Dear Bernard, I've noticed that many readers have sought your advice about researching their novels, and I've noted your answers. But where, in your opinion, should the line between historical fact and imagination lie? What can we make up, and what should we ensure is the truth? I think, if a writer struggles to find all the information he/she needs, there is no other option but to make it up. No?
And just another little niggle of mine: Have you ever thought about who fathered Richard Sharpe? Do you think it's something Sharpe himself would ever be concerned about? Thanks! Paul, County Cork.
Yes. And even if the historical novelist finds the truth, he or she might need to change it, because your primary job as a novelist is to tell a story, not be an historian. On the other hand I think you have to stay true to history, by which I mean faithful to the broad flow of events and to the outcome of whatever story you're telling. I suppose it's a fine line, but, for instance, in Sharpe's Company I have Sharpe succeeding in fighting through one of the breaches of Badajoz. No one did, and it was the feint attack on the castle walls which surprisingly succeeded, but for me the drama of the night was in the breaches, and so I changed history - but not the result of the siege. And imagination will fill in LOTS of gaps, if it doesn't then you're not writing a novel.
I know exactly who fathered him and I ain't saying. Does it bother him? It hasn't yet, but it might, and if it does then I'll let him find out . . . but so far it hasn't crossed his mind.