It’s useful, when researching, to be able to consult people who were there. But go back more than a century or so — to the Regency in Britain, for example — and there are no living witnesses to consult. Regency novelists — like today’s guest, Elizabeth Rolls — have to rely on other sources.
You may imagine that “other sources” means dusty history books and written materials. But there’s much more than that.
And getting to grips with the non-written stuff can present the odd challenge if the author in question lives 12,000 miles away, in Australia.
As Elizabeth Rolls does…
Elizabeth Rolls loves her research
To research or not to research?
For me, research is a must. I’ve had a book kick off in my mind over a snippet about the crossroads burial of suicides in the early 19th century. The past is very much a foreign country, but add 12 000 miles into the equation and you have a real challenge.
Yes, I do know historical authors who don’t bother too much. And yes, plenty of readers are fine with that, claiming that they don’t want a boring history lesson getting in the way of the story.
The thing is that I like doing research. I don’t think history is boring, and it certainly shouldn’t get in the way of the story.
It should help make the story.
So I do vast amounts of reading and call it work. Once when I was struggling for the final scene and declaration of love in a book, I quite accidentally found a book on antique toys and another on nursery furniture. I was in Auckland of all places! A couple of young children featured in my story and, as I pulled the books off the shelf, the last scene crashed into my head. I still had to write it, but it was there. I knew how it worked.
Locations matter and can be upmarket …
When I can, it’s wonderful to visit the UK, spend time in London and elsewhere. Actually see places, walk around and feel them. But sadly, I can’t do that every time I write a book. Although I do find after a visit that I have a lot of useful settings for several books. I love visiting houses and I always buy the guide books. So handy for reminding myself of the floor plan and surroundings.
On this basis I have used Chiswick House [shown above]; the painter Hogarth’s house [below right]; and I am currently ensconced at Osterley Park [below left] — thanks Sophie!
… or ruined …
Berkeley Castle was once summarily transported to what is roughly the site of Goodrich Castle because Berkeley is still habitable and Goodrich is in ruins [shown in Joanna’s pictures below]
Ruins didn’t deter me with Aydon Castle in Northumberland, though. I fell in love with Aydon on my visit, and used the entire setting, right down to the position high above the river, although I rechristened it Haydon.
… or downright seedy
Sometimes, though, I have to rely on good old Google Earth. Once I needed a suitably shabby home for my heroine within two days’ travel from Hereford. I decided on Bristol for various reasons and started poking around.
Not being able to afford the airfare, a bit of virtual travel was indicated and I found Christmas Steps near the docks. A mediæval stepped alley, apparently it was once notorious for the sort of establishments popular with sailors on shore leave — taverns of the seedier variety and brothels. Fortuitously I met someone who knew the place and was able to tell me that it was narrow, dark and creepy!
Physical objects are handy too. Joanna once asked me if I knew whether or not her heroine would use sugar tongs. Since I have a pair, courtesy of my grandmother, hallmarked 1823, I knew sugar tongs were authentic.
Elizabeth made a wonderful, if unconventional, fairy godmother.
So, no — history in a romance definitely does not have to be boring. It should be a lot of fun, because at bottom, people are still people but they do things a little differently, think a little differently.
And isn’t that the whole point of reading? To find something a little different?
Connecting with Elizabeth Rolls
Finalising this blog brought back fun memories of when Elizabeth and I [Joanna] toured all those castles. So I’ve added my own shots of some of the places we went to. For we all love a good ruin, don’t we? And Goodrich is definitely one of my favourites.
I should add that our discussion of sugar tongs was pre-internet. Nowadays, I can just Google sugar tongs and find loads, including one pair, hallmarked Dublin 1814, on the Leopard Antiques website. Not only beautiful, but the definitive answer to my question!
Very many thanks to Elizabeth for sharing her 24,000-mile round trip to her research faves with us. It just goes to prove how lucky we are — those of us who live in UK, that is — to have so many great locations almost on our doorstep.
You can connect with Elizabeth Rolls on her Facebook page That’s where people mostly find her these days.
Her website is here but she admits (a little shamefacedly) that it’s somewhat out of date ????
The latest Elizabeth Rolls historical is available here in ebook form
“If you wish, I can take you out of all this.”
In his quest for revenge against a disreputable card sharp James, Earl of Cambourne, discovers the man’s innocent daughter. While her surroundings are impoverished, her dignity and refinement are unmistakable, and James faces an unsettling question — what will be her fate if he brings her father to justice?
Although yearning for love and comfort, Lucy resists the Earl’s surprising offer of protection. That is until a price is made on her virginity, and James is the only man who can save her!