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Details, shmetails

Writing novels set in the seventeenth century has its disadvantages. Like when your heroine ends up in a situation where you just know she’s dying for a piece of chocolate – except that chocolate hasn’t been invented yet. Or when the scene you’ve just written calls for cold fingers clasped around the comforting warmth of a mug filled with freshly brewed coffee. Come again? In the first half of the seventeenth century? I don’t think so.

As an avid reader of historical fiction, I know just how much I hate it when I run into anachronisms. In a matter of microseconds the magic is gone and I might just as well throw the book aside, because I’ll never get over the fact that the eleventh century Saxon lady just said that she’d walked “six kilometres” to get to wherever she was. Or when people “re-book their flights” over the Atlantic in the early 1920’s…

This is why it is so enjoyable to read the well-researched stuff, where the mundane details of daily life seem plausible and correct. No reading glasses before their time, no forks at the fifteenth century banquet and no gardenias decorating the tresses of the thirteenth century noble bride.

As a consequence, a writer of historical fiction spends a lot of time researching things, and as it is so much fun to learn new things I suddenly find myself reading a rather long but very interesting article about the first sign language (developed in Spain in the seventeenth century). This as a tangent to my efforts to establish just when Europeans began eating tomatoes instead of just admiring the bright red fruit . I now know more than I ever wanted to know about early amputations (most of the patients died, poor sods) or about treating open wounds with maggots. Will all of this information end up in my books? I guess that at some point or other it will – inspiration feeds off knowledge, doesn’t it?

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