Sunday, 15 May 2016

Writing historical romance: personal challenges and useful resources

I love writing, and I love writing romance in particular. For some reason I have now written more historical romance than contemporary romance but I didn't plan it that way at all.... In fact I currently have two novels on the go which are contemporary romances and I love them both, but there is something about historical romance that draws me back time after time, and it's not just my inability to come to grips with modern technology  - iphones, ipads, and various gadgets I don't know much about and feel compelled to include in a contemporary novel!

I may love writing historical romance but it can be difficult to make sure the characters, the period and setting, and of course the love story between the protagonists, are plausible. Research is always important whatever period you are setting your story, but it's even more so for historical fiction.

My first challenge is to make sure I get the tone, the language and the thought process of the characters right, and for this I try to take into account the more rigid social order of the times my novel is set. That includes the constraints imposed on women, the importance of religion in everyday life, the relationships between men and women, as well as the broader historical background - such as political struggles and wars, for example.

I set the DANCING FOR THE DEVIL Trilogy in 1847, but the heroine's father fought in Napoleon's cuirassiers at Quatre-Bras and Waterloo. There is, of course, a wealth of material about these battles, but this site in particular was very useful: Waterloo. The site also has details of many battles fought by the British army around the world, including the Punjab wars where my hero Bruce McGunn fought.
Reading social or political pamphlets or extracts of newspapers of the time helps me find out what was going at the time of my story, and what and who was popular, fashionable, or reviled. By reading fiction of the period I can pick up popular expressions, slang or understand the way people addressed one another at the time. If you fancy taking a look at some Victorian slang, click on Victorian Slang, but be warned, it's not for the faint hearted! For lots of fascinating posts and articles on the Victorian age you must read The Victorianist.

Secondly, I try not to get mixed up with the various items of clothing people wore at the time, and that includes underwear! There are of course lots of material detailing items of clothing for both men and women, but for a quick glance at outfits for writing a particular scene I find Pinterest very useful. This site here has great information about female underwear in different time periods and these have beautiful photos and descriptions: Fashion of the 1850s and Romantic Era Fashion and Hair.

When writing historical fiction, 'you have of course to pay attention to distances too. Travelling by horse or carriage took a lot longer in the early nineteenth century, especially in bad weather and considering that the state of the roads could be appalling. It's the same of course for sea crossings. I know it's not exactly relevant here, but I absolutely love this website and will consult it again for anything regarding types of ships. If, like me, you don't now the first thing about horses, this site Horses, will prove invaluable!

The DANCING FOR THE DEVIL Trilogy mainly takes place in the Scottish Highlands where I have unfortunately never been. Here are just a few sites I found useful, including this one on the Clearances. For general information about the Highlands, these were very useful: Highland dress and weapons, Scottish Folklore and Songs, and the Scots Tongue.

Of course, I just don't rely on the Internet and material I find online. I always look out for great books too, all kinds of non-fiction books about fashion, travel and folklore. These featured on the photo below have been invaluable when I was researching DANCING FOR THE DEVIL. Visiting historic houses is always inspiring too, for ideas about design, furniture, everyday items. I always love looking at family portraits and old sepia photos, and make notes of unusual names.

 Finally I would say that the biggest challenge for me is to avoid overloading the story with lots and lots of historical details. However frustrating it may be to leave out fascinating or quirky facts I came across during my hours of research, I need to remind myself that I am writing a love story, not a social or historical treatise!

I hope you found these links useful, but if you have any favourites of your own, please post in the comments!

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