When I was in my teens historical fiction was extremely popular, although a lot of it tended to have a strong romantic element as well.  I would happily read Anya Seton, Jean Plaidy and Georgette Heyer, but it was the work of Thomas B Costain that really developed my interest in historical fiction. For decades I would claim his novels  Below the Salt and The Tontine as my favourite books, closely followed by Anya Seton’s Katherine.

Although I had lost many of these actual books long before, and they had been out of print for many years, the advent of the internet suddenly allowed me to find again the books I had loved and I happily built up a collection of these lost works. How great was my disappointment when I read them again. It wasn’t the stories that disappointed but the realization that even well-loved writing can quickly become dated.

Later I discovered writers such as Sharon Penman, Rosemary Hawley Jarman and Dorothy Dunnett, all skillful storytellers with a keen eye for accurate historical detail. Of these, Dorothy Dunnett stood out with her wonderful characterisation, the sheer sweep and scale of the historical detail and colourful settings, and above all her incredibly complex plotting.  She was, and perhaps still is, my favourite historical author and her death a few years ago saddened me a great deal. I can’t claim any single one of her books as a favourite as she wrote several brilliant books in each historical series (the Lymond Chronicles and The House of Niccolò, for example), but I can certainly recommend King Hereafter, a sympathetic take on the MacBeth story.

For me today, it’s writers like Bernard Cornwell and Ken Follett who carry the banner now for historical fiction and my current favourite book is probably Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth. I have to say, though, that I am totally gripped by George R R Martin’s Game of Thrones saga – probably the closest thing to historical fiction in the fantasy genre. I love The Lord of the Rings as well.