BackStory: Five Questions with Jan Kaneen

Detail from 'Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and his Wife' by Jan van Eyck (1434)

BackStory: Five Questions with Jan Kaneen
Author of The Arnolfini Funeral

What inspired you to write ‘The Arnolfini Funeral’?

I watched a documentary series on BBC 4 called A Stitch in Time, where fashion historian Amber Butchart explores historical figures through the clothes they wore. One episode was dedicated to the Arnolfini Wedding portrait which is a picture that has always fascinated me because Jan Van Eyck, its painter, is allegedly hidden within it, in the reflection in the mirror at the back. The documentary dwelt on the incredible skill it took to make and sew the expensive materials in the costume the woman in the painting wore, and this got me thinking about the relationships the trades people might have had with the people they served.

What is your favourite piece of historical flash, prose poetry or hybrid work? What do you like about it?

My absolute favourite piece of historical flash is Frau Roentgen’s Left Hand by Anita Goveas. I love the image it describes, the clear, calm, precise language she uses, and I love how the particular speaks of the universal, and how it is all summed up in the last line which has stayed with me ever since, ‘in the shadows, the wives of science provide tools and structure, but stay hidden.’ Wives everywhere I reckon, of any gender.

Who is your favourite historical fiction writers and why?

Hilary Mantel and I’m sooo excited the next Wolf Hall novel has been announced. I cannot wait.

If you could live for one year in any historical period, when and where would it be, and why?

I’d like to go back to when Stonehenge was being built to understand the political and religious beliefs of the people who worked together to build it.

How important is historical accuracy to you in your own writing?

I like to anchor everything I write with scattered elements of historical accuracy because it makes things more believable when I then drop completely made up or fantastical elements by their side.

Jan Kaneen holds an MA in Creative Writing (with distinction) from @OpenUniversity Her short stories and flashes have been published round and about and she is @EllipsisZine magazine’s flash collection 2019 runner up. She’s won prizes in places like @InkTears, @MolotovLitZine and @Horror_scribes and blogs at and tweets as @Jankaneen1.

‘Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and his Wife’ by Jan van Eyck (1434) courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.