2015 A to Z Challenge: G is for Guessing

A-ZChallenge2015So you’ve done your research, you’ve asked experts and still there are things you don’t know.

Why did Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) fall out with the Liddell family?
How did the cliff dwellers of Montezuma Castle manage their days?

You need to answer these questions, but no one knows the answers. What do you do? You make informed guesses based on the information you have been able to discover. And there’s nothing wrong with doing that, because this is fiction.

I asked Nancy Jardine, whom I interviewed here and who writes – amongst other genres – historical novels set in Celtic/Roman Britain, for one example of when she had to make an informed guess. This is her response:

I’ve had to do a fair bit of that in my Celtic Fervour Series, the reasons being that the only source materials for the times are Greek or Roman – and biased at that. The Celts left no written evidence at all – save what’s found on stone inscriptions. In Book 3 of the series, I have a large battle at a place named Beinn Na Ciche (Gaelic for a hill range that’s nine miles from my home). Bennachie, as it’s currently called on the map, is only one possible site earmarked by historians for a battle between Romans and Celts that the Roman historian Tacitus wrote about. The thing is that Tacitus may only have been attempting to make his father-in-law Agricola seem like a greater general than he really was. None of the other Scottish contender sites – for what was later named the Battle of Mons Graupius by early Victorians – have provided conclusive evidence. I made my ‘informed’ choice and decided that the topographical information given by Tacitus matched the landscape around Bennachie, but even more important for me was that in 2006 local archaeologists decided that the Romans had had some 30,000 soldiers in Durno – a marching camp opposite the fooothills of Bennachie. The number of soldiers (which is drawn from archaeological evidence and not written evidence) was sufficient for me to use the site in my novel. In fact most of what I’ve written as historical facts on Celtic life is drawn from purely archaeological sources and is therefore all interpretative.
Thank you for this, Nancy. It shows a lot about what a historical novelist has to do – research, decision-making and more – before starting to write.
Nancy also sent me this photo, which “was taken from near the Durno camp looking over to the hilltop named ‘The Mither Tap’ – the most distinctive part of Bennachie range.”

By Miriam Drori

Author, editor, attempter of this thing called life. Social anxiety warrior. Cultivating a Fuji, edition 3, a poignant, humorous and uplifting tale, published with Ocelot Press, January 2023.

14 replies on “2015 A to Z Challenge: G is for Guessing”

Hello Annalisa Crawford. I find it’s actually harder because there is such an element of doubt that seems to need to be repressed a lot! As I stated above, I make informed choices, write them into a novel and then when it comes to the edit stages I trawl the Archaeological internet sites- just in case some new archaeological evidence has provided another, possible scenario. I changed a couple of scenes in Book 2 of my Celtic Fervour Series because of new arch. evidence found in northern England (Brigante territory) which I thought made a lot more sense than the interpretative evidence of the 1970s. For the distant (unwritten )past this can happen a lot – which is probably why authors don’t often favour the eras, or they are authors who like to form very vague backgrounds to their novels and are somewhat less authentic in the process.

I have done a lot of these with my current WIP since my main historical character is an author, except a lot of his “works” are now contested as later fakes. I made choices to disregard some while I decided to keep others, because even if they are fake, they are very much in line with his confirmed work. That’s how the guessing game goes πŸ™‚

@TarkabarkaHolgy from
Multicolored Diary – Epics from A to Z
MopDog – 26 Ways to Die in Medieval Hungary

Hello! That sounds just a wee bit like the works of Tacitus, a main source for northern Roman Britain of first century AD. His work is slated now for being very biased, and politically hyped up to the extent it’s difficult to prove what, if anything, may be genuine.

The further back you go, the more you have to guess because there are gaps in the evidence. But you can have the opposite problem writing about the modern period because the source material is so extensive. When I wrote about early 20th-century Corsica, I had to make a fair few guesses about how people lived at the time, especially women, because I had trouble finding the facts. I daresay I got some things wrong, but hopefully not too far wrong.

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