In order for stories to be convincing, writers often undertake research and, in the case of historical fiction, that research is essential to set the time and the place for the reader. To date, for my short stories, I have researched stalkers, hoarders, homes for unmarried mothers, real life kidnap stories......the list could go on. I was able to do all that at the click of a button via Google and hope that the odd references here and there throughout the stories are accurate enough to make the characters and plots credible.
But what about a much longer piece of fiction, where accuracy and authenticity have to be sustained over a whole novel? My WIP is set in two decades, the late 1940s and the end of the 1960s, and the subjects I will need to find out more about will include:
- rural village life in 1948, life in service
- rationing and the black market after the war
- Italian Prisoners of War, their POW camp in mid-Wales, Italian family life in 1960s
- unmarried mother and baby homes
- travelling to the continent in the '60s
I have been thinking about how I should go about this. How much is too much? Where is the best place to go? When is the best time - before writing, as you go along or after a rough draft? I think there are two kinds of research:
- Background research - setting the time and place, details about social issues, customs
- Spot research - finding out small pieces of information as they arise in your writing
As well as on-line sites, there are community resources to help:
- the local library
- historical museums where you will find books, documents, newspapers from the era, maps, together with photographs of people and places from the time. These will help take the reader back in time and add credible details to the novel.
- art galleries displaying paintings of the era will give information about clothing and styles, colours and typical homes
- elderly people who can give you anecdotal and personal details
I have just finished Pattern of Shadows by Judith Barrow and am now reading the second book in the trilogy, Changing Patterns. This is what Judith wrote about her debut novel:
'Pattern of Shadows' was inspired by my research into Glen Mill, a disused cotton mill in Oldham, Lancashire, and its history of being the first German POW camp in the country..... When I thought about Glen Mill I wondered what life would have been like for all those men imprisoned there. I realised how different their days must have been from my memories of a mill and I knew I wanted to write about that.'
The story is set during World War 2 in the North of England. It explores many themes - working class life, German POWs, Conscientious Objectors, bigotry, hospital life - but, above all, it is a love story of its time and place thanks to accurate but unobtrusive research. I can highly recommend the novels and can't wait for Honno to publish the third book.
What have you researched for your writing? How do you record it? Do you have a list of questions you want to answer?
Thank you for reading my blog. I'd love to hear about your research.
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