History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

07 January 2013

Of January and First Person Research

Happy January!  I love the holidays - I confess I still have a hard time getting to sleep on Christmas Eve and writing this post over a peppermint mocha with my baby on my lap I'm still in holiday mode. But I realized that when I think of January I don't think of post-holiday blues. I think of settling in with cozy fires and cups of tea and getting back to work. Those cool, often rainy January days are perfect for writing.

I've been easing back into my WIP this past week and enjoying it, both writing and researching. Looking up some research details today I was thinking about different types of research. Travel - so amazing if often logistically and financially impossible. Websites filled with images, maps, and other fascinating information. History books that give us the benefit of historians' research and expertise. And then there's what is probably my favorite type of research of all. Letters and diaries written by people who lived through the events and visited the places I'm writing about.

I remember sitting in this same Peet's Coffee & Tea reading Colonel Augustus Simon Frazer's account of the chapel of San Juan in the Church of St. Roque in Lisbon which became the setting for a key scene between Suzanne and Raoul in His Spanish Bride. Those details not only gave me the setting, they really informed the tone of the scene. Frazer was a fascinating man, keenly sensitive to the horrors of war, who would stop to take in local culture while in the midst of a campaign. His letters also inspired many scenes in Spain in Dark Angel (including one of my favorites in a war-ruined convent with a piano still standing amidst the wreckage) and around Waterloo in Imperial Scandal, from a beer garden along the canal where Malcolm and Harry Davenport interview a suspect to scenes of the battle itself. The journal of Cavalié Mercer has also given shape and substance to a number of scenes in my books, from Waterloo in Imperial Scandal and Shores of Desire to the boulevards of Paris in The Paris Affair. Details such as sausages sizzling in a pan, elderly, shabbily dressed men and women hiring out wooden chairs to fashionable shoppers, a girl of eight selling matches ("Dix sols seulement, mon pauvre père il est malade") spring to vivid life in first person accounts like this.

Writers, what are some of your favorite first person sources? Readers, do novels ever send you looking for letters and diaries the authors used in research

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Blogger Helena said...

I love letters and diaries, and am always pleased to have recommendations of others which I can add to my Wish List if I don't buy them immediately. Before I travel to a new place I always read novels set there, especially older ones, and old travel writing. I shall have to remember to look for diaries and letters too!

1:06 AM  
Blogger Isobel Carr said...

I adore reading Boswell. And I love reading books based on letters, like many of Stephen Ozment's. And yes, it's fun to take those little historical tidbits and bring them out into the light.

1:49 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Helena, I love the idea of reading novels and travel writing to get the feel of a place one is about to travel to. I think both Fraser and Mercer would have a lot to offer to enrich the experience of a contemporary traveler.

2:38 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Isobel, have you read Freedom & Necessity? One of my favorite books of all time and it's all written in letters (and a few other documents).

2:40 PM  
Blogger Isobel Carr said...

I haven't! I'll have to check it out. Thanks!!!

11:04 AM  

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