Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Historical Research Advice from Catrin Collier

You may not be writing historical fiction, but your novel has a time and place setting which may well be in the past, however recent. Here's some good advice by author Catrin Collier about research:


THINK OUT what you want to say: - fact or fiction characters – plot – time –place - background - era - the society - and the place (even if it's fictitious).

READ -  Old newspapers for the 'feel of the era' (found in library archives). Relevant biographies. Any family diaries or other diaries you can legally lay your hands on.

VISIT - Museums, historical centres, and libraries, particularly ones with 'living history' e.g. tapes made by people relating momentous events in people's lives e.g. a twelve year old boy's first day in the pit, a child brought up in the 1930's as illegitimate.

WATCH - Films from the period. Any period pieces on television or in the cinema. (If possible, British. The Americans are notoriously inaccurate about minor details like facts, costumes etc).

USE - Ordnance survey maps as close to the period as you can get, if setting your book around an actual place. They can save hours of research.  Walk the area, take photographs of buildings that existed at the time – note the gaps - check what was there.
If setting your book in a fictitious place draw a map to avoid inaccuracies in the book.


BEG OR BORROW - A song book from the period, and if possible get hold of old records.

RESEARCH - Living conditions. e.g. Don't have people in Depression ridden UK calling out Doctors, going down the dole. If writing about the aristocracy read social etiquette books. The working classes - check out contracts, conditions of employment, wages and the exact buying power of those wages. The leisure activities of the social class of your characters through contemporary newspaper advertisements, parish news magazines, contemporary novels etc.

WORK with your characters until you know their tastes in food, clothes, music, films, sex, etc and exactly how they will react in any situation.

WARNING - this may take the plot down unexpected roads.  Go with it - this is creativity working at its best - with luck it may even improve on your original idea.

SPEAK to eye witnesses if possible but treat everything they tell you with caution. Some people have accurate recall and perfect memories, other may remember what never happened.

DON'T write about an existing organisation without doing your research, especially the army, terrorist, Mafia or government organisations.  Publishers and agents always send books with a factual background out to an expert reader.  Many well-written, well-plotted, publishable books have bitten the dust over lack of research.

 DO make an effort to get your facts right, especially concerning weapons, ammunition, cars, computers etc.  If you're not sure, don't guess.  Consult your local librarian, or an expert.

DON'T write about a scenario that is unfamiliar to you, but will be known to others.  E.g. setting a book in the States when you've never been there.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

News Update

Today there is good news and bad news. First the bad news:


I was unable to take part in NaNoWriMo after all. Although I had done a lot of planning, personal problems made me realise I could not commit the time required to write 1667 words a day. I'm very sad, but it's not all bad news. I have a novel outlined ready to go, whether I save it for next year's NaNoWriMo or use it in between.

Now the good news:

I'm definitely going to write another local history book. The working title is The de Breos Lords of Gower and King John. Not very elegant, but it says what it's about. John made William de Breos one of the richest barons in England, and then he lost it all.


There was a de Breos involved in nearly every significant event in English history for 300 years after the Norman Conquest, but they are never mentioned. My book Alina, The White Lady of Oystermouth tells the story of how a rebellion by the heir to the Lordship of Gower led to the toppling of Edward II from the English throne.

My new book will tell of how the de Breoses won and lost Gower from King John, then won and lost Gower from Llewelyn ap Iorwerth, Welsh Prince of Wales, then regained it from the king, all in the space of 17 years. I think it's well worth telling.

A lot of my original research covered this period, and I have continued to gather information on the family, so I'm not sure how much more research I need to do. I'm planning to write the basic story first and then see what I need to fill it out. Watch this space for updates on my progress!