Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Historical Research -- Researching History

Breaking down history is kind of like breaking down an orange. First you peel away the outside, then the pith, then each section, and then you take the veins from the section. (What can I say, I like my oranges naked.)

For me, I chose to write about the Regency period. As a purist of the genre, my time frame covers the years between 1811 - 1820. When Prince George became Regent until he ascended the throne. To further pinpoint my time frame, my stories are set from March 1810 thru June of 1811. A mere 27 months. And although I'm writing a series, I'm writing an over-lapping series, so instead of my stories following each other, they overlap. More or less.

When I began writing, I thought this meant I would only needed to delve into a tiny piece of history. It didn't quite work out that way. As with all history, no matter where we start from, we need to research what happened BEFORE, to bring us to that point in time.

To make things easier on myself, I disregarded everything I couldn't do justice to, and kept it simple. There were so many things happening in England at the time. The Abolitionist Movement, Locomotives, Union Busting, Corn Laws, Luddites. All that in itself is overwhelming. I decided if it warranted my attention, and could play a part in my novels, I would research each separately for a book. But then, with so much information, how much could I possibly put in each novel?

There is a phrase -- Keep it Simple, Stupid -- to which I adhere. Yes, I do countless hours of research, (In THE LADY'S FATE, I spent almost a week researching the Royal Gardens, who tended them, Queen Charlotte and her favorite flowers, who belonged to the Royal Household and their titles, just to find out if Violet's father could have been a viable character. In the end, he only made a brief appearance at the end of the book and uttered two lines.) However, that research was invaluable and although most of it does not appear in the book, it lent itself to a more comprehensive storyline.

In ROMANCING LADY RYDER I cannot tell you how I studied the Napoleonic wars. Deciding to concentrate on Czar Alexander and the Russians and that small part of history seemed easier than to continue to have Remy/Greenleigh keep going to France to find Duclerc.

Now, I can tell you that Alexander did send an emissary to England. Whether it was actually Novosiltsov or not, I didn't get that far. I took literary license with the facts to create my "history". But, Novosiltsov was indeed the Czar's right hand man, the turquoise livery the servants wore, the paintings by Shibanov, the drink Ockhotnichnya created by the Russian boyarin for the Royal House, and the dialogue was all true. (Well, you really can't translate the Russian alphabet so I used a translator to put it all into the English alphabet.)

In the end, I thought the story was pretty good because of all the added research I did. (And yes, I know some of you wish the story had been longer. Truthfully, so did I, but I was on a deadline and well, that's what I ended up with. Maybe someday I'll release a longer version.)

Right now, I have 16 separate "folders" I have created in my Favorites Tab with titles ranging from Historical, Regency, France, Napoleonic Wars, India, Parliament, etc. Within these folders are articles I have found on the web. In my Regency folder alone there are 96 different articles ranging in topics to include -- dress, carriages, maps, Prince George, Debrett's Peerage, Covet Garden, Bow Street, etc. etc. In my Napoleonic file you can find articles that include -- ships, cavalry, regiments, battles, maps, etc. etc. not to mention the extensive listings of Napoleon himself.

I also have files I haven't put into folders and they're just hanging out on my sidebar. Maybe someday I'll get around to doing that. And all this doesn't even include the books I have on my shelves -- Webster's Biographical and Geographical Dictionaries (c) 1948 and 1943 respectively, A History of Barns, Primer of Navigation, Herbs and Medicinal Flowers, Harrod's Book of Fine Wines, the Complete Works of William Shakespeare, to name just a handful.

In the old days, back before there were computers, there was the library where most of us did our research. I remember countless hours poring over ancient volumes of encyclopedias, handwriting notes on legal pads, index cards with footnotes, files of paper folders cluttering up a small corner of my room.

Was it worth it? Is it worth it to waste so much time on research that you may never use? Absolutely. I've found readers appreciate the little things we place in our novels that might not make a difference if taken out of context. I had an acquaintance recently say to me, "My great-uncle used to tell us stories about the Russian boyarin when I was a child. It was so nice to see them regarded in your book."

So yes, every little bit of research you do helps.

Anne Gallagher (c) 2013


  1. I agree. Research pays off even if you cannot or won't include all the details in the text. The atmosphere just becomes that more authentic to the reader.

  2. Michael -- You're absolutely right -- it's the atmosphere we try to create that makes a book authentic. Thanks for stopping by.

  3. I've spent most of the last week bogged down in research too (everything from woodland flowers to moon phases), and it's great to be encouraged that it is all worthwhile.

    Sometimes I get a little fed up, wishing I was actually writing or editing instead, but the biggest pay-off for me is when research actually sparks a story idea.

    Keep up the good work Anne :-)

  4. Charlotte -- Research is great and you can never really do too much, however, you need to be able to stop.

    My plan is usually to do a "BIG" research -- meaning I immerse myself in the subject for however long it takes me to find the answers I need. Once I feel I'm pretty well versed in whatever I need, then I write.

    I always save links and pages in separate file just in case I have to go back. Nothing worse than losing information.


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