My current work in progress is a Young Adult novel set in Ireland; my old stomping ground of south Dublin, and north Wicklow.
I have the layout – the streets and hills – down so well that a reader could navigate by it; follow the footsteps, or cycle tracks, of the characters, smell the pine woods and take in the views of Dublin Bay.
But I’m writing a court scene at the moment, and I’m not so sure of my ground. I’ve never been in court in Ireland. I was on the jury of a Coroner’s Court in Dun Laoghaire in my late teens – a very interesting experience. But I don’t know the exact way prosecutions are conducted in Ireland; what the prosecutor is called, who comes to collect the witness from the waiting area (or where they even wait) and take them to the courtroom, if witnesses are allowed to talk before or after they give testimony.
Do the barristers wear gowns and wigs nowadays? I think they do, but does it really matter?
That’s my question.
Do I need to mention the wigs, the gowns, where everyone sits in and Irish courtroom?
Everyone has their own image of a courtroom, created from movies and television. Why should I mess with that by creating a new one?
Why look up the particulars and detail each part of Wicklow County Courthouse (as I assume it’s called)?
I’ve never been to Wicklow County Courthouse. I probably never will. So I can bet that 99.9999 etc. percent of my readers won’t, either. Half of them might never step foot in Wicklow (a big mistake – it really is the Garden of Ireland, so go book a flight today), so am I just wasting my time and effort and in fact, messing with the plot by even trying?
Is it better to invent a little?
I’m not against research – as a scientist it’s the bread and water of life.
Nor am I usually against accuracy. The days of the full moon in my werewolf novels all correspond to the actual dates in the calendar of the year the books are set. I made a mistake once and had to rewrite a chapter because what I had written couldn’t have taken place on the particular date (full moon clashing with state holidays).
In this case, though, I think vagueness and actual invention might serve the story better.
It’s a bit like when the priest says, “You may kiss the bride” at a wedding.
I’ve been to a few weddings, including my own. The priest doesn’t say that; at least not in a Catholic wedding. But if you were to describe a proper wedding, it would be serious and fairly boring (seriously, I’ve looked at my watch on all three occasions I was Best Man).
Similarly, I am not sure (though a quick email to friends in the know would clear it up) if a court summons is served by a policeman or just a civil servant – or by post. I don’t really want to know, though, because my story is best served (ha ha!) by a nondescript civil servant knocking on my heroine’s door.
But should I find out?
Should I bend the plot to the whims of the Irish Judicial system?
Or should poetic licence extend to prose?