History and accuracy

Time to own up – I’ve been reading a lot about building an author platform and how to use social networking for self promotion. While I don’t take it all on board, one thing that did resonate was advice about finding a target audience and trying to tempt them to your site. So, prepare to be enticed!

My WiP, The Fifth Warrior is set in the future, but uses past-life regression to tell the stories of the characters as they have reincarnated together throughout history. The main plot follows four soldiers who need to find the fifth person they always re-incarnate with in order to complete their mission. One of the main themes of the book is about warfare. Because I’m writing essentially five novellas within the main story, I can explore warfare from different perspectives and in different time periods.

So, to attract my target audience, I thought I’d start blogging about odd nuggets of information that I’ve come across in my research. My book spans the Roman, Saxon or Dark Ages, Crusades and English Civil War as well as the modern era, so I’ve had to read widely on different aspects of history. Strangely I’ve found children’s books most useful as they cover trivial information that is essential detail, like how candles were lit or what people wore under their armour!

I’ve just been reading a book (again I’m not going to name it) where the main antagonist is cornered on a mountain. He is armed with a revolver and is being tracked by our hero and sixteen special forces troops who are expecting trouble. The hero has already had trouble with this guy before so everyone should be all keyed up and ready. And somehow this villain stormed his way through the lot. No bullet-proof vests, no snipers posted a hundred yards away, they were just massacred. And the weird thing was that I knew it was going to happen because we were already a third of way through the book and this man was set up as the main antagonist in the plot so we knew he wasn’t going to die.

I tend to be a special-forces fan in a way. I read a lot of the non-fiction books published on the subject, mainly by ex members of the SAS. I tend, if I’m honest, to feel that it’s a bit ghoulish to glamourise special forces as they often risk (and lose) their lives to ensure our freedom. But in my heart, I deeply respect those guys who go through training we can’t imagine to do a job we don’t want to consider, all to keep us safe. I’m sure there are hundreds of terrorist attacks that the public don’t even know about because they were thwarted early on by special forces troops.

Reading that passage in the book though, something occurred to me. What I have been doing is research. When my novel needs a battle scene, there aren’t going to be any lone, Bruce Willis style gun men who wade through injury and flying bullets and overcome incredible odds. Because I’ve read so many books, I have as close an idea as I can to what would happen. I’ve read a lot of first-person accounts, sometimes two or three of the same conflict, to get an idea of what’s believable and what’s not.

Often it doesn’t help – the plot would be easier if I bent the truth a bit. But I think the book as a whole would suffer. Another example is that in my crusader section, one of my characters falls into a river fully armoured and loses it as he strips off and survives. Over the summer I went to a re-enactment at Raglan Castle and got talking to a mediaeval knight. He very kindly took the time to talk to me and let me try on a coat of chain mail. Once you add a coif, shield, sword, scabbard, helmet and all the other armour I could see that falling into a river was a death sentence. When I re-write that scene, he’s going to receive a blow to the head and wake up after the Saracens have stolen all his armour. It’s a bit disheartening to lose a huge chunk of prose, but I’m sure the book will be better for it.

Please add comments or follow this blog – especially if you have a history or warfare themed blog. I love doing research and finding sources of information and communities where I can gather opinion.