One Mistake is One Too Many – Check Your Facts

In my recent 1950s school memoir, I made a small mistake. But even one small mistake is one too many. This mistake involved a date only one person would notice. I wrote a year date incorrectly, giving one person longer at school than the average person. Most people wouldn’t pick up the error, but my brother did. He wasn’t impressed.

A quick phone call during the writing, to check with him when he left school, would have eliminated the error. I chose to think I could work it out for myself. That choice, while not too harmful, was a bad choice.

One thing I’m learning, as my writing turns more toward creative non-fiction, is the need to get my facts right. Simple phrases, while seeming to add my personal touch to the story, often need to be altered. For example, I recently started a sentence in my work in progress on the trees of my district, “Since the beginning of time ……”

Whoa! I can’t write that. How do I know the trees of the once magnificent forest had been there since the beginning of time? I don’t and neither does anyone else. The realisation enabled me to change the whole paragraph and, I believe, give me a far better piece of writing.

Writing creative non-fiction is a new venture for me and is proving a fascinating challenge. I can’t make anything up, but I’m enjoying telling a story my own way. I’m enjoying the research involved, even for such a short piece as 1000 words, such as the tree piece I’m working on.

At the moment I’m reading and researching more than I’m writing, all for the sake of 1000 words. This is definitely proving to be worthwhile. The facts need to be right. I’m not a historian. A reader out there is bound to have more expertise than I do.

The message then is to verify all the facts, make sure they are the truth. The way I’ll choose to write the story is slowly taking shape in my mind. But I need to remember, one mistake is one too many – I need to check my facts.

Trees Have Stories Too

How aware are you of the trees in your locality? I confess my knowledge is minimal. Trees grow, they exist for either beautification or to serve a specific purpose and some have existed longer than others.

Two things sparked my recent interest in trees. Firstly, faced with a writing challenge about Trees, I decided to look into the place of trees in the early settlement of my city, a city where trees hold a respected place. Then, a second discovery fed my fascination, a recent newspaper article about an arborist locating and recording details about notable trees in the district that need protecting. Some of these trees go a long way back in time.

With my limited knowledge of the history of my local area, I realise trees played an important part in development here from pre-European settlement days.  The original town site was built in a large clearing on an otherwise forested plain. Early literature, settler journals and local history publications describe the beauty of the forest, the trees and the bird song.

Whenever people choose to live in a previously undeveloped area, they need to build homes and create communities. In order to achieve this back in the late 19th century, trees were felled, houses and business premises were built and the town began to grow. The beautiful forest retreated and the townsfolk lived in a newly cleared environment where mud and dust reigned.

A quick search of an online site, Papers Past, provided fascinating reading. I didn’t expect much when I entered the keyword Trees for one of the local papers from the early 1900s. My astonishment at the wealth of information held me captive for more time than I intended as I located further information.

In the early 1900s, if not earlier, the locals demanded more of the developing town and a group of people formed the Beautification Society, a lobby group to encourage the local Council to plant and grow trees to make the town more appealing. From these early settler endeavours, over a century later our city takes pride in trees contributing to the local environment.

Local history started with a beautiful forest, became cleared and burned off land devoid of trees, back to the formation of a society to plant and beautify the surroundings. For my May writing group challenge I intend further researching the story of the Beautification Society of the past and attempt to record some of its story.

Also read the story of a New Zealand Tree and River, before the arrival of people: Kids Illustrate New Zealand Maori Legend