things that amused me tonight

Dropping the name “the Honourable Mr. Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes” into the book.

What? I needed a baron’s son of the appropriate age, and he was the first one I found.

0 Responses to “things that amused me tonight”

  1. desperance

    Yay Ranulph! (Current holder of that baronetcy, and most recently famous for cutting off his own frostbitten fingers rather than waiting for a surgeon to do it…)

    • Marie Brennan

      Hee! I hadn’t even thought about who might still carry that name today. This is the one being referenced in the book.

      <consults Wikipedia> Dude, Ranulph Fiennes is hard-core.

      • desperance

        When you said you wanted a baron’s son, I had to check, because I knew Ran was a baronet. I hadn’t realised the baronetcy was quite such a recent creation.

        But, yeah. Hard-core he is. Which is why we know his proper name.

  2. unforth

    Actually, this prompts a question from me. So, I’ve got a scene in my book (set in WW2) where I needed a noble of a certain age who was at war, whose wife was situated to hold a party for a number of very important people (ie, I state that Eisenhower as at this party). I did find someone, and I used their name, but since then I’ve felt a little reticent – how do you feel about using real people for such things? In particular, I believe the wife I used is actually still alive…I don’t know. It feels weird. I was thinking about changing it. For some reason, integrating Eisenhower (who doesn’t say much anyway) doesn’t bother me, but having Lady Carrington host my party makes me nervous. Have you thought about this at all? Any thoughts on the appropriateness of such usages?

    • Marie Brennan

      It’s complicated.

      When I wrote Midnight Never Come, partway through I discovered the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, which made it stupidly easy to research people. The result is that aside from Deven and his family and servants, and the mortals in the Onyx Hall, the only invented mortal character in the story is John Awdeley — who gets referenced in precisely one scene, as the guy Nianna’s infatuated with. Everybody else? A real person. Down to all of the Gentlemen Pensioners (including William Tighe, who is a real modern person, the one who sent me his dissertation on the Gentlemen Pensioners, and I tuckerized in thanks).

      I was very conscious of the choices I made in representing those people. Most especially the famous ones, who show up a lot in fiction — Elizabeth, Walsingham, etc., because readers often have very decided notions what those people should be like. But also the less public ones; when I wrote Soame into Ashes, for example, I fretted over the fact that I didn’t know what he really looked like, or whether he was married and if so what his wife’s name was, etc. I made up almost every detail about him, except the basic stats of alderman, MP, arrested, etc. Samuel Johnson makes a brief appearance in Star, and I actually had read it over to see if it jibed with her sense of what the man had been like.

      Partly it’s the secret history impulse: I’ve been trying very hard to make certain what I write doesn’t contradict known history except at a level well below anybody’s radar. Which includes getting the people right, as much as is humanly possible. But I also do feel like there’s a moral element to it: I could never write full-on RPF, because hijacking real people into situations and behaviors that would never happen in reality would bother me. I’m not a character in somebody else’s story, and they aren’t, either.

      As the series moves along, I’ve moved away from the predominance of historical characters. Less because I got uncomfortable with it, and more because that’s the way the arc went: it’s gone from the royal court (MNC) to Parliament (IAL) to minor gentry (SSF) to, for the present book, the lower classes. The further down you go, the less well-documented they are. And it also occurred to me that sticking with historical people was going to privilege the elite in general — the well-born, the wealthy, the white, the male, the Anglican — so if I wanted to diversify the story I was going to have to start making people up.

      And I’ve looked ahead, to the prospect of maybe writing a Blitz-era book, and realized there is a boundary there. Once I’m potentially writing about living people, or the near relatives of living people, I do think I’d get a lot more cautious. (Not just because of libel laws, which are a lot touchier in the UK.) So this is a long way of saying that if I were in your position, I’d probably leave Lady Carrington in so long as she was a background character, hosting the party but not getting much screen time. If, however, her role went beyond “she probably hosted parties, this is how a hostess would behave, okay we’re done,” then I would probably invent someone to take her place. Romance authors do it all the time, and if having it be Lady Carrington herself doesn’t add much to the story other than a touch of verisimilitude, then you don’t lose much by the substitution.

      I hope that’s helpful. (Sorry for the length.)

      • unforth

        Thanks for the detailed answer! This is definitely helpful. 🙂 I do currently have Lady Carrington in a “I’m the hostess, I should introduce myself” and then poof from the story role. (her and the baron’s name are on the party invitation, and the main villain introduces one of the main characters to her, and that’s that). So…I think I’ll be guided by you and leave her for now. Worst to worst, if I run it by an editor and they say “no way!” I can change it in approximately three seconds. 🙂

        I know what you mean about all those other impulses, though. I’m still percolating ideas for a series of mysteries set in the Civil War, and a piece of why I’ve made no progress on this is that I can’t get past this as an initial problem. Do I use a real regiment? I think yes. Do I use a real company? Probably. Do I look up the names of the people in that real company and make them the characters in my book? That could start to get really fishy. (yet would be stupidly easy to do – the entire register of northern soldiers is available on the internet down to the company level. I could at least get names, and depending on other factors, such as the quality of any regimental history that was written, might be able to get much more) Do I set it in the East? The war in the east is better known, but doing so would almost necessitate that I include at least a tiny amount of screen time for people like Abraham Lincoln. Do I set it in the West? Very tempting, and more interesting to me, but I know I’ll epic fail to resist the temptation to put Sherman and Grant on screen, and that’s not any better….yeah. I’m pretty dead-locked on this. So it’s nifty to get your insight.

        At the moment, I’m actually thinking of dodging all of this by writing a non-fiction book about the Civil War instead, I’ve had two ideas for topics that I’d really like to know more about (the impact of geology on the war, and a discussion of battlefield geology; and a biography/analysis of the generalship of Confederate general Joseph E. Johnston, which I’ve gotten pretty interested in of late trying to figure out if he was a terrible general or not – there’s surprisingly little on this that I can find, so I figured why not do it myself? 🙂 ). Obviously, if I’m writing non-fiction, I can avoid this conundrum entirely. 😉

        • Marie Brennan

          It’s a good thing we do have comment notifications turned on, because it took me way longer to get to this than I expected. 🙂

          Leaving Lady Carrington in sounds like a good plan — especially since, as you say, changing her would take about three seconds.

          As far as the Civil War’s concerned . . . my own impulse would be to go for a company where you can get real names, but there isn’t much history available. That’s about the best way I can see to have your cake and eat it, too — real people, but not contradicting real knowledge. Otherwise, I’d say look for a place where you can slip an entirely-invented company into the real structure of the Army; that would work best if you think the company members will be recurrent and frequent characters in the story.

          But putting in Lincoln, Sherman, Grant, guys along those lines? Go for it. That’s half the reason to write historical fiction in the first place. 🙂

          • unforth

            No worries on delay, I still owe WoT replies…it’s been a kinda busy couple weeks.

            It’s good timing on your part, too. After a couple weeks of pondering, and a few days of taking notes on where I’d start researching, and writing a couple pages of random narrative just to see how it felt, last night I started honest-to-god research for the novel. Things are off to a rocking start: of the small numbe of western units at Bull Run, only two go back to the west after the battle (the rest are with the Army of the Potomac the entire conflict) and of those, only one of the regiments is also at Shiloh, which I absolutely want to include at some point. Indeed, this unit is involved in almost every important conflict in the western theater, though it hardly matters, because after my protag has proved his worth I’ll be able to detach him from his unit (which is good cause the unit isn’t at Vicksburg, which would be a pity…). Furthermore, while there is a regimental history, it’s short, so I suspect I’ll have some leeway on putting in details. The only problem is that the only place with a copy of said history that I can find is the Ohio Historical Society, but hat not that bad, as it’s in Columbus (I’ve passed it) and I’ll be there at the end of the month. All f which is to say thatrhings are goig shockinly well so far. I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop, I’ll admit. 🙂

            sorry about horrible typos – iPhone! 🙂

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