A Mistake

Here’s the situation: Manchester, late 2021. You are by now a seasoned immigrant. You have mastered the English language to a satisfying degree, indeed you now try your hand at writing stories. There is the one that fascinates you, calls to you day and night, the well-known story of the madwoman in the attic. Not the way it entered the literature canon. That was a lie. You want to tell the real story, her story, because she has long deserved it. You have already written two pieces, a novella published on a fanfic site and a short story posted to your writing blog. You’re proud of the latter, you think it is rather good. You still want to write more, it never ends. One day, a new idea comes to you, and you can’t stop thinking about it. What if you wrote it, what if you really did? It will need research. So you start your research. If you’re going to disrespect such a fine classic of English literature, at least get the facts right. You decide to place the story in the year 1836. You base this on the character of Sir George Lynn, who is an MP for the town of Millcote. Millcote is Leeds in real life and Leeds didn’t have a parliamentary representation until 1932. Their first two MPs were Whigs, and you think, no way Sir George is anything other than a Conservative. In the 1835 election, the electorate of Leeds voted in one Conservative and one Whig. You therefore set your story in the year after (and it still makes it before Queen Victoria ascended the throne). So you have the time and the place—the city of Leeds, and you have the characters, all that remains is to write it.

And this, this is the most difficult thing, what with having to stick to the canon of the novel and your idea. The premise is: two ladies meeting up for tea and gossip. You title your story Spill The Tea, combining the modern slang for gossiping and the actual beverage drank by the ladies. The two ladies are the very minor character of Lady Lynn and the much hated character of Blanche Ingram, whose name you translate to its Italian version of Bianca, because you like it better. You christen Lady Lynn Margaret—a good, solid classic name, appropriate to the era. And you write.

The story keeps you up till small hours, weekends and weekdays. You don’t get a good night’s sleep for almost two months. You can’t help it, your brain works best at night. It’s worth the zombie-like state of the following working day. You have a permanent fatigue anyway.

Finally, the story is finished, done, polished. You publish it to your blog, all is good. It’s out of your system, you can now think of other things. New stories, different ones. The muses don’t strike often, but when they do, they strike well.

Months pass. You don’t think about Spill The Tea anymore. Until you realise that, despite all the hard work, all the nights you stayed up late typing at your laptop, despite all that smugness you felt about doing the research, you made a basic stupid fucking mistake.

You kept referring to the character as Lady Margaret. When you should have referred to her as Lady Lynn.

*

Yeah, that was me. All I can do is put my hands up, my bad. It was when I was listening to Oscar Wilde’s plays on Audible that it hit me. I mean, it’s right there in the title. Lady Windermere’s Fan. A woman married to Sir George Lynn would be Lady Lynn. Lady Margaret would be a daughter of a lord. I was under the impression that the first name and surname could be used interchangeably. Probably the influence of Game of Thrones, where they do so, though that’s a fictional universe, but I think it’s used that way in some Agatha Christie books. I just didn’t think it mattered. I prefer using first names for my characters.

I’m not going to change it now, but it was important to me to acknowledge this mistake. I own it. I will get better. I can’t even justify an in-universe explanation, with only the narrator calling the lady by her first name, as at one point Bianca calls her that too. She could be a lady by birth too, after all, Sir John Beckett, who was MP for Leeds between 1835-1837 was married to Lady Anne Lowther, whose father was an earl. Still it would probably change once she got married.

I thought myself so clever for writing this story and now you see, my bubble was burst. But I have learned from this experience and that is, to me, the most important part.


Author’s Note: Here’s the offending Spill The Tea. My other story mentioned above, The Silver Candlestick, written from the “mad” wife’s POV, covers her early time in the attic. It is quite possible more fanfics will be published here in the future–as you can see, I feel quite strongly about Jane Eyre.