Narrative Transport. The official Michael Pryor website.
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  • May21st

    Bold statement – writing Historical Fiction and writing Fantasy (of certain sorts) are almost identical undertakings. A Game of Thrones and Wolf Hall? The same thing, really.

    Think about it. Writers of both have to introduce and explain an unfamiliar world. Writers of Historical Fiction and writers of Fantasy can’t assume the shared knowledge that writers of contemporary fiction can.

    Writers of contemporary fiction can take a great deal for granted. They don’t have to explain the social mores, the political structure, the clothing, the standard layout of buildings, methods of transport, forms of communication, common technologies, and thousands of other details of life that affect and intersect with their characters.

    Not so with the writers of Fantasy and Historical Fiction. We have to help the reader come to terms with a world that could be alien in countless ways.

    The first step for both of us, of course, is that we have to be familiar with the world we’re introducing. Here’s where our jobs may diverge a little. The Fantasy writer has to work from scratch, whereas the Historical Fiction writer doesn’t.

    Let’s face it, most Fantasy secondary worlds are derived from history. Fantasy writers are always scouting around the world and going back and forward through time looking for fertile areas as a springboard into world creation. Take a time period and location that’s in turmoil, tweak the events and the names a little, add some magic and there’s the beginnings of a framework for a solid Fantasy trilogy or two, easily.

    Therefore, both Fantasy and Historical Fiction writers spend a great deal of time researching, in order to be utterly cognisant with the world we’re about to introduce.

    After this comes the delicate task of sifting in all this background detail. The challenge is to do this without boring the reader. After all, we’re writing fiction, not textbooks.

    There is a higher challenge, though. The higher challenge is not just to do this without boring the reader, it’s doing it without the reader even noticing and therein lies the art.

    The key term I use here in trying to define what writers in both genres are trying to do is that we’re trying to make our worlds convincing. Even though the world may be unfamiliar to the reader, we have to convince her/him that the setting is a believable one, one with a coherence and an underpinning that resonates with the human experience. The setting could be archaic, primitive, old-fashioned or exotic in unearthly terms, but writers need to give the reader entry into this world by making it a plausible one.

    Done well, this accounts for some of the allure of both genres. They both take readers somewhere different, somewhere outside the ordinary, somewhere fresh and exotic where characters can play out their dramas in ways that extend the range of human actions, interactions and possibilities.

    All in all, sometimes I think the only difference between writing Historical Fiction and writing Fantasy is that one has magic and one doesn’t. I’ll leave you to decide which.


  • May16th

    I’ve been doing some research on the great picture palaces of 1930s/1940s Melbourne. Recently, I stumbled across the wonderful Harold Paynting Collection at the State Library of Victoria and discovered these images of the long lost Padua Theatre, Brunswick, Victoria.  Thanks to people like photographer Lyle Fowler, we can gaze on this extraordinary streamlined edifice that landed in suburban Sydney Road.The 2,000 seat theatre was opened to much fanfare in 1937 – footwarmers! Revolving stage! Crying room! Service!

    As with all the magnificent cinemas of this era, the Padua suffered when TV came along, so much so that its superb Art Deco interior was gutted in 1968 and it began a new life as the Metropole. Eventually, though, it was torn down in 1982(!). Today, a supermarket is on the site.

    What a loss.

    argus 1937

  • November28th

    Apropos of nothing in particular, here’s a selection from the glorious 1920 editions of La Gazette du Bon Ton. Style, elegance, grace, panache and whimsy.


  • October25th

    Writers have many challenges. Getting a pencil to a perfect sharp point. Coming up with alternatives to ‘Once upon a time’ to start a story. Finding time to count our enormous sacks of money. Things like that. With The Extraordinaires, my most recently released series I encountered a challenge that I hadn’t confronted before: the intricacies of using a real life character in a work of fiction.


    One of the joys of writing fiction is being allowed to make up stuff. It’s fun, and when you’re a Fantasy writer, you get to make up huge bucketloads of stuff, which is extra fun. So when, for a change, I decided to set a book in the real world and include some real, famous people as characters, I had to do something different. I had to stick to the facts. Read More | Comments

  • October18th

    After my last post on Historical Fantasy was enjoyed by so many, I thought I’d walk across the line and look at Alternate History, especially seeing as I made the distinction between it and historical fantasy.

    And just a word on the Alternate/Alternative debate. Frankly, I think ‘Alternate’ doesn’t make as much sense in this context as ‘Alternative’, and it may be actively wrong, but it seems to the be winner out there in internet land and, as we know, the internet is the arbiter in all things.

    Quick definition – a story where one important premise is a change in an historical event that causes today to be different. The Jonbar Hinge (go on, look it up, I know you’re dying to) kicks off a different (alternative!) timeline providing authors with great story possibilities.

    This sort of story is almost the classic ‘What if?’ jumping off point, from the obvious ‘What if the Nazis won WWII?’ to other, more obscure historical turning points.

    In the list below, I’ve deliberately avoided any Nazis winning WWII stories. You can find them yourselves – there are plenty. Read More | Comments

  • October10th

    Extraordinaires coverI’m happy enough with my Extraordinaires series SS front cover smallbeing called Steampunk, but I’m more and more coming to think of it as Historical Fantasy.

    And by Historical Fantasy, I don’t mean Alternate History (stories in a world like our own that has taken a different historical path) or standard Fantasy that’s set in a world somewhat like our own except for added magic – (see my Laws of Magic for this).

    I’ll take a stab a definition of Historical Fantasy, even though I understand that definitions are tricky: Historical Fantasy is a story set in an actual, definable historical time and location, but with elements of the fantastic included such as magic, gods or imaginary creatures.

    Yes, it’s arguable and on the margins there are exceptions and ‘should be includeds’, but that’s the fate of every definition.

    Historical Fantasy can be a real joy if you love Fantasy, but have grown tired of the standard Fantasy setting – a quasi-mediaeval, Northern European milieu. Historical Fantasy uses the best aspects of Fantasy in fresh, new places.

    Here’s my list of Five Great Historical Fantasy Novels

    Bridge of Birds – Barry Hughart

    Oh, do read this book. Barry Hughart called it ‘A Novel of an Ancient China That Never Was’ and it’s an utter delight as Master Li (‘I have a slight flaw in my character’) and Number Ten Ox, his assistant, have a series of remarkable adventures in a magical landscape full of extraordinary characters. It’s rollicking, hilarious, suspenseful, eye-opening and the ending is both profound and moving.

    The Stress of Her Regard – Tim PowersThe-Stress-of-Her-Regard1-194x300

    Tim Powers is one of the masters of Historical Fantasy. In The Stress of Her Regard he takes us early 19th century Europe and the world of the Romantic Poets. Shelley, Keats and Byron are substantial characters, and the remarkable night at the Villa Diodati  where Mary Shelley created Frankenstein in the presence of Lord Byron, Percy Shelley and Dr John Polidori. This is the central part of a vast and brooding story that weaves in and out of the gaps in history. Sensational!

    TemeraireTemeraire – Naomi Novik

    Now we’re in the middle of the Napoleonic Wars, but with dragons. Do I need to say any more?

    Soldier of the Mist – Gene Wolfesoldier of the mist

    One of our great speculative fiction writers, Gene Wolfe wrote one of the great Historical Fantasy books in Soldier of the Mist which is set in the Greek-Persian wars in the fifth century BCE. The main character suffers a head injury and so has amnesia – but he can also see gods, spirits and supernatural creatures. It’s a majestic book.

    The Terror – Dan Simmons

    Some might put this in the horror basket, but I’m going to appropriate it for Historical Fantasy, mostly because of the amount of research that’s gone into this cracker of a novel. It traces the ill-fated Franklin Expedition of 1845, in which two steamships went searching for the fabled North-west Passage through the icy seas to the north of Canada. It’s no spoiler to tell you that everyone dies, for that’s the historical record. Simmons, however, uses chilling(!) Inuit mythology to explore a possible reason. It’s breathtaking.

  • August18th

    If you’re writing Fantasy, namesmedieval big can be a real headache. You want names that are distinctive, evocative and resonant, without sounding ‘just made up’, and that put a real strain on the old creative gland. The answer lies, as it almost always does when writing Fantasy, in History. For  realistic sounding names for that multi-book epic you’re writing try the Medieval Naming Guides site.

  • July26th


    Ah, the Internet and its wondrous offerings! I stumbled across some archival video and the memories came back. Believe it or not, younlings, there was a time when petrol companies successfully linked themselves with the back to nature movement, all in the days before unleaded fuel, too. Driving and Hippies? Why not?

    Look at these and be at peace. The first is from 1972, the second from 1975. Different times, different ways.

  • May24th

    Oh, how I love history. And books. And books from history.empire

    Here’s a real gem: the contents of the 1911 edition of The Empire Annual for Girls, which should tell you a thing or two from the title alone.



    The story of a happy thought, a strange discovery, and a deed of love


    A girl’s adventure for a father’s sake


    Words of encouragement and stimulus to the daughters of the Nation Read More | Comments

  • August28th

    I’ve been promising this for a while. It’s one of the things I stumbled across in my researching. How I love serendipity.

    La Gazette du Bon Ton was essentially what we’d call today a fashion/lifestyle magazine. It was published in Paris from 1912 to 1925, and offered a limpid glimpse of the world of the upper class French, with utmost style, taste and refinement. The most distinctive aspect was the illustrations, which were splendidly rich and elegant. Noted illustrators and artists featured their works in the pages of this journal, people such as Bernard Boutet de Monvel, Georges Lepape, Georges Barbier and Pierre Brissaud and their depictions of the fashions from the most haute of haute couture houses is the last word in chic. The incidental detail in these illustrations are a goldmine for a writer, too, with furniture, transport and architecture providing a backdrop for some of the most attractive gowns and suits imaginable.

    I’m gradually putting together a selection of some of the best of these illustrations. Here’s the first selection, with more to come in future. Click on each thumbnail for the full file.