Recently, I posted a piece, on my own blog, The Writer's Daily Grind, musting on some things' I've rather informally discovered about historical novels, both from the writing and reading end. I discovered, for instance, that there are a large number of female readers. There are also plenty of male readers. Same is true of writers. There seem(at least to me) to be more female writers of historical fiction, than male ones. There's nothing particularly right or wrong about any of this; historical fiction appears to be a burgeoning field. I did find, however, that there seem to be differences in the subject matter of a lot of "guy" and "girl" historical fiction. "Guy" historical fiction(like what I call "guy books" in general, tend to have lots of action: battles, fights, travels all over the place. These "guy writers"(and probably a fair number of "guy readers" seem to be particularly attracted to the "Viking era",, although it seems to me that the Scandinavian seafarers, traders, and yes, fighters, of that era did a lot more than travel and fight. In some cases, this works well. Theres a writer by the name of Judson Roberts who has written a series of ostensibly Young Adult books in a series called the Strongbow Saga, which are, in my opinion, quite well-done. Others? Well, if the writer is skilled enough, like Bernard Cornwell(though he isn't really writing about Vikings per se) these stories are quite entertaining and plausible, despite the fact that, sometimes, like "thrillers" in modern settings(yes, these tend to be "guy books"), these writers can't seem to make their women very real or very interesting.
Women historical novel readers(and writers), seem to go more for less "action oriented" stuff. They seem to particularly favor fictional biographies. Again, there's nothing wrong with any of this, if they're well done, and I've read some that are. The writer Elizabeth Chadwick comes to mind. So does Sharon Kay Penman. They both, rather unusually, in this histoical fiction writing climate, write in the "earlier" medieval period . Just as an aside, if you want really early medieval, the "guy books" I mentioned above fit, as they take place in what medievalists call "early medieval times", believe it or not. A very few of these writers deal with the so-called Anglo-Saxon period, and I think there's not enough of that out there, but that's another story. King Arthur is also overwhelmingly popular with women readers, though perhaps writers, not so much.
These differences may have come about because women(in general) are attracted, generally to the more "personal" side of people's lives. And I'll say it again, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this. The only thing "wrong" with this kind of writing, IMO, is that those who write biographical fiction, seem attracted to only a few historical periods, and/or kinds of people, e.g. Tudor and Elizabeth I and Anne Boleyn. So there seems to be a lot of biographical or semi-biographical fiction about the Tudor era, and an incredible(to me) amount of literature devoted to people like Elizabeth I and Marie Antoinette(of course she wasn't Tudor, and when I've read about her, it was more to kind of understand where she was "coming from). There are plenty of women(and perhaps some men), who really love, love, love Tudors, and again that's fine, at least for them. My only "criticism" here is, that, even if publishers seem to think Tudor, Tudor, Tudor is all women, at least, want to read about, maybe some writers could get brave and branch out a bit. Same for "guy books". There's a lot of "Viking era" material, but on the American side of the Atlantic, a lot of this stuff is Civil War era, mostly battles and soldiers. I, personally, don't read about these; I'm not, oddly enough, particularly interested in the Civil War, though its buildup, action, and aftermath have consequences that reverberate today.
This,my first blog here, has not turned out to be the blog I originally set out to write, but I hope these observations, which are not in any way intended to reflect badly on writers or readers of historical novels -- I've long since given up on that, and cheerfully accept whatever people say they like -- I just have my own tastes and I write that way. But I do hope this little essay will stimulate thoughts and questions, and perhaps some exploration. That is the core of what I originally intended, and perhaps, at a later date, I'll expand this essay a bit, and pose some questions of my own.