Cookson County

Rosalind Mitchison

  • The Hanging Tree by Allan Massie
    Heinemann, 346 pp, £13.99, November 1990, ISBN 0 434 45301 3
  • Tiberius: The Memoirs of the Emperor by Allan Massie
    Hodder, 256 pp, £13.95, January 1991, ISBN 0 340 48788 7
  • The Gillyflors by Catherine Cookson
    Bantam, 366 pp, £13.99, October 1990, ISBN 0 593 01726 9

A lot of novelists write historical novels. A lot of people read them. Notably, more Scots read historical novels set in Scotland than read the history of Scotland. The question for the historian is why. Part of the answer, of course, lies in the market facts in the question. If there is a readership, books will be produced. It might be argued that readers want their history mediated by a skilled writer. This would be true only if what they really want is history, and if ‘writers’ are bound to write better than do historians. After delving into the genre I am doubtful about both conditions.

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