This author interview is excerpted from Pages of the Past May 31, 2019 issue.
Charity Bishop has a lot of writing projects on her plate. Besides being the editor of Prairie Times, a monthly publication based in Colorado, she also has a passion for historical fiction. Join us today as we chat with Charity about her journey as a historical fiction author.
And go check out Prairie Times too. You can read it free online and I like you’ll be amazed at the array of interesting articles they have each month!
Charity, you’ve written in a wide range of historical eras – Tudor, Victorian, Edwardian, Regency and even one in Pontius Pilot’s time. Which was the first historical fiction book you wrote, and what drew you to write that first story?
I wrote my first historical novel at age sixteen. I had developed a fascination with India’s silk trade, so I wrote a book about a boy gifted with healing abilities in the late 1700s. His misadventures took him to a boarding school in England, caused him to befriend young King George (before he “went mad”), entangled him in the American Revolution, and led him to a crisis that forced him to self-evaluate and find redemption. It was a way for me to incorporate everything I loved (writing and melodrama and history) into a single medium. Often, my novels reflect whatever historical time period I am studying at the time; I don’t choose a period and then write a story, I start reading history and the story comes to me.
Do you have a favorite era to write in? What do you enjoy most about that era?
Each time period has different belief systems, social expectations, and “trends” (such as the Victorian obsession with the afterlife, leading to the popular creation of many “monster” stories like Dracula, Frankenstein, etc), which makes writing and researching in all of them fun, but I think my favorite time periods is Victorian. I blame Sherlock Holmes. There’s something romantic about flickering gaslight, hansom cabs, and cobbled London streets.
Do you have any favorite methods you use in researching your books?
In writing historical fiction about real people, you must look outside biographies about them to learn the context of the world that “made” them. Just reading Tudor biographies did not help me to understand Henry VII’s motives; I had to read about European politics to get the big picture. Then, I understand the political decisions he made. Until you get “why” a society believes what it believes, and what social systems were in place, you will not understand the mindset of someone who lived in the past. I do not want my characters to have too modern attitudes. It’s inconsistent with the past.
Tell us about one of your favorite characters from one of your books.
I met Sir Thomas Lovell in a moment of crisis. A test reader had informed me my first draft was “dull.” Then, Lovell rode onto the scene, dripping wet in a downpour, halted his horse beneath a distant monastery, and waited for his informant. He changed the entire structure of the novel. And he has gone on to shift events in every book since, in my Tudor series. I like him because he’s emotionally complex. A man who would execute someone for treason without a second thought, but shows uncommon kindness to an innocent child. Lovell doesn’t know it yet, but he won’t be the same man who started out when we reach the end of his story.
What challenges have you found with writing historical fiction?
The old saying, “History is written by the victors” holds true. It’s difficult to find unbiased sources. Biographical writers have opinions that flavor their conclusions about the past, and contemporaries who wrote about historical figures also either disliked or liked them. There are very few neutral sources, so I must compromise by staying somewhere in the middle, between the saint and the sinner. It’s also difficult for me to leave out things. I love history so much, I would love to tell everyone’s story… but I can’t. My books need to move forward. I think the most difficult thing I’ve faced is to leave someone or something I care about out of a novel because it doesn’t fit or further the plot.
You write in other genres also. One is your short story Witchy and The Beast. Finding unique characters names can often be a daunting task. How on earth did you come up with such a great name in Witchy and The Beast – Madame Piddlesquat?
I wrote that short story as a loving tribute to my favorite author, Terry Pratchett, whose hilarious books have left me laughing late into the night. That name just “came to me” when I asked myself, what would make you laugh if you read it? I try to seek out names that go with the character’s overall tone — more serious people get serious names, my heroines get pretty names, my villains get sinister names. Names have power. They make an unseen impression.
Is there anything you’d like to share with us that I didn’t ask you about?
History comes alive through stories. Stories are, after all, what history is all about. Most of my impressions of historical figures have come from historical fiction, either in novels or on-screen. It’s hard to shake those impressions later if they do not match the actual person. That’s why I urge historical authors to stay as close as possible to the actual personality of the person they want to represent. Their words have far more power than a history book to shape someone’s view of the past, and they should use them wisely.
You can find Charity’s books here:
BIO: Charity Bishop started writing at eleven years old when she realized people write books. Since then, she has moved countless cats off endless manuscripts, gotten red ink all over her hands from her own line-editing, and repeatedly pounded her fists on her desk while lamenting writer’s block. Oh, and she also edits a magazine for a living.