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Monday, August 10, 2015

Just passing through

“Writers of historical fiction are not under the same obligation as historians to find evidence for the statements they make. For us it is sufficient if what we say can't be disproved or shown to be false.” 
– Barry Unsworth

Unsworth once said that he was a novelist, not a biographer, but his 17 novels – more than half of which were historical fiction – truly brought real people back to life, although in terms and language he often created for them.  All my fiction starts from a feeling of unique perception, the pressure of a secret, a story that needs to be told.”

Shortlisted three times for The Booker Prize, his 1992 masterpiece Sacred Hunger, which is a story of the English involvement in the slave trade, shared the prize with Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient  (definitely not bad company with which to share a writing prize).

Barry Unsworth
Born on this date in 1930 to a family of coal miners, Unsworth said he “got out of that trap” when his father bucked tradition and became an insurance salesman.  “He saved us,” Unsworth said.   He started writing novels in the traditional sense but switched to historical fiction later in life – something I like to identify with since I’m just getting into the genre’ myself.  At the time of his death – in 2012 on the same day as science fiction writer Ray Bradbury – he was so well entrenched in that style that Wall Street Journal writer Cynthia Crossen noted in a story about their deaths:  "Mr. Bradbury invented the future; Mr. Unsworth invented the past."

As for why he chose to write historical fiction, Unsworth said, “I like the condition of being an outsider, just passing through.”

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