Copy of NAT 201104 SIBF ARAMZAN 42-1605282087985
Book lovers at the Sharjah International Book Fair. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/ Gulf News

Sharjah: How do you merge historical facts with engaging fiction writing? This was the question posed by authors of historical fiction as they share tips on how to merge fact and fiction at 39th Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF).

Miranda Malins

“Writing historical fiction is a permanent balancing act,” according to British historical novelist Miranda Malins, author of The Puritan Princess. A historian specialising in the history of Oliver Cromwell and the Interregnum, Malins said: “Historical facts gift me with compelling events, but the challenge lies in the way it restricts your narrative options as you have to stay as close as possible to what really happened. The Puritan Princess, which is the story of Cromwell’s youngest daughter, is very much a work of fiction in that it is shaped by my imagination but I have taken the framework of real events to fill the gaps, dramatise the relationships and move the plot forward.”

Egyptian novelist and short story writer Mansoura Ez Eldin also offered insights during the virtual session titled, ‘The Imaginary World of a Novelist’. She said: “I am not interested in relating history at it is; I like to blur lines between fact and fiction. My stories begin with an idea. To build on it, I reference a certain period of history through the characters that I imagine. My recent novel, Emerald Mountain is looked upon as a historical novel, but it is intertwined with the Thousand and One Nights.”

Mansoura Ez Eldin

“Creating characters from the depths of my imagination is what gives me the freedom as a writer. It gives me more room to manoeuvre but when you write of a real figure, you have to be loyal to historical facts and this can restrict your freedom as a writer. When I was approached recently by some critics and literary figures to confirm information on certain characters in my books, I took it as a compliment as it was a convincing nature of my story that made them doubt their own knowledge,” added the Egyptian author of Ma’wa Al Gheyab (Shelter of Absence).

History and literature

In another online session, Russian author Yaser Akel and Bahraini novelist Leila Al Mutawa discussed the influence of historical events on world literature.

Yaser Akel

Akel emphasised historical research methods are universal and rely upon information from multiple sources that are compared and analysed to identify their impact and value as historical facts. He called on researchers in the Arab world to contribute to history by focusing on Islamic medical manuscripts, which are an invaluable source for historians.

Leila Al Mutawa

Al Mutawa called for examining history from different perspectives. She underscored the importance of historians being honest in their research and documentation of events and facts. “They (historians) should not allow personal biases to influence their work or base it on unverified assumptions and theories,” she added.

Al Mutawa added: “Imagination played a major role in shaping literature, while history was based on facts. A historian relies on research, investigation, and verification to confirm or deny historical facts, while a fictional work is fuelled by the writer’s imagination even if it is based on historical facts. Historians, on the other hand, must be open to their findings being questioned and subject to further research.”

How to self-publish?

Michael Anderle

Meanwhile, sci-fi author Michael Anderle shared the formula for his self-publishing success. He attributed his success to his strategic promotional efforts through social media. “I decided to go straight to the end-user, and began networking with fans, sharing little vignette stories of the challenges and frustration I was experiencing as I was writing the books,” he explained.

“When I started to see some success with my books, I knew what success looked like. As fans clamoured for more content in a wider expanse of sci fi genres, I began to collaborate with other indie authors, creating new titles across multiple sci-fi, fantasy universes,” he added.

Last day to catch SIBF

Organised by Sharjah Book Authority (SBA), SIBF 2020 concludes on Saturday (November 14). This year’s edition of SIBF is a combination of online and face-to-face events. Online or in-person visitors can register for online discussions.