I’d venture to guess that every avid reader, and most average readers have come across an error or six in the books you’ve read over the years. Some errors you probably forgave for the sake of the narrative, but others may have been the kind of howlers that ruined the whole story for you.
For the author the whole process of being edited can be disconcerting. My most recent novel, THE PEACOCK THRONE, is a Regency adventure story with spies, and treasure, and high intrigue. It is just releasing from Lion Fiction a new-to-me publisher based in England. The editing process was even more rigorous than I am used to. Here are some of the things the editors questioned:
Chocolate. Specifically, did they have chocolate candies in England at the time, or simply drinking chocolate? Answer: Contrary to conventional wisdom among regency fans, chocolate candies were available. In Savoring the Past: The French Kitchen and Table from 1300 to 1789, culinary historian Barbara Ketcham Wheaton cites a 1750 cookbook that specialized in desserts: “There are also some chocolate candies: the still familiar diablotins — flat disks of bitter chocolate, thickly sprinkled with nonpareils, chocolate “olives” (which we call chocolate truffles), and a conserve of chocolate, which turns out to be very like fudge.”
Dressing gowns. The editor thought only men had dressing gowns, in the form of Banyans at this time, could I check. Thank the Lord for the internet! Answer: Women did have dressing gowns at this time. ‘The dressing gown constituted a curious split between men and women. Men were dazzling and women were drab.’ (‘Fashioning the Bourgeoisie’ by Philippe Perrot, 1981).
English breakfast. Did the full English breakfast actually exist as such at this time? Did you know there is an English Breakfast Society? Me neither. But these brilliant folks saved my bacon. Answer: It dates back to the early 1800s, and originally was only really available to the gentry due to cost.
Did they call them morning rooms or sitting rooms in Government House (Raj Bhavan) in Calcutta, (now Kolkata) India in 1802? Argh! Never did find an answer on that, even after managing to find a map of the facility. I finally just scrapped that phrase as a descriptor and moved the scene to another kind of room entirely.
Don’t even get me started on the words I had to scrap because they weren’t around in 1802. Cagey-had to scrap it. Knapsack-kept it. Lummox-scrapped. Pallet-kept. On and on it went. The perfect word to describe something and elevate the rhythm of the narrative tossed out on its ear because it was too young. Frankly, I think they could file discrimination charges.
Keep in mind. None of these details have any bearing on the plot whatsoever. Not any. At all. Except of course that it does if sloppy research means that readers are disappointed in the story because of it. Then the whole plot becomes pointless.
Getting all the questions can be deflating, even frustrating, but the point is always to make the work stronger. Those fresh eyes are key to weeding out things that are going to trip up readers and we disregard editorial suggestions at our peril. I’m thankful for editors who keep me on my toes!
About Lisa Karon Richardson
Lisa Karon Richardson is the author of several novels including Diamond in the Rough, Vanishing Act, and Curtain Call. Her novella, Impressed by Love, was a Carol Award finalist. Lisa and her husband are currently planting a home missions church in the USA, having previously been missionaries to the Seychelles and Gabon.
About THE PEACOCK THRONE
A mysterious throne holds the key to two murders; an epic adventure steeped in treachery and romance
When Miss Lydia Garrett’s guardian is murdered, and the authorities refuse to investigate the odd circumstances, she vows to catch the culprit. The same night the Earl of Danbury is murdered in his bed. Against all odds it appears that the murders are related – and Anthony Douglas, the new Lord Danbury, is bent on revenge.
The clues point to the former Earl’s first naval command. In 1758 the Earl spirited away and hid the magnificent Peacock Throne at the behest of the Indian royal family. To draw out the murderer, Anthony and Lydia agree that they must locate the throne. However, they are not the only ones interested in the Peacock Throne.
Marcus Wiltshire, agent of His Majesty’s intelligence services, has received hints that Bonaparte intends to return the throne to India and leverage its mystical significance to foment rebellion and cut England off from her most important trading partner. When the amateur sleuths join forces with the professional agent, the quest for the throne leads them around the globe on an adventure steeped in danger, treachery, and romance.