My Favourite Authors of Historical Fiction: James Clavell

August 5, 2011

Hello everyone,

My e-book’s publication has been pushed back at least a day by a formatting error that I have now remedied. While I wait for Amazon to process the corrected version, I thought I would blog about my favourite authors of historical fiction. A writer is first and foremost a reader. Reading great books eventually inspires you to write one, and whenever I sit down at my computer I know I am standing on the shoulders of giants.

I’ll confess I was originally going to put them all in one long post, but after the first four I was at 3800 words, and I didn’t think anyone would hang in there with me for a 10,000+ word blog post. Instead, you’ll get them a piece at at time. The list is by no means exhaustive. I decided to whittle my pantheon of authors down by a few simple criteria. First, the writer needs to be known predominately for historical fiction, and I am going to narrow the definition of historical fiction to include only novels set before the author’s own lifetime. Second, I am only including authors who have at least three books that I consider some of the best that I have ever read.  There are dozens of authors I admire for one or two works, but to make this list I am including only those who consistently produced triumphs of the written word. Third, I am only including authors who are either still alive or who have died within my lifetime. I take nothing away from the amazing writers who passed away before I was born, but I need this list to be of manageable proportions; taking that razor to my selection drops away dozens of worthy novelists whose work doesn’t need further praise from me. Finally, all of these authors are people who I know at least something about as individuals, either from biographies, interviews, or articles. Their work inspires me, but I also admire something about them as people.

With those conditions in place, I still couldn’t bring my list down to an even ten. I’m sorry about that, but eleven is just as good as ten. Better, in fact, because it’s one more! Let’s get started…

#1 – James Clavell

Any list of historical fiction authors, for me, has to begin with James Clavell. When I was nine years old I read Shogun, and it changed my life as a reader. I make a point of reading it at least once a year, and I always learn something new about the craft of writing. I have gone through easily seven paperback copies of that novel: They fall apart from reading and re-reading. Clavell says he came up with the idea while helping his daughter with her homework. She was reading a textbook that included a single sentence about an Englishman who washed ashore in Japan at the beginning of the Tokugawa Shogunate and eventually became a samurai. “Wait a minute, go back. What happened to him?” Clavell asked, but there was nothing else about the man in the book. After a great deal of research, Clavell wrote a book that changed the way the West thought about Japan. I know it’s not hard historical fiction –Clavell changed names and dates and heavily fictionalized the true events to add apocryphal content that was more exciting– but the book is the definition of an opus for me. It has a cast of hundreds, and all of them are knowable individuals with their own perspectives, desires, motivations. At the end of that book I knew about fifty phrases of polite phonetic Japanese. It has love and war, politics and intrigue, characters in constant conflict with who they are and what they could be. People I care about die, and some who I hate in the beginning are redeemed as heroes and heroines at the end. My only complaint with Shogun is it is too short, and when you think that as a paperback it clocks in at between twelve- and fourteen hundred pages, that’s saying something.

Read the rest of this entry »

Advertisements