Thursday, October 6, 2011

On Research

It's no secret that I'm an incorrigible word fanatic. Words are to me like watercolors are to a painter, or like clay is to a potter. They are the medium through which I express myself, and I love spending time with them and choosing the right ones to do the job.

But if word nerdery is my college major, then history is my minor. One of the reasons I know I've found the right period in which to set my stories is that I get so darned excited about research. Learning about the British Regency is downright thrilling to me; I never tire of it.

Someday I'm going to spend hours reading out of print
books and Googling obscure terms and boring
everyone in my circle with outdated facts.
Just you watch me, Mama. I will!
I've just begun the research phase of a new project, so I'm riding high on the research thrill. Hunting down material is part of the fun. It's part detective work, part scavenger hunt, part tabloid reading. OK, so the scandals might be a couple centuries old, but I do enjoy sharing the juicy tidbits I run across in my reading. Mr. Boyce and my friends have all been subjected to monologues that begin, "You will never believe who Caroline Lamb had an affair with." I'm very grateful to the people in my life who humor my little historical tirades.

A fun aspect of focusing on a particular time period is that there is always more to learn. Just when I think I've got a good handle on the various types of carriages, I discover that my story requires I learn about horse breeds, stables, and animal husbandry. My novels have so far sent me delving into obvious topics such as fashion and manners, but also into fascinating subjects like period microscopes and botany.

I have a tiny personal reference library (more of a reference shelf, to be perfectly accurate) that I constantly turn to for guidance. A few of my old reliables: Our Tempestuous Day, by Carolly Erickson is a wonderful overview of the Regency period's social and political landscape. Regency Style, by Steven Parissien is a great reference for architecture and interior decorating, while English Women's Clothing in the Nineteenth Century, by C. Willett Cunnington helps me dress my characters. Mr. Boyce once surprised me with The London Encycolpaedia, by Christopher Hibbert, and it has been an invaluable addition to my collection.

Whenever I read about the Regency, I find my mind spinning little wisps of stories around the people and events I discover. Some of these have found their way into my writing, some have been filed away for later. I hoard historical tidbits like precious gems waiting to be strung together.

I love the writing, I love the words, but I also truly adore the period. Researching the British Regency lets my inner historian run the show for a while. It's lots of fun, and a crucial aspect of my work.

1 comment:

  1. I'm just the opposite. I have the story in mind, and I want to get on with it, so I tend to start writing then stop midstream and do the necessary research. Of course I wind up finding more info I could have used earlier, which means more edits. I'm so glad I write contemporary stories! My hat's off to you history buffs.

    Hope Clark