JACK JEWERS: on Writing Historical Fiction

Written by Jack Jewers

It goes with the territory that historical fiction deals with real people – I mean, the clue’s in the name, right? But what happens when you’re imagining a whole new chapter in the life of a real person? How far is it OK to venture from the truth about what really happened?

Jack Jewers

I had to confront all these questions and more when writing my debut novel, The Lost Diary of Samuel Pepys. The infamous diarist recorded his daily life in meticulous detail from 1660 to 1669. His writings are of incalculable value to the historical record and a riotously good read to boot. But then, at the age of 36, he just stopped. And while we know a little of what he did next, the thought of what secrets he might have shared had he kept going is almost too tantalising for words.


Though he was certainly a flawed man, it’s always struck me that his sharp, analytical mind would have made Pepys a good detective. So, I thought, what if that’s what really happened? In my version of history, Pepys is sent to investigate murder and corruption among the Royal Navy in Portsmouth. Things spiral out of control and he finds himself at the centre of a plot that could drag the country into war…


Picking up the threads of a real life with stories yet to be told has become a popular niche in historical fiction. Famous writers make for particularly fertile ground as lead characters, because we are already familiar with their voices. Some of the most popular historical fiction series of recent years have employed real-life writers as sleuths, from SJ Parris’s bestselling Giordano Bruno books, to Rowan Coleman’s clever and witty Brontë sisters mysteries. Of course, I had one tremendous resource that most writers don’t – over a million words written by Pepys himself.


Pepys never intended for his diaries to be published, so what emerges from them is a surprisingly honest insight into his character. He was a wit and a bon viveur; he was also a snob and a cheat. So one way I stayed true to the Samuel Pepys of history was by portraying him as he portrayed himself – a clever, witty, and curious man, with huge personal flaws. That’s part of what makes him so interesting.


I do believe that readers will accept certain digressions from the truth in the name of a good story, so long the world feels authentic. And while I poured immense time and research into making the world of 1669 feel as real as it possibly could, I was also clear that my Pepys is not the Pepys. He’s a fictionalised version of the real man. And I think that’s OK. I take a firm line that my first duty is as a writer, not as an historian (which, much as I love to immerse myself in history, I most assuredly am not).


After all, isn’t a good story what we’re all really here for?


The Lost Diary of Samuel Pepys

By Jack Jewers

Published by Moonflower Books, August 4th 2022


The Lost Diary of Samuel Pepys reimagines one of Britain’s greatest historical figures through a 21st century lens.  Readers will love how Pepys not only turns detective but must confront his own prejudices along the way. What better allies for one of history’s most infamous womanizers than a secret society of dangerous outlaws, made up entirely of women?

Woman & Home: “Spirited writing, vibrant characters, visceral backdrops and swashbuckling action all play out in this thrilling mystery. Think Pirates of The Caribbean meets Charlie’s Angels.”


Jack Jewers

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