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Historical Research And Accuracy In Historical Novels, by Tim Willocks

All that research. Years of it.

What’s the point? How much does it matter? Who cares? Who even notices?

Much more often than not, those who appear to notice or care (they looked it up on Wikipedia, but not in the Bibliotheque Nationale) are wrong.

Personally, as a reader or viewer, I really don’t mind pure fantasies of the past. If anything, the purer the better. I love The Iliad and Richard III. I was actually quite upset to discover that Blood Meridian was precisely based on real events: up until then I had I been in awe of McCarthy’s imagination. I think it’s great that Shakespeare made most of it up. The fact that in La Reine Margot both Isabelle Adjani (39) and Daniel Auteuil (44) played historical characters who were less than half their own ages did not undermine my enjoyment in the least; and since Dumas’s magnificent story is absolute tripe in terms of historical accuracy, there was no point in letting it do so.

The truth is that it is simply not possible to create an accurate portrait of the past. No one can faithfully reproduce the reality of the 1970s, let alone the 1570s. Speaking for myself, I couldn’t recreate last week. If one is rash enough convey the fact that there were no sewers in 1570s Paris, which meant that the streets were asphalted in excrement, readers and reviewers complain about the smell. Just about every great historical fiction ever created, from The Iliad to War and Peace, would fail as an essay from a History undergraduate. Charlton Heston’s Moses – or Michelangelo – is essentially just as good as anyone else’s, in historical terms. All that matters is that the fictional work in question achieve what we hope for from any good art. Since when was art in any form supposed to be ‘accurate’ in such a depressingly pedestrian sense?

So why, I ask myself, have I spent years of grinding toil on research that is, in essence, irrelevant? More to the point, as I contemplate doing it again, can I avoid it? Can I throw wide my window and scream: “I’m not going to take it anymore!”

Re-enter, once again, the truly great Charlton Heston.

Would many historical novelists of a certain age be writing historical novels if not for him? For what it’s worth, I don’t care that he waved a Kentucky rifle at NRA meetings; it’s a small price to pay for Chrysagon and Major Dundee.

I once met Gore Vidal, whose ‘Lincoln’ provoked a fantastically funny (and lengthy) exchange of letters in the NYRB, in which he blithely humiliated a squadron of bleating historians (well worth Googling). Imagine Gore’s horror when, some years after the novel was published, convincing evidence emerged to the effect that Lincoln was bisexual, and wasn’t too careful about concealing the fact. Anyway, Gore told us a story – I suspect one of his party pieces – about working on the script of Ben Hur. One day at Cinecitta he saw an art director who was dressing the set for a feasting scene by putting a bowl of tomatoes on the table. “So I asked if Mrs. Hur was planning to make Ben a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich.” His point being, of course, that tomatoes came from the New World and didn’t exist in Palestine in 30AD. (Apologies, but ‘CE’ holds no grandeur for me).

This story has haunted me ever since. Did they eat potatoes in Malta in 1565? It’s cutting it fine, I know, but not impossible – and would Gore Vidal review my book and humiliate me as he did the professors from Yale?

Thus at a certain moment I found myself wondering if there was a chiming clock in Paris in 1572, because it would be very useful, plot-wise, for my hero to hear it. After some hours of research I discovered that not only did the clock of the Conciergerie chime, it was in the perfect location to be heard at the moment I needed it. I wrote the scenes. The chimes worked marvellously. A month later I discovered that the chimes were not installed in said clock until 1573, under Henri III. Do I take the chimes out of the novel and re-write three chapters? Is there a single living soul among the few who will ever read the book that will know this exceedingly obscure fact? If they do, will they forgive me?

Gore’s tomato story returned to haunt me, along with the ghost of Charlton Heston and his BLT. I took the chimes out. I struggled to find a way for the hero to see the clock instead of hear it. A convenient gap – a wharf? – between the buildings crowding the right bank of the Seine? Knock the buildings down? (Who would know that they were ever there, except the odd art historian who might remember the paintings thereof?) Have him climb on the roof?

I rewrote it. But should I have? You multiply that kind of problem by at least a hundred time per novel and it becomes a recipe for insanity. Or at least for the urge to write a novel about last week.

Any advice would be welcome.

The illusion of historical ‘realism’, and the whole question of ‘history’ itself as a vast and shifting work of fiction/propaganda, are topics that will have to await future posts.


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Writing Historical Novels


Researching The Trojan War For My Novels, by Glyn Iliffe

Research is all about getting a feel for the period, place and people you are writing about. Get the research right and not only will you convince your reader they’re in Byzantine Rome, Napoleonic France or the middle of the Korean War, you’ll convince yourself. As a writer, there are few feelings more uncomfortable than writing out of your depth, so having confidence in the characters and scenes you’re creating is essential.

It helps, when choosing the period you want to write about, to have a passion for it. This makes researching it a joy rather than a chore. If you love Jacobean Scotland reading about it will be easy and you’ll hoover up the facts; if you don’t, it’ll be hard work and the little details won’t stick. It’ll show in your writing. That isn’t to say you can only write about eras you’re familiar with. A basic fascination with history should be enough to drive research for a book about the past.

There’s also the old adage write what you know. If you intend to pen a novel set during a specific period in history, having a baseline to build on will serve you well. This can be a simple interest fuelled by years of reading around the subject. Such interests are often sparked in childhood, perhaps from listening to granddad’s war stories or watching films on TV. My love of the ancient world started with Jason and the Argonauts and Spartacus, and re-enacting the battles with my Airfix Romans.

The single greatest advantage I had in writing books about the Trojan War was studying Classics at university. Being steeped in a topic for three years is invaluable. You feed off the knowledge of others – from lectures, seminars, books and commentaries – and are surrounded by people who share your passion. All that exposure to a single topic gives you more than just head knowledge. It leaves you with an instinct for your subject. The same deep appreciation is gained by those in re-enacting societies or other historical focus groups.

Whether you have a deep knowledge of the period you want to write about, or just plenty of enthusiasm for a new era in history, you’ll need to establish that feel for period, place and people that I mentioned at the start. When I planned my series of books on the Trojan War, as seen through the experiences of Odysseus, I had already studied Homer and Greek mythology in detail at university. So, from the perspective of retelling the Trojan myths in a single narrative, I re-read many of the texts I was familiar with and tried to come up with ways of bringing the disparate sources together. I also looked at modern summaries of the legends – Robert Graves’s Greek Myths was particularly useful for this – to give me an overview.

This helped me to form the structure of the story and plan all six books in the series. Next came my research about the Bronze Age itself. This was not something I had studied in detail as part of my degree course, so the first thing I did was to look for books that would provide a good historical outline of the period. The best was Michael Wood’s In Search of the Trojan War: a well-written, readily digestible introduction to the available information about the era. From here I was able to follow threads into specific areas of importance for the story I wanted to tell, such as details about sailing, agriculture, religious practice etc.

One point of note here is my reliance on books, rather than the internet, for research. Personally, I think that taking the time to read a book pays dividends in increasing your understanding of a subject or period. This is because books form structured arguments that explore topics in depth, usually backing themselves up with references and evidence. Internet research, on the other hand, frequently involves a trawl of different sources, sometimes with conflicting viewpoints and often based on conjecture or personal opinion. Where the internet comes up trumps, I find, is when topping up research that has already been carried out – a quick fact here and there, useful images or just for refreshing something half-forgotten.

Another important – and enjoyable – aspect of research is to travel to the places you are writing about. This isn’t always an affordable luxury, but I think a book benefits hugely if the writer has visited the place he or she is depicting. Although I have taken a few liberties with my depictions of Ithaca, Delphi and the Peloponnese (based partly on the fact they would have looked different three thousand years ago), having been there, smelled the air, felt the warm wind on my cheek and seen the sun setting over the mountains is something that has helped me to fix those places in my imagination.

Finally, despite advocating the benefits of research, there are a few get-out clauses when writing about the Trojan War. The first is mentioned above, namely that the physical geography of places is very different now to then. Second is that historical facts about the Bronze Age are still limited, in spite of the achievements of archaeologists in recent years, so you’re not writing in a strait jacket – there’s room for a bit of imagination. Another is that what we know about the Trojan War comes from myth, which by its nature goes against the factual approaches of history and archaeology. The most celebrated source of these myths is Homer, who is known for being a mismatch of different eras. So if a Classical era temple suits your needs more than a Bronze Age cave, then you can always say you’re just being “Homeric”!


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Writing Historical Novels

Using Catherine The Great’s Memoirs When Researching My Novel ‘The Winter Palace’, by Eva Stachniak

For a writer of historical fiction, period memoirs promise to be the ultimate primary source, a treasure trove of inspiration for a novel’s scenes and the language in which those scenes are couched. But memoirs are not always entirely reliable and need to be read with caution. It may be that what they do not mention is far more important than what they do. The Memoirs of Catherine the Great provide an illuminating example.

Catherine the Great started writing her memoirs a few times in her life, but none of these attempts were ever finished. The longest attempt and her final one – abandoned in 1794, two years before her death – begins with the following sentence: “Fortune is not as blind as people imagine. It is often the result of a long series of precise and well-chosen steps that precede events and are not perceived by the common herd….” To a careful reader, it quickly becomes quite clear that the memoirs themselves constitute one of these well-chosen steps. For what Catherine is giving us is not an act of confession – so popular in the 18th  century – but a carefully woven story produced by a savvy politician who knows what she wants.

I’ve read and re-read these memoirs many times in the course of doing research for my own novel and, every time I reach for them, I’m awed by the perfect pitch of Catherine’s reasoning and her guiding objectives. Her writing is lucid, straightforward, and logical. She assumes that the reader is familiar with the facts of her reign, so what she provides are the intimate details behind the facts and her thoughts, all carefully chosen to justify why she had the right, moral if not legal, to claim the Russian throne. Before we learn of her orderly habits, her work ethic, and her readings, she makes sure we learn that her late husband was inept, slovenly, and fond of drink. That instead of accepting the Orthodox religion as she did, he “took it into his head to dispute every point”. That he was childish and “resistant to all instruction”.

In contrast to Peter III, we read, Catherine II did everything to be a good wife to her inept husband and a loyal subject to empress Elizabeth Petrovna. Bit by bit she produces further evidence of his unstable character. Peter III, we learn, once executed a rat; he also tortured her, his long-suffering wife, with his fiddle playing. Incidentally – in a telling admission – Catherine also confesses to being tone deaf and finding all music to be an infernal noise.

Catherine presents further evidence of her credentials. She doesn’t spare the details of how she was mistreated – her aunt-in-law left her unattended after childbirth and refused to allow her to see her newborn son – but she also makes sure the reader knows she is not vindictive and doesn’t indulge in self-pity. Yes, she tells us, I was mistreated but I raised myself up and worked with whatever life brought my way. She makes sure we learn of her fortitude, her cheerful disposition, but most of all of her good sense and judgment. For this captivating account is Catherine’s way, not just to elicit our sympathy, but to sway us to her way of thinking. After putting the book down, the reader must be convinced that Catherine deserved to become empress because she was wise and enlightened, a just monarch who had the right to the absolute power she had seized.

Yet, as we read these memoirs we can see how Catherine writes herself into a corner. It soon becomes clear that no matter how enlightened, just, and reasonable she is, she cannot justify her husband’s murder. Yes, he was immature, silly, inept. But was he a threat? Was he the monster she wants us to see in him?

In the end Catherine gives up. The memoirs end in 1759, when she is still Grand Duchess and empress Elizabeth Petrovna is very much alive and in charge of the Russian court. The last few pages are notes for the subsequent chapter, ending with the following words: “… things took such a turn that it was necessary to perish with him, by him, or else to try to save oneself from the wreckage and to save my children, and the state.”

A tall order.

I can imagine her staring at these notes, wondering how on earth she is going to convince the reader that this was the case. And at the end abandoning the whole project altogether.


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The Winter Palace (a Novel of the Young Catherine the Great)Necessary LiesGarden of Venus     EquinoxTrue Soldier Gentlemen

Writing Historical Novels

Traveling To Research For My Historical Novels, by William Dietrich

As a journalist, I had to go to the place I was writing about.

It works for fiction, too.

When I write historical novels, I want to feel the heat and cold, smell the markets and sea, walk the old parapets, caress the iron of the cannon, heft the slave chains, finger the sword hilt and even sample the food. There’s a restaurant in Trier, Germany, which serves ancient Roman recipes.

I enjoy travel. Research takes me places I wouldn’t otherwise go, and forces me to notice things I might otherwise miss.

Sometimes serendipity lends a hand. I arrived near Newcastle, England, to research the story of a young Roman woman on Hadrian’s Wall… only to learn there was a university lecture that very evening about that very subject.

A livestock disease meant there were pyres of burning animals as I explored, lending a grisly March mood to Hadrian’s Wall.

I took a guided tourist jaunt in the hills above a Tibetan town, only to have a Himalayan squall drive us into a Buddhist nunnery – which inspired a new location for my thriller Blood of the Reich.

I was pleasantly surprised to find signs in Israel pointing out that Napoleon marched this way and that, a useful aid in exploring for The Rosetta Key.

While I didn’t like the lack of air conditioning in a humid summer stay at Antigua’s English Harbor, a colonial British naval base, it did give me a feel for the humidity that my hero experiences in The Emerald Storm.

Everything is potentially useful. A urinal at a Portsmouth naval museum had a poster above it on historic sailor alternatives to toilet paper.

Unless you have unlimited time and money, research travel should be carefully planned. I usually have an outline of my novel. I buy guidebooks and plot out forts, castles, palaces, historical neighborhoods, museums, and battlefields. This often requires driving. Nowadays I bring along a GPS, but I’ve had plenty of misadventures in the past, like trying to reach a Crusader castle and finding myself the wrong way in a Jordanian town with goat herds, market stalls, and swarms of curious children surrounding me.

I read ahead to gain direction, and buy more histories when I’m there. Guides and maps are easy to buy on site and almost impossible to find at home. Museum bookstores are goldmines. I look not just for historical first-person accounts, but guides to local plants and animals that my characters might encounter.

Local guides can provide wit, color, and insight. That quaint Irish harbor? No longer a seaport because overharvesting of oak trees for warships started erosion that silted it up. History becomes not just political, but environmental and social.

Stop and stroll. What does the place feel like? How does the light reflect? How turgid is the water, what size is the old tree, what do cobblestones sound like (rolling suitcases are a substitute for wagon wheels and horseshoes) and how about wood smoke, beer halls, and garden plantings? How dim is the lighting?

That lovely dress weighs forty-five pounds? That musket is as clumsy as a two-by-four? I interviewed a historical re-enactor in Britain who described being run over by a horse in a mock battle.

Can you find a night sky away from electric lights? Or walk a battlefield instead of drive it to get a sense of its size?

Your impressions will worm into your book.


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The Barbary Pirates: An Ethan Gage AdventureBlood of the ReichHadrian's Wall: A NovelNapoleon's Pyramids (Ethan Gage Adventure)     The Leopard Sword (Empire)

Writing Historical Novels

Avoiding Anachronisms And Cliches In Historical Fiction, by Gary Worthington

Nothing can be more jarring when reading historical fiction than encountering a scene or event that’s obviously from a later time period or is just clearly inappropriate to the era involved.

Fortunately most serious writers are conscientious enough to do thorough research on the relevant time period. My own historical fiction to date has been set in India, and I’ve been meticulous about cultural and historical accuracy, sometimes almost to the point of obsession.

It’s fairly rare that I encounter something really significant in the work of other writers that’s clearly out of place, but it happens. The worse example I’ve seen personally was in a novel about the building of the Taj Mahal published a few years ago. The book had such major inaccuracies that I eventually had to stop reading it. The writer depicted an architect unrelated to the ruling families traveling on horseback around the Indian countryside alone with a Mughal princess, with a romance developing between the two. This was a major theme of the novel, and it absolutely could never have happened. In actuality, the Mughal rulers were Muslims and the women in their family were in purdah, strictly confined to separate living quarters and seen only by a very few men, who were close family members. If the women ever did travel outside the palaces, they were heavily guarded and were in curtained conveyances to keep them hidden from the eyes of others. Their seclusion was so strict that there are no known actual portraits of the women, only a relatively few imaginary depictions, unlike the male royalty whose likenesses were often shown in paintings.

Even the most minimal research by reading popular non-fiction books about the time period would have made these facts obvious, so there is no excuse for the extreme sloppiness in devising such a story and passing it off as historical fiction. There were other inaccuracies in the novel that could have easily been avoided with only slightly more research in readily available books about the building of the Taj.

If you’re tempted to take shortcuts in your research and think that no one will notice, you’re wrong. There are many readers who will spot even small inaccuracies and will call you on it. Now that it’s so easy to post reviews online, it’s even likely that your errors will be pointed out on Web sites and could well discourage others from reading the book.

In addition to avoiding factual inaccuracies, of course, there is the need to try to avoid word choices and stylistic choices that could be jarring to the reader and break the spell that you hope will be cast to draw the reader into your fictional world.

I think the easiest way to do this is to keep the language fairly “time-neutral” in terms of word choices. If a word or phrase sounds out of place in the narrative it should be avoided. Some actual examples from a story set in the 1700s that are clearly inappropriate: “The next item on the agenda…” and “What planet was your father living on?”

Obviously, never use modern slang. If you’re sure a slang word was actually in common use in the time period you’re writing about, it’s probably all right to incorporate it into your writing if it seems to fit the scene. Just be careful not to overuse it to the extent that the modern reader finds it jarring.

Writers naturally want to avoid cliches, but it’s amazing how easy it is for overused phrases to creep into a manuscript. I’ve found that in my own case it’s usually laziness that results in trite wording. Sometimes the scenes almost seem to be writing themselves, with the words flowing quickly onto the screen. This can be wonderful when it occurs, but it’s also a time when, rather than choosing language carefully, it’s easy to use phrases that we might speak without conscious thought in our typical every day conversations. A couple of examples from a story set in another culture the 1800s are, “like banging his head against a wall” and “the scene was something to behold.”

Another example in a tale set in the 1700s in an Asian country: “[The main character] had the good fortune…” That isn’t an extreme case, but it’s a little anachronistic sounding and stale wording. The same with the following in a 1700s story set in another culture: “And this was the second mortal blow.”

Sometimes even a word choice that’s factually “right” may not seem so to the reader. This is one of the many areas in which it’s crucial to have someone else read your work to give you unbiased feedback. I strongly recommend participating in a writing group that meets often, one in which the other members are knowledgeable about the basics of good writing and are mutually supportive in giving well-meant, helpful criticism on each other’s current work.


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Writing Historical Novels

Location Research For Writing Historical Fiction, by Gary Worthington

Often the settings for historical fiction are far away and expensive to travel to. When your stories are set centuries ago, as are many of mine, should you still visit the locales?

While it’s certainly possible to accomplish realism without ever visiting the locales, I firmly believe that you should go if it is feasible.

I live near Seattle but, since most of my tales are set in India, my wife Sandra and I have travelled there six times over the years on lengthy trips (four times during the actual writing) and I’ve  personally visited almost every area I depicted. On one trip we took our ten year old son Shaun with us, and experiencing how Indians welcomed him and were attentive to him added an additional perspective on the society.

Visiting an area adds a depth of detail, authenticity and a feel for the unique spirit of a place that I think would otherwise be difficult to achieve. Importantly, if you don’t go you’ll almost certainly miss out on serendipitous happenings that can later be used to impart liveliness to your stories.

For example, unless your stories involve civilizations or societies that vanished long ago, you can meet local people who may be distant descendants of residents of the time you’re writing about. Try to get to know them and what they’re like. If you can, stay in local households, or at least in small family-owned hotels or guesthouses. You may be able to arrange homestays or meet locals through the non-profit organizations Servas or CouchSurfing. Many of my own best contacts and friendships came from Servas visits. These people you spend time with can answer many of your questions about their local area, such as “What’s that tree called? How is it used?” or “Why are those people doing that?” or “How do you live with such hot summers?” or “What was it like when you lived through that event?”

While the visits are fresh in your mind, make notes about the people you see or meet. With some modifications, you may be able to base your characters at least in part on actual residents of the locale. As mentioned in one of my posts on creating characters, I’ve taken notes on several hundred people I’ve encountered in India on various trips, and they provide a wealth of inspiration for devising people in my stories.

I also take detailed notes on vegetation, topography, farming activities, what people are doing in the streets, animals I see, weather events and anything else that may be of interest, including sounds and odours. These can provide background details later to add realism.

For example, as background research for a story depicting a major battle fought by the army of the famous Indian emperor Ashoka, around 265 BCE, I hired a car and driver to take my wife and me to the actual area where the fighting occurred. Almost nothing is known of that long ago war other than that it occurred and that huge numbers of people died or were taken captive, and that remorse over the battle influenced Ashoka to become a convert to Buddhism and devote the rest of his long reign to peace. Even though there were no obvious remnants of that ancient battle, I took detailed notes about the landscape. I sketched a rough map, including the locations of a prominent ridge and the major nearby river. I also shot numerous photos. Later, when I did the actual writing, I found that my imagination created a likely scenario for the placements of the opposing armies and my storyline about the course of the battle made crucial use of the ridge and the river. Those scenes are in my novella ‘Elephant Driver’, which is in my book India Treasures.

Once I even made a point to visit a place again that I’d already published a story about – the amazing, immense fortress of Chittorgarh in Rajasthan state – just to make sure I’d indeed gotten some important details right. Long after my initial visit, my ideas for the story changed during the actual writing. I ended up depicting an actual major siege and attack by troops of the Mughal emperor Akbar at the northern gate in my novella ‘Saffron Robes’ in India Treasures. The fortress encompasses a three mile long fortified table top ridge, and the  spot I focused on in the story was one I’d paid little attention to on my original visit. Fortunately, I found that what I’d written earlier was just fine.

Architecture is one of my keen interests. For my writing, I created the detailed fictional fortress palace of Mangarh, which is a major setting for a long treasure hunt and other events. In preparation, I visited numerous actual fortresses, photographing them and noting numerous architectural details as well as the feel of the buildings, the odours, and the effects of sunlight shining through latticework and stained glass. I eventually made a pen and ink drawing of the Mangarh fortress and an aerial view of the surrounding area, which I’ve included in my books. I think the illustrations aid the reader in visualizing the setting and help make it seem more real. More importantly, the depictions in the writing itself are richer from my visits to so many actual forts and palaces.

A key element in some of my stories is the hunt through my fortress of Mangarh for a hugely valuable trove of hidden treasure. On a visit to the interesting fortress palace of Bundi with an Indian friend, I noted a detail that later, when transferred to Mangarh, became the main clue to the location of the fictional treasure.

In anticipation of a novella in India Fortunes about the construction of the Taj Mahal titled ‘Master Builder’, I spent time at the Taj itself six times over four trips to India. I concentrated not only on the spectacular architectural details but on the feel of the building and its garden setting by the river at various times during the day, from mornings, to afternoons, sunsets and even with my wife and an Indian friend on a moonlit, foggy Christmas eve night. I also visited four of the earlier buildings in India that were likely inspirations for the Taj Mahal, all of which made it into the story. I made drawings of all these structures and included the illustrations in the book as an aid to the reader.

Not all visits to a site are productive. Over many years, I’ve been working at various times on a novel set in Elizabethan England featuring Sir Francis Bacon. I went to some effort to visit the site of Bacon’s ancestral country home of Gorhambury. Although the landscape of rolling hills, woods and fields was evocative, I was disappointed that 400 years after his time almost nothing of Bacon’s original house remained. I realized I needed to rely on what little is mentioned in writings of the time and on a single contemporary drawing of the house. However,  most visits are useful in some way, even just to file away in the subconscious for later inspiration.

What if you just can’t manage to get to the locales? Then read everything you can find about the area, both in print and on the Web. During your reading, take notes about anything that might be useful. There are often descriptions by early and recent travellers to the region that contain a wealth of useful details, including sensory details.

If you can find people in your own country who have emigrated from the area you’re writing about, interview them for details they remember from their childhoods. If it seems appropriate, have them review your writing before it’s published. To make your depictions as authentic as they can be, it’s desirable to do all these things in addition to traveling to your settings.


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Writing Historical Novels

Researching To Write Historical Novels, by Kathleen Benner Duble

Researching to write a historical novel can be a bit overwhelming. Where do you start? How much detail do you need?

For children’s historical fiction, I always begin my research using children’s non-­fictionGood children’s non‐fiction can be a great jumping off point to start figuring out the history of your times. Unlike adult history books that are chock full of period detail, non‐fiction for kids can give you a succinct overview of the period. These books provide just enough information to glean what details you want to expand upon and research further.

For instance, you wouldn’t want to spend a lot of time covering Napoleon’s battle strategy. Kids won’t care. They want to know how the fifteen‐year‐old bugler who, accompanied Napoleon, survived the fight and whether he ever saw his brother again. So unless you yourself are interested, spending copious amounts of time understanding battle strategy would be a waste of energy. On the other hand, knowing what a bugler did during battle would be important. What did he wear? How were his days organized? Where did he stand when the battle began? This gives a specific direction in which to head when you turn to more sophisticated forms of research such as letters, journals or adult non‐fiction.

While writing my book, Quest, the story of Henry Hudson’s last ill‐fated journey, I began researching by reading Beyond the Sea of Ice by Joan Elizabeth Goodman.

This book was a godsend because, in an uncomplicated format, it gave me the facts about the voyage: the daily problems the explorers faced, the routes they took, and the issues they had to deal with when their boat got lodged in the ice. It also contained excerpts from one of the mutineer’s logbooks, enabling me to see what had occurred on the Discovery each day and why the emotions had changed from placid to mutinous. I understood quickly the events that led up to the mutiny and was able to take those events and convey the emotions of the crew to readers through my own characters.

However, research is also where fun can become folly. With the wealth of information out there, the Internet seems a logical place to turn. Yet, as with all things on the web, you will need to confirm it to verify its accuracy. You wouldn’t want to spend all that time researching only to find that a site you’d relied on was inaccurate.

That said, the internet can provide some amazing pictures of period details that you might have trouble bringing to mind yourself: fashion, table decorations, housing and so on. Photos or drawings of these from the internet can help you convincingly convey how something looked.

Researching the past can be fun and exciting. I often find myself immersed in details I had either forgotten from my own history lessons or never even knew in the first place. I love digging through letters, journals, books and sites to find just the right details to make my story immediate and palpable for my young readers. I am also always aware of checking my facts and ensuring the accuracy of my information.


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The SacrificeQuest     The Kennedy ConspiracyOne Glorious Ambition: The Compassionate Crusade of Dorothea Dix, a Novel

Writing Historical Novels

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