Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Pages Bound in Time

I often talk about the importance of research when writing, as well as my enjoyment of it. It is a question that appears frequently at talks and in author interviews. I therefore decided it was time to blog about it, particularly as I have recently acquired a piece of history – an old edition of the 'History of Britain'. As you will tell from the numerous photographs below, it contains integral maps and I am somewhat excited by this new addition to my personal library!

History of England, G. M. Trevelyan
Map: Celtic and Roman Britain
Map: England, Scotland & Ireland at Time of Viking Invasions
 The book itself is a slice of history, its pages bound in time to the spine of thought at the year of imprint. Archaeology is constantly changing and re-educating how we look at the past and so to have such a book, is akin to owning a time capsule. It is not merely the knowledge of what was known historically at the time of the book’s printing that is enlightening, but moreover how society of the time viewed the past. How this book presents its historical evidence can tell us much about academic thoughts of the time. I find this as equally fascinating as the history reported in the book.

After all, throughout history events and the recording of them have relied heavily upon the viewpoint of one or more individuals (often on the winning side of a conflict). This is why extensive research is necessary when approaching historical fiction. As we all know, there is always more than one side to any disagreement. I love to weigh my historical facts, using a wide spread of reading as the scales. My contemplation of the presented so-called ‘evidence’ becomes the weights that decide when the balance is right.

As I considered the breadth of my reading for research purposes, I recalled conversations with other authors and countless ‘shelfie’ photos of writers’ well-stocked bookcases. I emptied my own bookcase of all the books I have ever used for research (and continue to use) and I was shocked. I remember saying once that we are not only writers; we must also be archaeologists, biologists, horticulturalists, chemists, historians, geologists, butchers, bakers and candlestick-makers! The list is endless. Below is a small portion of the books I found.
I'm going to need a bigger bookcase!

 I have amassed quite a selection covering a broad variety of topics, though I know there are gaps I shall fill in due course. It highlights for me the extent to which writers reach to attain accuracy and depth in their novels. For instance, before I begin a scene I check in which season it is set and note what foliage would be around for the time of year and also the period in history. Not all the plants we see today were around in the 5th Century. My characters are next. I must ensure they are appropriately clothed for the season and period, but also within their particular role in society. For my current work in progress I am studying linguistics (Welsh, Cornish and Old Norse) and equine history (horse behaviour, breeding and tack). I could read reams on these subjects over days and weeks, making copious notes, and it could all be for the sake of one scene.

Eventually, having absorbed the research, I have to write my story. Once more I must weigh prose against historical fact, finding the perfect balance. I redraft and edit, mixing and baking until I feel it is right for publication. That is when I hope all my reading and writing has created pages bound in time; a story that captures imaginations in the same way the idea first caught me.

How much historical fact do you like to read in your historical fiction?

What aspects of historical fiction are important to you in terms of learning about history?

~ ~ ~

Blood, betrayal and brotherhood.
An ancient saga is weaving their destiny.
A treacherous rival threatens their fate.
A Seer's magic may be all that can save them.

Wolf Spear Saga: 2 - coming 2016


  1. Sounds fascinating, time consuming but extremely rewarding. And what a wonderful find.

    1. Thanks Fiona! It is time consuming and you have to love that about research - luckily I do :) And yes, I'm always grateful when I find these antique treasures.

  2. Wonderful - had my head on one side reading all your titles! I like enough fact in my fictions that I can feel that I am being confidently led by an author who knows what they're talking about, but I don't like to see it shoe-horned in. For that, as you say, the writer must discount probably 99% of what they've learned/researched, just to put the tiny but important 1% in the book. Thanks for posting :)

    1. Thank you Annie. Hehehe, I wondered what others would make of the collection I photographed. I love discovering books other authors use in their research and I'm always looking for the next addition to my collection ;) I feel the same about facts in fiction, just enough to add flavour!