I spent a good part of my Saturday night trying to find a train from London to Manchester in March 1903. Because that’s when (and where) my Holmesian pastiche is set, and that’s what I need – a train from London to Manchester, possibly a night train, for Doctor Watson to board in a hurry.
Now while on one tab in my browser I was researching the old timetables and taking notes, in another I was chatting with a friend that was telling me how he spent his Friday night researching early 20th century Serbian infantry artillery. Which led us to ask ourselves – why bother?
There’s tonnes of drivel out there, poorly researched rubbish in which Scotland Yard is closed after 5 pm and on weekends and other absurdities, books that still sell, and get shining reviews. Electric buzzers in Victorian London, ice planets with surface temperatures of a billion degrees below zero, revolvers with safety catches and Renaissance travelers that measure their distances in kilometers.
It’s a frigging circus.
So why bother when it’s obvious the larger part of the readers and the writers just plain don’t care?
But after sharing horror stories about trash research in popular stories, we admitted we can’t do it.
We need to check our facts before we write – or while we write – to get a sense of reality. Because out of 100 readers, it’s true, 99 will not care, but one will, and we are writing for that single reader that cares, too, and we owe him some respect and the best work we can do.
In the end, I found a copy of the 1906 Bradshaw Railway Handbook in the Internet archive. Three years off, but close enough.
And so Dr Watson will board the 12.20 from London St Pancras and be in Manchester Central the following morning, at 5.20. He could take a sleeper car, and he probably would, but I doubt his traveling companion would agree.
Which is good, because I’ve been unable to find a good enough image reference for sleeper cars at the time.
Incidentally, I thought it would take longer to cover the distance between London and Manchester at the time, and checking the timetables saved me from a mistake – in my original draft, the train left earlier and arrived later.
Once the story is out, of course, no one will notice, no one will care. The scene on the train at the moment is 480 words long – might stretch to 600 by the time the story is finished. About 8% of the total length of the story.
And yet, that snippet of timetable gives me a certain sense of security.
Now my story is anchored, so to speak, and writing the next 6000 words will be a breeze.