Writing history with Jackie French
The room was buzzing with anticipation. Jackie French, National Patron of Book Links, is always a passionate and inspiring speaker. Today she was talking to a small group of writers about Writing History, in particular for children.
Through reading historical fiction, children can experience life as every character in the story. Jackie feels this can only happen in books not TV. Through well written books you can experience the smell and taste of the era.
Jackie talked about children’s ability to self-sensor or gloss over challenging events. The sensitive author provides a way for children to hold anguish and terror at arm’s length. Children understand that bad things do happen and they must know how to deal with them. This understanding gives children hope that they can also overcome the struggles they are experiencing or that they feel might be ahead of them.
Jackie passionately believes that historical fiction matters because things change. One day things won’t be the same. Children can learn not to be frightened of change. The author can create a safe place for them to examine what happened in the past. They need to know what has happened because by understanding what has happened we learn how to stop the future ogre’s destroying people and civilisation.
As writers, Jackie told us the depth of knowledge required to write historical fiction is substantial. If you need to research for a book then you are not ready to write it because you don’t know what you need to know.
To overcome this, she suggested we
- keep it small – set it over a day or like Jackie did in Hitler’s Daughter, at the end of the war when the concentration camps were no longer so strictly run so she didn’t need to know the exact routines.
- just write about the bits you know
- only include a few settings, characters, places, themes and time
- include a new arrival who asks questions as a way to share information
Check your primary sources and make sure you have 3 substantiated reports that agree
- firsthand accounts
- memories and diaries
Through reading historical fiction children learn that the past was not ea
sy. They may also feel the present is not easy and may be unsure about their future. This understanding gives children the courage to survive all the things to come, to face and take on the challenges in our imperfect world.
We passed up on the opportunity to ask questions just to get a few more minutes of listening to Jackie. I have to admit to shedding a few tears at the stories she told of the bravery and sacrifice of people that she had uncovered in her passionate uncovering of memoirs and secrets.
There is also a light-hearted side to Jackie as you will discover if you follow her on Instagram and enjoy her ‘witty ditties’ about the wombats that frequent her carrot filled garden.Story by Lucy McGinley