I am a very visual writer. When working I see the stories of my novels as film clips and photographs but withthe emotions and senses added in. When it comes to doing the research I use a variety of mediums to weave the background and to create the solidity of the characters living their story centre stage.Much of the research is conducted via study of the written word either in book form or online and I have an extensive research library. This method of research is a core staple, but I like to augment it through other forms too.
I join in living history experiments and displays with re-enactment society Regia Anglorum, and this in itself gives me far more than I could learn from a book, or even from studying artefacts in a museum. For example, I have a replica cooking pot with a late Anglo Saxon/early Norman dateline. Through using it I know that a beef and barley stew doesn't burn on the base when being simmered on gentle open such as at the side of a hearth fire. The shape of the rim means that evaporation is kept to a minimum and unless you have the pot in blazing heat, you can comfortably pick it up off the embers by the rim without burning your hands. So if I ever need to write a scene with a cooking pot scenario, or even as background, I know exactly how it works.
|My cooking pot. The soot staining is down to it having been used in
the heart of a blazing fire to boil up the potter's tea water!
Historical novels need to understand the mindsets of the people about whom they are writting. How did they think and feel about the issues of their time? Their material culture is a vital part of finding that out. It's more than just window dressing for background colour (although it can act as wallpaper if that's all the writer requires), it tells us about status and tastes and attitudes. It also brings one down to earth to realise that without today's technology and advantages, the crafstmen of past centuries made the most exquisite items with their own hands and coped with the conditions at hand (imagine working without magnification and knowing that when the daylight went there was only candle light or oil lamp light to work by).
Even the items that were basic and utilitarian, such as my cooking pot, were superbly equipped for their function and are proven to work every bit as well as their modern counterparts.
Last weekend I was at the Museum of London and would recommend it to anyone as worth a visit. It has galleries going from the Stone Age through to modern times - as modern as costumes from the recent Olympics ceremony. Here are some of the photographs I took and which will be going into my research album. Mostly they are medieval because that's my firm period of research, but I've enclosed one or two others for everyone's general interest.
|Iron dagger in a wood and bronze bound sheath - any time from 600-50bc
|Bronze age swords and skulls, one of which shows battle damage
|copper brooch decorated with gold plates and gold wire and set with
polished garnets. Mid 600's AD
|Axe for shaping timbers. Circa 1000
|Syrian glass bottle, undated but belonging to the Medieval period and
discovered in London
|Horse bit circa 1000 and stirrup mount above, stated to be Viking.
|Beautiful leaf-patterned shoe circa 1300's
|Labourer's leather mitten circa 1400
|'Piggy bank'. Medieval money box.
|Brass inlay letters for a funerary monument
|Spades 1100-1400. Spades had wooden blades, sometimes augmented
by an iron blade, but not always.
|Eel spear circa 1500
|remnants of the first spectacles - early 1400's
|Headdress frame late 1400's - 1520's. Pewter.
|leather jerkin and codpiece 16thC
|Dress of Ann Fanshawe 1750/1
|close up detail on the bodice of the above dress.
|Model of the type of horse typically used to pull carriages in the 1750's
|Flintlock duelling pistols 1810
|Bodice of early 19thC dress
|mid 19thC barber's shop
|Mid 19thC shop window
|Mid 19th C dolls in a toyshop window
|Penny Farthing Bicycle
|gaslight shade 1887
|Gold shoes 1925
|The Roaring 20's. Peter Pan costume far right
|Bronze lift from Selfridges 1928
|Travelling wardrobe trunk belonging to Jewish refugees 1940's
|Costumes from the Olympic Games opening ceremony 2012