Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Book Review: The 33 Worst Mistakes Writers Make About The Celts

There’s a plethora of how-to ebooks on writing these days, and one of the more interesting series is Writer’s Rescue. Each volume describes the “33 Worst Mistakes” made by writers on particular subjects such as horses, firearms, courtroom law, and many others. I recently had the chance to read a review copy of Lisa Lawler’s The 33 Worst Mistakes Writers Make About The Celts. Being a fan of the Celts and a stickler for historical accuracy, I was prepared to like this book.

What I found was a mixed bag. My main objection was the price—nine dollars for 38 large print pages is simply taking the piss, especially when five of those pages are taken up with front and end matter like the title page, dedication, and about the author. This is not a flaw with this title in particular; many “how-to” ebooks are too short for their price tags, but it’s annoying nonetheless. My second objection was that Ms. Lawler has no academic training or publication history related to Celtic Studies.

This second objection faded quickly as I started reading. While Ms. Lawler is an amateur, she is an educated one. Her writing is clear, concise, accurate, and explodes many myths that have been accumulating around this fascinating people since ancient times. My personal favorite is a skewering of the claim that the modern invention of Wicca is a survival of the Celtic religion, which is sure to bring on more than a few ineffectual curses upon Ms. Lawler’s head.

One minor quibble was that The Book of Invasions is cited without the caveat that it’s as much mythology and folklore as it is history. It’s debatable whether there were really such peoples as the Partholonians, Fomorii, Nemedians, and Fir Bolg, but the text doesn’t go into the myriad of competing theories around their possible origins. This is one of the many instances where more detail is needed.

While this book will help writers who want to set their novels in the Celtic world, even a moderate amount of time reading good history books will clear up most misconceptions, and if someone can’t do that amount of research, or thinks the Druids came from Atlantis and built Stonehenge, they probably aren’t going to get published anyway. On second thought, they probably will, so this book may help.

One nice touch is that she gives a link to her blog and encourages people to ask her questions, basically giving tech support for the writer. You won't get this from Writer's Digest books!

I give this two stars out of five. For writers who truly don’t know where to start their research, this book would be a good primer, but anyone who knows how to do historical research, as Ms. Lawler obviously does, will not need this overpriced introductory course.

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