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James Aitcheson

Languages and Literature, University of Nottingham

Thesis title:

Writing the Middle Ages: a re-evaluation of the fantastical in historical fiction

My thesis consists of two parts: a fantastic-historical novel, set during the Middle Ages; and a critical commentary on the process of writing it and its context within the wider genre of historical fiction.

The novel, which is set during the eleventh century at an unidentified monastery located somewhere in England, makes use of various fantastic and uncanny devices (e.g. miracles, portents, ghosts, dream-visions, prognostication) and stylistic effects to test the boundaries of historical fiction.

The critical commentary discusses some of the issues that arise from writing fiction set in the past. Comparing and contrasting my own approaches and creative philosophies with those of Hilary Mantel, Umberto Eco, Kazuo Ishiguro, Philip Terry and other novelists, it explores how historical fiction works and how it is constructed, its objectives and responsibilities, and its possible future directions.

Research Area

  • Languages and Literature



Aitcheson, James. Sworn Sword. London: Preface, 2011.

Aitcheson, James. The Splintered Kingdom. London: Preface, 2012.

Aitcheson, James. Knights of the Hawk. London: Preface, 2013.

Aitcheson, James. The Harrowing. London: Heron, 2016.


I have delivered the following papers:

  • ‘Historical fiction as virtual reality’, Other Voices, Other Times (Bath Spa University, 2012);
  • ‘Representing the Middle Ages in fiction’, The Middle Ages in the Modern World (University of St Andrews, 2013);
  • 'Dreams come true: predicting the future in late Anglo-Saxon England', Medieval Midlands (University of Nottingham, 2018);
  • 'Space, place and identity in historical fiction', Orientations: A Conference of Narrative and Place (University of Nottingham, 2018);
  • 'Writing the Middle Ages: new approaches to historical fiction', EMREM Annual Symposium (University of Birmingham, 2018);
  • 'Writing the Middle Ages: new approaches to historical fiction', The Middle Ages in the Modern World (John Cabot University, 2018);
  • 'Writing the Middle Ages: testing the boundaries of historical fiction', School of English PGR Symposium (University of Nottingham, 2019);
  • 'Comets, eclipses and other celestial phenomena in late Anglo-Saxon England', 19th Biennial Meeting of the International Society of Anglo-Saxonists (University of New Mexico, 2019).

I have participated in the following round table sessions:

  • ‘Viking facts in fiction: how much research does a historical novel need?’, The Viking World: Diversity and Change (University of Nottingham, 2016);
  • ‘Imagining the medieval world: popular medievalism and historical fiction’, International Medieval Congress (University of Leeds, 2017);
  • 'Communicating the Vikings', Midlands Viking Symposium (University of Leicester, 2019).

Public Engagement & Impact

Creative writing workshops chaired or co-chaired:

  • 'Migration stories', Being Human Festival (Nottingham Central Library, 2017);
  • 'Writing the Vikings', Viking Society Student Conference (University of Nottingham, 2018);
  • 'Writing the Vikings', Midlands Viking Symposium (University of Nottingham, 2018).

Public talks/lectures delivered:

  • 'Creativity and the historical novel', Hampshire Writers' Society (University of Winchester, 2018);
  • 'Making the past present', New Perspectives (Lakeside Arts, 2018);
  • 'Writing the past: the role of historical fiction', Winchester Writers' Festival (University of Winchester, 2018).

Other Research Interests

  • Medievalism;
  • public understanding of the past;
  • the Norman Conquest;
  • early medieval monastic and intellectual culture;
  • early medieval astronomy.


Society of Authors; Royal Historical Society; Historical Writers' Association; International Society for the Study of Early Medieval England.


Historical novelist specialising in late Anglo-Saxon England and the Norman Conquest. Author of four novels, published in the UK by Random House and Quercus, and also in the US, Germany and the Czech Republic. My latest novel, The Harrowing, was published in July 2016 and named by The Times as a Book of the Month.

I studied History at Emmanuel College, Cambridge (2003–6), where I specialised in the Middle Ages; I then undertook my MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University (2007-8), where I developed the concept for what, in 2011, became my first published novel, Sworn Sword.