Simon Says » communiqué 012/October 2017

Simon Says: communiqué 012/October 2017

Hello everyone

Welcome to the October edition of Simon Says.

Without further ado, let’s get going.

The People Have Spoken…

…and they’re gonna speak again :–)

Last month I asked some questions about the introductory library and the welcome sequence of emails I send when people join the readers’ group.

Thank you all for your comments. I’m very grateful and learned a lot.

I’ll come back to these results in a moment, but first, I did hint that I might have a few more questions…

Simon Says

If you’ve got a few more moments, I’d love to hear your thoughts about Simon Says, my monthly readers’ group communiqué (as in this thing that you’re reading now…and the previous editions). You can let me know what you think over here.

As with last month’s questions, this survey is intended to be quick. It’s mostly yes/no and checkboxes, and there are no compulsory questions (so you can skip ahead at any point). There are also a few opportunities to elaborate, if you want.

Anything you say is completely confidential. I’m not collecting any personal data, so if you want a response, drop me an email.

Thank you in advance to everyone who shares their thoughts.

Introductory Library and Welcome Emails

Last month I asked about the introductory library and the welcome sequence of emails. The idea behind the welcome emails and the free books is to introduce me and my characters, and to get people reading my stuff.

In summary:

Again, thank you everyone who responded. It really helps me.

Fifty Mystery and Thriller Books

Do you like books? Do you like free books? Do you want a whole bunch of ebooks for your Kindle for free?

Well, I’ve got fifty free books for someone…

The fifty books come from authors including John le Carré, Lee Child, Catherine Coulter, Nora Roberts, Sue Grafton, Blake Crouch, Paula Hawkins, Karin Slaughter, Mary Higgins Clark, Liane Moriarty, to mention a few, as well as someone called Simon Cann with his book The Murder of Henry VIII.

If you want a chance of winning fifty free books, then head over here.

Tell your friends. Tell your family. Tell anyone who might be interested. The more people you tell, the more chances you have to win.

And if you don’t own a hardware Kindle, don’t let that stop you from entering. You can read these books on a phone or tablet using the Kindle app.

Good luck to all who enter. And if you win, then let me know.

Historical Accuracy

In the August edition of Simon Says I included a chapter from a possible future book. If you haven’t read the chapter yet, you can find it here.

Last month I shared some of the interesting exchanges I had with readers about that first chapter, but there was one area I didn’t cover—historical accuracy.

An Approach to Accuracy

I had some questions about historical accuracy and my approach to the concept.

This might seems odd, but I don’t need to be historically accurate. What I need to do is convince the reader that I am being historically accurate. As long as the reader is convinced—and is not pulled out of the story by some minor detail—then my job is done.

Seriously, I could have Henry VIII talking with aliens. Provided I can convince the reader that this is true, then the facts don’t matter.

There is, of course, another angle here. If I’m totally and completely historically accurate, but the reader doesn’t believe that I’m being accurate, then that accuracy is irrelevant.

Whether I choose to be accurate or not, all that matters is the reader’s opinion, and nothing else.

If Facts Don’t Matter…

If facts don’t matter, then what is my approach?

In short—having set out why facts don’t matter—my aim is to be as close to historically accurate as possible.

There are several reasons here:

Although I aim to get things “right,” there is a balance—I’m often trying to resolve two diametrically opposing forces. There’s the factual matter of historical accuracy, but then there’s the difficulty that the book is being written—and will be read—in the twenty-first century.

This has led to a slight tension where I’m using historical place names and historical spellings of place names (because, you know, history…) but modern language and in particular, modern spellings (in order that readers can understand what I’ve written). So there’s Holbourn (as it was, but which we now call Holborn), there’s Red Lyon (rather than Red Lion), and there’s Leicester Fields (instead of Leicester Square).

Getting Locations Right

For the locations, I live in London so I can walk the streets (and indeed, I have done and continue to do so). Many—perhaps most—of the streets still exist in one form or another, although some names have changed. However, it is a challenge to know definitively what existed in 1740.

Much of the architecture has changed, the function of buildings has changed (particularly with the separation of residential and business districts). The streets themselves have changed—every street has sidewalks and there is a consistent asphalt surface (except in the few areas where cobbles/setts remain).

The other challenge is knowing exactly when each street was built and when each subsequent change was made. One basic source for this information is maps and here I have two main sources:

If you want to see some of these maps of the London of my story, head to: locatinglondon.org. The 1746 edition (the edition selector is to the top-left of the map) shows the Rocque map with the streets at the time of the extract.

Words and Language

Another challenge is to try to use words that would have been in use in 1740 and which still make sense today.

A starting point for this is the Oxford English Dictionary, which will often suggest the origin of a word. Next stop is Shakespeare. If Shakespeare mentions a word, and it’s still around today, then it is was fairly likely to be around in 1740.

But perhaps the best source is Samuel Johnson’s dictionary which was published in 1755. And also useful is the Etymology Dictionary.

These sources will tell me not only if a word was in use, but if its understanding has changed, and also whether its spelling has changed. If there has been a change, then I’m back to contemplating what the reader will believe.

What Did London Look Like?

Clearly, in 1740 there were no cameras, so I can’t check out Flickr or YouTube to see London. However, there were many artists working in London. One in particular has been especially useful for me: William Hogarth.

Hogarth painted and engraved many scenes reflecting all levels of society including many images where he took a moral position (for instance, highlighting the effects of alcohol or the prevalence of prostitution).

With all these resources to hand, then I get writing.

Diplomatic Baggage

Diplomatic Baggage was the first Leathan Wilkey book that I wrote, but long before I wrote the book—literally years before I wrote the book—I had the notion of Leathan Wilkey as a character.

I had an idea of someone who was very human. A man who connected with people on a very human level.

But I wanted life to be tough for Leathan. I wanted him to be forcibly disconnected from everything we take for granted—a home, a relationship, credit cards, a bank account…even a phone number. Leathan is being chased and this is what forces him to live off the grid, making himself an unidentifiable and untraceable needle in a stack of needles in one of the most densely populated cities, Paris.

To survive while living off the grid, Leathan lives by something akin to bartering—he trades favors. And as someone who connects with people on a human basis, this kind of relationship works well for Leathan.

But by relying on human relationships, Leathan is making himself vulnerable. First, he is vulnerable to betrayal by someone he trusts. Second, he is vulnerable to leverage—those people who help him and who he cares for can be threatened or hurt in order to put pressure on Leathan.

And that is Leathan’s dilemma and his pain. He’s social. He’s gregarious. He wants to be with people, but the more he cares, the greater the pain he can bring.

While Diplomatic Baggage was the first book written, it is the second full-length novel in the Leathan series and marks the turning point in Leathan’s journey where he realizes—but doesn’t come to terms with—the consequences of how he has chosen to live his life.

If you haven’t read it, check it out today. 

And to Close

That’s it for this month. I’ll be back in November when I promise there will be no more surveys. However, I will let you know what everyone else said about Simon Says.

I can also assure you that there will be no further mention about the chapter from a future historical novel. Or rather, I have no intention of talking more about the chapter and historical matters, at the moment. However, if anyone has any questions or wants me to discuss anything, then I’ll be addressing those issues.

And if you do have any questions or want me to discuss anything—historical or otherwise—hit the reply button and let me know.

That summarizes what won’t be in Simon Says. If you want to know what will be included, you’ll just have to wait.

Until November.

All the best

Simon