Anybody who writes knows the importance of research. Ok, it might be a little easier if you write fantasy or Sci-fi where the worlds created are your own and even though you need to know your worlds well to make it work, nobody can jump down your throats to complain about the inaccuracy of your historical details. They’re yours.
The rest of us have to be careful with our artistic licences as there will always be someone, somewhere, who knows that the play your character goes to see, didn’t show at that theatre until the following month, or that it was a warmer than normal October that particular year when your character slips and slides down the icy pavement.
I once had someone critique my first book, Intervention, on a UK writer’s review site, and she just didn’t believe the time it took my main character to travel from Paris to Perpignon and therefore she decided that nothing else in my story was historically correct either. This did annoy me a bit as my stories, all of them, include an enormous amount of research, which means that when my A-team critique chaps (friends and family, well trained by me to be constructive and not nice at all :)) question things I can confirm that it is all correct, or if I had to change some historical details, I put it in the historical notes in the back. In Intervention, I did this with the bombing of a Square in Madrid. I needed it to happen a week or two earlier and I needed the planes approaching to be heard (which they weren’t in real life). I reckon that’s all fine. Also, if you try and try to find something out but you just can’t find it anywhere, then it must be alright to make something up, to use your artistic licence.
For Sospiro, set in Como during the second world war, I struggled a lot with the basics. You know, weather, cafes, cinema, travel documents and general social history details. Several times I have almost given up on it because of those very details, but a few weeks ago I went there and found this wonderful company, Tours by Locals, who put me in touch with a tourguide who knew Como and it’s history well. When I first contacted her she didn’t know a huge amount about the social history details I needed, but by the time we met up with her, she’d found out everything I needed. It was the most useful morning of the Sospiro research I’ve done so far. She is a brilliant lady who loves the history of her town and this gave her a reason to broaden her knowledge too. She has since emailed me lots more information that she has collected from friends and (Italian) books.
The Times online archives is very good for headlines, weather, advertising, jobs and costs of various items. It goes back to the 1800s and it’s a good way to find out what the propaganda was during the wars too.
Another good idea is to contact specialists in whatever area it is that you need information. They are generally very kind and helpful.
So; it was a still and moonlit night…