Writing history: Do you have to tell the truth?

Sandy our author says – ‘Yes you do. You need to be historically accurate. But that doesn’t mean you can’t use your imagination. Much of history is undocumented. We don’t know exactly what happened so we make realistic guesses.

While writing Samurai Kids I spent days researching 17th century Japan. Many story features were determined by what happened in the past. I can’t change the clothes the samurai wore, their hairstyle or katana swords. History has a detailed record of the samurai way of life.

But history doesn’t have a record of Sensei Ki-yaga or Niya – they aren’t real people. One way to write imaginative history is to invent characters. If you write about real people you need to be true to what is known about them. If you create people then you can create their life and adventures.

So I can’t change how Niya dressed, or the skills he learned but I can invent his friends, his teacher, the Cockroach ryu where he trains and all the adventures a one-legged samurai might have.

My favourite advice about writing history is: go to the library junior reference section and find books with pictures. Pictures show you historical accuracy and kick-start your imagination. What is the person in the picture doing? What can he see from the castle wall? Who is coming to the castle tomorrow?

Getting the facts right doesn’t limit your imagination. It helps you pretend you were really there.’