Writers of fiction look for ideas everywhere – to their own life experiences, people they know or their own imaginations. Sometimes though, they take inspiration from real life events and people. Writing about these events as fiction can give the author a greater flexibility around the characters, their thoughts and their motivations. And for readers, it gives us fascinating insights into what happened in the past, and makes historical events feel more real to us.
This fiction based on fact now even has a name such is its popularity – heard of ‘faction’ anyone? Here are just a few of our favourites:
Recently released and already receiving lots of praise, See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt takes a unsettling look inside the mind of Lizzie Borden, famously accused of murdering her father and stepmother in 1892. Mostly focused on the day before the murder, this is an absorbing tale told from the point of view of Lizzie, her sister, the maid and a hired thug.
Geraldine Brooks is a master of this genre, and one of our favourites is Caleb’s Crossing. In 1665, a young man from Martha’s Vineyard became the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College. From the few facts that survive of his extraordinary life, she has created a luminous tale of love and faith, magic and adventure.
David Dyer’s astonishing novel The Midnight Watch is based on the true story of the SS Californian, the ship that saw the Titanic’s distress rockets and yet, unfathomably, did nothing. Told from the point of view of a reporter investigating what happened that fateful night, this is both a psychological thriller and a deeply knowing novel.
Winner of almost every award going, Burial Rites by Hannah Kent is a treasure of a novel. Based on the true story of the last woman who was executed in Iceland in 1829, this is dark novel that portrays the landscape almost as a character, and a formidable one at that. Absolutely recommended.
There are a number of fictional books on the Tudors and one we love is the start of a new series Six Tudor Queens by Alison Weir. The first queen to be featured is Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen. A woman who believed that to be the wife of a King was her destiny. History tells us how she died. This captivating novel shows us how she lived.
If you’ve ever wanted to learn more about the life of Ned Kelly, True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey is a must read. Using a similar style of writing to The Jerilderie Letter (the most famous surviving piece of writing by Ned Kelly), this Man Booker prize winning novel is set as he flees from the police. Outlaw or hero? You decide.
Based on the real life of Elizabeth Gould, The Birdman’s Wife by Melissa Ashley is a captivating read. Artist Elizabeth Gould spent her life capturing the sublime beauty of birds the world had never seen before, but her legacy was eclipsed by the fame of her husband, John Gould. This portrait of this extraordinary woman is a story that deserves to be told.
Another Man Booker prize winner, Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel is an epic novel. Covering the reign of Henry VIII, we start with a king on the throne with no heir, a cardinal charged with securing the divorce the pope refuses to grant and Thomas Cromwell – a political genius, a briber, a charmer, a bully. This is a compelling investigation into the cost of ambition.
The German Girl by Armando Lucas Correa spans 70-plus years as two girls tell their gripping stories. Based on the real life event of the SS St Louis, Hannah and her family set sail to escape Berlin in 1939 to Havana with other German refugees. However, the Cubans renege on the deal, allowing only 28 of the 937 passengers to come ashore. A fascinating story.
Murder on the Orient Express by the inimitable Agatha Christie is an enthralling story, keeping readers guessing right to the very end. But did you know the Armstrong kidnapping in the book was based on the actual kidnapping and murder of Charlies Lindbergh’s son in 1932? The book remains a classic, this is Agatha Christie at her very best.