One of the main concerns of a historical novelist is making sure that our sources are reliable. If I have plenty of time, there’s nothing I like more than hiding away in the library and reading old books and newspapers which are – allowing for editing preferences at the time – as reliable as it gets. (At least, you can say reliably that this is what people were told – whether it was true or not, that requires further investigation and corroboration.) But for a quick and dirty check – what was Napoleon doing in 1827? what was Waterloo Bridge called before the battle? – there’s nothing to beat Wikipedia. Of course, its big danger is that anyone can edit it. But as I thought that, I suddenly realised that anyone can edit it. Including me!
The chances of my getting a piece of information inserted into a paper encyclopaedia are vanishingly slim, but with Wikipedia, all you have to do is register and then get editing. So far I have put references to the three Sam novels on the Wikipedia entries for Henry Fauntleroy (hero/villain of “Fatal Forgery”), James Harmer (campaigning lawyer who appears in all three) and Great Marlborough Street Magistrates’ Court (Sam’s place of work). All I have done is mention them: I haven’t yet explored how to add a new page to Wikipedia, so that I could link – for instance – to a whole page about “The Man in the Canary Waistcoat”, or myself (gruesome thought), or Martha Plank. (She’d like that; she’d pretend not to, but she would.) I’m giddy with power, I tell you – giddy!