By Simon Miller

A thriller based on a true story of courage, complicity and murder

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

EBOLOWA, genres and Hilary Mantel


            The Second Edit is done.  Over 100K words carefully sifted and commented on.  A great job (many thanks Sadie) and a much better book, so it’s time well spent.  Sorry if it feels forever but it turns out Unbound cuts no corners (proof of pudding and all that).  Now for the copy-editing and then the proof reading.  The publishing date is in sight (August-September) and launch parties climbing up the agenda.  Meanwhile I have just completed the Design Questionnaire for the cover artist Mark Ecob.  His portfolio is very impressive and I like the way he says the best bit of his work is reading a manuscript no one else has seen and creating the appropriate design.   I’m really looking forward to working with him and seeing what he makes of the crucial question: “what genre(s) do you feel your book fits into?”

            EBOLOWA is obviously a ‘thriller’: it ticks all the boxes of “fast pacing, frequent action, and resourceful heroes ….. with extensive use of suspense, red herrings, and cliff hangers”.   But it is also based on a true story and features ‘real people’ - - which maybe makes it a ‘historical novel’ as well.  According to the criteria for the CWA Endeavour Historical Dagger, it qualifies as historical with the main action happening more than 35 years ago but the Walter Scott Historical Novel Prize cuts it out with a requirement of 60 years. 

            There are seven novels on the Scott short list (winner to be announced on June 17 at the Borders Festival) and it is clear from the authors’ interviews that the books’ plots and characters are duly immersed in accurately evoked periods.  The meticulous historical research has seen to that, but the part played by ‘real people’ varies (Graham Smith’s Mothering Sunday has none) and only one of the books has a bibliography.

            It’s the right time to be wrestling with these fascinating issues.  Hilary Mantell, whose work has done so much to invigorate historical fiction, is about to deliver the 2017 Reith Lectures on the art of putting words into the mouths of historical actors and feelings into their hearts, bringing them to life.   As she says, “facts and alternative facts, truth and verisimilitude, knowledge and information, art and lies: what could be more timely or topical than to discuss where the boundaries lie?”

            Novels entertain and history informs.  In a thriller like EBOLOWA reaching back to the 1950s and 70s it’s a case of getting the balance between fact and fiction right - - and learning from the likes of Walter Scott and Hilary Mantel about what to leave in and what to take out.



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