3. Creative Writing: Using open resources

(You can download this video from Media Hopper Create.)

Do writers have to consider the legal side of things when writing fiction?

One of the most important things to consider is defamation. Although writers are creating a work of fiction, it is still possible to defame someone in the fictional world. When writing historical fiction it is less of an issue, especially if you set your novel in the distant past, as it is not possible to defame a dead person. However, if writing in the modern day it is important not to unintentionally defame a living person in your story.

Defamation – this means damaging someone’s reputation through your actions. It is also known as slander or libel.

What about licenses, do they affect the work you do?

Licenses do affect the finished work. For instance a writer might want to include photographs or images from the time period, or maps that show the layout of streets of a particular town. In these cases it is really important to check who owns the copyright on these and to secure an appropriate licence. This is normally the work of a publisher, but sometimes the novelist or author may be involved in the process. One way that publisher’s work around these issues is to get an illustrator to draw a new map or image based on historical images.

Is it realistic to get open access to all your resources or do you have to pay for access to some?

An important piece of research for Hare was based on the Scotsman archive, which held interesting resources about the time when Burke was on trial and his execution. While Peter was carrying out the research those newspaper cuttings were available for free online as part of a promotion for the Scotsman archive. Now those newspaper cuttings are behind a pay wall.  So they are no longer open access.

A lot of the freely available resources relating to Burke and Hare are very general and only skim the surface.  Although he accessed the initial pieces of work relating to the trial and execution for free, when it came to finding connecting pieces, the searches were free, but access to the digitised versions of the articles was paid for. So when it came to looking for detailed information the only option was to pay for it. Paid for resources included newspaper articles, but also books written by historians.

What other online material was particularly useful in your research?

While the early scenes of the book were based in Edinburgh, the later scenes were based in Boston. As Peter had never visited Boston, online material – especially maps and images – became an essential part of building up the colour and atmosphere, the sights, the sounds and the smells of Boston during the American Civil War.

Activity: I still can’t get access to the information I need!

Take notes as you work through this activity, journaling what you find and how it might affect the story, build atmosphere, or develop the characters in the story idea.

Part 1: Use widgets to find free and open access alternatives to your resources

Watch the video “Digital Literacy for Beginners, with Charlie Farley at the University of Edinburgh, Video Demo 2”. In this video Charlie shows you how to use some widgets to help you find free and open resource alternatives to the restricted licenses that you might find on some scholarly works.

Develop the search that you did earlier on the Scottish distilling industry (Part 2), or your for your own story idea, to specifically search for free and open resource alternatives to any restricted resources that you found.

Part 2: Get access to subscription resources via local libraries

Unfortunately, there may be resources we want that cannot be easily accessed online as they are behind a pay wall. One solution is to join a library that subscribes to some of these difficult to access resources. To get access to some of these, you may need to visit the library premises. However, others that have been digitised, will be available online when you become a member.

In Scotland, The National Library of Scotland (NLS) aggregates a number of university resources including resources from The University of Edinburgh. Where these are not open and freely available they may be available if you visit the premises or via their online services once you become a member.

NLS subscribes to a number of newspaper resources that may have the more detailed information you need for Peter’s search challenge. https://www.nls.uk/collections/newspapers

Explore the NLS collections, to see if it has any interesting and useful resources that could help build up atmosphere https://www.nls.uk/collections/

Find out what interesting and useful information NLS has in its online digital resources, or eResources (i.e. licensed digital collections). https://www.nls.uk/digital-resources

You can register for remote access to the National Library of Scotland if you have a residential address in Scotland. Once you have become a member you will get remote access to a range of subscribed for online digital resources. Find out how to join the National Library of Scotland, or another library near you. https://www.nls.uk/using-the-library/library-cards