There’s a good piece by Hilary Mantel on writing fiction. Interesting stuff on page versus screen revising, but I don’t understand this bit about research:
My most shaming moment as a writer came when a novel was about to go to press and I realised I had sent my characters on the wrong rail route between Norfolk and London. I caught the pages just in time. I think of the letters I would have got. Years later, they’d still have been steaming in. I’d have had to strike back and say, well, there you are, if you want a railway timetable, don’t consult a novelist. But my heart wouldn’t have been in it. I’d have known I was at fault. I’d still be waking up in the night, more than 10 years on, and wondering what on earth possessed me to send them via Ely.
Isn’t this a bit neurotic? I think that in historical fiction, the details matter – George Pelecanos has said that ‘I’m obsessed to the point where if I have a character walking down the street in April 1968 and there’s something playing in the movie theatre, you can believe the movie was playing that week.’
But general fiction? I think it’s important for a story to have a strong sense of place, whether it is set in London, Borneo or Mid-World. A lot of writers attempt to make their work timeless by avoiding that sense of place, but this almost always result in watery, transparent prose.
But Mantel goes to the other extreme: there’s no need to recreate the world as it is, down to the atom – that is reportage, not writing. The Manchester I write about will be the Manchester of my head, not the city as it exists: your interpretations of the world will always be different, and the degrees will lend colour and life to contemporary fiction.