Writing Narrative History

Until it’s mined and polished, a diamond gemstone is still … just a rock. The same goes for history. There’s an old saying:

“In history, nothing is true but names and dates. In fiction, everything is true but names and dates.”

Along came Shakespeare, who borrowed what was useful then added the appropriate utterances and gestures to articulate his characters’ dreams and desires. Whereas, I take historical events humanize their characters, then I insert fictitious others to connect the story line and make the tale interesting.

My point-of-view is “third party limited.” This means that my characters are not omniscient. Instead, they have the same limitations as an ordinary person.

By doing this, I hope to achieve what one reviewer of The last of the Fenians, Jodi Sullivan of the Tacoma Writers Roundtable, asserted: “The reader soon forgets which characters are real and which are the works of the author’s imagination.”

My characters can only know and reveal what they have learned or experienced. If the generals and politicians in my tales were all-knowing, then they certainly wouldn’t have advocated the bloody-awful engagements that history has exposed. Furthermore, I have to conform to the boundaries established by the event. For example, I can’t shift the Battle of Gettysburg to some other location, nor have it occur at some other time. These restraints force an author to make full use of his or her imagination.

When I discovered, on the internet, Major Cooper’s text: “The Tenth (Irish) Division in Gallipoli,” I knew I had to include them in The Last of the Fenians, for few historians have recognized their bravery. Nor did the Irish Government, who waited until 2010 to honor the thousands of their countrymen buried in Gallipoli.

But How?

I already had my character “Reed,” who plays the part of a young cleric, stationed in County Cork, in order to bring Michael Collins into the tale to foreshadow events that would occur years later. Major Cooper provided me with an opportunity, when he told of an elderly Anglican priest who died of dysentery while serving in Gallipoli. I envisioned a new character, namely Reverend William Martyn, to befriend the young Reed. The two were forced to meet secretly for Reed’s unyielding Bishop had the parish housekeeper spy on the young cleric’s activities. Now I had the wherewithal for Martyn to convince Reed that the Catholics in the first division ever assembled from Ireland would have need of his services. Moreover, I used Reed and Martyn to bring to light and debate the many injustices that befell the Irish peasant from the Penal laws to The Great Famine.

If you have any interest in Ireland and its ancient history, The Last of the Fenians is a reference book well worth owning.


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