Authenticity - Knowing What You Don't Know

Ellisland Farm near Dumfries

I've just finished an otherwise very good novel - a middle novel of a long, well reviewed series, and one I've enjoyed very much. I've loved the whole series. But right in the middle, something happened that pulled me right out of what my English lecturers, all those years ago, used to call a 'willing suspension of disbelief.' 

The novel, quite unexpectedly, shifted from its wonderful Canadian setting to Dumfries in Scotland, a town that happens to be less than a couple of hours drive from my house - a place I know well, and an area I have visited often. 

And that's when it happened. Within a few short pages, the author suddenly got everything wrong. A policeman talks about wanting a 'bacon butty' when in this part of the world he would almost certainly want a 'bacon roll'.  That probably wouldn't have bothered me, but there was a lot of business with somebody shooting hares that then turned out to be rabbits. I'm still not sure which the author meant, since the words seemed to be used interchangeably, but nobody in this rural part of the world ever confuses the two. There are lots of rabbits in our countryside (and they're not very welcome in our gardens!) but fewer hares. Hares are a completely different animal. Magical creatures. We know which is which. These are hares and they are in decline. They're not rabbits. 

Two snippets of conversation followed. And - aaargh - one of the Scottish characters talks about 'fall' when he means 'autumn' and although we're well aware what fall is, we would never use it. Finally, one of them uses a country specific (I assume) expression of sympathy -  'poor ones' - which I've never heard anyone say here, although we might well say 'poor souls'. 

All of these, within a few short pages, pulled this reader so far out of the story that it took a longish time to get back. And I've decided to take a break from the series and try something else, although I'll probably go back at some point. 

I'm not posting this to carp. (Well, I am a bit.) And I'm sure I've made similar mistakes because we all do. I'm not even blaming the writer. But this is definitely something an editor should have picked up on. This is, after all, a multi million selling author. Didn't it never occur to her publisher to check out the passages set in Scotland for authenticity? Or did they think it didn't matter?  

At a time when the industry in which we work has sensitivity readers, it seems like a no-brainer when a writer is moving beyond their comfort zone to check for authenticity. 


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