Putting together a historical novel can be tricky. For my current project, I needed my heroine, Marsali Campbell, to be at Cawdor Castle in Scotland when the Battle of Culloden occurs. She’s an orphan, and I didn’t want her to be a servant at the castle. I needed her to be associated with the household but of sufficient status to have some free time later in the story and for her to be eligible for courtship. I started the research months ago. It turned out that the English Field Marshall (the guy who issued the Duke of Cumberland’s orders during the battle) was John Campbell, who would later become the 5th Duke of Argyll, so I made John and Marsali cousins. Further research showed that John was married, and that he and his wife had five children in addition to the three his wife had from her first marriage. The child who made the story gel was her son, James. I was going to have him run off to fight with John, and according to my math, he was 9 years old at the time. Perfect! They have kids, so they’ll need a nanny.
This is where the bad math comes in. Apparently, I had number dyslexia that day. The Battle of Culloden was on April 15, 1746. In my head, it must have been 1764 because James was born in 1755. The Duchess of Argyll didn’t marry her first husband until 1752, six years after the battle. Of course, I realized my mistake this morning, 1,100 words into the story. I almost decided to fudge the dates and admit to it in the Author’s Notes. Then I realized that some people read historical novels and assume that they are correct. The time error seemed too great to fudge it. (Yes, in this case there is such a thing as too much fudge.)
It took a bit of fancy footwork and a little more research to get back on track. Apparently, the Field Marshall had three siblings about whom nothing is known. The site I used listed them as Unknown. This is an area I can exploit. I took one of those slots and made a sister for John. Then I gave her a husband and some children and, upon further reflection, made Marsali her companion instead of the nanny. That will free up more time for her later on. She’s going to need it.
In the long run, I think it’s better this way. I’m not writing about real people anymore, with the exception of a couple of cameos with John. I might have a later cameo with the Duke of Cumberland, but I’m not clear on that yet. The best part is that it doesn’t mess up any of the scenes I have planned. And, as Eric pointed out, it’s better to have discovered this mistake today instead of on November 30. Or worse, when an editor fact checks my story. That would be embarrassing.
So that’s how NaNo has started for me. I hope those of you playing along had a less exciting start than I did!