The druid looked skywards and stared with wonder at the glittering stars. It never ceased to amaze him how the Earth’s rotation made it appear the stars moved. He lowered his head, glanced around and waited patiently for a sign, any sign, although he knew not from where it would come. He took a deep breath and continued his solitary vigil.
He stood on a large rock and faced east. Directly ahead was the vast ocean that surrounded the United Kingdom, the reassuring sound of waves incessantly unfolding on the pure white sands were comforting, but also a stark reminder all was not well.
He heard it then, the unmistakable croak of a frog. It was a sign and what he waited for – the croak of the Green Puddle Frog. He shivered. The invaders would come now, it was time to warn villagers the Phoenicians would soon arrive.
For a reader, how important is it to believe what is written and portrayed as fact is accurate? How many novels have you read where you’ve discovered an error? On the big screen it is less important and more frequently allowed for. In written form, a story surrounded by factual inaccuracies makes for a very difficult read.
In the ‘Druid’ tale above, how many mistakes did you discover?
We can surmise that the approximate year this story is set in, is before the 5th century because druids didn’t really exist beyond that. During that era they believed the Earth was the heaviest object in the universe and all celestial bodies revolved around it, they didn’t know the Earth rotated. The concept of compass cardinal points as we know them wasn’t introduced until around 1200 A.D. Research will also reveal that the name ‘United Kingdom’ wasn’t used until 1801. Some would argue that the United Kingdom lacks pure white sand beaches and it is doubtful you’ll hear the croak of a Green Puddle Frog outside Asia, and then more likely in an area of fresh and not salt water. At no time in history did the Phoenicians invade the U.K.
Do inaccuracies really matter? Yes, to me as an author accuracy is important. In my historical fiction novel For Want of a Shilling, set in 1873, I wrote that the protagonist rode through an area of bush and was surrounded by the noise of cicadas. Sure enough, I received a letter from a reader who claimed I was wrong. He insisted that cicadas didn’t exist in New Zealand at that time and the insect was introduced to the country many years later.
What I wrote was an insignificant statement in a simple paragraph. For an author, it’s very easy to make an assumption and risk being wrong. I replied to my critic and politely informed him that he was in error. When I wrote that insignificant paragraph, I researched cicadas and they certainly existed [in N.Z.] during that time, just as I described.
I was researching the prologue on my novel The Breath of God, and it was important that I accurately detail the facts around a particular event, in this case the grounding of a ship. But nowhere was it written why the ship met with an accident. With all the information I gathered, which included the ship’s course, speed, date, time and weather conditions, I approached nautical experts who ran a computer simulation for me. Within moments they had an answer. The ship ran aground because of an unknown half-knot current that pulled the ship from its course and the sea/wind conditions caused their non-magnetically shielded compass to vary considerably. In those particular circumstances, the ship deviated from its course by sixty nautical miles and was driven on to the rocks. The computer simulation accurately determined the location of the incident. I was hoping to attribute the blame on an inebriated helmsman, that would have made for more interesting reading.
Does research matter? Absolutely. As an author I make no assumptions, and if I do ignore a fact or distort the truth to support creative writing or advance the plot, I will always detail that in the author’s notes at the back of the book. Then again, I am writing fiction.
Paul W. Feenstra is a historical fiction novelist.Meticulously researched, Paul’s novels are masterfully written and similar in style to Ken Follett and Bernard Cornwell. Born in Wellington, New Zealand, to Dutch immigrants, Paul commutes frequently to Los Angeles, California, where he worked as a multiple Emmy nominated entertainment industry professional. For over 25 years he called the USA home and was fortunate to travel extensively throughout the country. His two grown children still reside in Los Angeles. Visit Paul's author website and follow him on Facebook and Twitter.