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A note on Author’s Notes

I’ve recently finished the Author’s Note for The Oracles of Troy.  An Author’s Note usually appears at the end of a novel, most often as a commentary providing some of the historical or factual background to the events in the book.  Though the historian in me often finds them interesting, I also feel they can be a rude awakening – as if the author has just tapped me on the shoulder to remind me the book I’ve been absorbed by for several hours of my life is mostly a work of fiction and nothing more; the events that have kept me rapt were only loosely based in reality, and the characters I’ve come to love or loathe were drawn mostly from the author’s imagination rather than the pages of history. After a long, comfortable read it’s bit of an ice cube down the back, really.

Author’s Notes appear to be a modern trend.  Writers of historical fiction from the 1970s and earlier didn’t feel the need to explain the facts behind their versions of the historical events they portrayed. I’ve looked in vain through my collection of older historical novels, from C S Forester to Robert Graves and further back, but found nothing more than an appendix or two included to add context. Never anything from the author’s viewpoint.  Nowadays an author is more inclined to explain their sources and inspirations, often adding a personal tone as he seeks to justify why he has written his version of a story based in fact or myth.

One reason for the growth in popularity of Author’s Notes may be that they are a side effect of the information revolution: everybody wants to know more.  And why not? I think this is a good thing, especially in the internet age where there are so many versions of the truth out there.  In the case of my books, I’ve drawn together a lot of different myths to tell the story of the Trojan War as a whole.  I’ve also added characters and scenes to patch up the gaps and help the tale flow.  But I’d hate to think there are readers who believe Eperitus was a figure from the original tales, that Ithaca was actually invaded by Taphians, and so on. In my case, then, an Author’s Note is a form of correction. An apology, perhaps, for the excesses of my imagination. After all, the reason for writing these books wasn’t to distort the original myths beyond recognition, but to present them in a modernised and unified format accessible (hopefully) to anyone.

My biggest problem with Author’s Notes, though, is that they are too short.  As a reader, I want to know exactly which elements of a story are based in fact and which are entirely fictional.  A few snippets of information just leave me feeling unsatisfied. In my experience, Bernard Cornwell writes excellent Notes, quoting his main sources and highlighting many of the factual events in his novels.  But two or three pages are never enough.  Other authors allow themselves little more than a couple of paragraphs!  As a writer, I find the convention of keeping Author’s Notes short is equally frustrating. Part of me wants to waffle on in detail, listing all the painstaking research that has been carried out and sharing all those info-gems I’ve discovered.  But I also accept that the concluding note of a novel is not the place to do this. So my Author’s Notes remain notes, rather than Author’s Essays.  However, if anyone has any burning questions about any of the characters or events in the three books I’ve written so far, please post them here and I will try to answer them.

I should also mention that The Oracles of Troy is coming along nicely.  It’s just passed through the proof-reading stage and the cover is being worked on, so I should be able to announce an October launch date soon.  Thanks for your patience!

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