Tuesday, March 21, 2017

History in Conflict by Katherine Pym

Pillars of Avalon due for Release July 1, 2017

My story is of David and Sara Kirke, 17th century plantation owners in what is now Newfoundland & Labrador. David was a wealthy London wine merchant who had branched into the fishery business off the coast of NE Canada. The story is really about Sara, an amazing woman who is considered the foremost North American female entrepreneur, but the historical data surrounds David. I could not ignore him. 

If you do much research, you’ll find discrepancies and downright errors. Since nonfiction authors show resources and say they are historians, the reader trusts the work. I’ve discovered some historical facts are in the eye of the beholder, and his/her ego. 

One source loved his subject matter so much, he had David Kirke die in Newfoundland and not in London like the other sources state. The Newfoundland soil is rocky and gravely. It moves, so the burial marker must have rolled down a hill or something. Kirke’s gravesite is now unknown.
Well, we may not know where David Kirke was buried (most likely under the floor of a London church, destroyed during the fire of 1666), but you have to go with the flow of other historical sources. David Kirke was not buried in Newfoundland. Local legend states Sara Kirke was buried near Ferryland, but the location is unknown. 

‘What is considered fiction when you write of a real person?’ I’ve been asked. Well, if you put words into their mouths that were not documented, that makes a piece fictional. If you give a character something significant to do, like help win a battle when he may never have been there, and it wasn’t recorded, that’s also fiction. 

I found several pieces of data on the Kirkes that have come down through the ages. Some conflict with each other. Some have data that has been written down verbatim from another document, and that original document seems to be in error. 

So, whaddya do?

I work to garner facts that repeat themselves over the spectrum of resources. When I come up with data duplicates I use that particular historical slant, even if I dislike it. 

In Pillars of Avalon, my Canadian partner, Jude Pittman, and I have had to research almost every sentence which takes an amazing amount of time. For instance, even as David Kirke is a London merchant, he was knighted in Innerwick, Scotland. 

Why is that, you ask? Well, I didn’t know, either. And where is Innerwick? 

All the texts I found stated Anderweek or Anderwick. Jude found Innerwick, not far from Edinburgh, Scotland. King Charles I was crowned King of Scotland in Holyrood (Edinburgh) June of 1633, which took David to Innerwick. 

While there, I had David explore the land. I found out the area is known for its fisheries and at this time, Newfoundland was well known for its cod fisheries. I have the data for what fish species are in NL but not along the coast of Scotland near Innerwick, so I had to dig deeper. What fish species did the fishermen hunt and what did they do with their product? To whom did they sell it? For less than a chapter’s worth of story, this particular research took several days. 

I can see why the big-bucks-historical-fiction-authors have a team of researchers at their disposal, but one must trust their team. Jude and I have only ourselves to rely on and I’m very glad I can trust her. 

Once a book is published, that’s pretty much it. The effort of removing a book from publication then fixing errors is not conducive to sales. Readers get confused. They no longer trust the authors’ works. 

You have to get your history correct the first time.


  1. Enjoyed your post, and I've enjoyed reading your chapters.

  2. I love doing research but you're right - it invariably takes longer than the actual writing! The more I learn of Canada's history, the more I enjoy it.

  3. It's truly fascinating, and a gem too long dismissed.