According to a recent report in the UK, only 30% of state school children are choosing to study history beyond the age of 14. It either doesn't interest them or they don't see its relevance. As a writer of historical fiction this troubles me a lot.
Is history becoming a thing of the past?
This may seem a strange confession, from someone who writes historical fiction for a living; but I hated history at school. I was bored out of my mind. I couldn't see the point of learning about something that happened before I was born in a country I didn't live in.
|HISTORICAL NOVELIST ON HIS COFFEE BREAK|
So it took me a long time to start even reading historical fiction, never mind writing it. I had a bias against it. Despite the recent resurgence in its popularity, many people STILL do.
If you tell someone you're a crime writer or a thriller writer, they get it. Oh, you write stuff that's fun to read. Tell them you write historical novels and the first thing they do is check to see if you have elbow patches on your jacket and a pipe in your pocket. They think you're a professor. They think about school.
Yet people who would get in a pit with live snakes rather than read an historical novel will wear out their DVDs of GLADIATOR and BRAVEHEART and ELIZABETH. Why?
Historical Fiction has an incredibly passionate and knowledgeable hardcore following but among the general public it still experiences frequent peaks and troughs in popularity. As novelists I suspect we have to change the preconception about this thing we love so much in ways that writers in other genres do not.
People didn't have to study Crime or Thrills at school so they don't think of it as hard work. But taking history at school works like aversion therapy for most people. (on 70% of 14 year olds in the UK apparently.)
I think I have a solution to the crisis gripping GSE history students.
Give the good students good historical fiction to read, like WOLF HALL or THE POISONWOOD BIBLE. I was so enthralled after reading those books I did my own research into The Reformation and the history of the Belgian Congo, subjects I had no interest in before.
The really bored students? Show them BRAVEHEART. Yes, I know what you're going to say.
But point out all the historical inaccuracies afterwards; but make them see first of all that history can be interesting and passionate and fun.
I know. There's no chance that the Board of Education in London is going to take up my idea. So I wonder instead if our genre needs a new name to distance itself from the damage that is being done inside the system that makes 70% of 14 year olds turn their back on the astonishing fund of rich stories stretching back through three thousand years of human ... no, I'm not even going to say the word.
But to prove that the H word can be fun I'm giving away three copies of my ebook Harem today. Just write to me and ask me for one at colin underscore falconer underscore author at hotmail dot com. I'll email you one. Just tell me if you want Kindle or one of the other readers (eg Smashwords.)But hurry - soon the offer will be history. (damn, I said it!)