A few years ago I read a biography about Francis Drake as part of a research for a story I was writing. It quickly became obvious, that the story of Francis Drake was just a single thread of a much greater tapestry. I got hooked and read a dozen or so more biographies about the key players of that time. With each biography the story became richer, more detailed, and more intertwined.
I started to really appreciate the way history books are telling a story. You only get to see the actions and reactions of a person. There are no inner thoughts. The conflict between people is told through quotations of letters and reports of the people at that time. I find that quite refreshing compared to more dialogue driven interactions you see in fictional stories. It allows for a faster pace and you can insert more characters into a single paragraph.
Of course, history books are more about telling than showing, but after reading and enjoying all those biographies I really started to question this often repeated advice. Those historical characters feel more real and close to me than the fictional characters of let’s say the ASOIAF universe. GRRM is undoubtedly a master of telling character-driven stories, and yet I think it’s precisely this conventional storytelling that boggles a story down with too much fluff. For example this sentence: “Francis I. was a great hunter of both deer and women, a magnanimous king whose gifts – especially to the women of the court – knew no limits.” is infinitely better than any of the detailed sex scene written by GRRM.
However, while reading all those biographies, I longed to experience each story-thread simultaneously in chronological order. I also didn’t particularly care about the more analytical tendencies of historians, when they are making the case for why a certain historical fact is true or not.
That’s why I’m toying with the idea of writing about the Elizabethan area in the way Tolkin did about Middle-earth in The Silmarillion. My focus here is in creating art and not another history book. Although research is important, I plan to stick to secondary sources, as going through each and every primary source for all the major events would probably keep me busy for several lifetimes. Again, my goal here is to tell the story in a way it hasn’t been told before.
My rough estimate is a series of five to ten 1000 page books, each with its own theme. Main characters are Elizabeth I., Catherine de Medici, Mary Stuart, John Hawkins, Francis Drake, Philip of Spain and William of Orange. There are of course hundreds of other characters. I want to start with the birth and childhood with each of them and work myself up to the peace between England and Spain in 1604.
Given that this project would be a huge commitment, I worry if it would be worth it. Meaning if people would be interested in reading a story about this era that is somewhere between a novel and a real history book. I think people are more willing to read a Silmarillion-like book about a real historical era. But then again, my audience would consist of people who are already familiar with the Elizabethan era and since I’m not planning to offer any new insights about the history itself, I’m not sure if there really is a market. What do you guys think?