top of page

Is Historical Fiction Relevant Today? - a Guest Post by David Farrell

The only certainty in life is that time never stands still.

Historical Fiction is no exception and is going through an upheaval in the need for change if it is to be both relevant and inclusive. An appreciation by the genre that there is more than one side to every story and a truth that lays elsewhere.

History is a subjective point of view dependent on the perception, bias, and agenda of the architect. Thus, it is imperative the authors’ research is balanced. Time too has evolved in the modern hi-tec world and so must writer’s understanding of what the reader is looking for. A year today is the equivalent of an aeon of yesteryear. The genre is not about how much time has passed, but the impact of the occasion on the future.

I will not profess I am an expert or even informed enough to speak for the style or speculate where it needs to head. That is a natural progression, driven by supply and demand. All I can do is share my thoughts and what I have accomplished when writing The Chameleon and current works in progress. The story is a fictional biography that challenges the norms of history with a relevance that most of us one way or another have experienced, the good and bad in the worldwide immigrant diaspora on account of politics, greed and opportunity. It shares a message that we are all immigrants.

A tale of Rorke Wilde, who grows up in Rhodesia. Rorke’s need to mimic his pet chameleon, if he is to survive the racial discourse in a country divided by apartheid during the 1970s. Rorke’s father works in the British South Africa Police while his mother is a clerk in the tax office. His best friend and father figure is the family’s domestic worker, Themba Dube, an AmaNdebele of Zulu descent. Whom guides Rorke through the turmoil of civil bias. Themba introduces Rorke to his nephew Lucky Ndlovu, who lost his parents in the AIDS pandemic and who lives with his grandmother in a squatter camp (informal settlements) in Johannesburg. The old man and boy share their experiences of a life of poverty post-independence where Rorke learns about the real Africa that he once saw through Panglossian glasses.

I wanted to depict a time seen through the five senses of the communities, sight, smell, touch, taste, hearing plus one - gut instinct. This meant researching beyond the popular and the dominant. Listening with intent to what people craved to say, not what I preferred to hear, reading without prejudice, and writing without fear. In all this, I saw blame was one of the best indicators that there were other factors at play, for often it is a deflection from those composing the annals.

A highlight to The Chameleon’s release in June is a sentence from a fellow authors’ review from the other side of the planet, “There’s a touch of Kipling in this book. The real Kipling, not Disney.” Although I don’t necessarily agree with her assessment in full, I achieved my goal of authenticity if a British author related the story to the Imperialism of Rudyard Kipling. So too I receive the disparate feedback from readers dependent on their beliefs. The hope is they see and consider the alternative. Job done.

I was careful not to use fiction as an excuse for falsities but a means of conveying a worthwhile message to support my portrait of an era that most of us have little concept of. Historical fiction’s purpose is to guide and offer an alternative to perceived facts. To visit both sides of the proverbial fence and being mindful that determining a right and wrong is subjective.

It matters not the Historical sub-genre, Adventure, Mystery, Romance, Saga, Literary, Biographical, Thriller, Time travel or Fantasy, for each portrays a truth told in a way preferred by a reader. Half a century later, I never miss an opportunity to watch Disney’s The Jungle Book because of the memories it evokes and the messages I discover at different stages of my life. It may have even impacted on my writing career.

These are my personal muses on a genre I believe has the potential to readdress the imbalances we see on social media. And is why a story set in the past must have legitimacy for the contemporary reader, otherwise it will appeal to an ever diminishing market.

Author Bio

Dave Farrell is a father of six who live around the world. From New Zealand and England to Portugal and Japan. Born in Africa, his life experiences on three continents echo through his writing, in his favourite genres of historical fiction, coming of age sagas and non-fiction.

With an eye for detail, you can find him in the corner of a room or sat at a seat in the mall reading people. He has a fascination for human behaviours borne from 50 years of leadership. Dave advocates for the Autistic community running online groups with over 20,000 members.

119 views1 comment

1 Comment

Justine Gilbert
Justine Gilbert
Jun 13, 2022

Thank you so much for quoting part of my review in your blog about your novel, The Chameleon. I was glad to have helped with my choice of words. I enjoyed reading this blog. Curiously, once I had read the original Jungle Book, I found it hard to watch the cartoon! Just so you know (and we can keep it between ourselves), I am not in fact British. I am an American, who has lived on the UK side of the pond for a very long time, long enough for my fellow Americans to think of me as British (although the British never make that mistake).

bottom of page