Monday 28 November 2022

Guest Post with Angela Petch

This week on the blog for the third in my series on research, I'm thrilled to welcome an author whose writing I admire immensely, Angela Petch. Her novels are set in WW2 Italy. I'll let you tell you more.

Angela, welcome. You know I'm a big fan of your writing; whenever I read one of your novels, I can only imagine how much research you had to do so I'm delighted that you found time to share how you go about this with me and the readers. Over to you!

When writing #historicalfiction, I always have in my mind the “grey area” between fact and fiction. My responsibility as an author is to present credible history at the same time as threading in stories from my imagination. The phrase, “based on a true story” gives a sense that not everything is real life and so all “what-if” questions, are then allowed to come into play.

Mamma and Baboop 1940s
My first book, The Tuscan Secret inspired by Giuseppina, my Italian mother-in-law, involved research of different kinds. First off, I used her own accounts as a teenager during the Second World War; the difficulties of living in Urbino under occupation; the terrifying descriptions of her father hiding a partisan in their home; venturing into the countryside to find food when a British plane
strafed a line of German vehicles nearby; the day she had to walk alone for several kilometres in order to sit an exam for her Pharmacy degree and was stopped at a road check… her fear of being raped; her diary, full of yearnings for her British army captain (future husband). I could go on.

Mamma’s early life as a new bride in East Anglia - learning English, adapting to a completely different culture was challenging. All her true accounts were spellbinding. I wanted to write her story. Much more research was involved along the way. Personal memories are valuable but can be distorted and exaggerated in time.
Eventually, I tweaked the facts of my in-laws’ lives to create more conflict for the plot.  

Reading academic accounts to back up the history and cross referencing (a vital part of research) was essential to understand the background of the Italian Campaign. My bookshelves of text books are testament to my research. 

Giuseppina’s father kept a record of every letter his daughter wrote from England as a young bride getting to grips with her new life. The price of goods, her observations on British customs, rationing etc, were all meticulously filed away. Treasures for a writer. I’ve used Luigi’s papers for my present work too. He was an active partisan, although working undercover at the town hall as registrar, and we have his box of papers to consult: clandestine newspapers of the day, a letter he wrote to Mussolini, first-hand accounts of secret missions.   

Living in Italy for six months helps, as well as speaking Italian. Many of our elderly friends are happy to talk about their past. Our tourist office has diligently recorded their memories. Our past is the counterweight to our future. How true! I spied that phrase in another local museum recording one of the many massacres that occurred during occupation.

Ten miles or so from our Italian home is a national archive of diaries. Invaluable for research. When I wrote The Tuscan Girl I needed information about local women who consorted with the occupiers. Understandably, these records are scarce. Who wants to talk about what would have been considered betrayal? But I was able to track down three accounts which were gold dust. Nothing is doctored in this archive. There are spelling and grammatical errors. Real accounts written by real people.

I’m sure other writers will back up my final point. Briefly, if you can visit the locations you write about, so much the better. You’ll be able to paint your scenes more vividly, smell the smells, walk the walks, find angles you never knew about. This will definitely enrich your work.

Here are some photos of me on location.

Good luck and, above all, have fun!

Thank you, Angela. I'm sure readers will have been fascinated by the insight into the meticulous research you do. Having first-hand accounts, personal observations and diaries are, as you say, a 'treasure' for a writer. I so agree with your last point about your writing being enriched when you walk in the footsteps of your characters by visiting the locations if you can. 

Angela 's books are all on Kindle Unlimited and Prime at the moment.

Social Media Links:





Buying links:

A Tuscan Memory

The Tuscan Gir 

The Tuscan House

The Postcard from Italy

Mavis and Dot

Thank you for reading. Writers, what 'treasure' have you found when researching for your novel? Readers, what convinces you the novel you're reading is well researched? I'd love to read your comments? Thank you.

You may also follow me on Twitter @JanBaynham and on my Jan Baynham Writer Facebook page.

For more about me and my writing, please visit my AMAZON author page.

Monday 14 November 2022

Researching The Novel With Angela Sims

For the second in my series of guest posts on research, I am delighted to welcome historical author, Angela Sims, to the blog. Her debut novel, The Rose of Florence, is due to be published on 28th January, 2023 by Romaunce Books. I fell in love with Florence when I visited it for the first time eleven years ago so when I was given an opportunity to read an early draft of Angela's book, I jumped at the chance. I found myself fully engrossed in the story even though it's set in a period I know very little about. The novel's authentic sense of place is a strong feature and I was transported back to the beautiful city that left such an impression on me.

Angela, welcome! Firstly, congratulations on your debut novel. Now it's over to you.

The Rose of Florence took a bit of researching, but at the beginning, I didn’t realise that’s what I was doing. Like any enthusiastic tourist, I took an interest in Florence and its history from the very first time that I visited the city. There were guided tours, leaflets and of course, books. While some people collect shoes or scarves or stamps, I collect books. Those pesky gift shops in each museum and gallery! (Actually, I have quite an array of scarves too.)

It was only some years after my first visit to Florence that the seeds of my story started to grow. By this time, I had a good grasp of the city’s geography, its art and some of its history. I was most interested in the time of the High Renaissance, with characters such as Leonardo, Botticelli, Michelangelo and Lorenzo de’ Medici. As my story started to develop, the research began in earnest. If you are going to write an historical novel, you’d better make sure that you get at least some of the facts right.

So, I started with a timeline of events, particularly The Pazzi Conspiracy, around which my story is based. Everyone loves a murder, right? Then I added the historical characters and their ages. What amazed me was how many of these famous names were living in what was a small city, all at the same time. I thought there must be a way of including these historic icons into my fictional story. Each time I managed to weave one of them into my story (sometimes quite tenuously), I allowed myself a small smile.

Facts and dates are all important, undoubtedly, but what makes a good historical fiction, in my view, are the small details - details that make the reader feel that they might actually be there, experience the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of the place and time. This is where the research gets interesting, and this is where I spent most of my time and energy.

I knew that many of the famous landmarks that we see today were around in 1478, when my story is set, but I wanted to make sure that I didn’t unintentionally include modern additions.

One of the first big events in the story is a banquet in the fictional home of the Rosini family, Palazzo Rosini. It is based on the real Palazzo Davanzati, but was it there at the time? While staying in the small family-run hotel next door, I asked them about it and was delighted when they gave me a copy of a hand-drawn map from 1427. The Palazzo was indeed there, and the road on which it stood bore the name it still bears today, Via Porta Rossa. What are the chances of visiting your location when your story is set over 500 years ago? In Florence, it seems that those chances are quite high.

Then came the food. Oh, the food! Quite a keen foodie myself (cooking and eating), I took great pleasure in researching the food of the time. Discovering their cooking techniques, the available ingredients and popular tastes of the era gave me many hours of pleasure. In fact, I discovered a dessert that I hadn’t come across before, the zuccotto. It incorporated a liqueur called alchermes, a deep red, spiced liqueur, again new to me. So, I spent hours looking at various recipes for zuccotto, and on my next trip to Florence, spent many more hours trying to find a pasticceria that made it. Ultimately, I sourced a bottle of alchermes liqueur, wrapped it up well and brought it home to make my own version of the zuccotto. (I wrote about it in one of my blogs, entitled A Welsh Zuccotto.) It only had a small part in the story, but I believe it added an authenticity and a flavour of the time.

This is truly where research can be a joy and one of the many reasons why I love it. As a University lecturer (in a completely different field), I know that I can’t compete with the professors of history and art, whose depths of knowledge I can only dream about, but does that make my research less valid? I don’t think so. A genuine love for the place, the time period, the characters and the story will always shine through.

Thank you, Angela. It's been fascinating to hear how you went about finding out 'the small details' that transported us to the streets of Florence in 1478. I agree with your last sentence wholeheartedly. 

Social Media Links:

Website -

Facebook - Angela M Sims Author

Twitter - @AngelaMSims1

Insta - angelamsims1

Pre-order links

Romaunce Books - The Rose of Florence

Amazon The Rose of Florence 


Angela's background is in healthcare and she has been a university lecturer since 2010. Her writing experience was limited to a master's dissertation, purely academic, but the research skills she learned during that process were soon used in researching her favourite topic, The Italian Renaissance. It didn't take long before the seeds of a story began to germinate and The Rose of Florence blossomed. Angela lives in Cardiff. She is a member of the Romantic Novelists' Association's New Writers' Scheme.and the Society of Authors.

Readers, I'm sure you found Angela's account of her research as interesting as I did. What 'small details' have you found when researching that made your readers feel they were there at the location and the time? I'd love to hear your thoughts. Thank you.

You may also follow me on Twitter @JanBaynham and on my Jan Baynham Writer Facebook page.

To read more about me and my writing, please visit my author page on AMAZON.