It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife… wait, that’s the wrong story. It is a truth definitely universally acknowledged that an author needs good reference books (or other sources). The author does not want to get things wrong, after all.

(Well, unless she’s writing an alternate universe where Things Happened Differently, but let’s shuffle that under the nearest doormat for the moment.)

And yet I have books on my shelf containing passages like the following:

The animal used most frequently in the arena was the legendary Libyan lion: the most magnificent specimens of this mutant species grew to eleven feet in length, with enormous paws armed with razorsharp claws of sabre-size dimensions; even their engorged testicles were as large as a man’s head. The Libyan lion was the ultimate killing machine, especially if deprived of its usual diet: in the wild, on the then-fertile terrain of the Ideban Marzuq, it could lay waste to two hundred wildebeests and ostriches in one sitting. Armies of slaves were expended in the capture of these majestic beasts – they were impervious to tranquillizer arrows […] The captured lions could be pacified by feeding them with almost-infinite quantities of Armenian brandy, the addictive qualities of which put them into near-comatose trances of gurgling tranquility and rendered them amenable to their long journey over the Mediterranean. But as soon as they reached the port of Ostia, at the mouth of the Tiber river, their intake of brandy would be abruptly ended, sending them into a state of ever-greater rampant fury which reached its pinnacle at the moment of their entrance into the arena.

Caligula: Divine Carnage, by Stephen Barber & Jeremy Reed

Now I entirely agree that there may be some slight doubt about the historical, and even biological, accuracy of this excerpt. I just quote it to support the point that just because a reference book is bad (bad to the bone, even) that doesn’t mean it can’t give the writer helpful ideas. As long as she realises that it’s inaccurate, it’s entirely up to her what she does with it.

I can only say that if my protagonists at some point run into an eleven-foot-long alcoholic lion, clearly they need to give it some Armenian brandy while dodging those tranquillizer arrows. I’m sure it’ll spice up their voyage across the Mediterranean.

 

 

 

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