Historical Fiction: Some thoughts on an article by Michelle Cox

Author Michelle Cox has written a matter-of-fact, very useful piece at Writers' Digest, on historical fiction. One of her points speaks not to historical accuracy, but to the appearance of accuracy.

The late John Yeoman sent me a fine collection of short fiction set in Tudor England a couple of years ago, and far more the expert in the era of Shakespeare, Marlowe, and Webster than I could ever hope to be, his stories were replete with historical detail. 

But, as I said to Dr Yeoman at the time - the idea, for instance, of a man eating Spanish oranges in London when Queen Liz the First was on the throne - had me looking to Wikipedia to peruse the history of the fruit.

By the way, this (highly recommended) collection and other work featuring his detective hero can be found at his Amazon author page.

But about the semblance of accuracy: In one of my own stories (set in 1906), a schoolboy called Jeremy is nicknamed Jez. Somebody said it seemed a little modern. 
We do have Dickens's Boz, pre-dating "Jez" by half a century.

 
I also looked up the etymology of the word "outfox" - to mean "outsmart" - for the same post-fin-de-siecle story. I was surprised to see its first use comes a few years later. But I like the word so much in its context within the story that I kept it.

Anyway, the late great John Yeoman had himself edited that particular story after I had voiced some concerns to him about it - and he didn't mind these little things.

One edit I had paid serious attention to from another beta-reader was the relationships between staff and gentry. The fact is, the staff NEVER talked to the nobility the way they do in these Downton Abbey programmes. So in my yarn, I toned down the familiarity between the butler-maid couple and the civil servant for whom they worked.

Perhaps the semblance of historical accuracy gets a pass under a number of circumstances:
-if the author (such as Doc Yeoman above) knows better than the reader (if it jars a little for anyone, it's something that can be looked at)
-poetic licence (for a movie example, think Sofia Coppola's rendering of Marie Antoinette, or elsewhere, whether you can install mechanical elevators in Ancient Egypt, or at the wall holding back the Wildlings (for a fantasy example), or if there were battery-operated devices in pre-Muslim Mesopotamia)
-finally, importantly, does it work for the reader? (Again, some people didn't like Sofia Coppola's take, to cite this example)
A fish lifting its head off the plate to deliver its thoughts before a character tucks into it might suit the magic surrealist writings of Etger Keret. But it can be confidently dropped from your thriller about killing Hitler, unless (of course) the narrator is drugged and it's that kind of book.

Given that there are as many interpretations as there are readers, accuracy is a risk that every author and artist regularly runs.

Quantum of Sorrow

I occasionally feature science fiction work-in-progress The Queantum Eavesdropper in #1lineWed, where the hashtag is used to share lines from people's novels, poems, short stories, etc, once a week.
Worth checking out and contributing a line or two based on the theme they put out weekly.
Anyway, a recent theme was Sorrow so I found a few paragraphs to share. The first two are related, the third not so much.
Check them out below.








Perversity in Irish Literature

The late great Frank McCourt includes scenes in Angela's Ashes describing public masturbation (albeit in secluded areas, and a scene up a ladder, staring in the bedroom window of a young woman).


Are we to presume from these scenes that the teenage McCourt was a pervert? If he had been caught by a police officer, for example - even as a minor - might he then have lived a very different life? 

Never to become an educator in New York? Or would he have just
fled Ireland faster? Would he have never written his autobiographical novels in later life? 
What if he had been caught in New York conducting himself inappropriately?

Would he have been undermined, with a criminal record of some kind? Discriminated against for his perviness? Sent to a workhouse or borstal, or to juvie? Because this stuff - perhaps exaggerated, perhaps not - is likely to have happened to some degree.
There was probably a point in time at which Frank McCourt was masturbating in public - albeit in a secluded location - in or near Limerick City.
What of Joyce and his solicitation of prostitutes through the mouthpiece of Dedalus? And similar self-satisfaction, echoed in McCourt's work?

If you were to suggest that these men were perverts, or advocates for perversity, what would they have told you to do?
No doubt something more perverse.
No moral to the story.

What the kids are looking up...

The kids are looking up the meaning of emojis. But what do they symbolise?
They all mean I 💓's yazzz! LOLZ! FML! Hurrayyy! SMH! Hooorayyy! Etc.