History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

04 January 2013

Historical Background

Back when my book The Garden Intrigue first came out last year, I tried to think of everything I, as a reader, would want to know about the historical background of the book.

What always niggles at me after reading historical fiction are questions about the real people and events. I always include a brief historical note at the end of each book, explaining what really happened, where I played fast and loose, and which characters were borrowed from real life, but it dawned on me that my website provided an opportunity to provide the sort of information that you can't squeeze into a three page historical note.

So I pulled together a compendium of all the real historical characters in the book, with mini-bios and contemporary portraits. These ranged from Napoleon himself to the inventor Robert Fulton. And then, since I could, I posted bios and portraits of characters who didn't appear, but were mentioned in the book.

I'd dealt with the people, but what about the background? This is where having a visual medium with (seemingly) infinite space really came in handy. The Garden Intrigue is set largely at Josephine Bonaparte's country house, Malmaison. I rounded up a bunch of contemporary paintings of Malmaison, interspersed with pictures from my own research trip. In this case, having the visuals really makes a difference-- when you see Malmaison, it becomes incredibly clear just how ill-suited the house was to being an imperial residence, how far and fast Napoleon climbed. In fact, they had to put guests in the servant rooms and put up tents on the grounds for the servants.

Then, of course, there were clothes and jewelry. Finally, I could show on screen what I had translated into words in the book, the diaphanous gowns and gaudy jewels that were de rigeur among fashionable Consular-- and then Imperial-- circles in 1804. My one big disappointment was that I couldn't find a good picture of the diamond and cameo toe rings women were reputed to have worn with their Grecian style sandals.

What sort of background information would you have liked to see? What are the background elements that you most want to follow up when reading historical fiction?


Blogger Tracy Grant said...

I love how the internet really lets us bring the world of our books to life. I've always loved visiting houses and castle, so I particularly like pictures of settings used in novels. Also paintings of real historical characters who figure in the book. And I love looking at clothes of any era...

6:21 PM  

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