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Monday, October 5, 2015

Seeking the drama of human spirit

“It may seem unfashionable to say so, but historians should seize the imagination as well as the intellect. History is, in a sense, a story, a narrative of adventure and of vision, of character and of incident. It is also a portrait of the great general drama of the human spirit.” – Peter Ackroyd

As a new convert to the writing of historical fiction I am fascinated by writers like Ackroyd who have made it their life’s work, and I wholeheartedly agree with his assessment.

Born on this date in 1949, Ackroyd is an English biographer, novelist and critic.   He has written some of the best biographical pieces on luminaries like William Blake, Charles Dickens and T.S. Eliot.  But his historical novels have earned the most acclaim, including the Somerset Maugham Award and two Whitbread Awards. He is noted for the volume of his work (36 nonfiction books; 18 novels and 3 books of poetry), and the depth of his research. 

It was his 1982 novel The Great Fire of London, a reworking of Dickens’ Little Dorrit (a terrific example, by the way, of the “serial” writing style that first made Dickens popular) that put Ackroyd on the writing map.    The book set the stage for a long sequence of novels dealing with the complex interaction of time and space and what Ackroyd calls "the spirit of place.”  
Peter Ackroyd -- his newest book is
a biography of Alfred Hitchcock

And while he has written over 50 books, that is not where his true “writing love” lies.
“I don’t think I ever read a novel until I was 26 or 27,” he said.  “I wanted to be a poet … (and) had no interest in fiction or biography and precious little interest in history.  But those three elements in my life have become the most important.”   As a new fan of his work, I must add “thankfully so.”

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