Writing Errors of Fact and Fancy



Originally, a torch was a portable source of fire used as a source of light, usually a rod-shaped piece of wood with a rag soaked in pitch and/or some other flammable material wrapped around one end. Torches were often supported in sconces by brackets high up on walls, to throw light over corridors in stone structures such as castles or crypts.
Wikipedia

I didn't know that about the "sconces" though I've heard and read the word "ensconced" often enough. I kind of knew about the pitch bit. That is, I knew torches had something to do with pitch, and that pitch (pine especially) burns hot and smoky, and that pitch was used for a bunch of stuff in the old days.

Nonetheless, it was a throw-away line when I wrote about Liz smelling the pitch on the torches in The Black Castle.

I've since heard from two facilitators about "pitch" becoming a minor point of conversation in their classes after reading the book. One wrote me:

Ch. 3 led to a discussion about pitch. Not everyone knew what it was, but many knew the term "pitch black." Most had seen torches in movies, but had wondered how they stayed lit.
The other told me she didn't know what pitch had to do with torches, but one of her learners knew about it and explained it to the rest of the class.

Nice. And pretty small beer, as these things go.

But here's what I'm thinking: I could have been wrong. Does it matter? I don't know.

It shouldn't... maybe. I mean I'm just writing these things for fun, you know? This isn't history or cultural studies or something. Errors of fact aren't just possible, they're probable. (It is a book about a monster.)

Yet, yet...

So, I spent an hour and a half last night on Google trying to find out if there is an in-shore fishery (i.e., a near-coast sea fishery) off Scotland's northwest. And if so, what are the seasons for what type of fish. Oh, and if it's not too much bother, what the heck do the boats look like?

Why? Because in Book Three Liz and David are going to come up over a hill and look at some fishing... trawlers? smacks? who will be fishing for... whitefish? cod? And this in the fall of the year... er, if that's not outside the season.

Liz and David do this thing and somewhere some reader, maybe, is going to register that such and such a kind of fish is caught in the seas near Scotland in the fall. Perhaps there will be a class discussion. Maybe it will feature in a word-search. Maybe somebody will look something up.

Then what? It would be unpleasant and woeful to have people mocking me for being entirely wrong.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to Google images of Scotland in the fall.

(Because you do know what an angry mob will do to writers who mislead them, don't you?)


No comments: