One of the best things about being a writer is that you have to do research.
A warning – it takes up a huge amount of ‘writing time’ and may lead you into fascinating areas that are not pertinent to your novel. However, if you’re writing historical fiction you will need to do a fair bit of research to a) find out facts, and b) check facts you think you already know. Thank goodness for the almighty Google, but remember it’s not infallible, particularly Wikipedia (although that site seems to have improved), and you should still use your reference books, biographies, maps, etc.
You don’t have to travel to the actual place to write about it. Joanne Walsh’s novella, Christmas in Venice was published in time for Christmas 2014. I ordered it on my Kindle and had a wonderful relaxing Christmas Day caught up in the story. Sheer bliss. I complimented her on her excellent evocation of Venice. ‘Thank you, but I’ve never been there,’ she said, to my astonishment.
But it’s brilliant if you can manage to visit the place you’ve set your book, as nothing’s quite the same as experiencing first hand the light and the smell and the noise and the atmosphere of an unfamiliar place.
Annie’s Story, Book 1 of The Voyagers trilogy, begins in 1913 where Annie is a housemaid in a fictitious King’s Lynn’s country house. As I grew up in Norwich and my grandparents lived in King’s Lynn, the Norfolk settings didn’t give me too much problem. Also, my 100-year-old razor-sharp father-in-law had been a butler at several grand country houses around Britain for 40 years or so, and was a mine of information about the goings on ‘above and below stairs’.
My own grandparents were servants who emigrated to Australia in 1913 ‘to better themselves’, so my grandfather said. But beyond the voyage, I never asked them about what happened once they had arrived in Melbourne. Trouble is, we don’t realise how important it is to record our older relatives’ memories until it’s too late. My excuse was that I wasn’t a novelist at the time!
I didn’t know the route the Orsova took in 1913 which was important in my story. And then all the information I needed came to me serendipitously.
And that’s what my next blogpost is about…