Although I mainly write erotic historical romance set in the Regency time period, I still like to get the facts right. I graduated with honors from the University College of Wales with the equivalent of a Masters degree in History and if I learned anything from that experience, it was how to do my research efficiently. And, back in my day, we didn’t even have the Internet, so it was much slower.
I am incredibly grateful for the Internet, which can pull up information on the most obscure of subjects in a second. But because I stare at a screen all day for the writing part, having a book in my hand to study and put sticky notes in is a nice change of pace. I also love looking at original plans of houses, prints from magazines, and anything that brings me closer to my original sources.
At the moment the books constantly by my elbow are Wellington’s Army: The Uniforms of the British Soldier 1812-1815, The A to Z of Regency London, and various fashion plates from the Ackermann’s Repository.
The hero of the Regency mystery I am currently writing fought at Waterloo and I wanted to find out about his regiment and his uniform. The Wellington book with original plates by Charles Hamilton Smith and text by Philip J. Haythornthwaite is so detailed that I can turn to a full-page description of the uniform and its variations and a beautifully drawn plate. For me, seeing clothes on a person in action helps me understand how they work and how they might be used by my character in my writing.
The fashion plates from the Ackermann’s Repository are another way of seeing how female characters would dress and the fashions of the day. I collect the individual prints, which are engraved and hand colored. You can find them on eBay and at auctions. I also have one complete volume of an Ackermann’s Repository with text, fashion plates, furniture, lace designs, and portraits of country houses. You cannot get much closer to your subjects than reading the Woman’s World of the day.
The A-Z of Regency London is another book that can help you literally navigate your characters around the streets of London. I grew up just outside London, which is a big help, but it is still fascinating to choose a street for your characters to live in, a park for them to wander in, and shops for them to frequent.
The other thing that was constantly drummed into us at university was that the winners write history, and that if you want to really understand an era, you need to go back to the original source material of the time period and make up your own mind. A classic example of that is about King Richard III who in common knowledge killed his nephews in the Tower of London and was an evil conniving hunchback. Of course, most of our ‘knowledge’ comes from Shakespeare’s play, which was written long afterward and a biography of Richard by Sir Thomas More, who as a sainted martyr must have been telling the truth—apart from the fact that he was a small child when Richard III was alive.
There is always a danger that a writer can get so involved in the research that she ends up trying to cram it all into the book. No one likes an information dump if it stalls the story and we are writing fiction. If you have a website, you can put up all that extra research as a webpage so that if your readers are interested, they have somewhere to start their own research. I have a totally separate part on my website at http://www.katepearce.com concerned with research I did for my three Tudor Vampire books, and it is much visited and enjoyed. I also scan my Regency fashion plates onto a page and they are downloaded hundreds of times every year. That’s my way of sharing my knowledge and encouraging readers to go and look for themselves.
So as readers how much historical research do you like to see in a novel, and writers, what are your favorite research books?
Kate Pearce was born into a large family of girls in England, and spent much of her childhood living very happily in a dream world. Despite being told that she really needed to ‘get with the program’, she graduated from the University College of Wales with an honors degree in history. Find out more about Kate Pearce.