‘Kids like historical fiction for the same reason they like fantasy: world building & high stakes.’ (@halseanderson, March 2015)
The much acclaimed American YA writer Laurie Halse Anderson brought this up recently on Twitter, and I'm borrowing her theory here now because I think she's so very right. The links between history and fantasy are worth shouting about.
We could all do with a little push to step outside our reading comfort zones. Some people are more resolute than others about sticking to the genres they think they like best. Just the word ‘historical’ can be a turn-off. Maybe it sounds too much like school?
Publishers don’t always help. They often seem scared to stray from the curriculum. So readers are left with the idea that novels set in the past are all ‘same old, same old’…you might as well be doing revision.
Not my publisher, Hot Key Books. I think I can safely say that even most history teachers know nothing about the world of the Paris Commune, the subject of my latest book, Liberty’s Fire. When the people of the city rose up to claim their rights in 1871, the stakes couldn’t have been higher. . . or the conclusion more horrifying.
Imagine Les Mis, nearly forty years on. Despite another revolution, the Emperor came back. Developers and speculators have transformed Paris, but while the rich have got richer, the poor are even poorer. After a disastrous war with the Prussians, and a terrible winter siege – the wealthy ate the elephants in the zoo, but a rat was a treat for most people – the workers decided enough was enough. The city voted for a new kind of government. And that’s where Liberty’s Fire begins, in March 1871.
Four young people are caught up in a revolution that quickly turns into civil war. There’s Zéphyrine, who used to make artificial flowers for fancy dressmakers, but has been left destitute after the death of her grandmother. When she encounters Anatole, an innocent (and swoon-worthy) violinist, both are swept into new worlds they never before knew existed. But where does that leave Jules, a rich American photographer who is Anatole’s best friend, and is secretly in love with him? Or Marie, an ambitious opera singer at Anatole’s theatre? Desperate for word of her brother, a soldier in the French army that is now massing outside Paris, Marie is horrified by the actions of the Commune. But what can she do?
The barricades are rising once more. The call to arms rings through the city. Can the Commune – and our quartet of characters – possibly survive?
Maybe you’re one of those fantasy-lovers who thinks history’s not for them? I hope this will help change your mind. Liberty’s Fire takes you through palaces and opera houses, soup kitchens and cemeteries, up onto rooftops and down into cellars. You’ll feel you've been fighting on the barricades yourself! Here's an invitation to immerse yourself in an unforgettable new world: revolutionary Paris.
Discover more about the Paris Commune and how I built the world of Liberty’s Fire at www.lydiasyson.com, where you’ll find also find details of my May blog tour and live events. Publication day is May 7th and if you enter before May 6th, you could win a copy of the book at Goodreads. If you're a history teacher, and I've maligned you, please let me know!