Writing historical fiction with Elizabeth Haynes

Creative writing and publishing

Ref: SWE11997

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About this course

Learn techniques for researching historical fiction, organise your research, and discover how to give your story an authentic historical setting without losing pace.

Course Description

‘You don’t become a novelist to become a spinner of entertaining lies: you become a novelist so you can tell the truth.’ - Hilary Mantel

On this course you will consider different types of historical fiction and how a novelist might approach the research for each type, in order to uncover the nuggets of detail that make historical books so compelling. How much detail do we need? How much research is too much? And how can we avoid anachronisms?

Perhaps you have already started your historical novel, or you may be writing a memoir, or a story about a real person, and are feeling bogged down with the research? Or maybe you love historical fiction and want to write, but don’t know where to start? This course will encourage you to develop your ideas in a supportive environment, helping you gain confidence in your writing.

The tutor will introduce how to consider an historical crime and then plan, and execute, some initial research using online resources. You will look at how to research your own story ideas, to produce work that sounds so historically accurate that readers can lose themselves in the setting and concentrate on what’s really important: the story. You will consider how to make characters (real and fictional) sound authentic, and how to dramatise real events so that they become truly thrilling – as well as thrillingly true.

By the end of the course, you will be able to use online research sites to find information, and have an understanding of other resources such as archives and parish records, and how to access them. You’ll learn techniques to organise your research and plan what you need to do to find the information you need. Most importantly, you’ll leave the course with a clear plan for researching your own work.


Arrival Day - this is the first date listed above

Courses start early evening. Residential students to arrive from 4pm, non-residential students to arrive by 6.45pm.

6.45pm: Welcome, followed by dinner (included).

8 - 9pm: First teaching session, attendance is essential.

Daily timetable

Classes 9.15 - 5pm, lunch is included.

From 6.30pm: Dinner (included for residential students).

Evening working - students may have access to workshops until 9pm, but only with their tutor's permission and provided any health and safety guidelines are observed.

Last day

Classes 9.15am - 3pm, lunch is included.

Residential students are to vacate their rooms by 10am please.

(This timetable is for courses of more than one day in length. The tutor may make slight variations)

Course Materials


  • On this course some supporting materials including examples of books to use for research and further study will be available to use, and you will be given some handouts.

What students need to bring

  • As part of the course you will be conducting online research, using websites that often have free access through your local public libraries. You are therefore asked to bring your library log in details, where possible, although access is not essential to the course as alternative arrangements can be made.
  • Laptop, or ipad, if you have one
  • Paper and pens
  • Your work in progress, if you would like to discuss it


Elizabeth Haynes

Elizabeth has published seven contemporary and historical thrillers. Her most recent novel, The Murder of Harriet Monckton, based on a real unsolved murder from 1843, was longlisted for the Historical Writer's Association Gold Crown 2019.


Residential option available. Find out accommodation costs and how to book here.

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