Writing your historical novel


Twitter @pennyingham

It was Ernest Hemingway who once said, ‘there is nothing to writing. You just sit at a typewriter, and bleed.’ If you don’t mind the idea of a little metaphorical blood-letting, here are a few tips I have found helpful over the years.

Historical novels are often inspired by actual events – a useful foundation to build your plot upon, but it is how your characters react to these events that will bring your story alive. The Saxon Wolves is set in fifth century Britain, a time of great upheaval, of invasion, of clashing cultures. In the novel, my fictional protagonist, Anya, is exiled from Germania by the decree of the high priest. She sails to Britain where she is racked by feelings of alienation and homesickness. Nevertheless, she accepts the high priest’s decision. In her mind, her sentence is irrevocable. Human emotions haven’t changed over the millennia, but our beliefs, our culture, our moral code, certainly have. Perhaps it is this contrast between the familiar and the unfamiliar which makes historical novels so enduringly popular.

Getting a feel for the language of your chosen period, its nuances, its slang, can add a vivid sense of realism to your story. If your novel is set in a distant past where the language would be incomprehensible today, aim instead to convey an illusion of authenticity. Anachronisms can jolt the reader out of the world you have carefully created, so avoid ‘modern’ words or expressions, including contemporary slang. See a scene through a character’s eyes and give them an individual voice: a warrior will spy a city and immediately assess its defences, whilst a healer will notice the yarrow plant growing by its walls. A warrior will speak bluntly, plainly; a healer with more empathy and finesse.

And finally, whilst including your research about dress or food or herbal remedies can add realism, too much of it can come across as heavy handed. Include it if you think its adds something to your narrative, but make sure to blend it in organically.

Penny Ingham


5* star reviews for The Saxon Plague


Verified Amazon purchases:

“I was given book one to read by my sister & then had to get hold of the sequel! Yes it’s a fictional account but much of the story has some historical base & I was really absorbed by the character of Anya.”

“The author creates vivid imagery and characterisation and superbly evokes the era in which the novel takes place. I didn’t want Anya’s story to end!”

“Another great book from Penny Ingham. I am so glad I found this author last year all her books have been real page turners, and I found them hard to put down.”


Dora (Swift Coffee Book Blog Goodreads review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show?id=2749354329

“I was eager to find out how the story further unfolds, and I wasn’t disappointed: the sequel was just as exciting, adventurous, yet character-centered as the first book!

Maybe a little bit more war/battle scenes happened than in the previous volume, which showed how violent and chaotic these times were. Even in spite of this, the emotional side of the story was also strong, and I felt for all the characters, let them be good or bad. Actually, that’s what I like about them so much: they’re well elaborated, neither of them black or white, but somewhere on the grey scale. I also love how Anya, and probably at least some of the other characters learn more and more about how life and people are like this.

I was sucked in the world of the book the moment I started to read, and I felt like part of me was still left in there after I finished reading it. The atmosphere is almost touchable. It’s part very realistic, the way you feel you could sense the place the same way today as you could’ve centuries ago, and it’s part ancient, almost fantasy-like, like it’s set in another world (which makes sense if you think of how little we know about these times, and how most of our knowledge springs from ancient objects and legends). It made me want to wander these places it pictures.”


5* review of The Saxon Wolves from Swift Coffee book blog

I couldn’t put it down… The story was engaging, and there were way more plot twists than I expected! There was intrigue, adventure, war and peace, character drama… everything. At first I thought it would be way more predictable than it actually turned out to be, then I was stunned by the first real big plot twist…The chaotic post-Roman world is very well pictured… One of my favorite things about this book was the characters… they are interesting and have depth. I want to read the next book so much!

You can read the  full review at https://swiftcoffee.blog/2019/03/20/blog-tour-the-saxon-wolves-by-penny-ingham/

5 Star Reviews for The Saxon Wolves (Verified Amazon purchases)

“I absolutely loved this story full of tension, totally gripping. This is an historical novel brilliantly written I cannot wait for the continuation of it. I highly recommend this to anyone who enjoys good historical novels.”

“I couldn’t put this book down – absolutely riveting story-telling – can’t wait for the next part!”

“So great, I read it in 2 days as I couldn’t put it down. I didn’t realise this would be the first in a series and I can’t wait to read the next one. Loved the combination of fiction with historical accuracy.”

“I love Penny’s style of writing. Her passion for the Saxon era brings life to her characters. a very captivating book. Gave me the impression of living in that era. Gave me shivers!”

“An excellent, well researched historical novel with strong & appealing lead characters. Atmospheric descriptions of known Roman towns adds to the interest.
Could not put the book down & can’t wait for the sequel.”

“A really good read. Once started couldn’t put it down. Believable and strong characters that have brought history alive for me. Wouldn’t hesitate to recommend.”

“Story telling at its best, well crafted characters and a pleasure to read. I could not put it down and have recommended it to all my family and friends.”

5 * Reviews for The Saxon Wolves

“I was utterly engrossed by this fast-moving, exciting story which is packed with intrigue, drama and suspense. Anya is a wonderful character… I really enjoyed the mystic elements to the story… The Saxon Wolves is absolutely superb historical fiction; I was transported to Britannia where violence was never far away and yet the need for love and a sense of belonging are only too relatable. Highly recommended.”

Hair past a freckle. You can read the full review at: https://hairpastafreckle72.blogspot.com/

“The Saxon Wolves is an exciting story of family rivalry, treachery, betrayal, love and duty set against the backdrop of a turbulent period in Britain’s history, vividly brought to life by the author.”

What Cathy Read Next. You can read the full review at: https://whatcathyreadnext.wordpress.com/2019/03/18/blog-tour-book-review-the-saxon-wolves-by-penny-ingham/

“Historical fiction book  you will love!”

You can read the full review at indeboekenkast.wordpress.com