Terry Deary is well known as the author of the Horrible Histories series. His new book series, Dangerous Days is popular history aimed at adult readers. The latest in the series, Dangerous Days in Elizabethan England, is out now, published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson.
What is an historian?
I think you’d have to ask an historian that. I’m just a ‘umble writer.
What made you decide to pursue a career in history?
I was the published author of 50 novels when I was invited to write an entertaining history book. What made me do it? The publisher offered to pay me and my family wanted to eat.
What is the one history book you simply couldn’t do without?
Reading Barbara Tuchman’s “Distant Mirror: The Calamitous Fourteenth Century” was a revelation to me. I had no idea history could be so engrossing.
Do you have a favourite website for historical research (or procrastination)? Why?
No, I am a snapper up of unconsidered trifles. If I want a hundred facts then I need to visit a hundred sites because each only has between none and two of what I need. It’s like panning for gold – most of the raw material is thrown away in the search for nuggets.
What is your favourite historical place?
Sandal Castle, site of the Battle of Wakefield. Once I went there I understood why the Grand Old Duke of York marched his men up the hill then down again to his death.
You have a time machine for 24 hours, where do you go?
To the Globe Theatre to see Shakespeare and his company perform one of his plays. Any one will do. If I could also blag a backstage visit I’d be pretty happy.
You have a new research project and a deadline. What is your normal working pattern?
Write the epilogue. I need to see journey’s end before I set off so the whole book has a cohesive narrative.
So many of my readers beg me to write about India which, they assure me, is fascinating. I never will – it’s too daunting – but I would give it a shot if it was the only avenue open to me.
Why is history important today?
It’s back to the ‘journey’ metaphor again. If we don’t know where we’ve been then how can we know where to go in our tomorrows? History is a map-book of human experience.
Finally, what is your best historical fact?
In WW1 Private Tandy aimed his rifle at a young, surrendering German soldier, when he’d been ordered to take no prisoners. He indicated for the unarmed German to clear off. (Wouldn’t we all?) In that instant of time he spared the life of young Adolf Hitler. That act of mercy cost the lives of 50 million … maybe?