Saturday, May 5, 2012

Getting it wrong.

Remember I just posted about how, based on my current experience of broken pelvis and sitting in a wheelchair, Matthew couldn't have suddenly stood up and gone to Lavinia in Downton Abbey last season? Well, I've thinking about books I've read where the author gets something wrong and the effect it has on me.

I normally adore Connie Willis but in her book Blackout the landlady during the Blitz tells her that it costs 5p to use the telephone. That ended the book as far as I was concerned. The decimal currency with 5 new pence didn't come into being until 25 years after the war. The telephone would have cost tuppence, or two old pennies. I hated this mistake because it ripped me out of the period. And if you know the author has got one thing wrong, then you distrust the rest of the story.

I remember reading an early Martha Grimes in which she made two unforgivable howlers. She had someone go to the shops on Boxing Day...and until recently not a single store in England would be open the day after Christmas. It was the commercial holiday when tradespeople and servants got their day off. Now, of course, everyone wants to make maximum profit and stores stay open all the time. Pity.
The other howler was that she had some countrywoman warn that someone might "nail a skunk to her front door."  Sorry, but there has never been a skunk in the British isles.

Mistakes like this make me stop reading a book and never trust the writer again. I always worry in my own books that I'll get something horrible wrong. The only awful thing I think I've done so far is to put Claridges on the wrong street. This is unforgivable as my parents used to live next door to the night manager at Claridges and I've been there many times. So that revealed to me that the danger is in what we think we know and thus don't bother to double check. These days I write the Royal Spyness books with the 1930s A to Z maps of London beside me!

And on the recovery front--I'm gradually progressing and the house is turning into a blooming wonder! Thanks for all your good wishes!


  1. Had a similar feeling when I was in grade school. My class was watching an educational film about colonial America. There was a scene with a blacksmith working on a horseshoe. Outside the window next to the blacksmith, all of us noticed a big automobile from the 1950s rolling past the blacksmith! Cars did not exist until the 20th century!


  2. Well, they always say you should write what you know about. Once in a while I've read something that doesn't make sense & it does interrupt the flow of the reading. I have to stop & re-read to see if I misunderstood. However, for those items you mentioned, I wouldn't have had a clue about. So I guess it depends on the readers own knowledge as to whether certain incorrect details would bother them.
    What lovely flowers you got!

  3. How do you feel about using the more familiar "modern" system (money or names of landmarks, etc.)in place of what might be historically accurate? And while I agree that it might throw a reader out of the story, it doesn't make me not trust the writer, unless they are writing non-fiction. Most authors acknowledge the help they've received and claim any remain mistakes as their own...I hope we readers can allow our authors to be human, too. (what really annoys me is grammatical errors and typos!)