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Getting it right...

Writers of historical fiction take us back in time to experience the world the way it once was and cultures the way they once were. Their stories are usually a blend of historical events and characters with fictional people and made-up events that might have actually taken place behind the scenes. In this, the writer faces the ever present challenge of getting things right.

Does the story make sense? Does the story fit the general circumstances of the times? How and why do the characters do what they do? How do customs and technology affect them? The farther back in history one goes the more difficult this challenge and other challenges become. What did people wear back then? What did they eat? How were battles fought? Did they have gunpowder? What were warships like? Was a trebuchet a better weapon than a cannon in 1200?

James Michener was a master of the historical novel and his books, some of which covered millennia, always gave me the feel for actually being there and experiencing those times and those places. I’ll admit that I never bothered to actually fact-check him – an easy thing to do with the internet – but the point is that to me as a reader, everything felt right so I took it as fact.

In writing The Lost Revolution, I had it relatively easy. I had to research Napoleon’s Egypt campaign; I had to research 1880s London and Istanbul; and I had to research the warships of the time. Yes, HMS Inflexible was the first British warship to have electric lights and no, binoculars hadn’t yet been adopted by the Royal Navy back then.

I like historical fiction (both reading it and writing it) because it takes me back to the world from which we all sprung. It entertains but it also teaches the reader that, although technology changes, many of the most important things in life are timeless. Our joys and our wants, our courage and our doubts are those human things that are common to us all, regardless of our being a goat-herder in the middle ages or a computer engineer in the 21st century.

The truth is that, if suddenly transported to our time, Alexander the Great would still be great - he'd just have to work hard for a few weeks to get his internet skills up to speed.

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