Research-- Love it or hate it? J Vincent

As a writer of historical fiction books research is a guaranteed part of my writing life. In fact it is frequently necessary for me to stifle the urge to continue researching a topic. Research is like a treasure hunt. There are clues to ferret out, hints to follow, and occasionally a true treasure lode. What could be more exciting? Plainly then, I fall into the “love it” camp.

What do I research? My stories are set anywhere from 1760 to 1820. Some would say that this spread of years saw little change but think a moment, The American Revolution, the French Revolution, the Industrial Revolution, the spread of the British Empire, the Louisiana Purchase occurred during this time spread— I could go on and on. The fashion plate below gives examples of ladies’ dress from 1760 to 1860. While the detail in such a small photo isn’t great there is enough to see the problem in describing dress without research.

What do I research? Almost everything. First I choose a year or spread of years. My Honour series is set during the Napoleonic war in Spain and Portugal which means1808-1814. For the history of that part of the Napoleonic wars I have Charles Oman’s seven volumes on the war plus many other books by men who actually took part in the war. These cover anything from British army or cavalry units to battle strategy to weapons to uniforms and everything in between including the French point of view. Next I decided which segment of the British and/or French army to use by checking which were involved in battles for a particular year. From there I select which part of Portugal or Spain will be occupied and research terrain, weather, flora and fauna.

Google and other search engines play a large part in my research. They can help find information or the source for the needed information. There is always a jolt of pleasure when I find that “needle in the haystack” I was seeking.

I take online classes in topics to increase my knowledge on my period. Early this month I participated in The British Royal Navy 1770-1815 offered online by the Beau Monde Acadame. You don’t have to be a member of the Beau Monde or any other group to participate in the class. I take classes from a variety of groups.

I also collect links to information such as the weather or calendars for the 1800’s or fashion. The amount of information online is amazing—with the usual caveat of always having more than one source for a particular piece of information. I was surprised to learn that Georgette Heyer, the queen of Regency for many, invented several “Heyerisms” which others used believing her an impeccable source. Naturally I’m drawing a blank on those at the moment. One link is for an Etymological Dictionary which is useful for finding out if a word existed in 1810. Take “chit” which in regency speak is a young girl/woman This dictionary brought back three meanings, the most relevant being chit (2) "small child," 1620s, originally "young of a beast" (late 14c.); unrelated to chit (1); perhaps connected to kitten.

Joanna Waugh’s site with Resources for Readers and Writers of Regency fiction. She has a tone of good research links.

Find the weather information fascinating! Want to know if you have a full moon on a given night? Use this link from the US Navy Time Service Department if you need to know sunrise or sunset for a given day in a given city at any given time—past to present. It has a page for US cities and another for foreign cities.
Sun and Moon Data for One Day The following information is provided for London Friday, 2 March 1811
Begin civil twilight 05:45 Sunrise 06:06
Sunset 18:13 End civil twilight 18:33

Moonset 15:30 on preceding day
Moonrise 04:01
Moon transit 10:14
Moonset 16:27
Moonrise 04:57 on following day
Phase of the Moon on 22 March: waning crescent with 6% of Moon's visible disk illuminated. New Moon 24 March 1811 at 14:18 Universal Time.

How do I research? Good old fashioned research skills with high tech searches added in for facility. The danger is enjoying research work tooooooo much and not getting back to writing!


Rox Delaney said...

I've used the Navy link for moon phases, too, when I needed to know approximately what kind of moon there would be during a specific time of a chosen month.

I love the information in historical novels! It's a great way to learn about a period in history and be entertained at the same time. Thanks, Joan, for being such a great researcher!

Joan Vincent said...

Thanks Rox. I love research and one has to know what kind of a moon those smugglers on the Cornish coast will face.
For my website's monthly Coze I'm doing a recap of events by the month in the Peninsular War during 1811. Doing research for April has fired my enthusiasm. Do you have any research tricks?

Rox Delaney said...

Tricks? Not that I can think of. I research what I think I'll need in the beginning, but I always seem to get a surprise in the middle of writing. Little things, mostly, and often important details. I'm visual, so if I'm researching an area of the country, I like to have photos. But I think I've changed how and when I do things, over the years, and sometimes overnight! LOL

Joan Vincent said...

There are always surprises--sudden unknowns or questions. I keep a note pad to the side to write down what I need to look up so I don't lose my train of thought or get side tracked.

Starla Kaye said...

As always, Joan, what a great post! Thanks.