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Monday, September 14, 2015

A 'scaffold' from which to build

“The thing that most attracts me to historical fiction is taking the factual record as far as it is known, using that as scaffolding, and then letting imagination build the structure that fills in those things we can never find out for sure.” – Geraldine Brooks

While Brooks is an Australian American journalist and author whose 2005 novel March won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, she first established her credentials as a writer of historical fiction with her first novel Year of Wonders, published in 2001.  That book, set in 1666, depicts the story of a young woman’s battle to save fellow villagers when the bubonic plague suddenly strikes.  That book became a massive international bestseller and moved her over from her journalistic career into one as a full-time novelist. 

March was inspired by her fondness for Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, which her mother had given her as a child. To connect that memorable reading experience to her new status in 2002 as an American citizen, she researched the Civil War historical setting of Little Women and decided to create a chronicle of wartime service for the "absent father" of the March girls.

In the process, she also developed a newfound respect for religion.  “You can't write about the past and ignore religion,” she said.   “It was such a fundamental, mind-shaping, driving force for pre-modern societies. I'm very interested in what religion does to us - its capacity to create love and empathy or hatred and violence.”

Meanwhile, she encourages all who are interested in history not to fear writing historical fiction.  “There's just so many great stories in the past that you can know a little bit about, but you can't know it all,” she said.  “And that's where your imagination can go to work.”

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