Reading & Other Authors

Getting My Facts Straight

Part of me looks forward to the day when a reader gets in touch to complain of a factual mistake in one of my books. Not, you understand, that I like to trip up and be found out. It’s more that this will signify that a) a large number of people are reading my stuff and b) they care enough to notice.

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But this doesn’t mean I’m playing fast and loose with reality, in the hope of baiting someone into protesting. I’m actually a tad obsessive about fact checking. Saffron Sweeting is a fictional village, but it’s close to a real city (Cambridge) and soon-to-be-named Book 2 includes actual events from the summer of 2010, plus scenes set in northern Scotland. Hence, my compulsive checking includes:

  • the months when clematis and daffodils bloom
  • locations of disused Scottish airfields
  • who knocked England out of the 2010 (soccer) World Cup
  • how to spell Michelangelo and Mary Celeste
  • the order of pre-flight checks in a Cessna
  • whether fireworks are still held at Midsummer Common in Cambridge
  • what parrots like to eat (and should eat)
  • the prevailing take-off direction at Cambridge airport
  • who won the 2010 Oxford-Cambridge boat race
  • the age at which puppies can leave their mother
  • what time sunset is, in Cambridge, on the summer solstice
  • …and… well, you get the idea!

Of course, there are many famous books (and movies, and TV) where mistakes occur, and fans seem to enjoy noticing and discussing these. Author Emily Giffin had to put a note in Where We Belong admitting inconsistency in a main character’s age, and I thoroughly enjoyed this list of mistakes made in Friends.

How about you? Do mistakes in books drive you nuts, or do you enjoy spotting something the author missed?

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4 Comment

  1. Reply
    Julie Valerie @Julie_Valerie
    September 3, 2014 at 5:55 am

    Well, you’ve certainly whet my appetite for book #2 with this fact-finding list!

    Can’t wait to get my hands on it!


  2. Reply
    September 5, 2014 at 1:44 am

    Getting your facts straight is the part I hate the most when writing a book. I always have the feeling that it’s very restrictive and doesn’t leave much room to the imagination. You haven’t said whether you’re enjoying this part, or not, Pauline, I think you are, your list is actually very interesting.

    Part of my fact-finding mission for my first novel included learning how to drive a Ferrari (I didn’t drive one myself, but I had to study several manuals), interviewing the head of all Penitentiaries in Sardinia and a trip to several beaches (this was more fun).

    When I do read a book, I don’t look out for mistakes or inconsistencies, but I tend to spot them if I happen to know about that particular subject. In some of Dan Brown’s books, I spotted several mistakes in the Italian language, for instance, which surprised me, as I would have expected that his publisher would have made sure that the use of Italian would have been accurate (I’m talking about his books in English and how they used the Italian in those). I guess I happened to notice them simply because I am Italian 😉

    On another occasion, when reading a novel, I noticed an inconsistency on a character who was a PA, and having been a PA myself, I realized that this scenario would not be credible in reality.

    I personally don’t like to go hunting for inconsistencies, I prefer to enjoy the book and see where the story takes me. But if the mistake is blatant and shows poor research on the part of the author, rather than a tiny distraction, it does annoy me.

  3. Reply
    Jean | DelightfulRepast.com
    September 5, 2014 at 8:20 am

    Pauline, I don’t go looking for inconsistencies and typos when I’m reading, but they do tend to jump out at me (a natural-born copyeditor, I suppose). Like Martina, I prefer to get caught up in the story; but I always appreciate when an author has done her homework. And I get really annoyed with inconsistencies in the characters’ ages throughout the story. You know, when you do the math and see that the guy’s mother had to have given birth to him when she was seven!

  4. Reply
    Map of Saffron Sweeting | Pauline Wiles
    January 13, 2015 at 6:56 am

    […] I’m more than a little hung up on consistency and getting my facts straight, when I wrote Saving Saffron Sweeting I drew a map of the village for myself. And I truly did mean […]

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