I basically refuse to look at the photos, the video, the aftermath of that fire. As a much smaller person, I visited the Catholic cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris. I can't really remember what it was like inside, but I do have a very vivid memory of being impressed by the rose windows. I've visited Paris again since, including one rather memorable (better: 'notable'; 'memorable' definitely gets one aspect of that weekend wrong) visit which, through a series of predictable-but-not-entirely-my-fault circumstances involved me trying to negotiate my way into my own hotel room to retrieve my mobile phone, to discover something in the range of sixty calls and text messages. I opened in French. The bloke on the counter did not let me get far massacring his language, and somehow I managed to get in, get my phone, establish that the person I had told to wait for me was so enraptured with his ice-cream that he wasn't even aware I had spoken to him, and catch up with them in the Tuileries. Of a very different era but equally iconic, I suppose, I went up one of the World Trade Towers a couple of years before they were destroyed by terrorists. The significance of my visits has been increased by subsequent events.
That palace, the Tuileries, was destroyed by fire in 1871 (yes, I did have to look that up and check). It's hard at this remove to imagine the gardens in their original state, with the enormous building no longer there. In a similar vein, the St Paul's I write about in These Matters is not the one that we are now familiar with, and I occasionally find myself having to look up paintings or checking details online. That drive for historical accuracy is fuelled in part by the very ease of access to information. If I can look it up, so can my readers. And if they're picking up a historical novel, the chances are high that they will have some investment in it being accurate or at the very least consistent with the real history. That places a high demand on me as a writer, because, unlike Dumas, I can't so easily bend timelines or places to suit my narrative.
What I have been concentrating on in book IV is the sense of truth-to-life of the characters, in terms of what their lives were (and, inevitably, the influence of religion in their day-to-day existence as well as on the big events) and how they react to events. Things that I didn't know about them have come out, situations that weren't there in the original plan. In a way, that's part of the fun, to channel these imagined people into existence. Even the historical characters reveal things about themselves through this process, although that is where any claim to strict authenticity has to fail. Strelley and Elizabeth is a sort of theory, a candidate explanation for how she was later in her life. But it cannot be the real truth, except by an astronomically unlikely accident of chance. As a writer, I suppose the goal is to write something 'true' in a very different sense, believable and authentic, regardless of strict accuracy. Mary Stuart did not have a Hallamshire gamekeeper for a guardian in her early childhood, but it makes a good story. I wonder what Pike will make of Notre-Dame...
Most of this post was written on a mobile phone. Dodgy spelling or otherwise nonsense to be blamed thereon!
When to the sessions of sweet silent thought