Monday, 11 November 2013

Why Researching Your Historical Novel Totally Involves Going to the Pub, and other NaNoWriMo Updates

NaNoWriMo Week One!

We’re in week two of NaNo now and should be hitting around the 18k mark, I think. I have... considerably less words than that.

I’m remaining positive, however!

For me, the first few days of NaNo were taken up with World Fantasy Con, which was fantastic but very busy, and the day after with work that needed catching up on after the con. I know some people managed to write a little during the con, and they have my full admiration! I’ve still doing the catch up word sprinting. ;-)

I have discovered that I am terrible at remembering to update my word count, so it will suddenly shoot forwards on certain days. There’s something weirdly exciting about this, like discovering you’ve forgotten to open the last few days on your advent calendar and then gorging on the sudden feast of little chocolate Santa Clauses.

Using Historical Research 

I’ve also been making use of some of my research, and I’m glad I gathered certain things together beforehand so that I’m not too interrupted by having to look things up.

One of the early scenes is set at Nottingham castle, which I’d visited and taken pictures of, including the paths around it from every angle, so now I can just click, grab the picture, and know straight away which direction the character turns, whether there are steps or slopes, and so on. That probably sounds like too much worrying over picky details, but I live in Nottingham, so it seems like laziness to get that wrong.

Because my novel is mainly set in the 30s, with some flashbacks to the city in other periods of history, I need to know other details like what streets actually existed then, and so on. I’ve made a lot of use of photos and maps, and found some other gems in the library too.

This research has helped in other ways. It’s not just about facts, which arguably can be researched and added in later (though it certainly helps me to know them beforehand). It’s also about finding little things that can be worked into the novel, or that can influence certain plot points or characters. I’ve discovered the history of certain buildings that fit beautifully into my story, and images that inspire whole scenes.

I even discovered a wonderful book called Voices of Nottingham which is packed full of primary sources about life in Nottingham, some from the affluent members of society, but many from normal members of the public. Getting an insight into everyday lives is extremely useful, and the history student as well as the author in me is so excited to find this.

Finding Historical Images - Pubs and Libraries

Images are one of the most useful things I’ve found, both for getting facts right and for inspiring a sense of what the place was like at that time. It’s one thing to read about what Market Square looked like in late Victorian times, and another to actually see it. I have photos of old shops, of tram lines being laid, of historical posters and flyers, and many, many pictures of people... people milling about, people shopping, people playing, determined people going about their day, and people enjoying the city.

Victoria Station (now Victoria shopping centre)
And this is where pubs come in. Yes, honestly. Next time you go to a local pub, look for photos on the wall. You’re almost guaranteed to see at least a few. Look for older pubs, and particularly ones that are in interesting locations such as city centres. They will often hang black and white images of the pub itself and the streets around it. Pubs are places that tend to be proud of their heritage, so they’re good places to start. Don’t be afraid to ask either. Pubs often run in families and one establishment might have been passed down for generations.

Next stop: the library. Well, this one is obvious isn’t it? Look for large city libraries for ordnance survey maps, census records, and general interest books about the city and surrounding area. Look in smaller libraries for information on local areas.

And once you’ve read a little and found some interesting names of buildings, streets, shops, companies and people... the internet is your friend. It can sometimes be hard to find information without that initial clue to go on, which is why it’s often better to find a book to begin with, but once you have the name, the internet will provide you with pictures, personal anecdotes, and yet more titles of books to go find.

Market Square
Oh, and one last tip. Try not to get too distracted with historical research. It’s fun, and so it can easily take over. Remember what your end goal is. By all means go off on a tangent if you think the information could lead to something useful or wonderful, but remember to actually get writing too!

1 comment:

  1. I've always wanted to take part in NaNoWriMo, but I've never had the time...still, it's cool all the research you put in. :)

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