A friend recently recommended a series of books about a coroner set in Bristol Having just finished May We Be Forgiven – an absorbing but in some ways challenging read (check out the disparate reviews!) – it seemed a good moment for a straightforward crime thriller and so I popped down to the library and picked up The Coroner by M.R. Hall.
The opening is assured – woman starts new job, back story of mental breakdown and divorce, instant confilict with new assistant and we haven’t even got to a murder yet. So far so good. Her office is in Jamaica Street – yes, I know it well, just off Stokes Croft, a satisfying moment of recognition. Was there just last Saturday for a Bristol Lit Fest event. Hang on, according to the author Jamaica Street, is just off Whiteladies Road. Er, no, actually. Whiteladies is quite a way away. Well, it’s not the end of the world, I can might have forget this annoying glitch. But a few pages later the heroine ‘pops around the corner’ to Whiteladies to pick up a cofee and a pastry. I picture her jogging all the way ther and back. I’m completely distracted from the plot. I want to shout at the author. If you don’t know Bristol that well, don’t risk getting it wrong. Or for heaven’s sake just use Google Maps!
But who am I to cast teh first stone? Only a few months ago I was contacted by a reader who pointed out I had got my Fife bus routes wrong in A Kettle of Fish. It’s as if however detailed your research or sharp your memory there will be a reader out there who knows better. And once that error is spotted there may be no going back. I’m still reading The Coroner, but Jamaica street rankles, the bubble of the fictional world has been burst. How much of this story can I believe?
That’s why we owe it to ourselvs and our readers to do the very best we can with the matters of fact – or hand over to an editor who will cross-check every last detail. A reader interrupted might be a reader lost, and all we can do is to ask for their forgiveness.
For those who are interested and to show I am not without sin, here’s the story of my of my own fact-failure as printed in the Dundee Courier ( courier pdf file) earlier this year.