Getting The Facts Right • Lynne Garner

My first traditionally published picture book
featuring a hedgehog and mouse
I started writing non-fiction 20 years ago and I continue to write non-fiction magazine features to this day.  I've always strived to write features that are as accurate as possible. Even though I know (I heard it on the TV programme QI, so it must be true) that facts normally have a shelf life of five years.

This desire to get facts correct crosses over into my picture book and short story writing. I've had many a discussion with editors on getting the 'facts' right. I understand in my picture and short story collections we're dealing with talking animals or creatures that don't exist. However, having studied environmental geography at university I prefer to try to ensure the life science elements of a story are as real as possible.

For example in my first picture book (A Book For Bramble) Bramble the hedgehog is hibernating under an upturned wheel barrow. This is based on real life. You see in between 'life' stuff I rescue hedgehogs (Herts Hogline) and two carers I work with lost the use of their wheelbarrow to hedgehogs hibernating under them. However I did have to concede to the editors decision that Bramble slept with his family. Typically hedgehogs hibernate on their own. I say typically because we've had  autumn hoglets in our care hibernate late in the season curled up beside their siblings, even though we provided a hibunacula each.

Harvey's BIG Sleep
This year I've worked on two books that feature a hedgehog as the main character. The first was a picture called 'Harveys Big Sleep' written as co-author with hypnotist Chris Caress. The second book (Hedgehog of Moon Meadow Farm) is a collection of re-told short stories obviously staring a hedgehog. It was important to me that although I was dealing with talking animals that I kept the stories as natural as possible and that the facts were correct. So in both books I have Harvey and Hedgehog eating the right food, only rambling at night and living on their own. 

I'm now working on a follow on collection of short stories (Fox of Moon Meadow Farm) that stars a Fox. As with my previous books it's important to me to keep to the facts as much as I can. So because I don't know anywhere near as much about our other wildlife (foxes, badgers, starlings etc.) I've had the pleasure in having to do some research (it's the geek in me, I love a bit of research). So I've researched a range of things including:

  • What times foxes are most active
  • When they have their cubs and what calls they make 
  • When leatherjackets (crane fly) are in season
  • How wild animals deal with parasites, mainly fleas
  • What starlings eat and their natural behaviour
  • When damson fruit come into season

Armed with this research I'm now working up the roughed out stories and I'm hoping by this time next month I'll have the first draft completed. As I've been writing this post I've been asking myself if I'm the only one who likes to keep to the facts or is that just 'so yesterday?' What with fake news appearing to be the thing to write at the moment.

So what do you prefer to write or read fact or fake?    


Now for a blatant plug:

Hedgehog of Moon Meadow Farm


Chris Longmuir said…
I know what you mean by research. Apart from finding it fascinating in the wider sense, it's often the little things that trip us up so I find myself obsessively checking facts. In one of my books I have a bear scene, but it's winter, so I found out through phone calls to the wildlife centre that houses the bears, that bears in captivity do not hibernate but they do become more sleepy. That suited me fine so I went ahead with the scene. Lovely post.
Lynne Garner said…
Chris - thanks that's something new I've learnt.
Fran B said…
I fell in love with research when working on my fourth (latest) novel. A lot of that was history and legend but I also found out about the wild flowers and plants in the area where it is set. I used this knowledge to sow references to relevant scents and sights. It's these little things that make a setting authentic.
Lynne Garner said…
Fran B - What a great idea. I'm always telling me students to include the 4 senses but I'll admit didn't even think of doing this for my last book. Will do in the next.

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