Historical fiction doesn’t just report what happened in the past, it also makes the modern reader feel what happened, and in so doing it creates empathy for preceding generations. It helps readers understand what was experienced by people living through different times and in different places.
We can appreciate what progress humankind has made. For example, we can see – and perhaps better comprehend – how female and ethnic equality has evolved, and we can see this in a much more personal and moving way than in a straight history text.
My new historical novel, The Philosopher’s Daughters, is a tale of two very different sisters whose 1890s voyage from London into remote outback Australia becomes a journey of self-discovery, set against a landscape of wild beauty and savage dispossession.
For years the idea for The Philosopher’s Daughters, just wouldn’t let me alone.
I kept imagining 1890s London and two strong young women, the daughters of a moral philosopher who gives the girls a relatively modern upbringing. Then I thought of altering the sisters’ circumstances so that they separately choose to journey into remote and wild northern Australia.
What might happen to these strong and enquiring young women? How might they see life at the ‘frontier’ once they are confronted with the brutal dispossession of the Indigenous population? How would their characters develop as they faced inevitable danger?
In doing the extensive background research for the novel, I became increasingly aware that, for our history, we rely upon the words of others. And when we read those words we should ask ourselves whose stories are missing.
Typically, it will be the stories of those who held no power at the time. The women and of course the Indigenous inhabitants. And they are who The Philosopher’s Daughters is about.
Alison Booth in an Australian novelist whose latest book, The Philosopher’s Daughters, is published in the UK by RedDoor Press and will shortly be available from good bookstores in Australia.