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Translating Historical Fiction (and a chat with Bernard Cornwell)

It’s been a while since I posted. So I thought I’d give a little update – what have I been up to this week?

Well, the focus has been Arnulf. I’m down to the last 25 pages of the second book in the saga and after swords, shields, axes, ships, wounds, nightmares, dreams, hope, hurt, longing, yearning, love, hate, revenge, it’s getting philosophical – or perhaps theological is the proper term. Will Arnulf turn away from Fenris to White Christ?

You’ll have to wait for the book in English to find out!

But translating historical fiction can be tricky – as is writing it.

There is no objective account of history, so can there be any accuracy in historical fiction? Yes and no.

Take the Vikings for instance – we know quite a bit about their material culture, daily life, technology, their lore, their gods, we know some of their names and we know of their battles, but we can’t know the minds of historical figures. So writing historical fiction is a great responsibility. We can bring characters to life, but it is the life we imagine for them.

And that is central to historical fiction – sticking to the historical details so that the historical figures can be brought to life to give a version of their story.

I have an advantage translating Viking historical fiction – I have a PhD in Archaeology and I have actually sailed a Viking longship – but historical details still need to be checked and even I have to consult colleagues – specialists on Viking textiles, on Viking fighting styles and techniques and on Jomsborg – so that these historical details can be better shown, described and experienced with the senses in English.

But it’s so worthwhile.

Just watch this interview with Bernard Cornwell (No, I’m not the interviewer…unfortunately…): A conversation with Bernard Cornwell – Journey from Historical Fiction Reader to Author

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