Wednesday 22 May 2013

Novel Idea: A Stitch In Time

(Jazz it Up, Designer Clocks)

I mentioned briefly in my last post that I'd opted for working on historical fiction.

Having done this once before, with my debut novel Angorichina, I know that, when it comes to HistoFic, timing is everything.

If you're going to undertake historical fiction, you need to be prepared to invest in the research. You also need to be prepared to be kind to yourself. No matter how meticulous you are, you will never be perfect.

One particularly famous example is Bernard Cornwell, author of the Sharpe series, who wrote a wonderful article in the 2010 edition of Writers' & Artists' Yearbook titled: Notes from a successful historical novelist (P.245) regarding his adventures in Arthurian legend:

You are going to get things wrong. None of us mean to, but we do. There were no rabbits in King Arthur's Britain, which I knew, but a helpful reader (there's always a helpful reader) wrote to tell me there were no snowdrops either. Got that wrong.

Apparently, they're of Turkish origin. A fact I only discovered whilst visiting Colesbourne Park. He goes on to give some really good advice regarding not trying too hard to be an historian, but a storyteller. Worth a read if you're interested in this genre.

For my rather less famous part, I made a similar blunder with Ango, which resulted in me contacting my publisher crying "The King! The King! God save the King!" Having just realised that I had suggested my characters were gathered around a piano in 1932 singing God Save the Queen, which, of course, they couldn't have been. It was rather gutting, and a tad embarrassing, after all the research that went into every other aspect of medical, political and social history, to slip up on something as relatively minor.

Thankfully, it was caught early on. If you ever happen to find yourself in possession of a copy of Angorichina imprinted with the words 'God Save the Queen,' consider it a collector's edition.

What I will say is that there's probably never been a better time in history to be an historical fiction writer. The amount of knowledge at our fingertips is incredible. Then again, you might argue that Shakespeare's time was a better time to be an historical novelist, as very few people had access to any form of information with which to contradict you. For all most people knew, Bohemia really did have a coastline.

For modern writers, however, 'a stitch in time saves nine.' Or, rather, 'google it to avoid a headache.' A few hours of research on Wiki, and the wider web, will really help to avoid slips. One of the reasons I've delayed getting into writing Blood Rose, is because I know just how much research is required. I've spent the past couple of days with my nose pressed against the screen. 

Blood Rose is set in Northern Iran during the mid-1800s. Sticking with the theme of 'time', one of the most mind-bending issues I've had to deal with so far has been the fact that the location of my story has three calenders.

We begin in 1850 anno domini, by the Christian calender. Generally, this works out as 1268 anno hegirae, by the Islamic calender, and 1231 anno persico, by the Persian calendar. There's a wonderful tool by the Iran Chamber Society for working it out.

However, I say 'generally' because the headache doesn't end there. All three celebrate New Year at a completely different time. The Christian New Year is 1st January, the Islamic New Year, signalling Muharram, is generally early November (similar to Samhain in the UK), and the Persians celebrate New Year, or Nowruz, on the vernal equinox in March.

Thankfully, someone has also very helpfully developed a tool for calculating the date of the spring equinox in Tehran, even as far back as 1852.

This is perhaps the point I'm getting to. No matter what your question is, try typing it wholesale into Google. I'll guarantee someone else has already asked it and, hopefully, come up with an answer. Such is the marvel of modern technology.

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