Nicola Cornick Interview: “Bias in historical reporting has always fascinated me”

Nicola author

As a fan of novels with strong female protagonists, I’m proud to share my interview with Nicola Cornick, whose work focuses on pioneering, innovative women in history.

Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. Why did you choose to write historical fiction?

Thank you very much for inviting me to your blog today. It wasn’t a conscious choice to write historical fiction. I started writing when I was a child and simply told the stories that I was interested in. As I loved history, all of these were historical! Now that I write timeslip fiction I do have to write a contemporary thread in my novels as well and although I hope I have improved at this, it doesn’t feel instinctive like it does to write a historical setting.

What is it about strong female historical figures that interests you and why do you choose them as the subject of much of your work?

As part of my studies for my Public History MA I looked at those people whose history had either not been recorded at all or was recorded from someone else’s perspective. Bias in historical reporting has always fascinated me, whether it’s the victor’s account of a battle or a monk’s perspective on a specific historical woman, for example. At the same time, I was working at Ashdown House as a researcher for the National Trust and became interested in the story of Elizabeth Stuart, Queen of Bohemia. So much of the writing about Elizabeth portrays her as a stereotypical beautiful princess, a damsel in distress, and she actually used this propaganda herself to gain support, so in part that’s not surprising. However, I also found that most writers dismissed her cultural and political achievements completely. This prompted me to look not only at the bias against Elizabeth but also to extend that to other women who are either missing from the historical record completely, or are a footnote to the history of a more famous man. I was sure that they also had a story to tell – and they do.

What is your background and how did you get in to writing professionally?

I studied history at university but then wasn’t sure what to do with it so I worked as a university administrator for many years before I became a full-time writer. My writing was always there is the background but I wrote and re-wrote the same manuscript about ten times before I mustered the courage to send it to a publisher, so whilst I did get my first book published, it still took twelve years to do so! It then took another ten years before I could give up my day job to focus completely on writing. 

How do you draw on your past when writing fiction?

I seldom consciously draw on my own past when I’m writing fiction but I do find that elements of my life experience and aspects of the people I meet slip into my writing all the time. Sometimes I don’t even make the connection until much later; evidence that the unconscious mind is working away all the time, I suppose!

Talk to me about your books. What do you think draws readers to them?

I’m thrilled that readers are drawn to my books and particularly appreciate it when they let me know they have enjoyed a book. For years I worked in an office environment where teamwork and feedback helped to motivate me. Going from that to solitary working was quite a shock.

From what readers have told me, they enjoy the fact that I write about strong women and explore their roles in a variety of historical settings. I try to make the history elements of the book as authentic as possible and people seem to appreciate learning some of the lesser-known characters and aspects of an era in an accessible way. I want the books to be page turning and entertaining, and readers seem to enjoy the humour!

If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?

Wow, what an interesting question! From my experience I’d say that collaborating with other authors can be quite a challenge but you can also learn a lot in the process. I’d love to work on a writing project with Sir Walter Scott. I recently discovered that he stayed in my village when he was researching a book and I imagine we could have some fascinating conversations about writing style, the popularity of historical fiction, marketing (since he was terrific at that) and how important is historical accuracy (since he wasn’t such a stickler for that!)

What do you like reading and how does it inform your work?

I love reading crime fiction and am currently reading my way through Elly Griffiths’ Dr Ruth Galloway series. As I reader I particularly enjoy writing that has a strong sense of place. I enjoy a lot of romantic fiction in all its guises. My other reading is mainly non-fiction history and travelogue, or books that combine the two.

Out of interest, how do you think future historical fiction writers will react to the pandemic? What do you think that future novels will focus on?

It’s fascinating to speculate on the different ways in which the pandemic might be viewed with hindsight. There seem to be some common themes and responses to pandemics throughout history that will no doubt emerge again; anger and despair with the fate that allows such things to happen and fury with governments who are accused of being in denial or acting too slowly or inefficiently. Pandemics have always led to rumour and misinformation and a big theme in the current one will probably be the role of social media.

What future projects can you share with us? Is there anything you’re particularly excited about?

I have a book out next summer, which tackles one of the biggest historical mysteries of all time – the murder of the Princes in the Tower. As I like to focus on lesser-known female figures in history, it’s written from the point of view of Anne Lovell, wife of Francis Lovell who was King Richard III’s closest friend. I’m pretty excited about that book; I’ve wanted to write it for a long time.

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to checking out in the future?

I have a lot of new titles on my kindle that I’m looking forward to reading on my holiday later this month including the Golden Rule by Amanda Craig and Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams, plus the latest in some romantic fiction series by the ever-fabulous Lucy Parker, Emily Larkin and Anna Campbell.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Thank you very much for inviting me and for such thoughtful questions.

Massive thanks to Nicola for doing my interview; it’s amazing to hear about your work and what you love to read!

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