Setting – Research Sources

Two weeks ago, in Setting is Like an Iceberg, I included a grouped list of the ingredients that constitute setting – one of the seven elements essential to transporting readers in time and place. Where, you might ask, does an author find information about those ingredients?

Primary sources are foundational. They include: first-hand accounts, letters, diaries offer insights on period dialogue and attitudes, memoirs, maps, legal documents including wills, deeds, court rolls, treaties etc., which can also give a sense of language and attitudes of the time. Then there are judicial reports, school log books, ships’ logs, local newspapers, transcripts of old court cases, journals, advertisements, photographs, cookbooks, etiquette manuals, dictionaries of the time. Civil and military records.

Museums contain a wealth of primary material carefully collected and curated to reflect a particular time and place. I remember being in Stockholm where a 17th century ship that sank on its maiden voyage is on display –  mammoth, majestic, intricately carved, it gives ample evidence of shipbuilding practices of the time and could fuel the imagination with what it must have been like to sail such a beauty.

Site visits can be considered primary source material, although never assume that things look exactly the same today as they did in the past. Site visits allow an author to appreciate buildings, landscape, flora and fauna; to feel the land and see the people; to hear the language and engage your senses; to walk the streets and imagine your characters doing the same. Is the earth rich and dark or red and dusty? Are the streets narrow and windy or wide open? Do people speak with a lilt? What building materials were used in Haussmann’s Paris? Where does the sun set and the shadows fall in late September?

Secondary sources include academic writing, non-fiction books, archaeological reports, reference books, biographies, academic lectures, subject-matter experts. Paintings and contemporary portraiture  from the time period show people, clothing, how much traffic is around and what sort, the shop fronts and advertisements. They also illustrate attitudes and interests of the time. Re-enactment groups work faithfully to demonstrate life the way it was, wars the way they were fought. Books on historical slang and foreign phrases. Books on furniture, costume and houses.

Internet trawling is a favourite pastime of authors. Be very wary though of sources and it’s best to corroborate ‘facts’ with multiple sources. Nonetheless, you can find amazing articles, reports, historical timelines, sites dedicated to the fashion of a particular time period or to a specific regiment’s experience during one of the world wars.

Project Gutenberg and Google feee books offer out of print novels, diaries, journals and more. I’ve found fascinating accounts of World War One and the siege of Paris using Project Gutenberg.

Where else can you look? I’ve assembled a list based on my own work as well as suggestions from other writers.

  • Period novels (novels written at the time) to get a sense of how people thought about events then and not how a contemporary author thinks about them through the lens of today
  • Poetry of the time period
  • Government collections
  • Talking to locals
  • Bibliographies are goldmines that lead to other sources and experts
  • For language and dialogue, talking to actors and voice coaches
  • Dictionaries of quotations from the time period.
  • Books of names can offer popular names of the time. Or you can search plays, letters, poetry, stories, and newspapers of the time for suitable names that were popular in the period.
  • Copies of Who’s Who and Whitaker’s Almanack or equivalent
  • Hotel and tourist guides and maps from the era
  • Google maps; Google earth
  • Graveyards and memorials are also helpful for names, facts about your potential characters, typical life spans, class differences, causes of death, family sentiments
  • Broadsheets and plays are ways to access the authentic vocabulary of the time
  • Recordings conducted at the time.
  • Interviews conducted during the time period.
  • Pinterest boards – it’s fascinating the material collected by others!
  • Town histories
  • Farm journals
  • Listen to music, songs and instruments from the period
  • TV and film adaptations
  • Check records on the period for mentions of floods, snow, hot dry summers
  • Newspaper archives
  • Museum websites
  • Historical societies,
  • Educational sites like PBS
  • Children’s books

The possibilities are endless! So I’ll leave you with a quote from Helen Bryan author of War Brides and The Sisterhood.

Another good thing about research is that it’s possible to do it almost indefinitely without actually writing anything, while looking impressively busy.

Of course, it’s also possible to write lengthy articles for your blog instead of actually writing the next chapter of your novel  🙂

See you next time.

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M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

Popular Posts 2016

Continuing to bring together popular posts on A Writer of History. These are from 2016.

The Art of Esoterica or Historical Fiction Research Using Paris in Ruins as an example, this post illustrates the research required for historical fiction, showing books read and on order, historical timelines, topics explored, topics still to explore, other planned research activities.

Author tips on writing historical fiction from around the web 

A brief summary of books read during 2015

8 Steps for Outlining a Novel – the post uses Paris in Ruins as an example and includes comments on story concept, story outline, chapter outlines, themes, structure, character, time period, and conflicts.

The kind folks at Writer’s Digest selected AWOH to be on their 101 Best Websites for Writers

Historical fiction is time travel for readers. But what does this really entail? How do writers inhabit the mindsets of their characters to create that feeling of being there?

10 Thoughts on Favourite Historical Fiction the post looks at attributes of favourite historical fiction based on reader responses to the 2015 survey

10 Substitutes for an FMA in Writing or how I taught myself to write

Evolving world of book reviews – or where readers go for book recommendations

Derek Birks, author of a family saga set during the Wars of the Roses, discusses the unique challenges of writing family sagas

Beginning in December 2016, I published all the WWI letters of my husband’s great uncle. This post contains the first letter, which was written ‘Somewhere in France’ in October 1915

I hope you enjoy many of these.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION  FOLLOW A WRITER OF HISTORY

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

Exploring Actual Locations for Historical Fiction with Tony Riches

Tony Riches has written a superb trilogy telling the stories of Owen (click here for an earlier post on Owen Tudor), Jasper, and Henry Tudor, King of England. He’s also been on the blog talking about writing a trilogy and the unique attributes of historical fiction. I’m delighted that he’s here today discussing his research process.

Exploring Actual Locations During Research for the Tudor Trilogy – by Tony Riches

When I set out to write the Tudor Trilogy I wanted to dig deeper and uncover new insights and details that would bring the early Tudors to life. For the first book, OWEN, I visited several locations including the beautiful island of Anglesey in North Wales, home of the first Tudors, as well as Pembroke Castle, where Owen spent his last years. (It helped that I was born in Pembroke, within sight of the castle, birthplace of Henry Tudor, and have now returned to live in West Wales.)

I had to piece together the details of Owen’s life by cross-checking different sources and ‘fill in the gaps’ from scarce records of the period. For the second book, JASPER, I continued his story in the third-person and was able to begin meaningful primary research, investigating events by visiting more actual locations.

There is only space here to provide a few examples, but one of the most interesting was when I investigated Jasper and the young Henry Tudor’s escape to exile. Pursued by the Yorkists, they had to flee for their lives through a secret tunnel to reach the harbour in the costal Welsh town of Tenby. Amazingly, the tunnel still exists, so I was able to gain access to see it for myself and walk in their footsteps deep under the streets.

Secret Tunnel Under Tenby

 

I was interested to see an ancient fireplace, littered with primitive glass bottles, and had a real sense of what it must have been like for the Tudors. I’ve sailed from the small harbour in Tenby many times, including at night, so have a good understanding of how they might have felt as they slipped away on the perilous voyage to Brittany.

I’d read that little happened during those fourteen years in exile – but of course Brittany was where Henry would come of age and begin to plan his return. Starting at the impressive palace of Duke Francis of Brittany in Vannes, I followed the Tudors to the Château de Suscinio on the coast. Luckily the château has been restored to look much as it might have when Jasper and Henry were there, and the surrounding countryside and coastline is largely unchanged.

Chateau de Suscinio in Brittany

Duke Francis of Brittany, began to worry when Yorkist agents began plotting to capture the Tudors, so he moved them to different fortresses further inland. I stayed by the river within sight of the magnificent Château de Josselin, were Jasper was effectively held prisoner. Although the inside has been updated over the years, the tower where Jasper lived survives and I was even able to identify Tudor period houses in the medieval town which he would have seen from his window.

Chateau de Josselin

Henry’s château was harder to find but worth the effort. The Forteresse de Largoët is deep in the forest outside of the town of Elven. His custodian, Marshall of Brittany, Jean IV, Lord of Rieux and Rochefort, had two sons of similar age to Henry and it is thought they continued their education together.

The Forteresse de Largoët

Entering the Dungeon Tower through a dark corridor, I regretted not bringing a torch, as the high stairway is lit only by the small window openings. Interestingly, the lower level is octagonal, with the second hexagonal and the rest square. Cautiously feeling my way up the staircase I was aware that, yet again, I walked in the footsteps of the young Henry Tudor, who would also have steadied himself by placing his hand against the cold stone walls, more than five centuries before.

When I returned to Wales I made the journey to remote Mill Bay, where Henry and Jasper landed with their small invasion fleet. A bronze plaque records the event and it was easy to imagine how they might have felt as they began the long march to confront King Richard at Bosworth. On the anniversary of the battle I walked across Bosworth field and watched hundreds of re-enactors recreate the battle, complete with cavalry and cannon fire.

Re-enactment of the Battle of Bosworth

The challenge I faced for the final book of the trilogy, HENRY, was too much information. Henry left a wealth of detailed records, often initialling every line in his ledgers, which still survive. At the same time, I had to deal with the contradictions, myths and legends that cloud interpretation of the facts. I decided the only way was to immerse myself in Henry’s world and explore events as they might have appeared from his point of view.

As I reached the end of Henry’s story I decided to visit his Tomb in Westminster Abbey. There is something quite surreal about making your way through Westminster Abbey. I stood on the spot where Henry was crowned and married before reaching his magnificent tomb in the Lady Chapel. His effigy is raised too high to see, so I climbed a convenient step and peered through the holes in the grille. There lay Henry with his wife, Elizabeth of York, their gilded hands clasped in prayer.

I’d like to think all this work and so many miles of travelling will help readers begin to understand the early Tudors – and see beyond the shallow ‘caricature’ of Henry as a miserly and soulless king. I’m pleased to say that all three books of the trilogy have become international best sellers, so I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all the readers around the world who have been on this journey with me.

As a wonderful postscript, on the 10th of June we are unveiling a life-sized bronze statue of Henry on the bridge outside Pembroke Castle, to ensure he is always remembered. Although this is the end of the Tudor trilogy, I am now researching the life of Henry’s daughter Mary and her adventurous husband Charles Brandon, so the story of the Tudors is far from over.

Many thanks for being on the blog, Tony, and for the support and encouragement you’ve given me. Wishing you great success with your latest novel.

Tony Riches is a full time author of best-selling fiction and non-fiction books. He lives by the sea in Pembrokeshire, West Wales with his wife and enjoys sailing and river kayaking in his spare time. For more information about Tony’s other books please visit his popular blog, The Writing Desk and website www.tonyriches.com and find him on Facebook and Twitter @tonyriches. The Tudor Trilogy is available on Amazon UK  Amazon US and Amazon AU.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION follow A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union on August 16, 2016. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.