I’ve been lost in a time warp this week trying to complete the research for part of my historical saga. The period in question is post-Napoleonic Brittany. I love doing my research – as a form of escapism it’s second to none-but of course the danger is that it’s easy to get lost in it; to disappear into a time-space continuum never to be heard of again.
So far I’ve read a Balzac novel relevant to the period, with the aid of a monumental Larousse dictionary; I’ve Googled ‘til my eyes popped and I’ve pored over maps until I could find my way around blindfold – which is just as well in view of the eye-popping hindrance.
My dilemma with research, as with life, is knowing when to stop. I have a feeling that only a small proportion of my Brittany research will feature (since it’s not the main locus of action)and yet it is essential to the storylines. Furthermore as and when (being positive this morning)the saga reaches its adoring public I worry about those readers whose faces become empurpled as they choke over their 3.5 minute boiled egg, who miss the 6.35 to Paddington and sacrifice a whole tree to produce, at one and the same time, a treatise on French currency and a refutation of my use of Louis d’or when everyone who isn’t a gibbering imbecile knows that Francs were the dosh of the day.
Fantasy and Sci-fi authors need to create a great story in a believable world for their readers. The historical novelist has to create a great story in a world that is believable and open to scrutiny by hawk-eyed readers ready to pounce on historical inaccuracy.
Historical novelist Bernard Cornwell wrote that whilst he knew there were no rabbits in Arthurian Britain, he wasn’t aware that snowdrops didn’t feature either until a kind reader pointed out his blooper. I’m not sure I am made of the stuff that can tolerate that level of nit-pickedness.
And yet, to be fair to my future history-savvy readers, I too have felt angst when reading of rabbits where there should be none; of reading words and phrases that were a few centuries premature – so who am I to moan?
So, back to my original conundrum – when is enough enough?