Is it historical, or is it fiction? Can’t be both, right?
Actually, this is a big concern for writers of this genre as it makes them easy targets for any critic who wants to punch holes in the historicity of the story. All the critic has to do is interpret a fictional part as history and then punch away. No research required.
I left myself open even more than that in TSOS because the backstory of Vuradech and his people takes place in a setting about which little is known. The story even leaned a bit toward historical fantasy at one point. (I love that part of the story since it does so much to humanize the character.) Still, much research was done into the Picts and their history to make the Vuradech story as historical as possible while still being fiction.
For instance, many of the character names come right off of Pictish king lists or other name lists. There was an actual Pictish noble named Vuradech. Unfortunately that’s all we know. But now he has a life, albeit a fictional one. Maybe I’ll meet this Vuradech on the other side and he’ll straighten me out on the facts. I would not mind that at all!
Another way the historicity of the Vuradech story was upheld is in the few events we do have a record of, i.e. the Pictish battles with the Angles. We know that Ecgfrith slaughtered the Picts at Grangemouth at the beginning of his reign. The slaughter was so extensive the Northumbrian victors reported that one could walk across the River Carron on the Pictish corpses without getting his feet wet.
The Battle of Duin Nechtain in 685 is one of the best documented events in medieval Scotland. In my story I have brave Vuradech springing the trap set by Bridei and leading the Angles to their demise in a feigned retreat. Not only is it a great story, it’s all true!
And that’s what makes historical fiction the best form of prose IMHO. Because let’s face it: the truth is better than anything I could dream up.
So what do you think? What’s the best balance of fiction and history?