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  • Writer's pictureClyve Rose

Writer's Tip: Historical Research

One of the questions I'm most often asked, is about the research I do for my novels. I regard research as one of the most enjoyable, and one of the most important, parts of my Regency-era works. I've researched other eras as well, and fully intend to put that work to good use when I've finished the stories I have on the boil - nothing is wasted in research. It all informs the end result, even if some or most of this isn't visible on the page to my readers.

Do I do 'a lot' of historical research?

I'm asked this one all the time, and it's a curious question to my mind, but I try to give a real answer every time.

The truth is, the amount of research I do for each story varies because the more of a world I create, the less generalities I have to look up for my connected works.

What do I mean? Well, here's an example: once I have an idea of what a Season in London entails for a debutante, I don't need to keep researching that - and I can repurpose that research over and over again as well. My researches regarding the English Romany in Lancashire is another example. I spread this work across my entire Clifton Hall trilogy, though I definitely added to it as I went along.

In my debut novel Always a Princess, the Romany camp only features in a single scene so the amount of research I did around that was not as extensive as for the sequel, A King's Mistress, where most of the action takes place in the hero's Romany camp. I had the previous research to build upon though and this saved me a lot of time.

I remember looking up specifics, such as the distance between two specific locations, and the history of the Epsom Derby, but the tea party attended by the reluctant heroine was more or less sorted.

How long does it take?

As mentioned above, this depends on how much foreknowledge I've gleaned from previous works, but each story invariably has events and environmental peculiarities unique to the narrative and this can take several months for me.

In The Case of the Black Diamond I spent a lot of time studying the attempted assassination of the members of Parliament in 1820, as well as the relevance of the real historic personalities such as the Regent himself, his wife, and the then-Prime Minister.

I also don't wait for a 'full tank' of data when I research. I read and study for several weeks, poring over maps and other relevant reference books (when I penned The Christmas Salon I recall paging through seemingly endless lists of the treasures the Grande Armee stole from the other nations of Europe, and indeed beyond). When I feel I have enough to begin 'drawing my story', I begin.

I begin knowing I don't have it all yet, and my first drafts are full of half-baked scenes with scribbled comments like 'Check if restaurants existed in Paris in 1814, and how they served chicken. Get some names.' (Turns out they did exist, and their fare was limited to about two dishes - which you'll see represented in The Christmas Salon when Henry dines with one of his favourite artistes.)

How much research do you need to do?

Honestly, more than I've done by the time I begin because I stumble over new 'bits' to ferret out as I go. Between the first draft and the second, is my most story-specific research - and also the part of my process that can feel the most pointless to outsiders. This is where I find myself checking and re-checking tiny little details that I (often) cut out later on, or rarely use on the page - but I know those details and that matters to my writer's brain.

It matters that I'm decisive about the direction a horse takes on a road, or the price of lavender water bought in Mayfair as opposed to Cheapside. Does the reader need to know all of these details? Not always - but they need to feel certain in my knowledge of them. Writing is an exchange of trust between creator, and audience. Between me, and you.

Readers will trust a strong storyteller far beyond the usual bounds of credulity if they sense a well-drawn fiction. They'll believe an illegitimate hero can attain the nominal title of 'lord'. They'll suspend their disbelief when I have him explain (with his bow and too-charming smile), that he bears this title because he's a spy. They'll even believe he has the temerity to flirt with treason, if I make this seem plausible enough.

A Reader's Trust:

To stay true to my reader, I'll mine all possible threads of information for every facet of my story. While I'd never bore my reader with all my factual researches, they add to my confidence, which conveys to my reader a story they can dive into - trusting me to lead them to their happy ending. This is the goal of my research, my writing, and the dreaded editing (my least favourite part) - to underpin the energy of my story with a level of confidence that my reader can truly feel.

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