I never thought I would write historical. Not that I don’t love historical fiction, I do. As a child, books like Little Women, The Maud Reed Tale and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, had a huge impact on my desire to become a writer. So perhaps it is only natural that after the publication of my contemporary YA, (Read My Lips, 2008), most of the ideas that came to me were historical.
But the research scared me. During my school years, I didn’t do that well in history…mostly because while I loved reading the text books, history was all about the stories to me, not the facts or the dates. I enjoyed comparing the similarities and differences in the lives of people who lived in other time periods, not debating the importance of individual events. And, okay, I’ll admit it— I wasn’t that great at the teacher’s nit-picky insistence that I hand my work in on time. (Thankfully, I’ve become a lot better about that whole deadline thing.)
When I think of research, I think of serious people sitting in quiet libraries with giant books on the desks in front of them. I think of dedicated authors going to obscure places to gain access to hallowed historical archives.
I’m so not that person. I like loud football parties, rock concerts and playing Apples to Apples with my friends.
Luckily for me, the Internet has changed research and most of what I needed was at my fingertips. The problem wasn’t finding good, solid information—it was retaining, tracking and disseminating the information I found in a way that enhanced the story.
One website I kept running into during my research for Summerset Abbey, was The Edwardian Promenade, (www.edwardianpromenade.com). Whoever was behind the website was a genius at all things Edwardian. I dug deeper and found Evangeline Holland, a fellow writer who about to give a four week course on the Edwardian era. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect because I was just preparing to write Summerset Abbey. The class was fantastic and she handed out tons of resources, both primary (having been written during the time period) and secondary, (having been written after the time period, about the time period). Her input was so invaluable; I ended up hiring her as a fact checker. I adore her. (Disclaimer: Any facts wrong in the manuscript are my fault, no doubt committed during the revising process, and not hers!)
As far as keeping track of all the details? I used a combination of Scrivener, (a writing program for writers) to track online research, a carefully annotated notebook for research taken from books, and of course, the ever popular sticky note method. Guess which method best suited my scattered haphazard brain? Sticky notes cover my monitor!
The upshot of my research advice? Do what works for you and have fun doing it. If it isn’t fun—if you can’t lose hours of your life in the research—then maybe you shouldn’t be doing it. I can’t organize worth a damn, but the research itself is pure heaven!