History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

30 November 2006

It's All in the Details

Okay, ladies, here’s a quick pop quiz. What do you call a tool for cutting peat? When is the luckiest time to get married in Ireland? And just what was the traditional color for an Irish bridal gown anyway? (Hint: It’s not white.)

It wasn’t all that long ago that I didn’t know the answers to any of these questions, but I needed that information – and lots more – in order to write my first novel, IN SUNSHINE OR IN SHADOW, which is set in post-Famine Ireland. It all came down to discovering details, details, and more details.

But that was okay. As a former journalist, I was used to fact-checking. I love researching, digging to find elusive facts. But I discovered the most important thing in writing historical romance is not only finding the information, but weaving it in so it doesn’t detract from the story.

For instance, in Sunshine, my hero, Rory O’Brien, is haunted by ghosts and secrets of his past. In one particular scene with Siobhán Desmond, my heroine, I originally had pain slash through him “like a knife”. A good line, but one that’s been used dozens, if not hundreds of times. How could I change the wording so it would be unique to Rory as a character? By using an Irish reference, of course. Since I had no idea what a peat-cutting tool was called, I Googled it and came up with a site that explained not only the traditional method of collecting turf in Ireland, but a description and pictures of the tools that were used.

In another scene, Rory and Siobhán are alone together and he’s explaining the fine art of shooting craps. It’s a scene filled with sexual tension, but it’s also a good description of the game, and it explains a good bit about Rory’s youth growing up on the streets of New York. Again, I had to weave in details, but they had to be accurate. Back to Google, but this time I supplemented my research with a trip to the casino.

The origin of the Irish Hunter was another spot that required detailed research. A cross between the Irish Draught Horse and the English Thoroughbred, the Irish Hunter is stronger, faster, and easier to ride. There are several good books on the subject, as well as several Internet sites, but thankfully, I have a horse expert in the family to whom I can pose all sorts of “horse questions.” Thus was born Rory’s dream of breeding the finest strain of Irish Hunters in Ireland.

Everything you want to know about cutting the turf.

All sorts of information from Irish weddings, superstitions, recipes, and more!

Planning a visit to the casino? Stop by the craps table.

A short overview on the origins of the Irish Hunter.

Answers to quiz:

  1. slane
  2. All Hallow’s Eve
  3. Blue


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cynthia, hello again, :) I'm very much interested in your book when it comes out. Will be out in bookstores or is it going to be available via your publisher's website.


10:30 AM  
Blogger Cynthia Owens said...

Hi Isabel,

IN SUNSHINE OR IN SHADOW will be available shortly. I believe it is or will soon be available on amazon.com as well as at Barnes & Noble. If it's not on the shelves, you should be able to order it with no problem.

If you want to read an excerpt, check out my new website at:

Thanks for your interest!

4:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Awesome, Cynthia I'll check with the B&N this weekend and see what info they have on your book. After reading the excerpt I definitely want to see where you take this story. Thanks again and I'm wishing you the best with your book. I'd like to email you after I read the book...would you be able to post your email addy here? For some reason, I can't open your "contact me" link on your site.


7:35 PM  
Blogger Cynthia Owens said...

Not a problem, Isabel. You can e-mail me at cynthiaowens@videotron.ca

I look forward to hearing your comments about Siobhan & Rory's story.


2:30 AM  
Blogger Diane Gaston said...

Don't you just love those little details? That is what excites me about writing Historicals, when you find that tiny detail that make the whole thing seem real.

A Twelfth Night Tale by Diane Gaston in Mistletoe Kisses Nov 2006

7:14 AM  
Blogger Cynthia Owens said...

You're right, Diane, the little details do sometimes make the story. In fact, I've had a few instances when the details can spark more of the plot!

Isn't research grand?

1:38 PM  

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