Thursday 30 May 2019

A Salute To Those Who Do Their Research . . .

I've been reading some Historical Fiction recently - Judith Arnopp to be more specific. Next on my reading list is the 'The Kiss of the Concubine' which is an Anne Boleyn story, but the one I've just finished is the 'Intractable Heart', which is the story of Katheryn Parr (you'll be amazed how many different ways you can spell Katheryn/Kathryn/Catherine. Seems Henry VIII was working his way through them all).

I've read other historical fiction authors - Philippa Gregory comes to mind - but out of everything I've read, I've not come across one that tells the story of the 'wife that survived', and I found it really interesting. When people talk about HenryVIII, the mind automatically moves to the tales of Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn - occasionally Jane Seymour, the mother of Edward VI - as these have always been the more popular stories, but the other three wives are less mentioned, as if the notion of  'yet another new wife' grew tiresome and their stories less worthy. But they're far from that and I do love a bit of history.

One thing I do have to praise these authors for is their dedication to research. All writers need to do their research, regardless of what their working on. If you delved into my recent Google search history, which I don't recommend, you'll randomly find lots of articles on how to slit someone's throat. No, I'm not secretly planning on changing my career to one more gruesome. This occurs in my recent piece, and even through it sounds like a simple enough thing to write about, believe me, it's not when you have to consider the damage involved. And unless you have experience in this kind of thing - which I DON'T - then research is needed.

Writing historical fiction can be a dangerous thing. Everything needs to be spot on and accurate, and you only get a tiny amount of creative licence. Stories told in a modern setting are easier as we already know the mundane stuff needed, but for historical fiction, research is imperative. Having a chambermaid walk into the bathroom to find Henry VIII standing against a porcelain urinal isn't going to work, even if you call it Genuine Tudor Porcelain. It's a nope. Catching a cook stealing some leftover food and heating it in the microwave? Again, nope. I know these are obvious things but you get my point. It's the little details like this that can make or break historical fiction, the details of the Queen's dresses, the specific name for a hat, what they use to ease a headache or treat a wound, and to avoid screaming reviews of inaccuracies from readers, you need to do a copious amount of research.

I write dark fantasy and horror - hence the throat slitting thing. You get a lot more creative leeway with these genres, but you still need to do a lot of research. Many fantasy stories hold a historical element, usually medieval. We get characters riding across the lands on horseback, carrying heavy swords or huge axes that have seen more deaths than the grim reaper. So, travelling characters, what do they eat? How do they cook? What do they use as shelter at night along their way? Their weapons; how were they forged? How do the keep them sharp after slicing numerous heads off? For this we draw on history, and it has to hold some element of realism for the reader to be able to connect, to believe.
I find this historical research interesting, and often do find myself getting carried away, reading much more than is needed. But there is a drawback reading into history, and this is why I say 'History should come with a Spoiler Alert'. You know the end to the book you're reading before you get there. History has told you that. Still, we all enjoy the journey getting there, be it factual or fictional.

So to those who have to do a copious amount of research to keep those annoying inaccuracies away, I salute you. A job well done!


  1. The research is the fun part - once you get down that rabbit hole it's the devil's own job to find your way out :)

  2. Love research...maybe a little too much. I've found myself stuck down that rabbit hole many times...

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