Should I rewrite history to make it fit my novel?

Arthur or Martha? © Sara Campbell 2015
Arthur or Martha?
© Sara Campbell 2015

I’ve got a problem.

I’m writing a novel* that includes episodes set in London in 1975. I want one of my characters to go to a concert by Ravi Shankar and Yehudi Menuhin at Southwark Cathedral.  The concert actually took place – I was there, and I remember that it was very long and I was very uncomfortable on the cold stone floor.

Trouble is, that concert was in 1972, not 1975.

Or was it? According to a website that catalogues Ravi Shankar’s tours from 1964 to 2012, the maestro didn’t play any concerts in London at all in the seventies. But then I found a copy of the concert program for sale on Italian eBay, and it’s eerily there in black and purple – 1972.

Should I rewrite history? All my  instincts tell me ‘no’ – I was, after all an academic researcher for years of my life, and  fiddling with evidence was on a level with shoplifting.

Is that particular concert so important to the book? Well, yes, but I suppose there is some other emblematic event that I could replace it with.

I’ll keep you posted.

###

*The sequel to Cairo Mon Amour (to be published in London in 2017). The working title is Bury Me In Valletta.

Note on the portrait: I call this my querulous guinea pig picture, but somehow it acquired the title of Arthur or Martha?. For non-Australian readers, the origin of the phrase can be found here.

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9 thoughts on “Should I rewrite history to make it fit my novel?”

  1. My instinct is to always stick to historical facts, otherwise readers who know you are wrong lose faith in you as a writer. Does it have to be that concert? Can it be the 1975 IRA murder of Ross McWhirter, who invented invented the Guinness Book of Records, for example?

    Julia Steele M: 0405820524 E: juliaernasteele@gmail.com

    >

  2. Put it this way, Stu. Are you writing an historical treatise or a fictional novel? If that concert is important to your story, included it. You could always add a disclaimer to the Author’s note in the back of book matter.

    After all, history is written by the victor (or the survivor), right? Make of that what you will.

    I lived in London in 1975. Can barely remember a thing about it! Teehee.

  3. I always strive to be historically correct. I know it’s hard to pass up on an eye witness account, but you’re such a good writer, you can make some other event sound like you were there!

  4. This isn’t such a difficult one. I think if you hadn’t established for sure that the concert was in 1972, and you had it down in your story as in 1975, then you could have pleaded a typo or whatever. But now that you know for sure that it was in 1972, then you would be on shaky ground as you have no answer for those who gleefully point out that you have made and error.

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