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|
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?