Friday, March 26, 2010

A (possibly incoherent) Discussion of References

Disclaimer: For some reason utterly unknown to me, I have been unable to get adequate sleep for what feels like three weeks straight (yes, this includes spring break. No, I do not comprehend why I'm MORE tired AFTER spring break than before). So if this post makes absolutely no sense, I do apologize.


Hello, blogsphere! How goes it? Things are going well in college-land (aside from the sleep deprivation and piling on of projects thing). Letters to Oliver is going really quite well! And I've sent A Bridge to War off to another beta, because Karla is a lovely person and offered to help. If all goes well and the universe decides to work in my favor for once, I'll have that finished by the middle of April.

Anyway, whenever I put up a snippet from Letters to Oliver, I get all these lovely comments about the historical voice. And so I think I'd like to talk a little bit about my favorite references, because they're cool and if you like my ramblings, you might like these too.

First off, for some unconventional ones. I think the biggest help for the voice in Letters to Oliver is the 1995 five-hour BBC production of Pride and Prejudice. I have seen this thing so many times that I have parts of it memorized. I can't read P&P anymore without hearing Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth in my head. And even though Pride and Prejudice is set about sixty or seventy years sooner than Letters to Oliver, the style of speech is still very similar and it's quite a useful model.

(The fact that my entire junior-year English class decided I was reincarnated from a Victorian lady has nothing to do with my ability to write that book. ;P)

Another one is probably one I shouldn't tell you to use, but there it is. I use Wikipedia probably more often than I should. I can't really help myself though - it's just so extremely convenient for quick information! I would advise, if you do want to use Wikipedia, to take a look at the links provided at the bottom of the page too. Those usually can't be tampered with.

Other than that, I have several book sources that I use. My favorite is one by Daniel Pool, called What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew. That book is amazing. It's very informative, and a rather engaging read too, and if you like Victorian literature, there's lots of examples from Dickens and the Brontes and Austen scattered throughout. I also got a copy of Kristine Hughes' Everyday Life in Regency and Victorian England for Christmas from a friend of mine; this one is also very useful.

Researching A Bridge to War is much trickier, though. If you're researching 18th century France, it's easy to find stuff on Versailles and the French Revolution and bread riots in Paris and such. But my characters weren't involved in any of that. The story takes place almost 20 years before the French Revolution began, and the characters live in the middle of the country (or, in Avar's case, the middle of the woods, but that's not what I'm talking about). It's also a weird alternate history kind of thing, so while the facts might not all be right, I'm trying to keep the atmosphere as close to reality as I can. So after searching for forever, I found a book by Daniel Roche (an actual French guy; he teaches at the University of Paris) called A History of Everyday Things. It's dry as dust, but monumentally informative.

There is also a most excellent book called To Dance with Kings by Rosalind Laker. It's fiction, but it's set (well, part of it is, anyway) during the time period I want, and the beginning involves people who aren't part of the aristocracy, so it's a good model for prose and dialogue which I intend to make very good use of.

So if any of you are interested in writing a historical, I'd advise you to take a look at those books. And watch the BBC Pride and Prejudice - Colin Firth makes one heck of a Mr. Darcy.


  1. I'm definitely not writing a historical, but this post is really helpful. Stop it missy...making me add things to my TBR pile. :D

    Oh and I think I'll watch Pride and Prejudice again. You know, for research.

  2. Ah, the work that goes into historical fiction. But it pays off! Your snippets are always so lovely. :)

    And I love the BBC Pride and Prejudice!

  3. May I steal your voice? Both types: I love both your WIP voice and your bloggy voice. :D

    Also, insanely helpful post. The first book I wrote was historical fantasy and I just ***LOVE*** that genre SO MUCH. Really.

    I remember doing lots of crazy things to research--but I loved it. I remember trying to figure out if carriages had glass windows or just open windows. And the clothes are SUCH FUN. Really, I love researching the clothes for descriptions--especially loved talking about wigs. It was pretty funny when I found out that some 18th century men shaved their heads and wore turbans after they took their wigs off.

    AND THE SNUFFBOXES! Hehe, love those. :D

  4. MJ - hehe, sorry. Ah, the terrible size of the TBR pile. Also, you go do that research. ;)

    Becca - thanks! And it is a lot of work, but I'm such a history dork that I love doing it.

    Choco - lol, thanks. My bloggy voice is just me babbling, though. Historical fantasy is AMAZINGFUL. And I love researching Victorian clothes - which is weird, because I personally have no interest in fashion. But the stuff I could tell you about Victorian underwear... lol!

  5. wow so cool. i have so much respect for people who write historicals -- i can't do it. i'd be too afraid of screwing everything up. i do, however, thoroughly enjoy READING historicals, hehehe

    great job! and best of luck!!

  6. Tahereh - I have the same sort of respect for people who write in the present-day. And thanks!