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.
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