Five tips for writing children's
historical fiction books

by Victoria Bennion

Do you love reading children's historical fiction books? So do we. It’s an easy genre to love as there are so many great writers populating the category. 

Emma Carroll is one of my favourites and of course there’s the wonderful Tanya Landman, Tony Bradman, Katherine Rundell,  not to mention Francis Hardinge who won not only the Costa Children’s Book Award but the overall Costa Book of the Year for the Lie Tree.

The list of fabulous writers in this genre goes on. There’s simply too many to mention. If you want to join them now is a good time to write children's historical fiction books.Until the 1990s the genre was out of fashion but it’s become popular again in recent years.

Here are five tips we've put together for writing childrens historical fiction books:

1. Children's Historical Fiction Books: Research

Research the period you want to write about. Pick any time period that you find interesting and then learn everything you can about it. 

The author Tony Bradman is passionate about history and  has written books set in many different time periods. I read Viking Boys ahead of a workshop he was taking and his passion for the period comes across on the page. 

Both Tony Bradman and Emma Carroll litter the text with details to bring the era’s they’re writing about alive. Character’s clothing helps us imagine the period.

'Like Gunnar he was wearing a tunic and leather boots.'
Tony Bradman, Viking Boys

‘I'd kept on my best Sunday frock, though the fabric was thin and I was shivering.’
Emma Carroll, Frost Hollow Hall


2. Remember you’re not writing a history book

Although you’re writing historical fiction remember you’re not writing a book of facts. Although you don’t want to lose your reader by writing inaccuracies the story element is still the most important. You don’t need to pack everything you’ve researched into your text. Hold it in your head and let it inform what you write.

Stephen King offers some good advice about writing what you don’t know:

'When you step away from the write what you know rule research becomes inevitable and it can add a lot to your story. Just don't end up with the tail wagging the dog. Remember that you are writing a novel not a research paper. The story always comes first'
Stephen King

3. Choose appropriate language

Make sure the language you use is appropriate for the time period you’ve chosen. Emma Carroll is brilliant at this. You really feel you’ve gone back in time. Her novel Frost Hollow Hall is set in the winter of 1881. Here’s a few examples of dialogue she uses which fit the Victorian era:

'I int speaking to you.'

'Gawd you look done in already'

'Blimey Tilly'

4. Choose appropriate names for your characters

Choose names that fit the era in which your book is set. Emma Carroll’s Frost Hollow Hall features characters called Gracie, Tilly, Dorcus and Kit. In the pages of Tony Bradman’s Viking Boys you’ll find Gunnar, Ranulf, Arnor.  

5. Offer social comment

There’s the opportunity to offer social comment  if you choose. For example one of the themes  in the Lie Tree, which is set in the Victorian era, is women and girls and how they’re underappreciated and underestimated:

There was a hunger in her, and girls were not supposed to be hungry. They were supposed to nibble sparingly when at table, and their minds were supposed to be satisfied with a slim diet too.’
Francis Hardinge, The Lie Tree

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