that and emotive, flowery writing. I would also like to argue that, to me, it is the minimalist writing or “beige” prose that comes across more as a film or transcript. This, of course, is not meant to be a generalisation. I am speaking from my experience as a reader. I have read novels that have been absent of action, emotive and descriptive writing altogether. It reads like a transcript because it is simply dialogue. (Dialogue-heavy books aren’t my thing, keep in mind.) But I like the idea of a book being so detailed that I can picture it with ease. They say that books are better than their film counterparts. If it is merely dialogue, I can take the film at face value, and I don’t like that.


I like my writing. Not everyone will, I know that. I also know that I can go over the top, but I do my best to rein it in. That doesn’t mean I will give up purple prose to do that though.


It is difficult finding modern books that I love. I essentially want Romantic/Gothic works, complete with 19th-century language and style. There are only so many novels out there that meet my needs. I hate to be so fussy, but I’m running out of Brontë, Corelli, Le Fanu, Radcliffe, and others. If they weren’t so dead, that would be fine, then I could bug them relentlessly.

I’ve bought a lot of anthologies, such as The Mammoth Book of Ghost Stories by Women, in the hopes of getting a taste of what I’ve been craving for years. And I do find some, but I want more!

So please, writers out there, I implore you. Give purple prose another chance. I’ll love you for it ❤

ghost stories

Give me beautiful, give me sublime. Give me purple prose!


Know an author I’ll love? Are you one of them? Let me know in the comment section or send me a message. I want to read your works!


James, E.L. Fifty Shades of Grey. London: Arrow Books, 2012. Print.
West, Paul. “In Defense of Purple Prose.” The New York Times. 15 Dec. 1985. Accessed 11 March 2017.
Image credits: NeOld and blogylana

Cruisin’ with the quokkas

Apologies, as I meant to give you all my quokka update last week, and I know you have been waiting with bated breath.

Okay, so here goes…

Cadence Dictionary defines the quokka (kwɒkə) as: An effing awesome little creature who has the power to make anyone gush and say, “Er mah gahd! Look at the wittle smiling babies!” Their power is often confused with Satanism. Inhabitants of Rottnest Island are so enthralled by the quokka’s charm, they are incapable of leaving.

17-02-17-rottnest-72

It had been years since I last visited Rottnest Island, and I wasn’t really certain what to expect this time around. On my last visit, I unfortunately didn’t encounter many of the smiley babies. This time…

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I would have had more photos, if my damn camera didn’t die on me.

But these guys can be hard to spot during the day. I cycled right past a number of them and didn’t even realise. As they are nocturnal, they enjoy their sleep during the day, so don’t be upset if you don’t see them right away.

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I actually thought these guys were fake! They were right behind me and I didn’t even notice. They didn’t move at all, and I was convinced they were stuffed! Just as I was getting upset about how cruel it was to have stuffed quokkas sitting there, the one on the right twitched their ear! (The one on the left is showing off the quokka sleeping method).

Hang out for a bit longer as I did, and they’ll come looking for you, begging for food. As more and more people began to leave the island towards the end of the day, the quokkas ventured out on roads for their play time. And it was just when the babies started coming out en masse that my camera died!

As I wandered around the shop area, I discovered what plant the quokkas loved to eat, and once I did… they started swarming me. I haven’t been able to find the name of the plant, all I know is it seems to be some sort of cruel twist of fate that the plant they love the most is the one out of their reach. Quokkas wait until the leaves fall, or until a giddy tourist comes by and starts tearing off leaves to please their quokka overlords.

It was amazing watching them devour their food. I collected a heap of the leaves (which seemed to have some drug-like effect) and gave some out whenever I saw a quokka. There was one particularly fussy quokka though. He/She demanded I feed them the stems only. They didn’t want the leaves, JUST the stems! I was happy to oblige, but they never seemed fully sated, even with my efforts, and I certainly wanted to please! You can’t say no to them, and he/she just kept waiting until I pulled more down. One after the other they were tossed aside, after ONE bite.

I envy those who work on the island, it is such an amazing place, with so many little critter quokkas. I could talk about my adventures cycling throughout the island, but who wants to hear about that when there are quokkas?

All right, I’ll just post a few pictures instead.

Hopefully it won’t be too long until I return to Rottnest Island. It is a wonderful place, and there is still so much to do there that I wasn’t able to during this last trip. If you ever get the chance to go, GO!

www.rottnestisland.com