The Need to Know

Being a historical author is most daunting to other writers because of the magnitude of research necessary to bring another era to life for the reader’s experience. How can you learn all those facts? Keeping track of dates seems an impossible task.

Actually, I find the dates some of the easiest research, especially with the internet. It’s the background details that can be overwhelming.

Recently I heard another historical author talk about how she prepares when placing a book in an new era and place. She takes a month or so for what she calls her “immersion” time. She reads and watches video to learn details of the setting and daily background life details. From this, she chooses what historical event(s) will factor into her story’s plot. This intense study period has given her enough of a detailed overview to know where to focus her research.

Currently I’m writing a book set in Georgian England. Since its the third book in a trilogy, some of the background research has already been done. Yet I still have questions that arose specific to this story. For the first quarter of the book, these are some items I’ve looked up.

My first question was the most important, since it anchored the book’s time period. I wanted my hero to be contemplating spending his thirtieth birthday all alone and friendless. Due to events happening in the previous two stories, he was born while his father was away fighting the Scottish at the Battle of Culloden. It occurred April 16, 1746. That meant my current story starts in 1776.

Now that I had a year, I needed to determine when Easter was. Lent was not a time of much social activity. Since my story’s setting would be among the British upper class, parties couldn’t really get going until Lent was over. The internet said Easter that year was April 7. Perfect. I gave my hero a March 23 birthday, to give some buffer before he and the heroine embark on the social whirl.

My heroine must have last lived in a made-up village in northern England. I picked the Peterborough area and combined the name of the river and some villages to create my own village. Because these inhabitants are not nice characters, I didn’t want to impugn any actual place.

Also my heroine needed to have a soldier husband killed in battle. Although the Declaration of Independence wasn’t signed until July 4, 1776, the American Revolution has already started with the Battles of Concord and Lexington in April 1774. The British were ambushed the entire way back to Boston, so this was the battle I chose.

Another unique item I researched was did people of this time period know mumps could cause sterility in adult men. The answer is yes, although they didn’t understand how that happened. Apparently, even the ancient Greeks knew about that danger.

These questions were all planned as I plotted out my story. I’d originally thought I needed to delve into how hospitals were founded and funded but now think that particular plot thread won’t happen in the story. I am investigating dueling practices of the era and will use that research. (How exciting! A duel!)

More questions will probably present themselves the further I write in the manuscript. As you can see, by defining exactly what I needed, the answers didn’t take too long to uncover. The time would be even less, if I wasn’t so easily distracted by interesting info. I tell myself those alluring items might someday form the basis of a blog post. Sometimes that’s even true.

One of my history books.