Friday, 11 November 2011

Never be Afraid to Ask

I’ve been writing seriously for almost ten years, and while I’ve learned a lot about style, grammar, character and plot development, etc., I was reminded today of one of the earliest lessons I learned—and which I’d been neglecting.  When I was just starting to write, I had the opportunity to speak with Norah McClintoch, a mystery writer for young adults.  I asked her if she had any advice for newby writers like me.  Her response: Never be afraid to ask.

As writers, we can be expected to know about “wordy” things; we can even be expected to look stuff up online, but sometimes that “stuff” is not available—or sometimes it just isn’t enough.  As a historical re-enactor, I’ve nitpicked enough historical fiction and called fellow authors out on anachronistic language or imagery (and had them reciprocate) to know that, sooner or later, someone with more knowledge than me is going to come along and question what I’ve written.  I’d like to keep the times when the questioner is right to a minimum. ;)

This past week, I spent three days researching Romano-Celtic swords for The Harper’s Word.  There’s remarkably little information on this topic online—a few forums for swordsmiths, who speak in their own technical language; a few vague articles mostly about the first century A.D.; and a handful of pictures—which, being blind, aren’t very useful to me.  This morning, I finally gave up.  There was nothing to find.

Then, I stumbled upon the website of a British swordsmith who makes historical weapons.  In the “In Stock” section, I found a Romano-Celtic sword; unfortunately, it was first century A.D. in style.  But the swordsmith creates weapons from a variety of time periods.  I thought, “What the heck?” and e-mailed him.

Within hours I had a response, a detailed description of the weapon I needed, and a way forward for The Harper’s Word.  Just think: if I’d done this three days ago, I’d have had the chapter finished already! :) That’ll teach me to ignore the foundational lessons …  

Maybe I should take the hint and start asking around at the Faculty of Medicine for details about the early curriculum.  This information is proving almost as elusive as the Romano-Celtic sword.  


  1. From what I understand medical education in North America in the 19th century wasn't very standardised, but perhaps the following might help. The first is an entry in Canadian enclyopedia on medical education in Canada in this period. Quite basic. The second is essentially a history of medical education at UPenn in the period, but it's the same discipline and their seems to be a lot of similarity between both pages, just more detail for the American one. There is also a year by year guide to classes taken. Interestingly a lot of students were simply sent off to Europe, especially Edinburgh (hint, hint!)

  2. Hi Zoe,

    Thanks for your help! This information was particularly useful. You can check out the results at

  3. Hi Zoe,

    Thanks for your help! This information was particularly useful. You can check out the results at