Interpreting History Through Fiction Three Writers Discuss their Methods

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Thom Conroy
Joanna Grochowicz
Cristina Sanders


In ‘Interpreting History Through Fiction: Three Writers Discuss their Methods’, creative historical authors Thom Conroy, Joanna Grochowicz and Cristina Sanders engage in a conversation about the intersection of history and fiction. Arising from a session of the 2021 New Zealand Historical Association Conference entitled ‘Learning History Through Fiction’, the three-way dialogue interrogates the role of learning history from creative texts, navigates the fact/fiction balance in creative historical writing, explores concerns about the potential for harm in historical fiction, outlines the authors' own motives for adopting a creative approach to history, and examines what Hilary Mantel calls the ‘readerly contract’ in historical fiction. The conversation does not seek consensus nor finality in the answers offered to the questions the authors have put to one another. Rather, the authors allow contradictions and disagreements to remain intact, thus conveying their collective sense of open-endedness regarding creative approaches to history. This open-endedness is intentional, as the answers that arise from dialogue are intended to be as provisional and contingent as the evolving genre of historical fiction itself.

Article Details

Public History in Aotearoa New Zealand
Author Biographies

Thom Conroy, Massey University

Thom Conroy is the author of The Salted Air and The Naturalist (Penguin Random-House) and the editor of the personal essay collection Home (Massey University Press). The winner of the Katherine Anne Porter Fiction Prize, he has published short fiction widely in literary journals in The United States, New Zealand, and Australia. Thom is currently a senior lecturer in Creative Writing at Massey University, where he also serves as Editor-in-Chief of the literary journal Headland.

Joanna Grochowicz, Independent Scholar

Joanna Grochowicz FRGS is an author and polar historian, whose novels reveal in fascinating detail the human aspirations and tragedies that have shaped our understanding of the polar regions. Drawing on material from archives and personal collections around the world, Grochowicz brings to light new and often overlooked elements of heroic age exploration. She regularly speaks at history and literary festivals, schools and institutions around the world. 

Cristina Sanders, Independent Scholar

Cristina Sanders is an award winning, best-selling fiction writer from Hawke’s Bay with a background in bookselling and publishing and a popular book-review blog. Her novels, Jerningham (Cuba Press 2020), Displaced (Walker Books 2021) and Mrs Jewell and the Wreck of the General Grant (Cuba Press 2022) show the obsession with New Zealand colonial history, geography and tall ship sailing that define her writing.