Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Write, and Research On the Hoof

No, not a silly pun on the fact that my forthcoming Regency on Kindle is about horses, but a description of how I've learnt to research historical facts when writing. On the hoof, or on the go, or as and when required during the act of writing a novel.

Back in the bad old days before I considered writing historicals for a living, the amount of research involved in getting things right absolutely crippled me. I couldn't start writing because I didn't know what dress my heroine might be wearing and if that was right for that time of day or social occasion or what she would say to Lord Bulge if he offered her tea, or even if tea was the kind of thing gentlemen might offer to ladies in the Regency period.

Then I wised up and realised you have to start writing quite early on. And then just research what you need as you go along. It's the only way.

As a historical novelist, you will never have all the facts at your fingertips. So you either bluff, you tacitly sidestep the gap in your knowledge, or you leave a big CHECK LATER in the manuscript and go back later to insert the correct dress or social comment or beverage.

The last is what I mostly do, though bluffing and sidestepping are good stand-bys.

So if you're thinking of writing a Regency or other historical romance, don't think you have to read 1000 books on dress or carriages or social occasions before diving in.

It works best if you already have a good passing acquaintance with the period you're writing about, obviously. And do read plenty of other novels in that genre too. But once your great idea has come to you, you can just start at Chapter One, take a deep breath, and type CHECK LATER whenever you hit a gap in your knowledge.

Only, don't forget to go back, insert the correct fact, and delete 'check later'!

Otherwise it could be a bit embarrassing when a bewildered and possibly irate reader demands to know why Lord Bulge said, 'Would you care for a drink of CHECK LATER, Miss Fotheringay?'


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