Tag: Melissa Bailey

Rewriting History: How Historical Fiction Works

By Emily Pedder

From Brooklyn to Wolf Hall, historical fiction is enjoying a boom moment. But how do you go about writing an historical novel? How ‘true’ to the past should a novelist be? And what can historical novels tell us about the world we are living in today? Last month we were given the insider’s guide to all this and more by two of City short courses’ star alumni: Anna Mazzola, author of The Unseeing, out with Tinder Press next month and Melissa Bailey, author of The Medici Mirror and Beyond The Sea, Arrow Press.

Both authors clearly shared a passion for research and saw it as one of the most absorbing parts of the historical novel writing. Both were also clear that the story had to take precedence: it didn’t matter how much research had been done, or how historically accurate the depiction of period might be, if the story wasn’t working the novelist had to go back to the drawing board.

There was also broad agreement on other characteristics of writing historical fiction. Anna spoke of the importance of giving voice to the voiceless and of uncovering voices from the past that hadn’t been heard before. Melissa highlighted the enjoyable difficulty in trying to imagine what her characters were thinking and feeling, and then imagining what was different about the way those characters might have perceived things at that time.

Well attended and with positive feedback after the event, this writing short course event gave us all food for thought. As novelist Andrew Miller put it, “at its best, historical fiction is never a turning away from the now but one of the ways in which our experience of the contemporary is revived.” Thank you to Anna and Melissa for a thoroughly enjoyable evening. For more info on our short courses, go to our website or follow us on twitter @cityshortcourses. For more on the authors and their books visit: Anna Mazzola and Melissa Bailey.


Mixing it Up: How short course alumna Melissa Bailey blended genres in her debut novel

By Emily Pedder

New writers are often told they need to define their novel’s genre to attract an agent. But what happens when your novel crosses genres? How does a writer handle this? And does it help or hinder the marketing of the book?

Last month, City hosted an event with short course alumna Melissa Bailey to discuss her novel and her use of genre. Melissa’s debut novel, The Medici Mirror, (Random House, 2013) blends at least three genres – mystery, romance and history – to great effect. At the event she spoke about how the book evolved. The story was inspired by Haruki Murukami’s, A Wild Sheep’s Chase, which mixes mystery and magic realism. It also features a blackened mirror, something which resonated with Melissa and her interest in the supernatural. A fan of ghost stories, Melissa wanted to introduce a ghostly element into the novel as well as a murder mystery. The historical element came much later, she told the group, when her editor suggested she make more of the mirror’s history, prompting research into Catherine of Medici and her fateful mirror.

None of these elements were planned, Melissa explained. The process was organic and unfolded in the writing of the novel. Although her editor loved the way the novel crossed genres, for sales and marketing it was more problematic. But Melissa advised wannabe novelists not to worry about how their book is marketed. Instead she placed an emphasis on honing your craft and singled out praise for the short courses she took at City, in particular Writers’ Workshop. The courses gave her stimulus, drive, tips and deadlines, as well as an understanding of the importance of editing and redrafting. For more on Melissa’s book take a look here.

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