You may have read some of my
blathering posts about the guts of historical fiction. So, now I’m putting my ‘money where my mouth is’ as I begin a new novel set in 19th century France. Researching an era must be both wide and deep — and I’ve written about it on this blog and over at NowNovel.com. While I’m not being as disciplined as I would like, let me share some of the esoterica (did you read that as erotica?) I’ve found and a few thoughts on the process.
Character, dialogue, setting, theme, plot, conflict and world building – seven ingredients every author must pay attention to and historical fiction authors must explore in depth in order to immerse readers in their chosen time and place.
Since I’m in the early stages – bare bones of the story sketched out – research has a random feeling to it but my intention is to develop a solid foundation for how my characters would have lived in that time and place.
- PARIS REBORN by Stephane Kirkland provides a detailed and fascinating look at the rebuilding of Paris during the reign of Napoleon III. Camille and Mariele, my main characters, are born in 1849 and 1851 respectively (at least, that’s my starting premise), they would have experienced the city’s upheaval as children, their parents as adults.
- THE HOUSE I LOVED by Tatiana de Rosnay concerns a woman whose house is ultimately demolished to make way for one of the wide boulevards built at that time.
- As a novel, PARIS by Edward Rutherfurd captures the culture and attitudes of French society. I’m particularly interested in the section focused on building the Eiffel Tower.
- THE DIVINE SARAH by Arthur Gold and Robert Fizdale brings to life this famous actress along with the richness of theatre in the time period.
- CLAUDE & CAMILLE by Stephanie Cowell and LUNCHEON OF THE BOATING PARTY by Susan Vreeland are helping me to appreciate the lives of Impressionist painters.
Books on order
- Accessories to Modernity: Fashion and the Feminine in Nineteenth-Century France by Susan Hiner – gotta have a book on fashion
- Paris: Les Boulevards by Pamela Golbin and Charles Franck offers illustrations of the most gorgeous Parisian boulevards – a picture is worth a thousand words
- France Since 1870: Culture, Society and the Making of the Republic by Charles Sowerwine – who could resist that title?
- Courtesans: Money, Sex and Fame in the Nineteenth Century by Katie Hickman is recommended for a look at this aspect of French culture. Who knows what inspiration I’ll find?
- Dawn of the Belle Epoque: The Paris of Monet, Zola, Bernhardt, Eiffel, Debussy, Clemenceau by Mary McAuliffe also looks promising.
Stories reflect the arc of history, hence understanding the main events that shaped French life, economy, attitudes, culture and world reputation is critical. I’ve found timelines with a political cast as well as those concerned with military activities, cultural events and even the world of art. I will investigate many of these events and the people involved further, of course, to understand the impact they might have had on my characters, their families and friends.
Topics I’ve explored
Using the Internet I’ve explored many topics. When I search I often jump to the fourth or fifth pages Google recommends as I find earlier pages full of simplistic stuff and sites that bombard you with ads. I also look for more academic articles. Check these titles out – compelling reading for sure 🙂
Long Depression – a depression that began in 1873
Topics to explore
French industrialization and wealthy industrialists, the Third Republic, pretenders to the throne, cultural developments, etiquette, fairy tales, colonial expansion, education, demimonde, French Christmas traditions, lingerie, children’s clothing and many more.
I also plan to read English translations of a few authors like Emile Zola, Alexandre Dumas, Guy de Maupassant and Gustave Flaubert, examine paintings of famous artists of the time, and search out weather records, old cookbooks, and financial records. With some luck, there could even be a trip to Paris.
The plan is to begin writing in February. Better get busy.
PS – my desk is a mess
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M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her latest novel, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE is set in WWI France and is available from Amazon, Nook, Kobo, Google Play and iTunes. Her debut novel, UNRAVELLED: Two wars. Two affairs. One marriage. is also available from these retailers.