Writing history: How do know that happened?

Our author Sandy says: ‘Sometimes I don’t. I make it up. The key to writing history is it has to be credible. It has to be possible for it to have happened and there has to be no known reason why it couldn’t have.


From my research I know samurai learned sword-fighting, wrestling, archery, horseriding, poetry and flower arranging. While I couldn’t find anything about swimming, I did discover they learned to fight in their armour in the water. That armour was as heavy as the average kindergarten kid, before it got wet! So I am sure they went under a few times and must have learned to swim. Sometimes even though I can’t find a factual reference, I can make a sensible assumption.


I can’t say the Samurai Kids went jet-skiing and played computer games because the technology didn’t exist. But I can make some guesses if they are believable. I know origami was practised in 17th century Japan but I couldn’t find a record of samurai doing it. I am sure warriors who believed in exercising the mind as much as the body and valued artistic skills like painting and poetry, would also like paper art. So my Samurai Kids learn origami.


In writing historical fiction you can extend history. I could say the Samurai Kids went surfing. There are surf beaches in Japan and it is reasonable to assume that some place, some time, a kid put a board in the water and managed to ride a wave.


This is one of the things that makes historical fiction fun – the challenge to make things up that might have been. Sometimes we know and sometimes we don’t. As long as it’s possible and believable, the writer can use it.’


[Sandy Fussell is the author of the Samurai Kids series about a group of children in 17th century Japan training to become samurai warriors.]