The author nit-picks nerdily about her own fictional dates

I once read a romantic novel about a Scottish woman and an English man, set during the reign of Henry VII. Despite culture clash being a major feature of the story, the author did not appear to know that Henry VII of England did not rule Scotland, and could not order its citizens to marry as he chose. (The geography was also a bit suspect.)

Naturally my enjoyment was hindered by my private “Grrr.”

Some years later, at a time when I’d just spent a holiday in Dunoon, I read a murder story set there. I could appreciate the author’s truly detailed knowledge of west coast ferries, but again I was  infuriated by her preposterous assertions about how ministers are placed or moved around in the Church of Scotland.

When we catch historical novelists, or indeed any novelists, out in a grotesque error, we can feel both smug and annoyed. Since I have cunningly written my own books in a non-existent setting, I can safely say that no one knows more about the history of Ragaris than I do. But I am still liable to be caught out on such matters as the likely results of a head injury, or what to feed a horse.

Fiction set in non-existent societies does not need to conform to actual history or geography, and of course in some works it doesn’t need to conform to actual physics or biology either. This is how we get dragons, seasons that last for years, and the useful ability to throw people across the room by waving a staff.

But even these stories ought to be consistent within themselves. If the time machine makes a distinctive whirring noise in chapter one and is silent in chapter seventeen, there should be a reason for this other than the hero needing to creep up on Napoleon Bonaparte without being heard. If the villain is one of six children in the Prologue and an only child 300 pages further on, then a few deaths need to have occurred in the interim.

It’s very difficult (she says feelingly) to be entirely consistent. I have so far noticed to my shame three continuity errors/mistakes in “We Do Not Kill Children”, which I ought to have removed in proof-reading. (The most serious is a character remembering a fight differently from the way it actually happened.)

I haven’t (yet) found any errors in “The Tenth Province of Jaryar”, other than printing ones, but it has put me in a small quandary now that I am writing the third book. This is a matter of dates.

The people of Ragaris reckon years After Landing, a year when Christian missionaries landed on their eastern shores. For those of you who have not read it, “The Tenth Province” begins on a fairly sunny day in April in the year 619 AL. Comments are made as to the imminence of Easter.

As everyone knows, Easter is a literally moveable feast, but it only moves according to certain rules. One can find on the internet lists of the dates of Easter for any year AD, and when I was writing the book, I  consulted them. I  incorporated (I think) the effects of the Julian calendar, and discovered, or decided, that 619 AD should correspond with either 1275 or 1297 AD. So I have in my head placed Ragaris in real history.

And 14th April 619 AL was a Sunday (Easter Sunday.)

Now I’m writing a tale that takes place in 641 AL. An event, say the violent death of a major character’s relative, occurs on a certain date in June.


Is this a problem?

It ought to be possible to do the maths. I really could take time to work out what day of the week any given date in 641 is, given what I’ve decided about dates in 619.

But I don’t think I can be bothered to do this.

Should I? What do you think?

Only time will tell if this failure of internal consistency will niggle away at me in the night.

If anyone feels strongly on the subject (or has found other errors I’ve missed in the Tales from Ragaris to date) do comment below.

Love from the PPI Blogger


  • Matthew Perry

    2nd March 2018 at 5:38 pm Reply

    In my nerdy opinion yes, you should get the date correct!
    I don’t think however that it matters that a character remembers a fight incorrectly since memory is not perfect – unless the memory is really grossly wrong.

  • Stephen Sheridan

    2nd March 2018 at 6:25 pm Reply

    I wouldn’t beat yourself up on it too much.
    Individual memory is very fallible – especially in traumatic circumstances and humans reinforce incorrect memories with their own internal narrative. This is why witness identification is often very faulty and if you ask soldiers after the confusion of battle what happened, you will get as many different accounts as there are individuals. In fact this difference in memories is often a great plot device. I recommend the Cromwell-period murder mystery “An Instance Of the The Fingerpost” for the telling of the same events from multiple points of view, some of them more reliable than others – but which ones?!
    On the dates, as Matthew says, you should get them right, but given you have created the universe, I think you can always explain any apparent inconsistencies by date changes introduced by the Church or there being alternative festival/comemorative date interpretations in different regions. It is your world, so you can have a bit of fun with it – that’s one of the reasons why I enjoyed running a Dungeons and Dragons campaign some much in the Eighties.
    I have finally started reading “We Do Not Kill Children” and it is a great read – good mystery, strong characters and you have made a strong job of creating a more equal gender society in a medieval setting, which is not an easy job at all. I’ll post a detailed review on Amazon when I have finished. More power to your writing elbow!

    • Penelope Wallace

      3rd March 2018 at 11:33 am Reply

      Please do! (See if you can spot the error!)
      I did enjoy “An Instance of the Fingerpost”, and I know what you mean about different views, but even more “The Dream of Scipio” by the same author.

      • Penelope Wallace

        3rd March 2018 at 11:47 am Reply

        Oops, that came out wrong. I didn’t mean that “The Dream of Scipio” does as much with different viewpoints, only that I enjoyed it (although harrowing in places) even more.

  • Mike Dunster

    2nd March 2018 at 10:33 pm Reply

    I think a lot of it depends on how historically accurate you are trying to be and claiming to be. To use an analogy from film, I would judge Antoine Fuqua’s King Arthur film much more strictly (with regard to history) than I would Guy Ritchie’s – both are telling a story, but the former claims historical accuracy for their film while the latter is just having a romp.

  • Judith Leader

    4th March 2018 at 4:54 pm Reply

    I haven’t found any errors but I must admit I would not think of checking dates. I don’t mind non essential errors, whatever they are, but I do mind glaring errors such as you mentioned in your blog. I avoid reading historical novels if I can (I belong to a book group and have had some given as presents) because I am never sure what is fact or fiction, I would rather read history straight. Of course that is different according to the stance you take. In Leeds the Roman Catholics went to their own schools and we went to non-affiliated schools and I am sure Henry V111 was taught differently in the RC schools than we learn’t about it.
    However inaccuracies that you talk about do infuriate me but I know from the book group that this isn’t the general opinion of everyone.
    I think the bottom line is that you will never please everyone, you just have to do your best to be accurate.

  • Stephen Hall

    5th March 2018 at 2:56 pm Reply

    So the Year 641AL is either 1297or 1301AD? I don’t know which day in June you’re interested in, but 1 June 1297 was a Saturday in both the Gregorian and Julian calendars, and 1 June 1301 was a Wednesday in the Gregorian but a Thursday in the Julian calendar.

    There are websites for everything – see

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