Accidental Historical

Earlier this month one of my all time favourite authors, Leigh Michaels, proposed a new category of books: the Accidental Historical.

She has  coined it to cover republished books which she wrote some years ago. Back then, they were correctly described as contemporary romantic fiction. But we have had a digital, social and media revolution since then.

After pondering this for a bit, I think Amazon, other online stores and ALL publishers of ebooks in general would do well to adopt it.

Leigh Michaels

cover of novel, Brittany's Castle, showing a welcoming room with a tall Christmas tree, ablaze with lights and beautifully packed presents at its foot. Leigh Michaels is a multi-award winning author of contemporary and historical fiction, mostly romantic. She’s published in more than 25 languages and 120 countries the last time I looked. She is also a teacher and mentor for other writers. For a while we shared the inspiring editor Jacqui Bianchi, whom I have quoted here before.

And I have loved her books ever since Jacqui recommended them to me. Several of the books are on, not just my Keeper Shelf, but my Never to be Taken Out of This House Under Any Circumstances shelf.

I have had to wrench my copy of A New Desire  out of the hands of a departing guest. “If you want to read it, fine. But you have to come back here and read it in situ.” She did. She was 25.

And this is the nub of the matter. The book my visitor was so determined to read was first published in 1989. It was ten years older than she was.

Enter the Accidental Historical.

The Back Catalogue and the Genre

a curve of sparkling blue and white stars, surrounding dense blackness.In her blog post of 4th December, Leigh explains her thinking. When they were written, these books were squarely in the same time frame as the author and those first readers. Their genre was Contemporary Romance, no question. But now she is making them available as ebooks, a medium not then invented. And the world they are set in is manifestly not full of instant access to place, time, the Milky Way and who voiced Jessica Rabbit at the touch of an app.

Actually life went more slowly. There were more plot opportunities for missed connections.

But novels don’t have a Sell By date. They are about people we engage with, as my reformed kleptomaniac visitor demonstrates.

the dial of an astronomical clock in black and gold.

Image by Hans from Pixabay

If the characters live in another time than today, that might be interesting (and it often is in Leigh’s books) but it is not crucial to the emotional conflict of the story.  Leigh came up with a neat solution.  The stories and characters were true to their setting and time. They will remain so.

She says, “Rather than try to rewrite the book to bring it up to date — something that would probably have to be done again in another five or ten years — I’ve opted to leave the story set in the time period when it was new.”

So the books stay the same, not written as historical but now made so by the whirligig of time. And, for some people, all the more interesting for that. Well, it works for Jane Austen.

They have become Accidental Historicals.

Liz Fielding

cover of Prisoner of the Heart by Liz Fielding. Blonde woman looking into the eyes of shirted man with his back to the viewer and a blue sea and coastline behind them.Another best selling author, Liz Fielding, who blogs here at Libertà, made the same decision when she republished Prisoner of the Heart. With her permission, I’m going to quote her whole Note to the Reader. It makes me laugh.

Author Note

I wrote this book before the Internet was a thing and mobile phones were the size of a brick and didn’t have cameras. Back then, photographs were taken on film, with an actual camera. That sounds so last century but I’ve been writing romance novels for thirty years, so I’m afraid that’s exactly what it is. I can’t believe how much the world has changed since my first book was published in 1992.

Not always for the better, at least in terms of romance. Just thinking about those dating apps makes me wince!

Um – and Me Too

I am way behind the curve on putting up my back list titles. And the Update or Leave Well Alone debate is one of the reasons that I have been havering so long over doing so. After a load of encouragement from friends and well-wishers (by then, quite impatient well-wishers) I did republish Goblin Court.

And yes, I didn’t so much rewrite as add an element that I had always thought was missing. Goblin Court was only my second published novel. So I was still very green. It was and is very dear to my heart. I really loved my can-do but chaotic heroine and some of the incidents made me laugh out loud.

But when I was writing it, the preferred hero in the romantic novels I read always had to be a bit of an unknown quantity. Like the Greek Gods, he was powerful, unpredictable and you never knew what he was thinking. Then, when I came to re-read the book for new publication, I thought: But I do know what he’s thinking. And I always have.

So I put it in.

And yes, it is still an Accidental Historical. Not a Facebook profile in sight.

Sophie Weston Author


12 thoughts on “Accidental Historical

  1. lesley2cats

    My earliest crime novels also fall into this category – I can’t believe how much has changed since I wrote them. And Goblin Court remains my all time favourite of your books – first edition on my Keeper shelf, republished ebook on my Kindle.

    1. Joanna

      Not sure Sophie is able to reply to you, Lesley, or to others. Apologies on her behalf. She’s really unwell at the moment and is, I fervently hope, resting in bed and taking things very easy today. Get well soon, Sophie.

  2. Liz Fielding

    The pace of change since the internet and the mobile phone became a thing is astonishing. I can remember thinking how amazed my mother would have been that my daughter was on a train and I was calling her from the supermarket to ask what breakfast cereal she wanted. Keeping characters out of contact for the purposes of plot isn’t as easy as it once was. 🙂 And I, too have the lovely Goblin Court on my Kindle.

  3. Fiona Marsden

    I am strongly in favour of the accidental historical. I first came across this phenomenon when Janet Dailey was rereleasing her HM&B series set in all the US states. Written before the other stuff. She was debating updating but in the end kept them as time capsules. So happy to see Goblin Court is out as an ebook. It will save me rummaging among my paperback originals and worrying about wearing them out.

  4. Joanna

    I do so agree. Of course, I generally write “intentional historicals” so I don’t have the same problem as Sophie, Liz and Leigh, but the prospect of updating a story set in, say, 1995 would scare me rigid. It might be impossible without completely changing the plot. So I think Liz’s solution is ideal. Tell the reader when the story is set and leave her to enjoy it, with a bit of nostalgia for a time when things moved a lot more slowly.

  5. Louise Allen

    In the dim and distant past when I was a librarian we would categorize some fiction with symbols – heart for romance, spinning atoms for sci-fi, castles for historical etc. I was once cornered by a very indignant reader brandishing a book categorised as historical and set in the 1930s. ‘This isn’t history,’ she ranted. ‘I was alive then!!’ Oops

  6. Leigh Michaels

    Thank you, Sophie! First, a shoutout to treasured memories of Jacqui, our mutual editor — what a wonderful teacher she was. And thank you for spreading the word about the “accidental historical” category. I hope it takes off — because, as you and Liz have said, these books are time capsules, bits of nostalgia for a world that seems very distant even though it’s not all that long ago. And the stories are still emotional, wonderful, and touching. Here’s to republishing for a new generation!

    1. Joanna

      Welcome, Leigh. I’m sure Sophie will reply herself once she’s feeling up to it. And you’re right that the stories are still wonderful. More power to your writing elbow 😉

  7. Elizabeth Bailey

    I’ve got two books written prior to the advent of mobile phones and the internet. It’s so very different, there really isn’t any way to update them. I love the term accidental historicals. That is exactly what they are.
    Get well quick, Sophie!

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