Writing Historical Novels


Guest Blogger: Evelyn Tidman

Whether historical fiction or historical fact, history fascinates, enthrals, captivates. It is another world, one in which society, morals and manners differed from those of the twenty-first century. Life was more fragile, often cheap, a dangerous world.

Having been weaned on Hollywood’s glamorised offerings of swashbuckling films, I became fascinated by this other world which seemed to me to be romantic and exciting. Errol Flynn’s Captain Blood became a real favourite, as did Treasure Island. However, when I reached adulthood, I began to wonder what it was really like to have lived in the past? For example, were the pirates all bloodthirsty villains as suggested in the films? Did they really lead such exciting lives?

I decided to find out and I discovered Bartholomew Roberts, probably the most successful pirate of all time. As it turned out, he was not a typical 18th century pirate, but he was all the more fascinating because of it. I just had to write about him.

Bringing true stories to life in the form of fiction has its challenges, and I have often been asked about the research behind my books.

It has to begin with the story. The story of Bartholomew Roberts is well-documented by a contemporary writer. The biography includes intricate details about the man, his crew and his adventures. Actual speech is also recorded, and, of course, it is written in the language current at the time. However, this account proved to be only the beginning of the research.

Before I started I knew next to nothing about the early eighteenth century, even less about pirates, but I soon found out. I had to learn how to sail a ship, about the slave trade, and become acquainted with the Caribbean and the West African coast, areas frequented by the pirates.

Maps became my constant companions. Language became another issue—which language was used where at that time, and I even had to learn a little Portuguese! Roberts himself spoke half a dozen languages, as did many mariners.

The list is endless, but the research is never done all in one go. The first draft of the book does not carry all the details. They are researched as necessary and added into the next draft.

Perhaps my biggest headache was Roberts’ crew of two hundred and fifty men, all joining the company at different times from different ships, and the timing of events. I just could not have a man saying something in 1720 when he did not join the company until 1721!

All in all, it has been an education. Writing about people who actually lived and the times in which they acted out the drama in their lives has become a passion. Find out more about Evelyn and her books at Evelyn Tidman Author

About the Writer

Evelyn Tidman

Evelyn Tidman writes historical romances based on real characters. Her first novel, Gentleman of Fortune: The Adventures of Bartholomew Roberts – Pirate, was published in 2012. It was quickly followed by One Small Candle: The Story of William Bradford and the Pilgrim Fathers, in 2013. For the King, Roger L’Estrange and the Siege of King’s Lynn in 2014. She is currently working on a sequel to For the King, scheduled for 2016.