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'Just don't cheat'

24 October 2022

‘Does a dramatist have a duty of care to a public figure and to the audience for whom this imagined version might be their first or only contact with the historical material? (Hilary) Mantel thought it did: "You can select, elide, highlight, omit. Just don't cheat," she advised. I tend to agree - up to a point.

When I started writing historical crime novels featuring the 16th century Italian philosopher and heretic Giordano Bruno, I was conscious that, for many English readers, these stories might be their first introduction to Bruno's life and work, and I wanted to do justice to a man who was - as I saw it - charismatic, flawed but ultimately courageous in his defence of free thought. Genre fiction arguably gives greater room for artistic embellishment, but it has always mattered to me to stay true to the spirit of who Bruno was, even if that's only my interpretation. The idea that he was involved in foiling conspiracies against Elizabeth 1 while working as a spy in London was not my invention...'

Stephanie Merritt, journalist, literary critic and author of four novels under her own name and ten Giordano Bruno novels under the pseudonym S J Parris, including Heresy, Treachery and Prophecy, in the Observer.