Nothing breaks the mood like a duff note – a glaring anachronism, a remark made in inappropriate slang, or the moment when your character’s eyes change mysteriously from blue to brown.
On the other hand, it’s important not to get too bogged down in verifying details when you’re writing. After all, it’s the story that counts, isn’t it?
Copy editing – which we’re doing now with The Bellini Card – is the proper time to address those niggles.
Is the name of the street spelled correctly? Do baby artichokes come into market before the asparagus?
Last week I even asked a fencing master round for tea, and we discussed the swordplay I’d written for the Contessa. It has been years since I fenced – sabre, not foil – but it turned out I’d got it almost right, except for calling octave optime; and he had a nice riff for me about a beat to the blade…
So The Bellini Card even has a fight co-ordinator!
On the question of slang, I gave some minor characters in The Janissary Tree Cockney accents. I wanted to show that they were working men and women who’d grown up on the city streets: Istanbul, of course, not London. I think it was the right choice – I’m writing in English, after all. Decide for yourself, maybe.
I just checked with a friend whether women were able to work as calligraphers in the Ottoman Empire, transcribing the Koran.
My answer arrived by email: a beautiful Hilya – a calligraphic portrayal of the Prophet – by an 18th century woman calligrapher, Esma Ibret.
Mostly, I’m writing to ask about maps. Having just finished “The Janissary Tree,” and now part way though “The Snake Stone,” I’m struck by the lack of any maps. As you suggest was the case in the nineteenth century, I find a surprising dearth of maps in this century as well, and I wonder if you could point me to something that would be appropriate as an accompaniment to your novels.
Like I said, I’ve gotten though a great deal without such an aide, so I suppose it isn’t really necessary, but it would be nice to have nonetheless. I say this especially since I made it through the entire first book without knowing what the Golden Horn was (or even that it was an estuary), so I think that much could be gained by including some graphic material, say on the endpapers.
More apropos for this particular post, I encountered just such a note as you describe (albeit this might just be my ignorance) when Yashim considered his Brazilian coffee, kept for when he made coffee at home (which was a rarity) and that he liked to just experience the aroma even when he did not actually prepare the coffee.
Three questions arise from this: 1) how long, with common materials of the era, could one expect to keep roasted beans “in a jar?” 2) wouldn’t people roast their own beans if they indeed were paying the expense to import such from Brazil? 3) why wouldn’t they prefer closer-to-home Yemeni or Ethiopian beans (as I do)?
Ancillary to this was the idea that he would spend “a silver piaster” on a cup of coffee (or maybe a couple) and an unspecified pastry. It may be correct, but it seemed incredible when I read it.
I have read all your books featuring Yashim with great pleasure. The next edition of The Bellini Card might benefit from the correction of a transcription error in the first line of chapter 4: Change “swizzle stick” to
“swagger stick.” Keep up the good work!
Thank you. Your correction struck me again out of the blue this morning, while I was writing a piece about family. What a howler! It makes me blush to think about it. At this remove I can’t remember if swizzle-stick was my mistake or, as you so generously suggest, a transcription error. A copy editor dreaming of cocktails?