Saturday, March 01, 2008
The joys of research
Research is something an historical novelist cannot skimp on and I find it one of the joys of writing historical fiction. Before writing the Loveday series I had concentrated on the medieval and Tudor and Stuart eras. My knowledge of the Georgian and Regency period was mostly from the novels of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer. As I love action and adventure Tom Jones, Poldark, The Scarlet Pimpernel, Sharpe and Hornblower where also memorable and informative. Setting the Loveday books at the end of the eighteenth century gave me a chance to explore these times further. And I also wanted to bring something different to the novels taking in the whole social structure of the times.
My great-grandmother came from a shipbuilding family and although I knew nothing of her heritage it was a different background for my fictional family. The opportunity to learn more about an era that embraced not only the elegance of regency life with its balls and visits to Bath, Ranelagh or Vauxhall pleasure gardens; but also the deprivations of the poor, the horrors of the French Revolution, the heyday of smuggling, sea battles and privateering on the high seas, highwaymen, a brutal penal and transportation system was too good to miss. Weaving the Loveday characters into these settings that reflect the times they lived in makes writing an exciting business.
This period is a rich tapestry to draw from. As novelists we suffer not only the joys and romances of our characters but also their hardships. I have experienced the thrill of winning a sea-battle with Adam Loveday or rescuing French émigrés from the guillotine, and anguished over the hedonistic romps of his twin St John both in England as a smuggler and in Virginian society. I have laughed and cried over the adventures of their cousin Japhet as a highwayman and rakehell who pays the consequences of his crimes by a year in Newgate and seven years transportation. And emotionally I have lived through the trials and tribulations of the intrigue of everyday country life.
The most enjoyable way to research is of course to relax with your favourite film. Just a reminder that tonight there is a double bill. On BBC4 at 7pm the 1986 adaption of NORTHANGER ABBEY is showing and at 9pm Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet, Alan Rickman and Hugh Grant star in SENSE AND SENSIBILITY.